Q&A With Halley Sutton

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Q&A With Halley Sutton 

My latest Q&A is with Author and Editor Halley Sutton. Halley is the author of The Lady Upstairs & coming out on August 8th 2023 The Hurricane Blonde. 

Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about The Hurricane Blonde coming out on August 8th and how you came up with the concept of that book?

A: Absolutely! The Hurricane Blonde is the story of Salma Lowe, a former child star turned true crime bus tour driver. Salma grew up in a famous family—think Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson—and was constantly in the spotlight growing up (often for the wrong reasons). After her sister Tawney was murdered (a murder that was never solved) when Salma was fifteen, she stopped acting and removed herself from the spotlight. 

When the book starts, she’s running a true crime bus tour (Stars Six Feet Under) in Hollywood, visiting sites of famous crimes. At the site where her sister’s body was found, Salma discovers a new dead woman, twenty years later, and starts to investigate when it turns out the woman shares many similarities to her sister—including that she was recently cast as Tawney in a movie about her death. The investigation forces Salma back into the Hollywood she tried to leave behind, and into the truth about some dark, long-buried secrets of her family.

The concept of the book is a sort-of mashup of various sparks—I love true crime bus tours. They’re morbid, but they’re also a really interesting way to get a look at a city: it’s history, the stories it values about itself, the mythology it wraps itself in. I wanted to write a character deeply involved in that world. 

And the second piece of the book comes from an anecdote I heard in grad school. One of my professors used to write for The Hollywood Reporter and had all these crazy stories about Hollywood life in the 1970s. I can’t repeat his story verbatim because I would very much not like to be sued, but he basically told a story of a crime that had been covered up for years, and I wanted to dig into a version of that—how could such a secret exist alongside people who make it their living to be in the spotlight? What would it do to you to discuss a narrative about yourself, your family, the biggest piece of your family’s history, wasn’t true? 

Q: What made you want to be an author and editor? 

A: Well, the second part is easy—I became an editor because it was the only career path I could figure out with a creative writing degree! But I do love what I do, and I think becoming a better editor helps make me a better writer.

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid. My parents had jobs where we traveled a lot, particularly in the summer, and as an only child, one of the best ways to amuse myself was to read. I fell in love with books, and specific characters. I would even write letters to my favorite characters, because I wanted them to know as much about my life as I knew about theirs. I wanted to create characters and worlds that meant as much to me as the ones I fell in love with (childhood favorites being Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Eloise Jarvis McGraw). 

Q: Which authors works have you edited for? What is your advice to anyone wanting to pursue being an editor and author?

A: Most of my editing work is in the realm of professional practice—I work on higher education newsletters, so I edit my columnists and submitted articles I receive. 

However, I have had the supreme joy of being a mentor during #PitchWars (when that organization was still in existence!) and I got to work with Heather Levy, whose second book, Hurt for Me, will come out next year! Her first book, Walking Through Needles, was the book we worked on during #PitchWars, and I’m so proud of all the success that has come her way! 

I also got to work with a young writer named Olesya Lyuzna during #PitchWars, and while she doesn’t yet have a book out, I can’t wait for the world to read her writing—she writes these dazzlingly beautiful sentences, and has such a cool, specific vision for the worlds she builds. 

My best and biggest advice is to READ. That’s really obvious, but there are a shocking number of people I’ve met who want to be writers who don’t read frequently. Each book is a textbook, even ones you don’t like. Asking yourself why you do or don’t connect with a book is a hugely helpful thing to do, for both writing and editing skills. Digging into it on a granular level—how does the prose impact the pace? How does the writer create tension between characters?—is even better.

Q: If you’re working on your next project, what is it about if you can spoil it?

A: Ha, happy to spoil it! Although currently there are more *vibes* than plot. It’ll be set in the south of France where two old friends reunite at a beautiful chateau. My main character, Marnie, is fleeing some bad choices she made back in the states and tries to slide into the life of her childhood friend, an Instagram influencer who moves between European capitols, leading a glamorous life creating art. Only what Marnie will discover is that her friend’s life isn’t quite as glamorous—or aboveboard—as she thought, and that the chateau they’re staying in was the site of an infamous murder, and may be harboring other dark secrets…

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? The entertainment industry really needs new material. 

A: There’s nothing I can announce yet, but I have big, not totally unfounded hopes that my first novel, The Lady Upstairs, may make it to the small screen someday! Keep your fingers crossed. 


In the meantime, I’m cheering on the WGA strike from the sidelines and hoping they can reach a resolution that pays writers what they deserve, while protecting their rights for future projects.