Susan grew up in Northern Wisconsin and has had the pleasure of living in nine of our fifty states. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Psychology with postgraduate coursework in Accounting and Project Management. Susan lives with her very talented Music Director husband in sunny Florida and has two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable newborn grandson.
Welcome to Novel Journey, Susan! You were one of those lucky people who received your first contract in front of hundreds of authors at the ACFW annual conference. Can you tell us about that experience?
I made the revision and sent the manuscript back in late July. I’d completed book two in the Garden Gate Mystery series and sent that proposal to Susan, as well. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait for her to call. She didn’t. No phone call. No email. Nothing. No response. And when I asked my agent about it, he was vague, encouraging me, yet at the same time saying nothing. I whined to my critique group, which at the time included three Heartsong Mystery authors. They tried to encourage me, but when August came and went, I was certain Susan had lost interest in my book.
In September, at the ACFW conference when Susan Downs took the stage to award a contract for the Heartsong Presents Mysteries imprint, I sat back and said, “Man, it’s too bad Susan didn’t like my book. It would be so cool to learn of your book contract in front of 500 fellow writers.” Susan began describing the writer who would receive this contract. She began with vague clues and grew more specific. Imagine my surprise when I realized she was talking about me. I turned to my crit group sitting next to me and learned that they knew about this. Some since April. Ditto for my agent, of course.
Yes, they were in on the surprise. They had to be. You see, I wasn’t planning on attending the conference. So they had to help Susan get me there. My first reaction was “No fair. You knew for so long, and I stressed all this time.” But then, I realized it was an honor to have Barbour publicly announce their affiliation with me. Today, the question I am asked most often is, was it worth waiting for months to learn of the contract this way. My answer is a resounding YES.
Tell us about the book Barbour contracted. How did you come up with the story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
Barbour contracted Nipped in the Bud, the first book in my Garden Gate Mystery series with scheduled dates to publish and a letter of intent to contract Read Between the Tines and Seed You Later nearer to publication. This series features Paige Turner a landscape designer and radio show host who lives to garden and unfortunately dead bodies have a way of sprouting in her life. The series was a natural fit for me as it originated from my love of gardening and of the Pacific Northwest, a gardener’s paradise.
There was no real ‘what if’ moment in creating the book, which is odd because I am constantly asking that question, but I had a moment after the rough draft of the book was complete. As I was editing Nipped in the Bud, I thought, what if I gave the readers gardening tips at the beginning of every chapter so they could learn a little about gardening as the story entertained. I didn’t want a dry, boring little blurb so I asked, “What if Paige was a radio show host and her callers phoned in to report misunderstood gardening advice from a prior show and something funny happened in their lives from this misunderstanding.”
I went back through the story and rewrote Paige as a radio show host, and I think this really brought the character to life and made the story more interesting. So I guess, it’s never too late in the process to ask, “what if?”
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to gardening and it was natural for me to create a character with my love for gardening then kick it up a notch and turn the hobby into such an obsession that it changed the way she looked at life. Voila, we have Paige.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
Shortly after you got the contract from Barbour, you found out they had decided to close down the mystery line. Can you talk about that?
I wish I could say that I accepted the news and had instant peace about God working this for my good, but I have to admit to a period of discouragement and second-guessing. You see another publisher wanted this series, too, but this occurred after the Barbour contract was agreed upon. I wondered why God would arrange for the books to go to a publisher who would postpone publication and may never publish the entire series.
I am pleased to tell you that I have worked through this and though I am not happy about what happened, I grew as a person from the experience, and I trust God’s plan for my life. If that means Nipped in the Bud never sees publication then that is what is best for me.
Do you know what plans Barbour has for this book?
Because Nipped in the Bud was my first book and the last two books in my series were scheduled but not officially contracted, I don’t expect to see Nipped in the Bud until after Barbour publishes the work of authors who had two or more books contracted.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
What does your writing space look like? (Insert picture if possible)
Seriously, I have issues with the degeneration of my spine and sitting in a desk chair all day gives me crazy bad headaches. So, most often you’ll find me in a recliner with my feet up pounding away on a laptop, and our trusty puppy dog Maddie nearby. (I did include her picture).
What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
I can’t imagine never writing, but if that ever happened, I would spend time reading for enjoyment once again. As the owner of TheSuspenseZone.com, I am always reading with the intent of reviewing the book when I finish. Though this is great in that it helps me see what publishers are looking for, keep current on my chosen genre, and network with the fabulous writers, I haven’t read many books of late that I can simply read because I want to. Excellent Christian fiction abounds, and I would love to explore even half of it, but time constraints prohibit me from doing so.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
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.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
At this point, I begin to visually see the story and characters audition in my head for the starring roles. The next step is to get to know these characters to see what makes them tick so I know what types of conflict they may be involved in. That’s when my actual writing process starts. I’m not the kind of writer who plots out the entire book, but I work scene by scene chapter by chapter. I must spend time in a quiet place with my eyes closed, visually seeing the scene almost like watching a movie and then I write what I see. Writing this way can take you on rabbit trails that seem to lead nowhere, but most often become integral plot points for the story.
One day I will write the scenes, the next day I start by editing them and then writing additional scenes. When all chapters are on paper with a rough edit, I begin to evaluate each chapter and add layers. I read, looking for conflict, my overall spiritual message, for red herring mystery clues, and for the character arcs to see if the characters have developed as well as a million other little things. Of course, all along the way I correct typos and improve sentence structure.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
Then, I looked for a way to develop a platform and to associate my name with Christian suspense, my chosen genre. Two years ago, I launched a book review website dedicated to Christian suspense, www.thesuspensezone.com. When I began the site, I hoped to do two things. The first was ministry driven. I wanted to promote the suspense genre and the terrific authors who write it. My second goal was to associate my name with Christian suspense on internet search engines and to build a contact list for the future promotions. The site has been successful in meeting both of my goals, and I continue to marvel as the site expands beyond 500 pages and the readership continues to grow beyond any expectation I had at the onset.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
After feedback from a publisher, I am hard at work changing a few plot points and the pace of a romantic suspense book that I hope to resubmit this month. I also have a thriller about identity theft that I work on as time allows. And I have a mystery with a fun snarky tour guide set in Orlando, where I currently live, that keeps me laughing.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
This is a tough business and only the strong survive. There are those flukes where a person sits down to pen a book and finds fame, but mostly it is a business that involves years of writing, editing, learning, growing and overcoming rejections. Oh and waiting. Lots of waiting for a publishing wheel that doesn’t spin rapidly.
And as I learned with Nipped in the Bud, it is a business filled with surprises. Some good, some not so good. But all in all, if you are a writer and can do nothing else then you take heart, work hard, listen to advice, be teachable, and persevere through the tough times.