By Leah Fallon
As an enthusiastic young writer, Susan O’Brien started a neighborhood newspaper, covering not-so-gripping stories like the birth of her neighbor’s gerbils. She went on to write for big national publications, only to find that covering the daily news cycle didn’t satisfy her the way mystery writing did.
In addition to her jobs as a writer, editor and mom, the longtime Sterling resident studied forensic psychology and worked as a private investigator in order to make her writing dreams a reality. With that effort came the Nicki Valentine Mystery series.
Her first novel, published in 2014, “Finding Sky” earned O’Brien an Agatha Award nomination. The positive feedback and reader interest propelled her to write and publish “Sky High” the subsequent year. “Skydive,” the third book in the series, was just released this week.
O’Brien’s novels are a healthy mix of humor, mystery and love. The series centers around protagonist Nicki Valentine, who is working to balance her career as a private investigator and the complexities of being a single mom. Valentine’s job has her working on dangerous missing person cases, often putting her in risky situations in drug dens and back alleys. Being a widow makes raising her children challenging when she has to weigh the risks of her job while keeping her family safe. And somewhere within all the confusion, she wants to find love again.
Through her writing, O’Brien wants to reassure parents that they’re not alone in balancing work, family and social life. She says readers connect with her stories because Nicki Valentine conducts her investigations with passion, heart and humor.
“Her honesty about the challenges of combining single parenting with a challenging career is something that a lot of people can connect with. Life isn’t easy, and Nicki is honest about that,” she said.
In addition to earning a master’s degree in forensic psychology, O’Brien has been a longtime writer and editor, working with USA TODAY, PI Magazine and The Parent Institute, among others.
In 2008, she published her first book, “Child Abduction and Kidnapping,” a nonfiction book that was part of a Criminal Investigation series for young adults. She was eager to use her background in writing, forensic psychology and parenting to write a book intended to empower, not frighten, young adults. This book educates youth about types of kidnappings, and practices put in place to protect and solve cases of missing children.
As a parent of two, she says she can’t imagine the desperation and despair of not knowing where her children are. From the sales of “Child Abduction and Kidnapping” she donated part of her earnings to a variety of missing children’s charities, and continues to do so through the sales of the Nicki Valentine books.
When asked if her character Nicki Valentine mirrors her own life in any way, O’Brien said, “Nicki and I have some similarities and a lot of differences, but we both need humor to survive parenting and life. We follow our hearts and our intuition, although hers leads to much more danger and excitement than mine does.”
Susan O’Brien will sign copies of her newest novel, Skydive, at Reston Regional Library’s Mystery Author Extravaganza from 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3. The Sisters in Crime-sponsored event includes presentations and signings by 16 local authors. For more information about the event go to chessiechapter.org. Visit her webpage for more about her books skywritingsusan.com.