A new novel by an Aiken author focuses on a young woman trying to find herself while finding her way out of the only world she has known since birth: the secretive world of the Irish American Travelers.
Sasscer Hill's “Travels of Quinn” tells the story of Quinn O'Neill, who was raised by her father and stepfamily to be a scam artist.
“I liked the idea of a female who was born into the culture of the Irish American Travelers, but her mother was an outsider,” said Hill, an award-winning author. “Quinn's mother actually was a woman who came to study the culture and fell in love with this extremely charismatic Black Irish gentleman who was a crook. She thought she could change his ways.”
The novel, which Sasscer is self-publishing, came Tuesday. The author will have copies of the book available at the official launch from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday during a reception for a new exhibition at the Aiken Center for the Arts at 122 Laurens St. S.W.
To order “Travels of Quinn” and Hill's other books, visit sasscerhill.com.
Hill said she became fascinated by the local Irish American Travelers and Murphy Village, their community along U.S. 25 near Belvedere, when she and husband, Daniel Filippelli, moved from Maryland to Aiken in 2012.
The Travelers came to America from Ireland in the mid-19th century and settled in Aiken County in the 1960s. They rarely mix with people outside their closed community and have their own secret language.
In recent years, several residents of Murphy Village have been convicted and sentenced to prison for crimes, including theft, different kinds of fraud and money laundering schemes.
“Quinn has learned all the cons, but she wants out. She doesn't like it,” Hill said. “She's torn. Sometimes pulling off a good con gives he a real thrill, but when other people get hurt and she sees the pain that it causes them, she starts to doubt her people's ways.”
Quinn's family background makes her a suspect in a murder case, and she goes to jail.
“Does she get out? That's the question in the end,” the author said. “You'll have to read the book to find out.”
Hill described her novel as a mystery-suspense-thriller with a coming-of-age story.
“There's no reason why it can't be all,” she said. “Quinn is 19. Initially, she went along to get long, but she learns to fight for herself. She realizes this is not what she wants. It takes her a while to figure it out, but she does.”
After being jailed for theft, Quinn pays restitution by working on a horse farm. Horses and horse racing are major themes in Hill's works.
Hill's four books in her Nikki Latrelle horse racing mystery series tell the stories of a female jockey who solves mysteries. The two novels in another series feature Fia McKee, a Baltimore police officer who goes undercover at the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau at Gulfstream Park in Florida.
The first Fia McKee novel, “Flaming Road,” won the 2018 $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Award for Best in Racing Literature. The second, “The Dark Side of Town,” was an Editor's Pick at the “Toronto Star.”
“I like action, and I like fear,” Hill said. “I like people to be a little bit scared when they're reading my books, and I also like for my books to have humor. People laugh out loud when they're reading my books because my heroines tend to be a little bit sarcastic and to point out the obvious. That's always fun.”
Hill is writing a fifth Nikki Latrelle book.
“They have quite a following,” she said.
She also has the “seed of a story” with another local angle: a veteran healing the wounds of war through the Saratoga WarHorse program in Aiken. The program serves military veterans and service members living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It's a murder mystery about someone who comes back from war, either male or female, and has terrible PTSD and goes to the Saratoga WarHorse to get better,” Hill said. “They come across a youngster who is in trouble, and maybe between the horses and my hero or heroine helping the youngster, they can find their way back to who they were before they went to war.”
Hill said she was “horse crazy” as a child.
After her father died when she was 16, a wealthy family friend who raised thoroughbred steeplechase horses, and his family took Hill under their wing and gave her a horse to ride “right off the steeplechase track.”
“I loved it,” Hill said. “It saved my life. I was 16 and hanging out with a bad crowd. Horses have helped so many people and given them a grounding and something to live for even.”
Hill has been involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for much of her life, according to her website.
Hill has been writing about horses since at least fifth grade when her teacher assigned the class to write a piece of a story.
“I don't remember what happened, but there was a boy and a man and a truck pulling a race horse in a trailer,” she said.
Impressed, her teacher asked Hill to read her piece out loud.
“When I was finished, all these little kids raised their hands and asked what happened next,” Hill said. “For an author, there is nothing better than people wanting to know what's going to happen next.”
Since moving to Aiken, Hill helped start a chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization for women mystery writers, in Columbia. For the last two falls, she taught a fiction writing class for USC Aiken's Academy of Lifelong Learning and plans to teach again this fall.
“That's been very gratifying,” the author said. “I like to give back. I like to help other people, other writers. I had them write a little something in class – I like people to be involved – and they were all so excited. I've found that writers are all so kind and helpful to other writers. They're very supportive.”