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Interview with Sharee Stover

Author Sharee Stover admits that she’s tied her good-natured husband to a chair to see how long it takes him to get out of it. It’s purely for the sake of research, however. As a suspense writer, she looks for those little details that add authenticity to her action sequences. In her new book, Secret Past, released in April by Love Inspired Suspense, she makes use of own experience with hiking at high altitudes to create a nail-biting chase scene.

In my recent conversation with her, Stover shares about her journey in writing Secret Past, and tells me that we should “never underestimate the way God can surprise us with wonderful gifts.”

This book is full of action! It certainly didn’t suffer from what some call a “sagging middle.” Is pacing easy for you, or something you have to work at?
I never want a reader to get bored, so I try to keep pacing going, but it definitely takes a couple of passes before I feel like it’s right. I depend a lot on my critique partners to let me know if they feel a nap coming on in any part of my book.

What advice do your critique partners give?
There is a proverb that talks about the “wounds of a friend.” [Prov. 27:6] We care about one another and try to help each other. When they tell me something I know they're saying it with integrity and my best interest at heart. I appreciate that because I know if they're seeing a problem in my writing that readers will, too.

You really kept me guessing about which characters were good guys and which were bad. Where did your story and character ideas come from?
I love that you weren’t sure who was the good guy/bad guy. Characters develop for me as I write. I might have an idea, but as the story unfolds, the character comes to life. I write in layers, so in the first round the characters are a little flat. Each layer adds something to them until I’m satisfied with their development.

How do you write in layers?
I might start out with Google and look for pictures. I think of how that person how might behave, what are her mannerisms, and what is the backstory that the readers never see. Why does he act like that? Why does she think like that? Critique partners will brainstorm backstory with me. It makes the characters come to life.

Do you create a detailed outline ahead of time, or make up your plot as you go along?
I write a synopsis first, but it’s constantly changing as I go. I like to say I’m a Plantser…half plotter, half pantser. I need structure and order, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Do you think about your characters for a while before you actually write about them?
Most definitely. Sometimes I'll start with a crime, look at it from the villain's point of view, and work backwards. With this particular story I was researching the Witness Protection Program and I saw pictures of little kids with their parents. I wondered what happens if you are born into the program? Or you're so little you don't know that you've always been under Witness Protection? That's how the character of Katie developed. We look at our parents to tell us the truth. And when Katie doesn't have that anymore she has to decide her life all over again.

You reserve the right to change your mind on your outline. How often does that happen?
It happens a lot. I'll have an idea and the synopsis is horrible and makes no sense. My husband is a State Trooper and a lot of the time I will work my plots out with him while we're walking the dog. He loves to punch holes in my plot line. It drives me crazy but I adore him for it. That will turn my story in a different direction.

Your settings are important. You wrote about Manitou Springs and Manitou Incline in Colorado. Have you been to the top of the incline?
Yes! Actually, the idea for one of the scenes came to me as my friend and I hiked the Manitou Incline. It’s a beautiful place and the hike was very intense. It’s over 2,700 steps and 2,000 feet of elevation over less than a one-mile incline. I’m originally from Colorado and never understood what people meant when they said they couldn’t breathe because of the high altitude. Having been away for so many years, I’ve succumbed to the high-altitude adjustment. Whether it was the lack of oxygen or burst of creativity, the idea popped into my head halfway up, and I thought “this would be a great place for a chase.” I also did a lot of praying on the way up, because I wasn’t certain I’d be able to finish the climb.

When you first started writing Secret Past, did you realize the meaning of “family” was going to be a central theme?
Honestly, no, but as Katie developed, I wanted her deepest longing for a real family to propel her actions. She was an orphan and she wanted somewhere to belong.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
That no matter what changing “truths” we find in social media, society, or our own upbringing, God’s truth remains the same always. We have a loving Father who will never leave us, betray us, or lead us astray.

I write from a Christian worldview because that's my normal. I'll solve problems through prayer, working with my family, and looking for scripture to guide us in what we do. My characters do the same thing. It's normal for them to think that way. It's not just Sunday morning worship. Everyday communicating with God, reading our Bibles—those are the things that make us who we are. I want my characters to live in that, too.

Is that why we need Christian fiction?
Kids hear so much on social media and TV that may have such powerful themes and suggestions that are against what we believe as a family and as Christians. As a mom, I want books that my kids feel good about reading. As Christian writers, we may touch a world that never reads the Bible. If that story somehow draws them to God, then we've done our job.

Is this book a standalone, or will we hear more about Katie and Daniel in a future book?
At this point, it’s a standalone. But who knows? Katie and Daniel might reappear again someday. I really like them and their fun bantering relationship, so it would be great to have them appear in a future story.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
The element of surprise. Nothing about my publication journey is typical or normal, and it’s taught me to never underestimate the way God can surprise us with wonderful gifts. I had a plan for how my writing career would go, and that went by the wayside from step one.

My goal was to write for Love Inspired Suspense. Emily Rodmell was my editor. One day, she said in a Facebook post that she was swamped but would look at blurbs. I sent my blurb to her and when she said she wanted to see it I nearly fell off the chair! I kept reading the message to see if she was really talking to me.

I put the finishing touches on the manuscript, sent it to my critique partners one more time, and sent it to Emily Rodmell. She asked me to revise and resubmit. I was broken hearted because I thought that was a rejection letter. My writing friends said, “No, that's wonderful! Do everything she told you to do and send it back to her.” I made the changes she suggested. When I got the phone call that she wanted the book I did a happy dance with my daughter. It was the best day ever. I still had to go through a couple of rounds of editing, but she made the story better and better every time. I thought I would get an agent, then a contract, but that's not what happened at all for me.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Balance doesn’t come naturally to me that’s for sure. Right after I received the contract for Secret Past, I went back to work part-time, and I’ve been learning to balance ever since. My family is extremely supportive when I’m working on a story, and they’ve eaten many a pizza to allow me time to write.

What is your writing routine? Any must-have snacks?
I wish I had a routine. This is the part where the pantser in me is the strongest. I try to write a little bit every day, but it doesn’t always work. On the days that I work outside the home, I write in the afternoons before dinner. On the days I don’t work outside the home, I write during the day when my children are at school. My favorite writing time is in the morning with birds singing outside my window.

I keep a supply of ice water, gum, and almond M&Ms nearby. When I finish a book, I treat myself to a Milky Way Midnight.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
I would love to talk with Lisa Wingate. I love women's fiction and she is such a powerful storyteller. I’ve read almost all of her books and love her storytelling style. I would love to know how she writes: her method and brainstorming techniques.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I have a 100-lb. German Shephard named Niko. My husband and I walk him while we talk about our day and decompress. It’s one of my favorite parts of the evening. I also love to read and have a ridiculously impossible TBR pile that I’ll never fully get through. And when I get the chance, I enjoy binge watching Gilmore Girls.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Well, I have about ten books that are on the verge of falling over. But among them are Rachel Dylan’s Lone Witness and The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin. I kind of have a reading addiction.

Any parting words?
I've always been a bookworm. I was the kid at recess who was sitting with a book, but it never struck me that I might get to write. I started out wanting to write my mom's story for my kids. She was a Korean War bride, and her story is an incredible one about redemption. It never occurred to me that I would be writing romantic suspense. God just planted the seed and it started to grow. I woke up one morning and realized I was doing my dream. It’s been the greatest, most wonderful dream come true, and it’s taught me to never give up, you’re never too old to achieve a dream, and never underestimate the blessings God has for you.


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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