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This 'Little Black Dress' has a little black magic

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 22, 2011 - Need one more fun read before the summer comes to an end? "Little Black Dress" by St. Louisan Susan McBride could be a perfect fit.

Indeed, the dress in the title fits and flatters the main women in the novel even though one is petite, another tall and angular and the third is somewhere between those sizes.

Magic? You bet. And the little black dress' charms are far more serious than instant alterations. No spoilers here, suffice it to say that the story moves quickly with enough twists that the reader can enjoy a few surprises and characters developed well enough that you care what happens.

Of special note to St. Louisans is the setting. The main character has left the wine country around Ste. Genevieve to start a career in St. Louis. She rushes back home when her mother has a stroke and there she starts to unravel secrets that have been kept in the family for decades.

In an email exchange, McBride gave some background about her and the book.

Are you from St. Louis? Some of your books are set in Texas and other locales.

McBride: I am not a native St. Louisan, but my mom is. The Meisel side of my family goes back about six generations deep. My great-great-grandfather founded the Herkert & Meisel Trunk Co. in 1888, and they had two locations before my grandpa sold it in the 1980s. I was born in Kansas City, Mo., so I am a Show Me state girl through and through.

My dad worked for IBM, which entailed picking up stakes and moving every two to three years when I was growing up. So I've resided in Overland Park, Kans.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Winnetka, Ill.; Shawnee Mission, Kans.; Greenwich, Conn.; Houston and Dallas. My grandparents lived in St. Louis. We were always here for Christmas, and we spent summers at our cottage in Chautauqua, Ill. Because of that, I always felt like my roots were here. I've lived here almost 16 years and married a Ladue boy, Ed Spitznagel. My husband and I live in Brentwood, and we love it.

Are any of the wineries in the novel based on specific ones in Missouri?

McBride: Ed and I have road-tripped down to Ste. Genevieve on multiple occasions as we're big fans of the Crown Ridge tiger sanctuary and the town of Ste. Gen. I didn't base any of the wineries in "Little Black Dress" on real ones, but I definitely wanted Missouri wine country as a backdrop for the story. So many folks outside the state don't even realize we have a healthy wine industry here.

One bio said you spent a lot of time working to get published. Once you got going, however, you've been writing up a storm. I assume you are now a full-time writer. Is that so? And how did you support yourself before?

McBride: I am a full-time writer, and I've been writing full-time since about 2005. It took me at least a decade (and as many manuscripts) to get a traditional publishing contract. I realized the other night that, since I met my husband six years ago, I've written nine books. Crazy!

Before I could support myself by writing, I did medical transcription to pay the bills. The flexible hours were a perfect fit, and I was (and am) a very fast typist and caught onto the terminology quickly. The doctors loved how polished all their letters and reports turned out, that's for sure!

My major was in public relations from the University of Kansas, and that's come in handy. I'd highly recommend all aspiring authors learn as much as they can about marketing and public relations. I have amazing support at HarperCollins/William Morrow, which has published seven of my novels (the young adult novels are with Random House/Delacorte). I feel very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing and to have had the chance to build my career book-by-book.

What's next?

McBride: I just finished the first draft of a young adult mystery for Delacorte called "Dead Address," and I've got another women's fiction book to write this year for Harper/Morrow. That one's called "Little White Lies," and it delves into the world of magical realism again "like Little Black Dress" -- which is great! There are no boundaries when you're dealing with magic.

Where will you be appearing to promote this book?

McBride: I'll be on "Great Day St. Louis" (KMOV Channel 4) the morning of Aug. 23, which is the official publication date for "Little Black Dress." On Aug. 24, I'll be at the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library attending a Friends of the Library reception at 6 p.m. Then I'll do a talk and signing beginning at 7 p.m. that's open to the public. There will be wine and goodies, plus Neiman Marcus is bringing little black dresses and accessories from their fall collection.

I'll be out of town for a bit in September doing bookseller trade shows, and then I've got a Little Black Dress fundraiser for the St. Louis Affiliate of Susan G. Komen at Saks Fifth Avenue from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27. PF Chang's is doing appetizers, Saks will provide discount shopping cards with a percentage of profits going to Komen, and Left Bank Books will be selling copies of "Little Black Dress," with a percentage of profits also going to Komen. Julia Gordon Bramer will be there, reading tarot cards, since fate and foretelling the future are such big themes in LBD.

By Susan McBride

"Little Black Dress" (2011)

"The Cougar Club" (2010)

Young Adult Fiction

"The Debs" (2008)

"Love, Lies & Texas Dips" (2009)

Debutante Dropout Mysteries

"Blue Blood" (2004)

"The Good Girl's Guide To Murder" (2005)

"The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club" (2006)

"Night of the Living Deb" (2007)

"Too Pretty to Die" (2008)

Maggie Ryan Mysteries:

"And Then She Was Gone" (2000)

"Overkill" (2001)

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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