Susan is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. She grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into writing romantic suspense and mystery novels and hosting the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.com.
Susan, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in small town of 700 people in northernWisconsin. My parents owned the local grocery store and I have an older brother and sister. This town was surrounded by a farming community. Though it’s a peaceful place to live, for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t wait to leave home and explore the world. It was just in my blood, I guess. As a result, I’ve lived in some amazing parts of our country and feel blessed to have had those experiences. I was raised in the church, so I don’t remember a time of ever not knowing God and Jesus. Besides my parents providing me with an upbringing that included faith, I am so thankful that they taught me how to work hard, be responsible and never give up. These traits have stuck with me and I know without them I wouldn’t be a published writer today. Today, I live inFloridawith my husband who is a music director at our church. I have two grown daughters who live inOregon, a wonderful son in law and a three year old grandson all of whom I wish I could see more often.
Tell us three things about you that would surprise readers.
1)Most people don’t know that I have lived in nine states. Due to job transfers for both my husband and me, we have had the privilege of living inWisconsin,Texas (twice actually, which I say is appropriate since it’s such a big state),Minnesota,New York,Michigan,Georgia,Alabama,Oregon, andFlorida. This has provided me with great experience for writing books as in addition to the geography and nuances of each area, I’ve also experienced the subtleties in people based on the area of the country they are from.
2) One day when my husband was at work I decided to remodel the upstairs of our house and took out all the walls before he came home that night.
3) I used to have so many Christmas decorations it would take several days to put them all out.
You are quite an adventurous woman! What did you like to read as a child? Is there a book that still brings pictures to your mind? I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I couldn’t wait until a new one came to our library. The cover for the one about the clock tower still stands out in my mind.
What is your favorite genre to read now? I read suspense, romantic suspense and mystery exclusively for my fiction reads. I just love the thrill and fast-paced action. That’s why I write it, too.
As a child or teenager, did you ever dream of being an author? The life long love of reading inspired me to want to write a book, but it was God who arranged free time for it to happen. I’ve always enjoyed writing from creative to technical writing I’ve done in the corporate world, and I said for years that I was going to write a book, but I was so busy working full time, raising children, and volunteering at church that I never made the time. Then in 2003, I began having health issues that limited my physical activity. Forced to sit for long periods of time, I started to research the craft of writing and began my first book.
As my health deteriorated, I had more and more time available and soon I was writing fulltime and actively pursuing publication. I continued to work on the craft and to submit books, got the requisite rejections and then in the fall of 2008 at the ACFW conference, I was awarded a book contract in front of 500 or so of my fellow writers. My agent, crit partners and the editor had conspired to keep this a secret from me for five months. Since then I have contracted additional books in the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense line and look forward to writing for years to come.
Well, I just love how you have taken a hard road and seen the beauty in it. Giving God the glory! What was your biggest obstacle?
My biggest obstacle was my health as it kept me from traveling to conferences to network with authors, agents and editors and learn from the amazing workshops.
How many books do you have published?
Book number six is releasing as we speak. Double Exposure is book one in my Justice Agency mini-series for Love Inspired Suspense with Dead Wrong releasing in November of this year. See details for this series in the next question. I also have five more books under contract right now, all of which I must complete in one year. Yikes! I’m a little overwhelmed. That’s 365 days of keeping my fanny in a chair and writing hard even when I don’t want to.
What a wonderful “problem” to have.
What inspired you to write this particular book? One day I was reading about soldiers returning from war and the article talked about survivor’s guilt. People in many avenues in life have guilt after they survived when another person next to them didn’t. Car accidents, plane crashes, etc. So I decided to create a character who feels responsible for his friend dying inIraqand how he handles it when he comes home and how faith can help him work through the struggle.
Here’s the book blurb:
A PICTURE WORTH KILLING FOR
Photographer Jennie Buchanan unknowingly captures a drug-cartel meeting on film. And now she has become a killer’s next target. Even worse, her only protection from the danger that threatens her life is the man who threatens her heart. Dodging bullets almost seems safer than facing the feelings stirred up by seeing former FBI agent and ex-boyfriend Ethan Justice again.
Ethan vows to safeguard Jennie from the deadly men on her trail. And for a second chance at Jennie’s love, he’s willing to risk anything to expose the truth—about the drug smugglers, the past and the future together he still wants.
What are you working on right now? Right now I am working on Deadly Deception, book three in my Justice Agency mini-series for Love Inspired Suspense. The Justice Agency is five adopted siblings with a law enforcement background who now work together in a private investigations agency to help people who traditional law enforcement can’t help. There are five books in the series, each featuring one of the siblings. And that makes five chances for love and for justice to prevail. I am also working on the edits for a new cozy mystery series for which I am writing two of their books. Can’t share the details yet, but will post it on Facebook and my website when I can.
Where do you get ideas for your books? My ideas almost always come from a current news story. I look at everything I read or see on TV and wonder what would happen if. . . The idea just snowballs and a story is formed.
How do you choose names for your characters? The first thing I start with is the era in which the character was born to make the name appropriate to the age. Then I look at ancestry to see if that is an important focus for that character. If it’s a minor character, I may use a random name generator. I also try not to use characters whose name start with the same letter or sound similar to not confuse the reader.
Do you put yourself into your main character, or do you find yourself borrowing from family or friends as your characters develop? I honestly can say I don’t set out to include myself in my characters. Because of my life’s experiences and perceptions, I couldn’t write a character without something of myself in them, but I try to make each character different and unique and that means they have to possess a variety of characteristics. If anything, I try to write characters that have features I would want to have or that I admire. Unless of course, it’s the bad guy.
That said, though not done intentionally, when I finish a book and evaluate the spiritual struggle of the main character I am surprised to see issues I am either struggling with and or have recently come through. Though Christian fiction entertains, and some would say that is the only purpose of fiction, God can really help us develop our spiritual walk through great stories.
I find myself writing about my struggles too even though I don’t know I’m doing it. Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between, and can you elaborate on your answer? I started out as a pantster. Never knowing where my story would go. I loved writing like this because it was so creative and allowed my characters to surprise me with their actions. But then. . .I became a published author and no longer had to write complete manuscripts to contract books. I could simply send in the first three chapters and a synopsis. Well, guess what? To do a synopsis you need to where the story is going. To know where the story is going, especially in suspense, you need to plot in advance. So now, I am a plotter. I’m still surprised by some of the things my characters say, but never by the action in the story.
What are your favorite themes to write about? I write about trusting God a lot. Like many other writers, I write about what I know, and I know how hard it is to trust God when your life is falling apart around you. But I also have experienced God’s incredible faithfulness and undeserved blessings when I have trusted him and I like to share that.
What is your writing schedule and where do you write? I write almost every day and I don’t quit until I have 1500 words on paper. Some days my health or other responsibilities intervene and I don’t get the required words down. That means I have to make it up. I keep a spreadsheet of my word count each day so I know how much I have to do. When I get ahead, I still continue to require the 1500 words each day. That’s the only way I can write five books in a year.
Do you have to juggle writing with a job, family responsibilities or other obligations? How do you balance it? Sure, don’t we all? But my children are grown and out of the house, so that gives me more free time. Also, I look at writing as a job. One that I must work on fulltime. My family knows that I am working and they are supportive of that time. Yay, for my family!
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing? As I mentioned, I have health issues that keep me sedentary. So I would have to do something that I can do from a computer. I guess my second love is web design. I designed both my site, TheSuspenseZone.com, and SpyglassLaneMysteries.com. So I would probably be a web site designer.
Does your faith affect your writing? How? Completely. The reason I write it to share faith struggles and offer the reader a clear view of how others work through those struggles.
Do you have a favorite scripture? If so, why is it your favorite? Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. This verse helps me to remember when things I perceive as bad or disappointing happen that God has a purpose and to keep my faith and a positive attitude.
Have you won any awards with your writing? I’ve finaled in contests as an unpublished author. I also just learned that my December book, The Christmas Witness is a finalist in the inspirational category of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. I’m pumped to be a finalist.
What is the bravest thing you have ever done? Trusting in the Lord when my husband lost his job, I wasn’t working and medical expenses had already wiped out our savings. I chose not to worry. Not to fret. Not to panic, but turn all my focus on the Lord and let him lead us through it. And he did in an amazing miraculous way!!
I’ve been there! It’s a walk of faith for sure. What is the coolest, wackiest, most risk-taking thing you’ve ever done? Not sure it was wacky, but when we were first married and we had a winter temp of -25 for months we up and moved toTexas. No jobs. Found out I was pregnant with our first child right after we got there. All worked out. My hubby got a job, I threw up for three months and lost 40 pounds and then one day I quit throwing up and was a substitute teacher until Erin was born.
That was risky but I believe I would have done the same thing. What is the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you? I’m not going to go into detail, but it involved a bathroom at the airport. I will say that the person on the bathroom sign, which I didn’t notice until I came out, wasn’t wearing a skirt.
Hahaha! If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? I’m a little odd in that way, as I don’t have any specific place that I want to visit. Maybe it’s because I live cross-country from both of my children and all my free time and travel dollars go to visit them so I don’t even think of other places to visit. That said, I’m open to any and all free trips to anywhere. LOL
If you could have dinner with someone famous (dead or alive) who would it be? Wow, that’s a hard question as there are so many people I’d like to dine with. But going back to the prior question, since I don’t get to see my daughters enough, I would want to have dinner with them. Family is very important to me and I look forward to a day when I can live closer to them.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us? Just a big thank you for allowing me to appear on your blog. I really appreciate it!
I’m glad to have you back! Where can fans find you or your books on the internet? I am so blessed and honored to be able to write and share books with readers. I love hearing from readers and encourage you to contact me by going to my website and filling in the contact form. While there be sure to sign up for my newsletter. And I want to say a special thank you to all who have purchased my books. Can I say one more time how blessed I am?
I can be found at all of these places on the web.
http://www.susansleeman.com Personal website
http://www.thesuspensezone.com Book review website
http://spyglasslanemysteries.com Spyglass Lane Mystery Website
http://www.loveinspiredauthors.com Love Inspired Authors