Endorsements for “When Demons Float”

“The university is a place where the worst moments of human behavior can become the most important teachable moments for those committed to sharing the secrets of justice, equity, and mercy in twenty-first-century civilization with its weaponized social media and violent legacies of racism and injustice . . . When Demons Float provides a penetrating and detailed critical ethnography of twenty-first-century academia in a racialized society and transnational world and reminds us that violence is at the root of all racism.”

—Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Professor of African American Studies and Sociology, Colby College

“Susan Thistlethwaite’s third of a murder mystery trilogy is the best yet. Characters come into full bloom, and the story is compelling and all too timely, full of twists and turns that make it a page turner. Stark resemblance to contemporary life sends an extra chill up the reader’s spine. No escapist fiction here. White racism, police corruption, and other fascist elements in a culture riven with hatred and marbled with the blood of innocents emerge in demonic relief.”

—Mary E. Hunt, Co-director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

“Fascinating and engaging. Susan Thistlethwaite has succeeded in seamlessly bridging the confusing gap between the so-called ‘real world’ and the online world of young, white men. American boys are being recruited into fascist terrorist cells and we ignore this at our peril. When Demons Float describes the hard truths of our present age. Every parent, teacher, and preacher needs to read this book.”

—Nathan Dannison, Senior Minister, First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo

When Demons Float in Our Times

Beelzebub from Pilgrim's Progress

“Beelzebub and them that are with him shoot arrows.” – Illustration from Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

In writing my new mystery novel, When Demons Float, I became ever more convinced that the demonic is very real in our time. And so, I gave it one of its names, white supremacy.

As Jesus knew, if you call a Demon by its right name, you can cast it out. (Mark 5:1-20).  Now, one novel is not going to do that, but together, if we call the Demon of white supremacy by its right name, we can greatly reduce its power.

As a theologian, I see white supremacy as I see the tempting forces that prey on human beings, drawing them in and down into the depths of depravity. Indeed, to write this fiction book, I ended up drawing on classical theologians such as Thomas Aquinas more than contemporary ones for mapping how the demonic actually works. I do not agree with Aquinas on demons having an ultimate divine purpose, but when he is describing how demons go about their business, I felt he was often spot on.

Now, we all know human beings do not live a perfect paradise, a Garden of Eden if you will. Instead, people live between love that we sometimes name Heaven and hate that we often call Hell.

Over centuries, human beings have come to make these forces of love and hate into characters, such as Angels who represent love, and Satan and Demons who are the forces of hate. Satan and his Demons seduce human beings away from love and into hate. They do this by trickery and deceit for, as scripture says, Satan is “a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Lying is becoming normalized in the United States. Just calling that out doesn’t seem to be enough, so I decided to write a work of fiction that could show what happens in a community when hate takes over. This novel explores what happens when some people are so deluded by the falsehood that their race or their religion is superior that they will commit violence and even murder to protect that lie. These people are often called white supremacists or neo-Nazis.

I became more and more conscious in writing this novel and reading the news side by side of the dynamic of temptation. People get drawn in and over lines they would not ordinarily have crossed as the hate is spewed out and made to seem acceptable.

It is not.

Demons do their work by making people think it is.

Claiming Your Creativity

stairs-1636573_1280 Fiction writing has become a way for me to resist the way in which our times literally stifle the creative instincts before they are even born. More and more I have come to believe Internet culture is destroying narrative and thus the human capacity to think for more than 2 seconds straight.

So far, in making the shift to fiction writing, I have learned these few things:

Find your best writing time and protect it. (For me this is early morning.) This is strikingly different for me than academic writing or writing columns which I can do any time. 

Never, ever look at social media, online news or email before ‘sitting down to write.’  You’ll never get to the writing because a lot of your brain cells have been killed (or at least severely damaged) by the noise of the Internet. Yes, I am aware of the irony that I write for an online news source. 

Pick a block of time and commit to writing that amount of time every day. Even sitting down and thinking is a great creative exercise if nothing comes to you that you want to write.

‘I’m not a writer,’ you say. I have a colleague who is very creative, and his response to our times is to draw wonderfully complex pictures from nature. I plan to use one such drawing (he has given me permission) as the cover of my third mystery novel. The key thing is to feed your brain. 

When I come to the end of my pre-set writing period, I stop. Suit yourself, of course, but I find that creative writing can only be done for a couple of hours at most.

Read. To hold on to the mind’s capacity for narrative, I think you have to feed it. I have been reading novels from more than 50 years ago and the difference in sustained narrative from today’s fiction is quite striking. Even writers are at risk of losing the narrative capacity. 

If possible, find a friend or friends who will read your stuff and give you feedback. This is a great gift. They don’t need to be writer friends, but they do need to be those who appreciate what fiction means. Or, in the case of my colleague’s drawings, I look at them and give him feedback from time to time. And believe me, my capacity to draw is nil. But I look and think. 

I am leading a writers workshop in the fall and these thoughts are part of my notes on my own process I have made in order to share with others, but they are by no means the only way to reclaim your creativity.

I do think, however, taking back your own brain from our times is an imperative.

Let me know what you think.

Random Acts of Goodness

spiders-hole-1410951I am about two-thirds finished with my forthcoming mystery novel, Every Wickedness.

The plot, as you can tell from the title, revolves around all the interlocking, seemingly intractable problems and even cruelties that can reinforce each other and sometimes result in the violent tangle we call wickedness.

Is that all there is in life, just people being mean to each other?

No, of course not, and I am trying to contrast that with scenes that show kindness and goodness.

The chapter I wrote yesterday revolves around one of my main characters, a young guy struggling with homelessness and his personal history of child abuse and teen alcoholism. He sells street newspapers and early one rainy morning he is startled and upset by something he sees. He panics and starts acting out. A cop comes by, swears at him and roughs him up,

A guy from the adjacent copy shop comes out and quietly intervenes, de-escalating the situation. (Nonviolent Direct Action!–A Just Peace practice!) The cop leaves, and the copy shop guy invites the street newspaper vendor to come into the copy shop, out of the rain, to dry his papers. He pours them both a cup of coffee.

This morning I was trying to think of other mystery novels where there are chapters about random acts of goodness and I could not.

To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo, you can’t really know goodness without the contrast of evil, as you cannot see the light in a painting if there are no shadows. This is tricky, in Augustine and in life, as there is the subversive idea packed in there that ‘therefore evil is justified in order to show the good.’ Not so. Evil is never justified.

Yet, goodness is all around and I think novels need to show that. Goodness is not just a means to see evil; goodness is good in itself.

And I hope some will see themselves in the copy shop guy and learn to practice nonviolence.

I Want to Be as Brave as Amelia Peabody


Spring 2011. I was in Egypt to attend a conference on The Role of Nonviolence in the January 25th Egyptian Revolution.

This was my first air raid, and I hated it – not only the feeling of helplessness, but the remoteness of the business. If someone is going to kill me I want him to take a personal interest.
Amelia Peabody Emerson, Lord of the Silent, by Elizabeth Peters

When I need courage, and I confess I needed a lot of courage to say yes to that invitation to come to Cairo, Egypt shortly after the Jan. 25 revolution, I try to channel Amelia Peabody.

Amelia Peabody is the hero created by mystery author Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) for her beloved  series featuring an intrepid 19th century woman Egyptologist and archeologist. Amelia (or Peabody! as her husband Radcliffe Emerson likes to call her) is clearly based on real life characters such as Gertrude Bell who was not only an archeologist but also a spy, as is true for Amelia.

My detective character, Kristin Ginelli, is modeled on Amelia Peabody to a great degree, though they occupy different centuries and have different occupations. What they have in common is that they are very courageous, even to the point of risking their own lives in order to see justice done. And they are both excellent academic researchers!

Let me be frank. I find my own store of courage is being depleted in these stressful political times. Fragile global alliances are being frayed, and the specter of nuclear war has emerged yet again. Racial, gender and faith minorities are threatened, the environment is being sold to the highest corporate bidder, and budgets and tax policies blatantly favor billionaires over hungry children and struggling families.

I need to steel myself even to check the morning news.

That’s why I need fiction and I need heroes like Amelia Peabody to get me through. When I write about Kristin facing down a potential murder suspect (as I did yesterday), I find my imagination helps me better face the need for real courage in our times.

Others, I find, feel much the same way. I am doing a Writers’ Retreat October 13-17 by the shores of Wisconsin’s Green Lake and the theme for this year is “Courage.”

When I finish this post, I will go back to writing on my second mystery, “Every Wickedness.” What ghastly situation will test Kristin’s own store of courage?

I’m always open to suggestion! Susan

Can fiction help us clean up the toxic lies?


Writing mystery fiction is an escape for me. But it is more.

I find I need to be creative to combat the spreading, toxic oil spill of falsehood spread on the waters of our national life day after horrible day.

I want to clean it up, clean it all up and fix it. And I can’t. The best I can do is work with others to push back on the worst of it and still keep our bodies, minds and spirits intact.

But I find I need more.

In writing fiction I don’t just escape, I get to create a world where truth is everything.

There is accountability in fiction writing. I can’t just do whatever I want. Fiction must stick closely to the truths of the human condition like pain, fear, love and change, or it will not help me, help us, resist the spreading, toxic oil spill of lies.

So I ask you, if something in this first mystery novel doesn’t ring true to you, I’d appreciate hearing about it. I want to get better at this.

Because the lies will keep spreading.




“Thistlethwaite combines great writing skills, deep knowledge of religion, and the academic settings in which the book is set with her insatiable desire to learn about things she does not already know. Read this book!”
–Harry Knox, Former President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Where Drowned Things Live grabbed my attention from page one. Thistlethwaite captures the narrating character, setting, and taut story line immediately, and manages to delve into a variety of contemporary issues without losing the good-read impetus.”
–Jane Fisler Hoffman, United Church of Christ Conference Minister (Ret.)

“In her first mystery novel, Thistlethwaite artfully weaves together her skill in plot, characterization, suspense, and her intelligent and substantive commentary on ethics and the abuse of power. I look forward to more of the policewoman-turned-professor, Kristen Ginelli!”
–Gloria Hopewell, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church, Galena, IL

Where Drowned Things Live is intelligent, compelling, and thought-provoking. Thistlethwaite’s attention to pressing social issues in the midst of a complex mystery sets this book apart from its peers. I enjoyed meeting Kristin Ginelli and look forward to seeing the world through her eyes again.”
–Tolonda Henderson, Instruction Librarian, George Washington University

“Thistlethwaite deftly navigates Ginelli–the cop-turned-prof armed with street smarts, grit, and a penchant for philosophy–through departmental politics, single parenting, and murder. This is a great story that winds us from Plato through the University of Chicago and feminist theology. Thistlethwaite is the rare writer who can weave such a skillful and enjoyable read.”
–Burke Gerstenschlager, Senior Editor, Berghahn Books