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The remote town of Oriska, New York, hasn’t been home for Sydney Lucerno for 13 years. She’s escaped the creeping addictions and long-simmering anger that are as much a part of the landscape as the bitter cold. But when she gets the call that her mother is dying, every secret and fear she left behind is waiting to welcome her back.

Two days later, her mother’s lover is dead too. And Sydney’s sworn to protect a half-sister she never knew she had, a prickly teenager named Maude with an opiate habit and a bad-news family. But more lies and feuds are poised to spring from every once-familiar corner. The predators Sydney thought she’d escaped are threatening both her and Maude. To get free, Sydney will have to discover the truth about what happened when she left—and decide what should stay buried, deep in the unforgiving snow…

Author Susan Alice Bickford took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with The Big Thrill about her latest thriller, DREAD OF WINTER:

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

Character always takes the lead when I am shaping my work, with setting a close second. The ways the location and setting mold characters in different ways is fascinating to me and I strive to make setting permeate every page as the characters move through their surroundings. In this case, a young woman ran away from her home environment 13 years before and now must find a way to navigate that same nasty territory all over again.

Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?

I love that thrillers cover a wide range of conventions. The recent-ish emergence of domestic and contemporary thrillers have opened up new opportunities for storytelling. In my books, there are no outside forces coming to the rescue or agents with special skills. Each individual is a normal person who is put into extraordinary circumstances, armed with empathy, sympathy, and intelligence.

No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?

I was very pleased to be able to incorporate aspects of Iroquois culture into this tale. Although I grew up surrounded by glimpses of that environment, I found I didn’t understand much of it and I started to dig deeper. I hope readers will find my efforts to blend this into the plot moves the story along in addition to being a window into an important part of American society.

Have you ever considered writing a series?

My setting—Central New York—is my series. It is a key character in all my work. As for the people: I like wrapping things up and pushing those people along the way with their imperfect lives, hopefully wiser for their adventures. But you never know…

What made you choose Central New York?

There is something special about a place you experience as a child moving to adulthood. Rural culture and rural crime are fascinating and so different from how and where I live now.

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?

I was determined to present a greater ethnic and racial diversity than I had in my first book. Looking back on the first novel, I realized I hadn’t really captured the range of races and groups found in rural Central New York. However, as a white woman, I was very cautious about taking on perspectives of people from other cultures. This turned out to be a journey of self-discovery—what did I really know?—and a learning experience about others. I worked with readers from a variety of cultures and ended up finding many fascinating depths I hadn’t known about before.

How does this book make a contribution to the genre?

I have tried to present strong women as protagonists who are forced to rely on their own intelligence and resourcefulness to rescue themselves and those they love. They are imperfect but learn from their mistakes and never give up.


Susan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Central New York, the setting for many of her thriller and suspense stories. After she discovered computer graphics and animation, Susan moved from New York City to Silicon Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company. She now works as an independent consultant, and continues to be fascinated by all things high tech.

A Short Time to Die was released by Kensington Publishing in 2017 and was nominated for Best Debut Novel at Left Coast Crime. DREAD OF WINTER will be released in November 2019.

To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.