Claire Hamner Matturro interviews Susan Y. Tanner, Author of “A Whisper of Trouble”

Susan Y. Tanner

CHM: Good morning, Susan, and congratulations on your newest book, A Whisper of Trouble (KaliOka Press Sept. 2020), which is the 12th book in the Trouble, black cat detective series, and the fourth book you’ve written in the on-going Trouble collection. For readers who aren’t yet familiar with this series, it’s the brainchild of Alabama Writers’ Hall of Famer Carolyn Haines, who authored the first book in the series. The stories are cozy mystery/romantic suspense novels, featuring Trouble, the Sherlock Holmes of cat detectives. The novels are authored by a rotation of writers with variations in setting and style.

Within this series, Susan, all four of your books have these wonderful horses in the story lines. The first book, like a Whisper of Trouble, is set at Summer Valley Ranch in Alabama. The horses in the book are well-drawn and quite authentic with distinct personalities. Might you tell us a bit about your ranch, your horses, and your riding experiences? And how you have blended your love of horses with your love of writing?

SYT: I started riding as a young girl and barrel racing as a teen. I fell in love with the speed and the intricacy of barrel racing, as well as the partnership it requires between rider and horse. Every horse I’ve owned has made an impact on me. Through them, I’ve learned patience and perseverance. I’ve also learned flexibility and humility and, sometimes, heartbreak. Like humans, each horse has a unique personality. Partnering with them requires that we understand that personality and adjust to the quirks that make them individuals. When I began writing my first Trouble story, it just seemed natural to include my love of horses in the storyline. I’ve heard many times “write what you know” and horses are what I know best.

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CHM: Ah, so you are a person who rides—and writes. Dual talents. I want to ask a bit about the ranch, Summer Valley, that is featured in book one, Trouble in Summer Valley as well as in A Whisper of Trouble. The ranch is the dream of its owner, a young woman who rescues horses and trains them to work with veterans, disabled people, and special needs children. Is the ranch based upon a place you know, or even a place you have been involved with?

SYT: Long before my first Trouble book, I began noticing various articles written about equine therapy for veterans. After some digging—I love research and often end up down a rabbit hole with information that is of no use to anyone—I found a number of places across the United States that provide equine therapy, some for veterans, some for victims of mental or physical abuse, and some for special needs children, particularly autism. In reflecting on my life, I realized how many times my horse had been my “listening ear” and “leaning post,” an empathetic creature who didn’t judge me for anything except my heart. I could absolutely see how a horse could help heal. Sometimes all we need is something to love us as we are in order for us to love ourselves enough to keep trying. Although Summer Valley Ranch isn’t based on a place I’ve been or been involved with, I do hope one day to visit such a facility if only to see how close I got to reality.

CHM: In A Whisper of Trouble, you take the main characters—Liz O’Neal, Will Chandler, and Trouble, along with a spirited Italian horse known as a Catria—to Italy. While there, they all experience more than their share of adventures and danger, even being pursued by unknown villains for equally unknown reasons. I am going to ask about your trip to Italy in a moment, but let me first give an overview of the story for any who have not yet read A Whisper of Trouble.

Someone is stealing rare stallions from Italy. A high ranking Italian government official has hired Will, a highly specialized detective, to find and return the horses, which have been transported to America. In turn, Will retains Liz’s services as a “horse whisperer,” though she prefers to be known as an empath for horses. The stolen Catria turns up at Summer Valley Ranch, and soon Liz, Trouble, and Will combine efforts to return him safely home to Italy.

Your story has these wonderful, lush descriptions of Italy. I see from the acknowledgments in the book that you recently returned from there. So please tell us how the idea for the story line came to you. Did it come to you before or during or after your trip? Did you visit the Trevi Fountain like Liz and Will did?

SYT: We did visit the Trevi Fountain! And the Spanish Steps and the Coliseum and the Vatican and the Forum. We wandered the streets of Rome and Florence and walked through the towns of the Amalfi Coast. We stayed several days in Tuscany, among the wineries, and then explored the cliffside towns along the northern coast.

And I still can’t believe I went. My brother, who loves to travel, mentioned a trip to Italy he and several friends were planning and tossed out a rather casual, “sure wish some of my family would come.” We chatted about the places they had on their list and, while it sounded enchanting, I put it aside as impractical. Two nights later, he sent me a text that said simply, “I really want you and Steph (my daughter) to go to Italy with me.” It was late, but I sat thinking about how much I love my brother, how little time we spend together but how much fun we always have, how amazing Italy sounded, and how many things I hadn’t done simply because they seemed impractical at the time. Before I could change my mind, I sent a text to my daughter and said, “I will if you will.” Needless to say, her answer was a quick “Yes!”

The idea of placing a Trouble story in Italy came during the planning stages for the trip. I took volumes of notes and wrote bits and pieces of scenes while we were there. Most of them actually made it into the book.

I may never go back but I’ll never forget. It was the trip of a lifetime.

CHM: I noticed in reading these books that each has a strong social theme woven into the adventure and the mystery. While you don’t hammer readers over their heads with the message, nonetheless these themes are an integral part of the plots. For example, in Trouble in Summer Valley, you address the plight of abandoned, abused or neglected horses, as well as the difficulties of wounded veterans and special needs children. What motivated you to work these themes into your first Trouble book?

SYT: I think it was the connection between horses and humans in need of help. I wanted to show there’s value in animals that have been thrown away as well as the ability of animals to help heal those who are hurting most in society, children with special needs, war veterans—and others—with injuries of the heart and body and soul. My cousin stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and lost both legs. Doctors said he would never ride again. We proved them wrong. When he came home, we found a horse that was not just well-trained but gentle and empathetic. My cousin and I spent long hours trail riding and talking as he healed with the help of that amazing horse.

CHM: Now in your second book, Turning for Trouble, the plot contains a rodeo and a second-chance at love for Malone Summers, a spirited barrel racer; and Cade Delaney, the director of operations for the Twin Circuit Rodeo. After a chance meeting between the former couple at a wedding, Malone returns home to find Joss, a frightened young runaway, has stowed away in her rig, along with Trouble the cat and Malone’s horse, Jaz. Woven through the action, there’s a social message about stolen children and sex-trafficking. Please tell us more.

SYT: My heart aches for children caught in the web of sex-trafficking and this evil is more pervasive in our country than I ever imagined. I’m horrified that anyone could be a party to the torment and torture some young people endure. If one person can be made aware and become more watchful and one child saved and protected, then maybe I will have helped.

CHM: In Trouble in Action, the main plot line deals with a problem-plagued Civil War reenactment. And, yes, there are horses! What is your social theme in that book?

SYT: Suicide, which happens far too often and destroys not just the life taken, but those who loved that person. I admired Robin Williams, as an actor and a comedian, and was crushed to realize his humor hid pain that I couldn’t begin to comprehend. To this day, every time I think of him, my heart hurts. We need to be more aware that those around us may be suffering in ways we can’t conceive. And, maybe, just maybe, if we know we can help.

CHM: And what is the social theme in A Whisper of Trouble?

SYT: Domestic abuse. One of my lifelong friends was hospitalized and almost killed by a man who beat her nearly to death in their driveway. As citizens of this earth, we need to be aware and alert so that we can step in when no one else will. The one suffering may be a friend, it may be a neighbor, it may be the clerk at the store down the street. They may say nothing, but there are always signs.

CHM: You really have created a kind of sub-series within the main series. Will you write a fifth book with Trouble and horses? And if so, what underlying theme might you address?

SYT: I have a storyline in my head for book five and have begun developing characters, both human and horse. I’m not certain what I’ll approach next but I suspect it may be substance abuse. I think awareness, prevention, and treatment are crucial in the world we live in today. So many lives and families have been destroyed by alcohol and chemical dependency. But I also know lives that have been turned around and saved, and that gives me hope.

CHM: Thank you, Susan, and all the best with A Whisper of Trouble and in writing the next book.





  1. Great interview and A Whisper of Trouble is my favorite in the series “so far”

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