Debut Author ~ Susan Sleeman

Monday, September 6, 2010

Susan grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into hosting the popular internet website TheSuspenseZone.com and writing romantic suspense and mystery novels.

Much to her husband’s chagrin, Susan loves to look at everyday situations and turn them into murder and mayhem scenarios for future novels. If you’ve met Susan, she has probably figured out a plausible way to kill you and get away with it. Don’t worry, she’d never follow through on it.

Susan currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable grandson. In her spare time, you can find her traveling to Oregon to visit her children and grandson, reading, gardening or working on TheSuspenseZone.com. To learn more about Susan, please visit her website, or follow on Twitter and Facebook.

When did you decide to be a writer?

The life long love of reading inspired me to want to write a book, but it was God who arranged free time for it to happen. I’ve always enjoyed writing from creative to technical writing I’ve done in the corporate world, and I said for years that I was going to write a book, but I was so busy working fulltime, raising children, and volunteering at church that I never made the time. Then in 2000, I began having health issues that limited my physical activity. Forced to sit for long periods of time, I started to research the craft of writing and began my first book.

As my health deteriorated, I had more and more time available and soon I was writing fulltime and actively pursuing publication. I continued to work on the craft and to submit books, got the requisite rejections and then in the fall of 2008 at the ACFW conference, I was awarded a book contract in front of 500 or so of my fellow writers. My agent, crit partners and the editor had conspired to keep this a secret from me for five months. Since then I have contracted additional books in the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense line and look forward to writing for years to come.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

I seriously wrote with the goal of becoming published for six years before I sold my first book.

Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Now that you’ve walked that road, what tips can you give to authors still hoping for that first contract?

There really are no shortcuts, but there are easier ways of getting there. The first thing is to attend writer’s conferences and if you can’t afford them, purchase the tapes that most conferences sell of the workshops. Read books on writing. Join critique groups. And most importantly be teachable and ready to learn from those who are willing to help you.

Was there something about the experience of getting published that was a surprise to you?

Absolutely. My big surprise came after I contracted my first book and within three months of receiving the contract, the publisher cancelled the line. So I learned even if you contract a novel with a well-respected publisher, that sometimes business decisions are made that change your contract. I am happy to report that Nipped in the Bud, the book I contracted now almost two years ago will release this October as a single title from Barbour Publishing.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

I used to write more when I felt like it, but deadlines now force me to be more disciplined. I currently set writing goals for every day and I write every day of the week. If the words aren’t flowing one day, I keep myself in front of the computer until they come or make up the time the next day.

What kind of activities do you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I love to read. Though as I writer I learn from reading other writer’s work, and some might see this as work, it is still a joy for me. Especially if it’s a book that I don’t need to review for TheSuspenseZone.com. I also love to spend time with my family watching TV or a movie, playing a game or just hanging out. When the weather is not brutally hot as it is now in Florida, I love to garden.

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

Honestly, I don’t have a favorite novel. I do have favorite writers and when a new book releases by these writers I will get the books immediately. What they all have in common is an interesting and creative plot, characters who are well-developed and flawed with real life struggles, and I love as a writer to immerse myself in a book with really great prose.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

Reading books motivates me to write. If I get into a slump and can’t seem to fill the pages, I realize I have to put aside my work and read. It gets me excited about telling a story again and over the hurdles that made me put them aside. And also, when reading a book that I cannot put down, I analyze the book to discover why I like it and hopefully, I’m able to translate some of the skills that writer uses into some of my work.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

High-Stakes Inheritance is a romantic suspense book published by Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line. In High-stakes Inheritance, family counselor Mia Blackburn’s Uncle Wally dies and leaves behind a will that requires her to return to Logan Lake, Oregon to live at the rustic Pinetree Resort for one full year in order to inherit the valuable property. If she fails to stay at Pinetree for the full year, the property reverts to her brother.

But on her first day in town she receives a threatening message: Leave Logan Lake or you will pay. Despite the warning, Mia won't let anyone scare her from the rustic resort. But when a fire traps her in a burning barn, she fears that she won't get out alive. Just in time her ex-boyfriend wilderness counselor Ryan Morgan rescues her from the deadly blaze. He had once broken her heart, yet she still has feelings for him. With Ryan insisting on keeping a close eye on her, Mia feels safer-and closer to Ryan than ever before. Yet the threats haven't stopped, and soon Mia's high-stakes inheritance includes a murder-and Mia could be the next victim.

Where did you get your inspiration for High-Stakes Inheritance?

This story came from watching a television reality television show called Brat Camp where troubled teens went into the wilderness to overcome obstacles in their lives. The show only stayed on one season, but as a psychology major in college, I found the program and student counselor interactions fascinating. So I researched wilderness counseling programs and the framework for High-Stakes Inheritance’s wilderness counseling theme came from there.

Which character is most like you?

Wow, that’s a hard question, but I’d say Mia is more like me than any of the characters. She is independent, determined, and likes to be in charge. She doesn’t like to give up, but perseveres in the face of a challenge. That would describe me pretty well. The one area we really differ is that she likes to control her life more than I do, but would have described me when I was younger. Now I lean more on God and less on myself.

Who is your favorite character and why?

My favorite character in this book is a bit player. Her name is Gladys and she’s a busybody in the small town of Logan Lake. She was such fun to write because she has no filter. What she thinks is what she says and she doesn’t care about the consequences. Of course, she can only get away with this behavior because she has a caring, generous heart and is willing to help others.

Did you know how High-Stakes Inheritance would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

I knew how High-Stakes Inheritance would turn out as I plotted the book in advance. Writing suspense or mystery without pre-plotting can be a challenge because so many things have to happen in a certain order or the book isn’t suspenseful or it’s too easy for the reader to figure out the resolution too soon.

Still, characters surprise me along the way. Some demanding more time on stage than allotted in the synopsis. Others wanting starring roles in future books. I can’t share the biggest surprise in the book as it would be a plot spoiler and I’d never want to do that.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

As in all of my books, the main reason I write is to convey a spiritual message in an entertaining format. So I hope readers remember that you can never go wrong by trusting in God. Wow, that’s so easy to say, yet so hard to do when faced with life-altering challenges like Mia and Ryan experience in the book. I’ve been there more times than I care to count. When worry and the urge to take control overpower my trust in God. And that’s why I chose to write this book. To share through Mia and Ryan that no matter the problem, when we trust in the Lord and don’t try to take things into our own hands, He has a far richer and more rewarding life planned for us than we could ever dream on our own.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

I am doing the basic things that many authors do like appearing on blogs, Tweeting, posting on Facebook, and other social networking things. How well these will market the book remains to be seen. I do have a great mailing list of suspense lovers and a website I started four years ago. TheSuspenseZone.com is devoted to Christian suspense books and authors so I have a ready-made audience for my books. I will be giving away a large number of books at the site in September and October, so stop by and win a copy. Also for the cozy mystery, Nipped in the Bud, I have partnered with the authors who have the first six books released in the line and we will be doing a blog tour together. I have created a website, http://www.hometownmysteries.com/ to give readers basic information about all of the books and authors.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

I have contracted another romantic suspense book with Steeple Hill, Behind the Badge to release in early 2011 and am busy working on the edits for this book. This is book two of a three book series featuring the Morgan brothers, Ryan, Russ, and Reid. I have started book three in the series featuring the third brother, ex-FBI agent Reid Morgan, and hope it too will release in 2011.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you are called to write, persevere and realize though writing is a creative endeavor, it is also a craft that has to be learned to do it well. So keep on working and your dream can come true.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Susan!

Fans kind find Susan on the web at any of these locations:


Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susansleeman
Facebook Friends: http://www.facebook.com/susan.sleeman
Facebook Fans: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Susan-Sleeman-Books/124844037537711
Love Inspired Authors: http://www.loveinspiredauthors.com/

Also, be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Thursday for an excerpt from High-Stakes Inheritance by Susan Sleeman.

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