Susan Sleeman, hostess of The Suspense Zone, makes her author debut this fall with two books—a romantic suspense from Steeple Hill and a cozy mystery from Barbour.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing all of my life, in one form or another, but I have seriously been writing with the goal of publication for the last six years.
Do you (or did you) have other career aspirations?
None. Not a one. I have held many rewarding jobs over the years and I have many interests that I could see doing as a career, like web design, graphic arts, landscape design, or interior design, but I’m so happy as a writer that I need look no further. Unless of course being a professional grandma would pay the bills then I would most gladly move to Oregon and spend my days with my adorable grandson Jack.
How long have you hosted The Suspense Zone? How did that come about?
I launched The Suspense Zone four years ago when I was searching for great Christian suspense books to read. I’d discovered Christian suspense thanks to Linda Hall’s terrific books. Once I read all of her novels, I wanted to branch out and find other Christian suspense authors, but I struggled to find more books. So I started scouring the Internet and created a list. Before long, I had over 300 books on my list, and I thought I should share this list with others who might be looking for Christian suspense novels.
So I launched The Suspense Zone, a book review website dedicated to Christian suspense. We now have hundreds of reviews and author interviews as well as a library listing of over 800 suspense titles, along with the book cover and book description. The site has been so successful, and I continue to marvel as the site expands beyond 600 pages and the readership continues to grow beyond any expectation I had at the onset.
Who/what has influenced your writing career the most?
I don’t think there is a particular person that has influenced me but there is a person whose books introduced me to Christian fiction in general, author Linda Hall. I still love reading her books. She has great character development, strong female protagonists, and wonderful, thought provoking stories. She now also writes for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense line and I consider it a great honor to be her fellow writer.
As a debut author—with two books releasing this year—what advice would you give to unpublished writers who need encouragement?
If you are called to write, never give up. I can look back on my journey and see that I wasn’t ready to be published for so much of the journey, yet the Lord provided encouragement to me in many ways. I finaled in a contest, secured an agent, and received rejections. But the letters also complemented my writing and I connected with just the right person at the right time to give me encouragement and move my writing forward. Each little victory is a brick in a foundation that if you keep laying them one by one it will lead you to your goal.
You write romantic suspense and romantic cozy mystery. When brainstorming a story, which usually comes first—the suspense/mystery or the romance thread?
I always plot the suspense/mystery story first because it sets the main framework for the book. Suspense and mystery require intricate planning to release the right information at the right time and to withhold it as well. Then you must also plant enough red herrings so the reader can’t figure out who the bad guy is. After that, I choose characters and their internal struggles, which sets up the romance aspect of the book.
How does your faith play into your writing?
My faith is the reason I write. I once contemplated writing books without a spiritual element in them, but soon discovered conveying a spiritual message in an entertaining format is what I am all about. I think fiction has the power to changes lives by making faith applicable to everyday life. Readers can see the characters either live out their faith or fail to live it out, either way they can see how much easier and richer life is when lived with faith.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
Oh my gosh, yes. In fact, that is how I started writing. 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 full time, 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, and I had to quit working, I had more and more time available and soon I was writing fulltime and actively pursuing publication.
Let’s talk about your books! Please tell us about High-Stakes Inheritance, published by Steeple Hill in mid-September.
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, volunteer firefighter 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.
You have a cozy mystery, Nipped in the Bud, releasing from Barbour in October. Please tell us about it.
Nipped in the Bud is book one in my Garden Gate Mystery Series. Read Between the Tines and Seed You Later, books two and three, are not contracted, but if this new mystery line does well, I hope they too will be published. These books take place in Oregon in a fictional town named Serendipity and feature Paige Turner, a landscape designer and host of a local radio show with more wacky callers than legitimate gardeners. Paige, more at home with plants than people, has a quirky habit of thinking of people by the plants they resemble and treating them accordingly. She has a knack for finding trouble and there is no trouble bigger than discovering a dead body, which she does after she bickers with a town official—and that day he’s discovered dead in a mound of mulch. She finds herself in . . . well, a pickle! With no alibi, she struggles to prove her innocence, but she soon enlists the help of lawyer Adam Hayes. The question is, will his knowledge of the law keep her out of jail and will he win her love?
I understand you are an avid gardener and include something “special” at the beginning of each chapter of this book.
I do love to garden, though I have to admit since we moved to Florida I don’t do much of it. I really don’t do well in heat and, as you may guess, it can get hot here. The beginning of each chapter starts with gardening hints brought to the reader in humorous snippets from previous airings of Paige’s radio show. In these situations, the callers to the radio show have misunderstood Paige’s advice and find themselves in a mess. I hope that reader’s who are avid gardeners will find the snippets funny and those who want to garden will learn something about the subject in a fun way.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Why? Because it’s chocolate. LOL
This website features writers as well as musicians, so I like to mix it up a bit. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I am married to a music director, does that count? I do play the trumpet, though I haven’t played in several years and I love to sing, but really shouldn’t in public.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I’m not really sure I see myself as a song, but if I were to be compared to a song I would want someone to think I was praise and worship music. When faced with chronic health issues, you learn to praise the Lord for everything, the good and the bad, because the good—well, why wouldn’t we thank Him for that, but the bad, that’s when it gets hard but it is the time I most grow as a person. So I have to praise Him for loving me enough not to leave me as I am.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Hmm, I don’t know. I asked my hubby and he says I’m both, depending on the time of the day and or the circumstances. Maybe I’m more like our cat than I thought. I would like to think I’m more upbeat and positive like a major chord.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Definitely the strong female lead. I am independent, strong-willed, some might say stubborn, and not afraid of a challenge. I embrace change and am willing to learn new things to obtain my goals.
Please tell us about you pets.
We have a very neurotic cat who has multiple personalities. Seriously, she can turn on you in the middle of petting and chomp down on your hand so hard you think she hates you. She is a tortoiseshell and though beautiful cats, they are known to be temperamental. We’ve had her since she was a kitten and she has only ever let three people touch her. At the vets office they take out the long leather gloves to handle her and often aren’t able to get the necessary tests completed.
Thanks, Susan! It’s great to have you at DivineDetour.
Thank you for having me. I loved answering your questions.
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