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Interview with Jerusha Agen

A screenwriter-turned-author and an early member of ACFW (before it was called ACFW), Jerusha Agen writes romantic suspense as a way to combat her fears. Read on for her advice to all writers about incorporating elements of suspense in their work and to find out more about the furry and sweet things she includes in her life.

Why do you write romantic suspense? Do you remember a book or movie or other work that first lit a fire in you for the genre?
I think one of the main reasons I write romantic suspense is because I have a hyperactive imagination and fearful tendencies. That means I imagine danger wherever I go in life or on the pages of my stories. I’ve also always enjoyed reading books and watching movies in the suspense/thriller genre. The excitement makes the stories captivating and impossible to read or watch without getting emotionally engrossed.

My reading choices when I was young also had an impact in directing my writing journey to romantic suspense. As a volunteer at my church library, I remember looking at a copy of Dee Henderson’s The Negotiator. I picked up the book and looked at the back where the genre was listed. Romantic Suspense. But we didn’t have that shelving category in our library because it hadn’t been a labeled category before.

The Negotiator became one of my all-time favorite novels, and I’m still in love with the lead characters and their story all these years later. This book and the O’Malley Series made me fall in love with the “new” genre of romantic suspense.

But I realized later that I’d already been reading unlabeled romantic suspense by other Christian authors years before. B.J. Hoff’s Daybreak Mysteries series, an early favorite of mine, was actually romantic suspense, too. Hoff and other authors laid the early groundwork that sparked my love of romantic suspense, and Henderson’s books fanned it into a flame.

How does your background in the film industry contribute to your writing? What can writers learn from movies and/or screenwriters?
I think my experience in the film industry influences my writing in helping me become aware of the cinematic quality of my writing style. I’ve realized that, since I’m very visual and have always loved film, I naturally have a cinematic quality to my fiction writing.

Being involved in the filmmaking world also taught me to study, not just watch and enjoy, movies and TV shows. I think writers of all genres can learn a lot from movies and screenwriters by studying the films and shows they enjoy and those they don’t enjoy. What works well in the best of those films and what is ruining the ones you don’t want to watch again?

Screenwriters need to write tightly, connect with emotions in the target audience, use tropes sometimes, but still be original. Dialogue and realism are crucial to creating a connection with viewers. And in a movie, just like in our books, emotions and information can be far more effective when shown, not told.

What are some of your go-to tools to create suspense in your stories? And how can writers of any genre learn to create more suspense in their stories that will keep readers turning the pages?
Pacing is key in all fiction writing, but especially so in suspense. Writers looking to add suspense to their stories need to consider the overall pacing of their entire plot, as well as each scene and even the micro level of individual sentences. The pacing of these elements, whether fast or slow, accelerating or decelerating, are sending subconscious signals to readers and will influence how they respond emotionally to the story.

Writers of any genre can use pacing to create suspense in their stories along with other key elements of mystery and psychology. Mystery will keep readers turning pages in any genre, even if the mystery is some small detail of a character’s life or some answer to a backstory or plot question the writer withholds. There is a balance to this technique, in that writers can frustrate readers if they leave too many important details unknown for too long. But, done well, the technique of withholding some information, rather than telling it all right away in the beginning of the story, gives readers a powerful and persuasive reason to keep turning pages.

As for psychology, what I’m getting at with that technique is creating suspense by using the psychology of your point-of-view character. If your character is uneasy, nervous, or frightened—if she thinks she sees a shadow move or simply can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right—this can add an element of suspense to any scene that otherwise wouldn’t be suspenseful at all.

What are some misconceptions readers might have about romantic suspense?
I’ve seen a lot of mislabeling of romantic suspense (and suspense), where people identify mystery stories as suspense. True suspense must always involve the main character being in danger for the majority of the story. Suspense may involve a mystery, but doesn’t always have to include a mystery, so long as the protagonist is in danger. Likewise, true mystery tales will often feature a protagonist who is not in any danger, or not until the climax of the story.

Your blog focuses on fear and defeating it. (And I love your tagline: Fear. Love. Hope. Repeat.) How did you decide this would be your focus and why?
The Lord really led me to this topic for the blog and its inclusion in my tagline. He worked on me for quite a while, showing me the extent of my problem with fear and that my fear was actually a struggle with sin that I needed to stop tolerating.

In this world of re-labeling evil as good, we’re told that fear is “normal,” acceptable, and even helpful. According to the Bible, that is a lie. And it’s a lie I, like many people in our culture, believed for a long time because it’s so much easier to accept our fear as beneficial than admit we have a problem and have to do something about it.

But when God showed me the truth in His Word, that as His followers we need to battle fear just like all the other sins in our lives, I realized I needed to step up and take my stand in a fight against fear in my own life. I soon learned that others who suffer under the burden of fear wanted to fight that battle with me by learning and embracing the truth in God’s Word and wielding His weapons to defeat fear.

After several years of weekly posts, The Fear Warrior Blog is on hold right now. But I use my fictional stories to continue declaring the message of freedom from fear.

As you shared, my brand tagline is “Fear. Love. Hope. Repeat.” We all have fear, and the cure for that fear is love—sometimes from a romance, and always from God. And when we come to know that Love, we find hope, even in the darkest places.

This is the story that tends to repeat in our lives, and this is the story I repeatedly tell in my stories. Because I want readers to come away from my stories encouraged and armed with the truth that we can have victory over our fears and that God’s love and His light shine brightest in the darkest of circumstances.

If you're comfortable sharing, what do you fear? (Or what common fears have you found in people?) And how do you handle fear in your life?
Is “everything” an acceptable answer? Okay, not really. But it does seem like the list of what I fear is still pretty long. One fear I have is very common for many people—the fear of what we can’t control. The irony to this fear is that none of us are actually in control of anything! We just pretend we are (another lie we believe) so we can have the illusion of control to comfort us and stave off the fear.

I decided to feature this relatable fear in Rising Danger because of my own struggle with it. Bristol Bachmann, the heroine of Rising Danger, is a nearly-fearless woman (yes, nothing like me), but her one fear is this big one—things she can’t control.

The best way to fight this fear is, in a general sense, the same as the method we should use to fight all fears in our lives—take up the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. When I’m being overtaken by fear, I do a lot of reciting and reading Scripture verses and asking God to strengthen my faith to believe the truth and His promises in those verses.

Your dogs are gorgeous (and they look enormous)! Tell us more about them and how they came to be in your life.
Thank you! The photos on my website are of me with my three big boys—a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Leonberger, and a Great Pyrenees. Growing up, we always had Golden Retrievers (a breed I still love), but I had long wanted a bigger dog—as in, a really big dog. The personality and size of Bernese Mountain Dogs drew me to that breed. After a few of those, I wanted to branch out into different and even bigger dogs. That led me to get a Leonberger and, a few years after that, a Great Pyrenees.

Two of the three dogs in those pictures sadly passed away about a year ago. But they’re still very much my boys and with me in my heart.

Right now, the handsome guys in my life are the same Great Pyrenees in the photos and a new Leonberger puppy. You can see photos of both these young characters in my newsletter and on social media.

You mention a love of decadent desserts on your website: what's your favorite splurge when it comes to sweet treats?
Oh, that’s a tough call! There are so many sweets to love. My favorites tend to be bakery items, like cake, cookies, and brownies. My very favorite cake (and probably biggest caloric splurge) is a recipe I created myself that I call Cran-Raspberry Almond Cake. It’s a super sweet, luxuriously unforgettable indulgence I like to have once a year for my birthday.

What do you see as a significant step in your writing journey?
Joining the wonderful organization of ACFW back when it was called American Christian Romance Writers (ACRW)! And I’m not just saying that because of this interview. As one of the earliest members, I was blessed to get in on the ground floor of what would become an industry-shaping organization.

I gleaned so much from those early days of the group, when we had an email loop with authors who were much farther along than I at the time and who quickly became prominent authors in Christian publishing. ACRW provided an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow rapidly as a young writer.

I attended the first ACRW and ACFW conferences and continued to gain knowledge, create connections, and encounter opportunities that God used to direct me in my writing and publishing journey. I also got my first significant submission opportunities and first agent at ACFW conferences. I’ll always be grateful for the hugely impactful role ACFW has played in my life.

Any parting words?
To all my fellow Christian writers, I’d like to encourage you to continue to write every story for the Lord. In these times more than ever, we need to boldly speak the truth and spread the good news of the Gospel through our words on the page. You may get called “preachy,” out of touch, intolerant, and worse.

But don’t let the pressures of this world turn you away from the kind of writing that really matters—the kind that will have eternal impact. Remember why you’re writing Christian fiction and continue to write for the One Who called you according to His purpose. He has called you, enabled you, and will bless the work you do for Him!


Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at

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