Monday, December 10, 2012


A friend said, “Whatever you do, when you drive out of Pleasant Hills for the last time, don’t look back.”

I didn’t, and with Kitty mewling pitifully –she’d never been caged before -- and Rosco whining, I turned left onto on Route 301 South, and kept on going. An unharmonious chorus of complaints continued from the back in the Equinox’s cargo compartment for three hours, ceasing only when I'd left Maryland far behind and was almost clear of Virginia, where both animals gave it up and fell asleep. Bums. 

I still had six hours of driving ahead, and had been sleeping on the floor at Pleasant Hills for the last two nights. I’d left Daniel packing the horse trailer and pickup truck. He’d stay one more night. I didn’t envy him.

When I hit Weldon, North Carolina, I stopped at the KFC, and Kitty, Rosco, and I ate chicken like a pack of starving animals. After Rosco marked a number of tires in the parking lot, we hit the road again.

By the time I pulled into the driveway of my new home in Aiken, South Carolina, it was almost dark, the neighborhood quiet. My exhaustion and exhilaration tracked so closely together they’d become a single, overwhelming force. 

Deep breath, kept on moving. Climbed from the car. Put dog in fenced part of yard, cat onto screened porch. Lugged pet food/dishes, litter box, and toilet paper inside. Fed animals, left Rosco in the new house with a promise to return. Stopped for KFC on way to hotel.

Like a robot, I checked into my room and unpacked my suitcase. Hot shower, changed clothes, and back to the new house by eight. 

I wanted Rosco to know that after I left him in this strange house, in an area that felt and smelled so different, I would return. As a four-month-old, he was found on the Baltimore Washington Parkway almost starved to death. I’d adopted him from the pound in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and suspected he has abandonment issues. 

That evening, I took Rosco for a walk around his new neighborhood and discovered a conundrum. How do I tell a dog that’s had the run of two-hundred-acres in Maryland he is not allowed to pee on the neighbor’s bushes in South Carolina? It remains an ongoing puzzle.

Back at the house, Kitty stood on the screened porch staring into the night, lashing her tail.  Who knows what this means? After lavish petting and cooing, I drove back to the hotel where all I’d left behind caught up with me.

I poured myself a drink and odd details of Pleasant Hills floated in my thoughts. The sunken stone step outside the kitchen door -- an impression made by the tread of relatives going in and out for more than two centuries. The pine step plates of the grand staircase I padded up and down as a small, barefoot child. The horse stable where I’d raised so many young Thoroughbreds.

Daniel had said to leave Pleasant Hills would be like a death. Refusing to sink into that dark place, I turned on the TV and was saved by the new season premier of my favorite TV show, “Burn Notice.” The main characters, Michael and Fiona, were also trying to escape from something and apparently needed to fake their own deaths. 
Fiona and Michael

While they were figuring out how to do this, I attempted to remove the key to Pleasant Hills from my key ring. 

While I stared at the ring assembly, Michael and Fiona drove to their house with several gallons of gasoline. I slid a fingernail between the key ring’s metal pieces and tried to pry them apart. The metal was heavy and tight as a padlock. Meanwhile, Michael and Fiona were splashing gasoline around the interior of their home.

I had to separate myself from Pleasant Hills. I used a thumbnail and the nail on my forefinger. I pried. My fingernail broke. On TV Michael and Fiona were pouring gasoline onto their bed. Pry harder! My finger bled, the skin tore. Fiona lit a match and torched the bed. My thumbnail broke down to the quick. Damn it! Michael and Fiona’s home burst into flames. The rings finally separated and the key slid off.

Michael and Fiona prevailed against all odds that night, and I did too. Death and rebirth. I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep and in the morning, I was ready for our new home.
Rosco enjoying his new home

Monday, October 8, 2012

CAPTION CONTEST! Photos from Bouchercon 2012

  On the my last day at Bouchercon, I was picking up my few unsold books from bookseller Richard Katts of Mystery One Books. It was time to catch my flight and lug the books home. I looked up from my bag of books and Lee Child appeared before me. Right there, sitting at my bookseller’s table! 

Never one to miss an opportunity to be annoying, I thrust my camera at an unsuspecting stranger, darted around the table, and knelt next to the man who’s almost as tall as Jack Reacher. The stranger snapped the picture below. 

It’s not the best photo, so I asked my Facebook friends for help. We ran a photo caption contest. 

The number of Facebook “likes” for each caption narrowed the contest to three entries from dozens of great ones. The committee’s giggle meter provided final order of finish. 

Third place goes to, Bob Sanchez: “Sasscer Hill, taking success in stride."

Second place goes to Anna Tauzin’s entry, “Act cool, it's Lee Child, OMG!" 

Notice Lee’s smile and picture a caption bubble over his head as you read Rhonda Lane’s winning quote: “Wait ‘til I tell Lynda that the studio wants to produce the Nikki Latrelle books starring Tom Cruise in drag." 

Below are some other fun photos from Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Murder in the Great Outdoors panel. Stephen Booth, Robin Harlick, Paul Doiron, Sasscer Hill, and Curt Wendelboe.
Sasscer Hill and Curt Wendelboe before the start of the panel.
Robin Harlick and British author Stephen Booth. He was very popular and really drew in a crowd. I was proud to be there.
Sasscer Hill outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the opening ceremonies were held for Bouchercon 2012.
Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mary Higgins Clark!
Author John Connolly interviews "Tom Cruise" who will star in the new "Jack Reacher," movie.

Parnell Hall entertains us at the Sisters in Crime breakfast on Friday morning. Did he know SinC would sweep the Anthony Awards?
 Hank Phillippi Ryan and Sasscer Hill in the Book Room. I need to get some red lipstick . . .
Thriller author Zoe Sharp, looking sharp.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


 "Leaves are falling all around. It's time I was on my way.” This Led Zepplin song, “Ramble On” so reflects my mood as I start to leave Maryland.

Pleasant Hills after the fall

And words like “Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I've got one thing I got to do...  sing my song.”

My song is in my novels where characters chase the dream, fight the odds and help the helpless.  Writing connects me to the wild spirit in my heart and when I listen to Plant singing, “Gotta find the queen of all my dreams,” I know just what he means. When that queen, that wild heart drives my writing I know the work is good, that readers can share the emotion clear and simple. 

Plant sings, “Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear.” I have always believed in personal freedom and rugged individualism. In today’s political environment I keep some of my beliefs to myself. But I want to be financially sound, debt free, and at least moderately successful as an author.

Wonderful events like the Washington Post’s August 29 Review of “Racing from Death” help me to believe. Accolades like, “If you miss the late Dick Francis’s racetrack thrillers, you’ll be intrigued by Sasscer Hill’s Racing From Death.” 

But the key to success is to be prolific. I must write well and plentifully. Having two herniated dics and an office in an attic up four flights of stairs do not lend themselves to this goal. Being constantly worried about my absurdly expensive homeowners policy, the huge utility bills caused by twelve foot ceilings, and the high Maryland property taxes just ain’t cutting it.

After the 2011 earthquake, the 2008 market crash, the gutting of Maryland horse racing in this state by the legislators in Annapolis who continue to raise taxes, it is time to be on my way. Staying in our beautiful historical home without the funds to keep Pleasant Hills going makes no sense. Time for hard choices that will lead to a less stressful life in a smaller town and smaller home where I can write novels that will give readers a quality place to visit when they want to step away from the hardships of life.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A July 2012 Review for “Racing from Death.”

Agog and amazed upon receipt of this lovely review!

"Small Press Reviews" by Betty Webb in Mystery Scene Magazine, 2012 Summer

 Sasscer Hill brings us another exciting racehorse mystery in Racing from Death (Wildside Press, $13.99). When Maryland jockey Nikki Latrelle,introduced in the Agatha-nominated Full Mortality, takes several horses to race at a Virginia track, she lands in the middle of several cold cases. Years earlier, two teenage boys were shot to death, leaving their mother in despair. Around the same time, another mother disappeared, abandoning her young son to his cold father. In the present, and possibly connected to those old tragedies, jockeys are dropping dead, victims of a lethal weight-loss drug. Horse lovers and fans of Dick Francis will love Hill’s you-are-there-on-the-racecourse thriller, but the real asset of this excellent series is the hard-riding, hard-partying Nikki herself. After being orphaned, Nikki ran away to the track, where she found her calling. Spirited to a fault, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, especially when their ignorance harms horses. Nikki’s racetrack friends are worth mentioning, too. Lorna, an exercise rider, loves too hard and too blindly; Mello, an elderly groom, has a touch of the Sight. In fact, Mello’s visions give Racing from Death the touch of magic that separates it from standard mystery fare. Add to the character mix a mysterious crying man who haunts a nearby forest, and we’re given an utterly unique take on racetrack thrillers. novel or read free chapters!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I studied the middle–aged New Kent County Sheriff on duty at Colonial Downs racetrack on June 23, 2012. 

Taser Gun 
Holstered on his wide leather belt were both a Taser and a handgun. Additionally, he carried a flashlight, a baton, keys, and two radios that were connected by spiral cords to the mikes that sat on each of his shoulders. And that’s what I could identify. 

How did he walk around with all that stuff?

Being a mystery author and a busybody, I had to ask him how much his belt weighed.

 “Eighteen pounds.” He said, shaking his head.  “But you should see some of the young bloods. You wouldn’t believe the stuff they carry around.” He told me one of the two radios was for the sheriff’s department, the other for the racetrack.

I was stuck at my desk outside the track’s gift shop hawking copies of my published mysteries. With the downturn in the economy, the crowd was sparser than the last time I’d been there. I spent time talking to three different sheriffs on duty that night and got a whole new perspective on the mortgage foreclosure disaster. New Kent County has not been exempt.

When I picture a mortgage foreclosure, I see the mean bank and the mean law officer evicting people from their only homes. But Saturday night, a sheriff I talked to turned the mental image around. He said, “I’ve been a law officer for thirty-something years and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is enforce a foreclosure.”

He told me about an old woman who had just gotten out of the hospital the day before. “She still had bandages on her arm,” he said. “And I had to evict her.” 

The pain from the memory twisted his face. He closed his eyes as if trying to push it away.

“It’s like war,” I said, “when you’re supposed to shoot someone you don’t even know.”

He stared at me. I decided it was time to step away from the abyss and sell a book. 

Sasscer Hill outside the Colonial Downs Gift Shop

“Hey, do you read mysteries,” I called out to a woman who’d just come through the main entrance and was clutching a free cupcake voucher.

“Not really,” she said. “But do you know where they have the cupcakes?”

I manned my book table from six to ten-thirty that night. When you do a book signing, you become the information center. You tell people where the bathrooms are, where to get their free cupcake, where to buy a program, and how to reach the bar. Being Ladies Night, the gals not only got the cupcake, they got in for free, too. 

That night, the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation was hosting a retired race-mare beauty contest.  The horses in this competition came from the James River Foundation, a correctional center where retired race horses get to live out their days and prisoners get to work with horses while searching for that second chance. The offenders in this correctional program have an unusually high success rate for staying out of the prison system.  

The TRF vanned in three plump, groomed, and shiny mares and paraded them in front of the grandstand after the second race. People filled out their choice that evening and voted, placing their picks in a box. Since I was sitting right next to it, it occurred to me it would be easy to stuff the ballot box. Except the  sheriff was there. Besides, no one tried to bribe me. 

Colonial also sponsored “The Race to the Alter,” where engaged couples competed for an all expense paid July wedding at the track. Additionally, Colonial put on an all female jockey race that evening, and, of course, the amazing author Sasscer Hill was there signing her horse racing mystery novels.

Kim Loftus and Chris Chappell from Virginia Beach, pictured with Chris’ daughter.
"Lite 98's radio host, Shelly Perkins, was the emcee for the evening. Over the sound system, I heard her announce the entrants to the “Race to the Altar.” Later, Kim Loftus and Chris Chappell from Virginia Beach won the race to the Alter which included the facility, the gown, the cake, the food, the champagne, the pictures and the limo!

 The hands down winner of the beauty pageant was a chestnut mare named Skittles. The seven-year-old mare never hit the board in nine lifetime starts, but Saturday night, she wore a garland of roses in the winner’s circle and received a year’s supply of carrots from Whole Foods.

After they finished parading the mares, Colonial’s director-of-marketing, Darrell Wood, stopped by and told me I had a fast date with a microphone on the Jumbotron.

“You’ll be interviewed by radio host, Shelly Perkins,” he said. “Right after the fifth race.”

Two years ago, when I knew I would have to go on the air in front of the entire grandstand, I got quite nervous. Last Saturday, I didn’t. I got hungry, ate an entire order of french fries, and bought a Makers Mark and ginger ale. I nursed my way through half the Maker’s Mark, consuming enough for a buzz of bravery, but not enough to spoil the show. Then it was time to walk down to the racetrack circle and get ready to go on the air.

Sasscer meets Shelly
I was introduced to radio host Shelly Perkins, who held a cheat sheet that did not include the name of my new novel. She also wanted to pronounce my name as “Sow sir.” I told her to pronounce it like she was telling someone not to “sass her.” 

She said, “Okay. When we go on, you will tell me a little about your book.” 

I froze. I hadn’t even thought about talking about my book. Where was my head? So I did a very fast mental repeat of my novel's elevator pitch, letting it rise to the top of my brain until it was as big and clear as a billboard. 

While I did this, the fifth race ran. After the field galloped out, the winner, ridden by Horatio Karamanos, came into the winner’s circle and we all moved out of the way for the win picture. Afterwards, I ended up standing next to Karamanos as he stood on the scales to weigh in.
Horatio Karamanos rides in the winner, Little Piasano
For me, an amazing coincidence as a fictional character named Eduardo Carmanos, based loosely on the real Karamanos, features largely in the novel “Racing from Death.” 
Karamanos (red cap) on the weight scale standing next to Sasscer (turquoise)
Carmanos has an even bigger role in the just finished manuscript, “The Sea Horse Trade.” When you read, “Racing from Death,” you will race with Nikki in a Colonial Downs turf stake where the fictional character, jockey Carmanos, blocks and stops Nikki’s horse three times, trying to keep Nikki from winning. Those that have read the book tell me they felt like they were there on the track, grinding it out to the wire – that they couldn’t put the book down.

Suddenly, Shelly Perkins motioned me to join her, the camera guy stood in front of us, and did a finger count down from five to one, and the light on his camera went red.

I managed not to screw up, and finished by telling the crowd "Racing from Death" features young jockey Nikki Latrelle who tangles with a murdering sociopath who is selling diet cocktails to jockeys who struggle to maintain racing weight. 

Shelly said, "Gee, I'm glad that's fiction!" 

I had to laugh.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012


June 23, 2012

Book signing at Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, Virginia on Saturday night. It's "Ladies Night," so it's free for all the gals and for children twelve and under. And there will be both turf and dirt stakes races that evening! The Buckland and the Chesapeake for fillies and colts respectively, with each race carrying a purse of $50,000.00.  

Sasscer will be signing her new mystery novel "Racing from Death" as well as the Agatha and Macavity nominated "Full Mortality." The event will take place in the Colonial Downs gift shop just inside the track's main entrance from six p.m. to ten p.m.

If your vacationing in Williamsburg, at Virginia Beach, golfing, or live in the Richmond area, come on by! The racing, dining, and ambiance at Colonial is tops.
Sasscer on Colonial's Jumbotron  in July, 2010


Sasscer will be appearing at this very popular mystery convention, held this year in Cleveland, Ohio, at the downtown Marriott Renaissance hotel. Schedule to be posted.
Lee Child with Sasscer, Bouchercon 2010
Here is the Bouchercon web site link:

Friday, May 25, 2012


On May 19, I squeezed into the suit my sister bought me fifteen years ago and grabbed my Preakness ticket.
The magic ticket.
I cranked up my 2000 Lincoln, and though the car has clocked over 150,000 miles, the motor still kicks obligingly when I hit the pedal. Like a good old horse, the car ferried me to Harwood to meet my ride to the races.  

My Turfside Terrace ticket included seats at a table near the finish line, a tasty meal, and more free water and sodas than I'd consume in a year. Booze, unfortunately, was extra, and my table was not the same as that of my traveling companions. But I counted my blessings. Especially when I discovered the people at my new table were all male and younger than me!

Sasscer Hill intending to have fun!

These guys were there to handicap the races and bet. They were extremely polite and were not hard drinkers. How lucky can a gal get?
Two of my table companions.
Four more of my table companions. Nobody had fun -- you can tell right?
 I spent some time with my niece Alidia Clagett and her beau, Jim.

For a while, I  sat with childhood friend Christy, and sports photographer Isabel Kurek. But mostly, I watched the track
A turf stake on Preakness Day!

Horses ready to break on one of the undercard stakes.

Not long before the Preakness and after an excellent meal, two vodkas, and two  brownies, I decided to venture into the infamous Preakness Infield. Sadly, I didn’t find Kegasus. 

But there there were plenty of other irrationally exuberant people and the way-cool band Maroon 5. I pushed my way as close as I could get to Maroon 5 as they performed live on stage, until the sweaty, often scantily-clothed-crowd closed in one me. It contained some interesting characters.
Interesting Character.
The infield mob and the Maroon 5 stage.  

About the time I decided I might be past my rock-concert-prime, I spotted a man in a natty, green jacket who looked like he was attempting to escape. I inched over to him.

“You don’t look like you belong out here,” I shouted.  

“Not really. I’m trying to leave,” he yelled back.

I hooked a few fingers on his sleeve and let him tow me toward the distant exit. About the time Maroon 5 began playing “Moves Like Jagger,” some gals in dresses with fancy hats, and a couple of sharp-dressed men materialized out of the crowd. 

Next thing I knew, we'd had formed a conga line and were dancing our way to safety. We boogied right on out of there, and I have to confess it was the most fun I’ve had in some time. 
"The Man in the Natty Green Jacket," and other dancing escape artists.

Then it was time to get serious. A Grade One, Triple Crown race was on the line. I was so close, I got a few pictures with my tiny camera.

Bringing them over for the Preakness!
Mike Smith and Bodemeister

Right before the race, one of the guys at my table looked up and said, “I’ll Have Another is going to win this race.” 

The way he said it, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Then I saw the horse in the post parade. He had his game face on. Anyone could see he intended to win!

                                                 And he did . . . .

Matt Wooley catches the winner, and the winner catches Bodemeister!

RACING FROM DEATH Goes to The Black-Eyed Susan.

I packed an optimistic forty books, two pens, and my cash box. I stuck a feather fascinator on my head, a Pimlico parking pass on the rearview, and drove north to Baltimore for black-eyed Susan Day.
The Black-Eyed Susan is a horse race with a purse of $300,000. It would be run that afternoon, followed by the million-dollar Preakness the next day. The Black-Eyed Susan is Maryland’s derby for three-year-old fillies, and is named after the Maryland state flower. It’s a day of festivity, excellent racing, and fashionable hats. Please note that the boys get the million-dollar purse and the girls get the three hundred thousand-dollar purse. Some things never change.
Men at work.
Pimlico was blessed with fabulous, sunny weather the whole weekend. That special mix, when it’s not too hot, not too cool, and the air is clear.  I walked into a grandstand that buzzed with excitement. I’d been lucky enough to be invited to sign my new mystery “Racing from Death.” After arranging my books at the table provided by Pimlico, I realized the key to my cash box was still in the car. It is possible I cursed.

An extremely nice Sasscer Hill fan, named Natalie, volunteered to watch my stuff. I dashed out the entrance, then fought like a fish swimming upstream against the incoming crowd, before jogging across acres of pavement to reach the car. I snatched up the pesky key, and dashed back to the grandstand. I composed myself and sat. 
A Wendy Wooley Photo.

Several other authors were signing that day. Next to me was Ann Hambleton, with her children’s book, “Raja.” 
Ann Hambleton 

Nearby were authors Martha Dugan Hopkins, and Phil Dandrea. My friend Frank Vespe, the man who runs the “That’s Amore Stable” syndicate and racing blog, stopped by.
Frank Vespe and Sasscer

A stranger stopped by and bought a book. He handed me his card. His name was Thomas and he was small, wiry, and wired. He asked me to sign the book and to write “Go Army.” I did. I started to hand him his book, and he said, “Can you do one more thing? Can you write ‘major?’ I’m a major, in the Army, Major Tom.”

In certain instances I don’t bother to restrain myself. I looked him in the eye and sang, “Ground control to Major Tom.” A line from the old David Bowie song “Space Oddity.”

He said, “I get that a lot.”

I said, “Why am I not surprised,” and handed him his book. He promptly blasted off toward the track.  

A little later, two photographers with lenses the size of Zenyatta stopped before my table and started shooting pictures. I stared at them in full blonde-moment non-recognition. Amazing racing photographer, Matt Wooley had to remind me who he was. Ah, duh. Only the guy that took my all time favorite photo of me and Paula Marie Weglarz.

Me and Paula Marie! Keeneland 2010.
And Matt's adorable, super charged wife, Wendy. I’m so mad I neglected to take their picture. The two of them together blaze with energy. Awesome couple!

The thing about book signing is, you can’t leave your table. Not if you want to sell copies. Since I was coming back for the Preakness the next day, I planned to rocket out of there mid afternoon to avoid the worst of Baltimore Friday afternoon rush hour. I did, however, wait around for the highlight of my day, the arrival of TV personality Donna Barton Brothers who was signing her book, "Inside Track: Insiders Guide to Horse Racing." 
Donna Brothers Barton

If you’ve ever watched a triple crown race or the Breeder’s Cup you have seen Donna. She is the gal followed by the NBC camera truck, who rides out on the track with her microphone and interviews the jockey as he gallops the winner back toward the grandstand and winner’s circle. Donna used to be a jockey and she really knows her stuff.

After I got a picture with Donna, I hit the road.
Donna and Sasscer

 Late that afternoon a filly named “In Lingerie,” won the Black-Eyed Susan. By the time she ran and with a name like that, you think  the fellows deep in their beers had bet her off the board? 
In Lingerie winning the Black Eyed Susan