S.W. Hubbard‘s books are especially known for having many different threads and plot twists that seem to veer off in all sorts of directions before they come back together to wrap up in a big tapestry at the very end. The Palmyrton Estate Sale series centers around a woman who owns her own business cleaning out the homes of those who have passed away. These jobs lead to dramatic situations. Since this series is the only set of her books available on audio and thus the only books I’ve read, I will focus solely on these books of hers for our interview.
What got you interested in writing in general? Have you always been interested in writing fiction, or did that develop over time? What did you read as a kid and what do you read now?
I was an only child and spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house while my mom worked. There weren’t any kids to play with, so I spent a lot of time in my own imagination and reading. Having a very boring childhood was good for my creativity ☺ My favorite books as a kid were the Bobbsey Twins, The Little House on the Prairie books, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. So the interest in mystery started young! One day my mom promised me a new Nancy Drew book, but she couldn’t find one I hadn’t already read so she bought me an Agatha Christie instead. I think I was about 10. I’ve been reading serious mysteries ever since. I read classics and literary fiction as well. I was an English major and always worked as a writer —newsletters, brochures, marketing, etc. But I didn’t seriously begin writing fiction until my mid-thirties. I don’t think I had anything much to say before then! I started writing my first mystery, Take the Bate, as therapy when I was struggling with infertility. I figured if I couldn’t make a baby, I’d make a book. I worked on that novel off and on for 10 years before it was published by Simon and Schuster in 2003.
How did you get the idea of centering a series around an estate business? You exhibit knowledge of antiques and other valuable items left behind by the deceased. Were you already interested in such things, or did you learn about them for the books? What kind of research have you had to do for each of these books?
When my mom died ten years ago, I had to clear out her house in another city. The prospect was overwhelming, until my real estate agent suggested hiring an estate sale organizer to handle the whole thing. I kept a few personal items, and turned the job over to her. The next time I saw the house, it was totally empty. The experience made me think about how much this woman must discover about her clients as she goes through all their personal possessions. So Audrey and her company, Another Man’s Treasure were born.
I’ve always liked antiques, but I’m not an expert. I usually put things I like into the houses of Audrey’s clients, then I go back and do research on what their actual value would be. The Tiffany glass in Treasure of Darkness is a particular interest of mine because the Presbyterian church I belong to in Morristown, NJ has two Tiffany windows. The ballgowns in This Bitter Treasure were inspired by my friend’s discovery of some lovely vintage designer dresses at her elderly aunt’s house. She was able to wear one to a formal event!
Your second Palmerton Estate book, Treasure of Darkness, deals with mental illness found in hoarding. Do you have personal experience related to such mental illnesses?
I have volunteered at a soup kitchen for many years and some of our homeless guests have serious mental illnesses. The experience has taught me how terribly difficult it can be to help someone who is mentally ill, even when you really want to. One of the hallmarks of schizophrenia and some other mental illnesses is that the sick person doesn’t recognize that he or she is sick and is deeply suspicious of others. I’ve also known hoarders and read a fascinating book called Stuff about the different types of hoarders. All of that went into the creation of my character, Harold the hoarder, in Treasure of Darkness.
In your third Palmyrton book, This Bitter Treasure, Ty goes to college and comes back one of his first days moaning that he has made a big mistake in his composition class. The prompt question to Ty’s essay asks what led the students to decide to go to college. Ty, who earlier got cleaned up from a life of crime and drugs, actually tells the truth instead of filling the paper with the typical B.S. You teach composition and creative writing at a community college. How would you feel about having a student turn in such a paper?
My students tell me the most touching, heartbreaking things in their essays, often in response to a totally innocuous prompt. Students have told me about their heroin addictions, their abandonment by parents, the deaths of loved ones, and their brushes with the law. I learn so much about human nature from my students.
Your series looks at the nature of family. We see examples of a 2-member family unit, a giant family, and other families both functional and dysfunctional. What is your own family like?
I was an only child and my husband has just one brother. We have two kids. So our family is quite small. I always get a little sad at holidays when others are having 30 people for Thanksgiving. Yet I know that many friends with big families suffer from a lot of intrafamily strife. So I work out all my conflicting emotions about families in my novels!
Since you teach two levels of composition plus creative writing at a community college, how are you able to balance your career, your own family life, and your writing?
When I have too much free time, I just end up procrastinating, so it’s better for me to have a busy schedule.
Especially since you are a creative writing teacher in addition to being a published author, what advice do you have for anyone who wants to break into the field of published writing?
Perseverance is the most important factor in success as an author. Keep working to finish your projects, get involved in a writer’s group so you can benefit from honest feedback. Pay attention to criticism, but don’t let it destroy you.
Thanks for this opportunity to share information about my work with your readers.
Click here to read my earlier review of Another Man’s Treasure
Click here to read my earlier review of Treasure of Darkness
Click here to read my earlier review of This Bitter Treasure