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Interview with Susan Sleeman

Susan Sleeman is an award-winning romantic suspense author with sales exceeding a million copies of clean reading enjoyment.

Susan, congratulations on your successful writing career. In the past 2 ½ yrs since I last interviewed you, you have gone from 25 published books to more than 35. Are you really that prolific or do you have a stash of manuscripts under your bed from earlier years when selling was just a dream?
I really am that prolific. I have no hidden stash of unpublished manuscripts. I am a full-time writer, and I write five to seven books a year depending on the year. And then of course, books are in the hands of a publisher for a time after they are completed so the year a book releases doesn’t mean I wrote it that year. One year I had 8 books release and this calendar year for example, I wrote the first five books in my Truth Seekers series and Minutes to Die, which is book two in the Homeland Heroes series. And I completed edits on Seconds to Live. So it was a busy but fruitful year. Next year I will write Hours to Kill, book three in my Homeland Heroes series, finish the last books in the Truth Seeker series, and begin my next series called Nighthawk Security.

How long does it usually take you to write one book, with or without research?
The time it takes to write a book depends on the length of the book and the research needed. When I start a series, I come up with the plot for each book in the series and all the main characters’ backstory, physical description, their role in the group, their romantic conflict and spiritual conflict. This takes a week or so to do, but it gives me the foundation for all books in the series. Then I plot every book in advance and that usually takes a few days. So when I begin writing I know how the book will unfold, and I already know the characters well.

I challenge myself to write five thousand words a day but often exceed that and have had days when I’ve written ten thousand words, which is about four chapters for me. For a rough draft, I shoot for sixty thousand words as I know I will add the balance of words in the edit process. If I meet my goal, my rough draft is done in less than two weeks. I then edit, edit, edit for weeks and let the manuscript sit for a week then come back to it. So I finish most books in less than two months. Longer ones, or ones with added research can take three months. I manage my schedule so I am usually working on three books at a time, which means I have no downtime.

December is release month for Seconds to Live, the first book in your Homeland Heroes series. How are the books in this series connected?
The main characters for each book are members of the RED—Rapid Emergency Deployment—team. The reader gets to meet the entire team at the beginning of Seconds to Live, and they work together as a team to investigate internet-related crimes. Each book features a member of the team, but everyone is present to bring their specific skills to the investigation.

When do you decide a book will be part of a series? For instance, did you sell Seconds to Live as one of three books in a series?
I have never written a full-length book that was not part of a series. So I usually start with the series overview as I mentioned above. It’s only then that I decide on the actual plot for each book. I make sure, though, that each book stands alone and readers can read them in any order.

However, Seconds to Live was a bit different from my usual method as my editor suggested the plot for this book. He asked, what if a hacker had compromised the WITSEC (Witness Security Program) database and is selling or auctioning off the data, putting witnesses’ lives in danger? I knew a good idea when I saw one, so I began researching which agency would investigate such a breach. I discovered that when the clock is ticking down on criminal activity conducted on or facilitated by the internet there is no team to call other than HSI—Homeland Security’s Investigation Unit.

This unit boasts members of the ICE, FBI, DHS and USMS, (US Marshal's Service). With a group so talented and interesting, I knew I could create a romantic suspense series featuring men and women working behind the scenes to keep our country safe from internet threats—men and women who don’t make the news, but who I consider heroes. And from that, the Homeland Heroes series was born.

Sean, Kiley, and Mack form the RED team along with their analyst, Cam. A powerhouse of a team who don’t let anything, not even a clock ticking down to assured destruction, stop them from bringing the worse of cyber-criminals to justice. The RED team investigates the internet crime in each book, and each book features one of the team members.

What do you want readers to remember after finishing Seconds to Live?
I write to share God’s word in such a way that when readers see the characters struggle in their faith walk, the reader will stop and look at their own struggles. Then discovering how the character overcomes their issue will resonate with the reader.

I often share what I am going through at the time. Not intentionally, but it works its way into the plot. I’ve been faced with some difficult health issues of late and wondering where God is in all of the pain and difficulties. And I have learned that trusting God, even when all seems lost, is the only way I can survive. And not only survive, but thrive. Sean and Taylor have to learn the same thing in Seconds to Live.

Seconds to Live is a romance between an FBI agent and a Deputy US Marshal with a whole lot of suspense that would add stress to any relationship. Is there one part of this delicate balance that you favor more than the other?
I’d like to say I balance the romance and suspense equally in each book, but in some books, I believe I lean more toward the suspense side. It all depends on the complexity of the plot and word count. As you can imagine a more intricate plot will require more words. And also, some plots don’t allow for as much time between the hero and heroine on stage.

Is the brunt of your research on the setting, or the characters as it pertains to their jobs and responsibilities? Or something else, perhaps?
Since I write police procedurals, the most challenging research is always on law enforcement procedures and how a particular agency works. I do my very best to get things right so the books are realistic, but at times I take liberties to write a good story. For Seconds to Live, I struggled at first to find information on WITSEC as the agency maintains top secrecy to protect witnesses and not a lot is written about the deputies and this program. However, perseverance paid off, and I found sources for the information I needed.

How many point-of-views (POVs) do your books typically contain? I ask this because I read your website’s excerpt of Seconds to Live and it begins in the POV of a secondary character.
My books typically contain two points of view. The hero and heroine. However, if I have someone in danger that sets up the plot, I will start with that person’s point of view so the reader can see and feel how the person in peril is feeling. In Seconds to Live, I start with Dustee, a witness in WITSEC and under the protection of the book’s heroine, Taylor Mills. Dustee is being stalked by the man she testified against. He’s the reason she’s in witness protection, and I wanted the reader to see the fear that the people in this program can face so I started in her point of view.

As a writer of books in series, if given the choice, would you choose to read three unrelated books, or three stand-alones that are part of a series?
I write series because that’s what I like to read. I like to get to know many characters who work together in a team. It could be a family, a law enforcement agency, a special team like in Homeland Heroes, or a team brought together with a common goal. I like to see these characters grow and change as the books release so that by the time the final book in a longer series releases, the main characters from the first book are married and could even have children. By writing in a series it extends the happily ever after that we all look for in romantic suspense and adds to my reading enjoyment.

What writing aid do you use to keep your characters, plots, and red herrings in order, especially when working on a series?
I use Excel spreadsheets to track all book details, but I really need to get a database going for character names and descriptions. It would make my life so much easier if I took the time to set up the database and was able to search and manipulate the data for all of the books I’ve written.

Do you play eerie instrumental music while writing heart-stopping scenes?

No eerie music for me. I only listen to music when I can’t focus due to noises around me, and then I listen to my favorite worship songs. Writing heart-stopping scenes comes easy to me. I can fly through them, and my concentration is so focused that I don’t notice anything or anyone nearby. I have had a situation when I was writing a scene like that when our bread machine I’d set to start on timer kicked in and scared me to death.

What is your go-to snack for energy and alertness during long writing periods?

Well, every day is a long writing period for me as I try to meet my five thousand word goal every day. I drink coffee and try to eat snacks with protein. But if things aren’t going according to plan and I’m stressed, chocolate is my go-to food.


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yields fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience. Discover more at and

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