As her first Fia McKee mystery novel FLAMINGO ROAD is released by St. Martin’s Press, I want to share a story about my friend Sasscer Hill.

Over on The Horsey Set Net is a horse-centric post, especially appropriate because Sasscer used to breed, train, and race Maryland thoroughbreds. She was even a steeplechase jockey and broke her own colts. Her mystery novels are set in the world of horse racing, a world she knows well.

This post is about the first time we met in-person, instead of just online. So …

About seven years ago, in the courtyard of Saratoga Springs’s exclusive and historic Adelphi Hotel, Sasscer spoke to me as if I were a balky thoroughbred filly.

She was in Saratoga for a series of book signings for FULL MORTALITY, the first novel in her Nikki Latrelle series. I’d driven up to The Spa for a couple of days to meet her.

For five years before, we’d been cyber-friends via Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter. “Guppies.” (As in, “Great UnPublished.” Get it?) We’d bonded because we were both working on “horse mysteries.”

We met for the first time at breakfast at Compton’s (all breakfast, even for lunch). Then we gadded about Saratoga’s shops. After lunch, we talked our way into courtyard of the historic Adelphi Hotel.

Back when we were there, the hotel had guests and the courtyard was the setting for afternoon cocktails, as the sign in the first photo indicated.

We talked our way into the courtyard, and with Adirondack chairs stacked around us, chatted and dreamed about what it would be like to stay at the Adelphi. We even dragged out a heavy chair and mugged for photos.

I’d snapped her photo for her Facebook page among the courtyard vegetation. She insisted on shooting a photo of me in return.

Author Sasscer Hill clowing with her first novel FULL MORTALITY

That’s when the trouble started.

I liked to stay behind the camera so I didn’t have to see myself on camera. The situation got worse when the perfect storm of high-dose steroids and menopause piled on the pounds.

I remember cringing and scowling. The photo turned out lousy. No surprise to me.

That’s when Sasscer Hill, the horse trainer who became a mystery author, pulled me up:

“Rhonda, if you’re going to be an author, you have to get used to having your photo taken. It’s part of the job.”

That first photo, we erased. This is the photo she took that I didn’t hate.

Rhonda Lane in courtyard of Adelphi Hotel

The second photo. Not so bad. Photo by Sasscer Hill.

And she was also right about something else. I do look better in photos when I smile as if I’m happy, instead of frowning like a constipated Grinch. Check out one of the results from later at the track.

Check out one of the results from later at the track.

A day at the races in Saratoga several years ago with Sasscer Hill. Photo courtesy Rhonda Lane.

Since then, we’ve met up at writer’s conferences, like Bouchercon in Albany. Just before the Edgar Awards — the Oscars for mystery writers — were presented, we posed for photos as if we’d been announced as Edgar winners.

Rhonda Lane Sasscer Hill David Housewright at Albany Bouchercon

We’d snagged author David Housewright for a photo as if we’d been announced as MWA Edgar Award winners. (Like the Oscars, but for mystery novels.) Photo by Kate Pilarcik.

Although most New Englanders escape winter in Florida, I visited Sasscer in Aiken. In March, Aiken’s horse country kicks off spring with the Aiken Triple Crown. One week is the Aiken Trials, a dress rehearsal for young thoroughbreds headed for racetracks with picnicking crowds.

The young horses get a dress rehearsal with picnicking crowds, loudspeakers, and a starting gate before they head for the racetracks.. Sasscer signed books and I took photos. She even got onlive local broadcast radio, which was mentioned on this blog.

Sasscer Hill signing at Aiken Trials

Sasscer signs books for horse lovers at the Aiken Trials. Photo by Rhonda Lane.

The next time I came by, we went to the spring steeplechase where we just had a good time.

Morning of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. Sasscer’s not working. Or maybe she’s doing research for a future novel. Anyway, we’re there in our finery.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, we like to joke and have fun. Might be a compensation for the darkness of the subject matter we write.

A family event brought Sasscer to New York in December. I took the train into the city, and she took an afternoon so we could meet up for lunch and catch up in midtown Manhattan.

Sasscer Hill and Rhonda Lane at New York Public Library

Sasscer and I met up in New York in December. Photo courtesy Rhonda Lane

In keeping with our tradition of documented hijinks in swanky places, we visited a famous Fifth Avenue department store which will remain nameless.

Clowning around in NYC

Chic expen$ive shoes or de$igner perfume, it’s all fair game for the funny bone. Besides, isn’t New York the home of theater? Er, theatre? 🙂

In 2018, she plans to be signing her second book THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN because it’s set in Saratoga. Maybe we’ll re-visit The Adelphi? 🙂

For more about Sasscer, here’s her website.

America’s Best Racing did a story on FLAMINGO ROAD.

Read the first chapter of Sasscer’s debut novel FLAMINGO ROAD on the Criminal Element blog.

FLAMINGO ROAD book cover image