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Interview with Susan Sleeman

Susan Sleeman is a long-time fan of Nancy Drew, so it’s no surprise that she grew up to be a successful author of Christian mystery and suspense books.

You say that you’re a life-long reader. Many authors have a hard time finding time to read. How do you balance your writing life with family obligations and still find time to read?
Balance. What’s balance? In all seriousness, this is one of the most difficult things I face in my life. As a fulltime writer, I know my income depends on how much and how fast I can write. I refuse to sacrifice the quality of writing, which means that I have to put in many hours sitting behind the computer. It has taken me some time to work out a good balance, but I have learned over time that the best way for me to both write a lot and fulfill my family duties is to alternate them.

First, I see my writing as a fulltime job and work regularly scheduled hours. I set daily word or editing goals, breaking the work down into manageable bites, and I stick to these goals. I look at interruptions to these hours as I might if I were sitting in an office and I had to ask my boss to take time off. I schedule my life well in advance and when unexpected things come up, I weigh the cost if I decide to take the time off work.

Second, I get up very early before my family starts stirring. By early I mean four or five A.M. so I can get in a few hours of work before the day begins. Then, as I go about my day, I make myself stop writing on a regular basis to do chores. Not only to get chores done, but at times, the break helps me work through writing issues I’m having. So, for example, I’ll write or edit a chapter and then get up to do the dishes, start laundry or clean.

This works for me, and leaves me time to do the fun things in life like reading, but then I’m a planner and like to have things scheduled. It might not work as well for others.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I live my faith so it is just a natural extension to write from that worldview. Since I choose to write my books as part of a series, I start with the faith issue that the series will focus on and then choose the faith struggle each character will have. For example, in First Responders, my newest series that features a six-person First Response Squad, I am focusing on peace and how to find more of it in your day-to-day life. This means each of my characters struggle with the loss of peace for some reason and must find it to get to their happily-ever-after ending. That said, I have a new series about three FBI agents releasing in January in the general market so it doesn’t have a spiritual thread in the story. I have to say as I write this series, it’s hard for me to keep the faith struggle out of the book. I start writing from their point of faith and have to stop myself. My main characters believe in God so they live their lives based on that, but that’s the extent of the spiritual aspect. However, having a message in my general market books isn’t my point in moving into that market. My goal is to provide clean-reads as an alternative to all of the sex and profanity in general market books.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
Point blank, deadlines spur me to write. Having an income to put food on the table and pay the bills spurs me to write. But…reading spurs my creative desire to write, which makes the process enjoyable and exciting.

My story ideas always come from something in the news or something I am interested in. I mentioned the FBI series earlier. This series is all about cybercrimes. I am a geek at heart so this topic fascinates me. It also challenges me to provide an edge-of-your-seat story while dealing with a topic that is complicated and not easy to understand. Additionally, it gives me a chance to offer information to the reader that will help them be safer in our cyber world. The idea for the First Responder series came from my respect of law enforcement, military, and emergency medical professionals. I wanted to portray how they put their lives on the line for us day after day and the toll it takes on their lives. A First Response Squad was my way to do that.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I have been told by readers that I provide an equal balance of romance and suspense while showing the real-life struggles Christians face. That I don’t skimp on the romance and yet create an edge-of-your-seat suspense story at the same time as the main characters work out a faith issue in their lives. It can be a challenge to do all three, but the challenge makes the writing enjoyable for me.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
When I started writing, I experimented with various genres. I started with romance, then tried chick lit—I have a snarky personality—then moved on to straight suspense and mystery. But then one day, I took the time to think about what I really liked to read and decided to pick up a variety of novels to see which ones grabbed my attention. Turns out, I love to read suspense, but I also like romance with it. Not just the few little nods to romance that thriller writers often provide, but more of the conflict between two people who want to fall in love, but something is standing in their way. In two words, romantic suspense. Since romantic suspense is what I love to read, it made sense that if I wrote in that genre, my writing would be more authentic and from the heart. Turns out I was right.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Okay, let’s ignore reading as that’s a given, but my other love is gardening, gardening, gardening. Both vegetable and ornamental. There’s nothing like seeing flowers open on the latest perennial added to the garden. Seeing them blend in with or stand out from the plant I paired the new perennial with. Then there’s growing your own fresh, pesticide free vegetables. The taste is so vivid and amazing compared to store-bought veggies. Plus time spent in the garden gives me time to reflect on life, on my faith, on my writing. What could be better than that?

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I don’t read in bed so none, but I always make sure I have a research book and a fiction book that I am reading. Right now these books are on my table - Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and Snapshot by Lis Wiehl.

Finish this statement: My favorite time of year is _____ because ____.
Late spring/early summer because perennials are starting to pop up from their winter sleep and vegetable seeds are sprouting, but the temperatures are still moderate for working outside. It’s a fresh beginning. A new start. A rebirth of sorts and I LOVE it.

Any parting words?
A writer’s world is ever changing and never more so than the last few years. But one thing doesn’t change. The craft of writing a page-turning book. The skill of catching the reader’s eye and keeping them captivated by your story. So if you’re an aspiring writer, do yourself a favor and don’t skip the process of learning to craft the best book you can write. Take the time to learn who you are as a writer before putting your words out there. That means writing books—ones that may never see the light of day—to develop your skills. Not everything we write is fit for publication. As this interview has me reflecting back on my first novels, I am fortunate that a publisher never picked them up. Am fortunate that it forced me to do the work of learning to write. Don’t shortchange your long-term writing career by publishing too soon. You’ll be glad in the long run that you didn’t.

Thanks for sharing with us, Susan!

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