When mystery writer Susan Coryell needed inspiration for her latest gothic novel, the former Centreville High School English teacher remembered a picturesque haunted house she bumped into while living in Northern Virginia.
“It was one of the houses that my husband (a real estate agent) listed,” Coryell said. “It was a Revolutionary War-era estate that was rumored to house a ghost. I’m no Ghostbuster and I never did see a ghost, but whenever my husband would show the house, the kids would react to it.”
The house was eventually sold and the memory of the home stored away until she decided to revive it as the setting for her new book, Red, Red Rose, published by L&L Dreamspell. It is a fictional story about 20-year-old Ashby Overton, who visits her aunt and uncle at their historic estate, which has now been moved to Southern Virginia. The character hopes to unearth her ancestral roots and find out the truth behind the horseback riding death of her grandmother.
The book is in the genre of the Agatha Christie’s novels—high on mystery and low on gore with characters drawn from small towns or villages. The Centreville-area setting fits perfectly into the story, she said.
So how does a highly qualified English teacher—she got her master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from George Mason—make the transition to mystery writer with a thing for the Southern Gothic romance tale and ghosts?
Like most who put nouns and verbs together for a living, she said she has always known that she wanted to be a full-time writer. Her moment of epiphany came in her late 30s, when she was on summer vacation away from school. It was time for her to write a book.
“I said if I didn’t do it now, it would never happen,” she said. “I locked the door, told my kids not to disturb me unless they were bleeding and wrote the book. I proved to myself that I could do it.”
That book never was released, but she did publish an award-winning young adult novel Eaglebait and more recently Red, Red Rose.
Now based in Southern Virginia, Coryell continues to have fond memories of both Northern Virginia and teaching at Centreville High. She last taught in 2001.
“Centreville was a most wonderful school,” Coryell said. “I had taught other places, but my husband called Centreville the all-American school. You got such a broad base of rich, poor and middle class kids from every possible ethnicity. It was such a wonderful community and I loved teaching there.”
She is working on a new novel, based on a true story. And, she has a challenge for any of her old students who might remember her.
"I thought some of my former English students at CVHS might be interested in reading and critiquing something their teacher wrote," Coryell said.