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Interview with Susan Sleeman

Between writing Edge of Your Seat Romantic Suspense and hosting the popular website, TheSuspenseZone.com, Susan Sleeman has taken time to research her material by graduating from FBI and local police citizen academies, thereby enhancing her stories with a high level of realism. Susan's current release is Fatal Mistake, the first book in her White Knights series.


Susan, what is the White Knights series about? Is there a commonality between the books?
My White Knights series features a six member FBI Critical Incident Response Team that includes experts in crisis management, explosives, ballistics/weapons, negotiating/criminal profiling, cyber crimes, and forensics. All team members are former military and they stand ready to deploy within four hours, anytime and anywhere to mitigate the highest-priority threats facing our nation.

Each book has a stand alone plot that is fully resolved, but the books are connected by the six White Knights team members and their interactions with one another. All team members appear in every book in the series, but each book features a different team member and their struggle with faith while finding love.

What came first - the idea for Fatal Mistake, or the idea for the White Knights series? If it's the series, do you have ideas in place for all the books?

The White Knights series came first. I always write series as I just love team dynamics whether it be a family or a working group. I love seeing the team members grow and develop in their own personalities and with one another. So first, I create the team/family. Then I decide on the personalities, professions, skills, physical attributes, names, etc. for each member, and then, once I have them all fleshed out, I come up with plots that challenge their specialties, personalities, and personal conflicts.

What's the time frame between when you first thought of the premise for Fatal Mistake and when you started writing it?

This series was different than other ones I’ve proposed in the past as it all moved quickly. I had previously come up with the series idea, but then the idea for a bomber came from the current news stories as do all the books in the series. I put my own twist on the topic and, within two weeks, I’d created the proposal and it was in my agent’s hands. I’ve never done a proposal that fast before, but as I wrote, it quickly fell into place. Shortly thereafter, we had an offer for the series from Hachette/FaithWords, and so I began writing Fatal Mistake immediately.

Do you have a memory of what triggered the idea for Fatal Mistake?
Since I first begin with the series concept, you have to understand where this series idea originated. During the six weeks I spent with the agents at the citizen’s academy, I saw the agents' incredible hearts for helping others. I also saw how that heart for others motivated them and also how it took a toll on them. When things turn ugly and law enforcement professionals can no longer control the situation, making them unable to provide the help needed, they take it harder than most people.

I thought about how a group of agents on a special team that deploys to particularly difficult situations might behave if they couldn’t provide the help they wanted. Then I wondered how being a Christian might impact their actions and knew I had to put their faith to a test. To challenge these agents, I had to find really BIG problems that they couldn’t simply use their tremendous skills and abilities to solve on their own. I wanted them to realize they couldn’t rely on their own strength and training, but must turn to God and each other for help, only then could they succeed on the job and in life.

Additionally, since the team is a Critical Incident Response Team, I needed to look at news headlines to see what type of incidents these agents might respond to. So for Fatal Mistake, I chose a serial bomber who has struck so many times and gotten away with it that the agent in charge of the investigation has learned he can’t bring in the bomber on his own and the reader sees him struggle with this realization. Sees him struggle with trusting God and others. And finally, he must learn to trust God and leave the outcome up to Him. And, isn’t that the core of faith?

Once you heard about the opportunity to attend a police citizen academy, how long did it take you to decide to sign up for one, and did you do it alone?
My first academy was the FBI’s Citizen’s Academy. I applied the moment I heard about it, but the FBI doesn’t accept everyone who applies and their selection process is very stringent. So, though I applied quickly, it took a bit of time to notify me of my acceptance. I attended alone and met a lot of wonderful people. I am so blessed to have been accepted, and I’m now a member of the FBI Citizen’s Academy Alumni Association, and as such, I have a chance to attend additional law enforcement tours such as a trip to D.C. to tour the FBI National Headquarters and their agent training facility in Quantico.

This academy was such a great experience for me that I signed up for my city’s police academy, which included a ride along with an officer. It was such fun and so very informative. Then I also signed up for the county academy, and I attended that one with the amazing Terri Reed. If I could find another local academy to go to I’d be there in a flash. When you write police procedurals like I do, there is nothing better then getting to learn about how different agencies work and getting to spend time with the law enforcement professionals that you write about.

What was your favorite part of the citizen academy training?
Hands down, my favorite part of the FBI academy was getting to go to their firing range and shoot guns and blow things up with them. Without this day, I never would have experienced shooting so many different types of gun. The sub-machine gun was my favorite, and I got to actually press the plunger to blow up a bomb! If you want to see and hear what one of the smaller bomb explosions sounds like check out my YouTube video from the day. You can’t feel the intense force that makes the ground rumble under your feet, but it will give you an idea of the deadly power of a bomb. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMbu2sBFvPI

What advice would you offer other writers contemplating attending such an academy?
It’s simple. Don’t delay. Find a local academy and go! You learn procedures, yes, but more than that you find out how amazing the men and women in law enforcement really are. I have such respect for the men and women in law enforcement who give of themselves and potentially of their lives to keep us safe. I feel like we take them for granted when we should be thanking God for their service each and every day.

Your website says TheSuspenseZone.com was the result of your search for good Christian suspense with plenty of action, and without the sex and profanity. Since maintaining such a site can be a drain on your writing time and creativity, what have you done to escape burn out?
Actually, maintaining the site isn’t a drain on time or creativity, as years ago I hired a programmer to customize the site with an automated database system that connects directly to Amazon to gather information. So the amount of time I need to spend on keeping it updated and current is pretty minimal. And then, I consider it a ministry to help authors get the word out about Christian fiction so if I do get tired and don’t want to work on the site, I remind myself of the site’s purpose and I’m good to go.

You include both suspense and mystery at The Suspense Zone. Is it because you write both genres or because both can be interpreted as a mental state as much as a physical one?
I include both genres as there are so many similarities between the two that you often can’t easily distinguish between a mystery and a suspense book. And, ultimately, readers who read suspense read mystery and vice versa. So it’s a natural fit.

How does an author go about getting their book on The Suspense Zone's website?
First, if the book is in the Christian suspense or mystery genre on Amazon and it’s traditionally published, it’s likely already on the site as an automated query goes to Amazon every morning to look for new Christian suspense and mystery books. But if the author can’t find their book on the site or they want to arrange an interview and their book doesn’t contain any profanity or sex, the author can complete the contact form on the site and request the book be added. We include books that are traditionally published and indie published books as well.

When you kick back to watch a movie, do you choose one for its plot, time period, characters, or stars?
I choose movies by the plot. The movie description has to interest me, and I often watch trailers before watching a movie. Also, the rating has a lot to do with my choice. I try to stay away from R rated movies.

Any parting words?
Since we’ve talked so much about law enforcement officers in this interview, I’d like to ask you to pray for your local officers, and if you have a chance, thank them for their service. This is true of those who serve in the military and first responders, too. Praise God for all of them!


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Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and their youngest of 4 kids. She writes historical romance set in Canada and the United States.

Romantic Refinements, Novella 2 in the Austen in Austin Volume 1 collection by WhiteFire Publishing released in January 2016. This 4-novella collection of stories set in historic Austin, Texas is based on the novels of Jane Austen.





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