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SunLit Interview: A pioneering woman in TV news, author Sue Hinkin drew on the experience

In "The Burn Patient," she leaned on her early career to create a series based on a female crime-solving duo

Sue Hinkin is a former college administrator, TV news photographer, and NBC-TV art department manager, as well as a Cinematography Fellow at the American Film Institute. She was recently namedRocky Mountain Fiction Writers writer of the year.“The Burn Patient,”released mid-pandemic, won the Colorado Book Award. Raised in Chicago, Hinkin now lives in Littleton, Colorado. See more at www.suehinkin.com


Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

The idea for this series — the Vega & Middleton books — came about during my first job as a TV news camerawoman in the Midwest. With two major FCC sex discrimination suits against the station in the late 1970s, they hired me–the first woman to be out in the field with a 16mm film camera. Yep, pre-video by a few months. There was one black woman on the reporting staff, one female tech person (me) and we two outliers were often teamed together. From that relationship came my two leading characters—Los Angeles TV news reporter Bea Middleton, an African-American woman, and her BFF, photographer Lucy Vega.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about strong female friendships in the realm of crime-fighting–Rizzoli & Isles and Cagney & Lacey were inspirations. Let’s face it, there are not a lot of series-based women partners. Family, in whatever form that may take, is also a major backdrop to the series as well. Bea is a twice-divorced single mother of two contentious teenagers, and Lucy is an orphan with a sometimes-suicidal case of survivor’s guilt.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

This entire series has a diverse, multi-cultural cast which has been both fun and intimidating to write in this time of fractious identity politics. Diversity, however, is reality– particularly in an urban setting like L.A. Respect, research and a strong sense of our common humanity has helped me dive in and write my cast of characters.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole?

In this book, Lucy thought she’d seen her uncle’s murderer, a Hollywood bad boy and her former colleague, Mercer, incinerated in a Jeep explosion several years back in Mexico. He was trying to kill her because she had knowledge of his black tar heroin dealings that could destroy his growing enterprise. Lucy didn’t know officials had never found his body. 

Now, back from the dead with a new face, his perverted sights are set on trafficking Bea’s teenaged daughter, Alyssa, into the porn industry–the perfect modus of revenge.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own? 

With this book, I felt like I was really beginning to find my voice as a writer and because of that, I was more in control of the narrative. What is going to happen as I write the story is highly unpredictable, like life. How the characters will react to crises, however, is always consistent with who they are. To thine own characters be true—Shakespeare had Hamlet say something similar. Worked for him.

What was a favorite part of writing “The Burn Patient”?

I particularly enjoyed writing the trans-sexual antagonist, Toulusa, who was raised in Canada by Cirque du Soleil parents—mother a costume designer, father a trapeze artist who mysteriously plunged to his death. I learned a great deal about various forms of sexual identity and fluidity. 

She’s brilliantly creative, wildly magnetic, and a total narcissist. Toulusa’s sexuality paired with that of the brutal but extremely needy villain Gary Mercer made for a complex relationship. 

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

Sitting at my PC with my dog sleeping at my feet, a hot cup of coffee in my hand as a gentle snow falls outside the window with great ideas flowing like a big ol’ river, would be idyllic. Unfortunately, that’s about 2% of the process. 

I’m not a writer who tightly plots the story from the beginning. I’m what other writers call a “pantser,” like seat-of-your pants, rather than an organized outliner. I may, however, outline a particular chapter or scene if I need focus. Beyond that, once I have the general plot and characters in my head, I step into the mystery bus, strap in and take the ride. 

My biggest challenge is to figure out how the characters will deal with the challenges of the story and grow as people along the way. I don’t have all this information locked in before I begin to write–much of the character’s personality emerges during the process of writing and editing. Each crisis demands a decision by the characters, and dealing with the consequences of that decision should make for great tension.

Tell us about your next project.

Starting a new book is both the best and the worst. A new project is exciting, all those cool ideas–but months of corralling them into something worth reading is grueling.

The next Vega & Middleton novel is called, for the moment, “Dangerous Medicine.”  It was sparked by an incident where a widely-used antidepressant manufactured in China, as many of our drugs are, held no active ingredients. People died as Big Pharma failed to take consumer complaints seriously.


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