Thank you Susan for taking the time to answer some questions about your latest release Sleep No More. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little about the novel?
Thank you for having me!
Sleep No More is a story strong on psychological tension and filled with multi-layered characters.
As a young girl, Abby Whitman walked in her sleep and started a fire that left her sister scarred and destroyed their ancestral home. Although her sleepwalking disappeared by adulthood, Abby’s committed to living alone in order to never hurt anyone again. Then one night, shortly after she’s begun to suspect her sleepwalking has returned she finds herself at the scene of a fatal auto accident with no memory of how she got there.
Driven by her need to know if she is responsible for a young man’s death and her desperation to rid herself of her sleepwalking, she turns to Psychiatrist Dr. Jason Coble. The things he helps her reach in the dark recesses of her mind open the door to secrets that will rock their small Southern town to its foundation. Secrets someone will go to any lengths to protect.
In this book, Abby is a sleepwalker and something tragic happened to her when she was a young girl. How did you come up with the idea of sleepwalking as a suspenseful theme?
I always like to build my suspense based on something very personal to my main character. With this book I was looking for a bit of a different angle, something inherent to the character that could present the danger. When sleepwalking came to mind, it seemed a perfect fit; intrinsic, yet uncontrollable. Really, how scary is it to get up and do things you have no conscious power over or any memory of? The possibilities it opened were so exciting to me I knew it had my hook.
When I read this novel, I pictured Jason as calm and tranquil to Abby’s sometimes panicky (with good reason) personality. Did you plan on this yin and yang method for their characteristics?
Most of my preparation before I begin writing is character development. When I build my characters I put a lot of thought into what their personalities and talents need to be in order to “complete” each other; to provide one another the necessary help to not only solve their problem and get them out of danger, but also for them to help one another find and understand themselves. Although I didn’t actually set out to create them yin and yang, they did certainly turn out that way.
Like I mentioned earlier, something tragic happened to Abby as a young girl, then later in life the story revolves around another incident. Did you learn any interesting facts that may not be well known about sleepwalking while doing your research?
Of course! That’s part of what makes writing so much fun. Research always opens new doors and unlocks hidden potential. For Sleep No More, my intention had been for something to happen to Abby while sleepwalking and then slowly have little scraps of memory about it surface. However, in my research, I discovered that people have no memory of the time when they were sleepwalking. None. Not a scrap. So I had to do some adjusting to my plot. Luckily, it actually opened up possibilities in the story what would not have been feasible otherwise.
When reading, I have a tendency to picture the characters in my mind. Did you have anyone in mind when you made up Abby and Jason?
You know, I never collect photos or picture specific actors in my head when I’m creating my characters. I even keep my physical descriptions of them in the book to a minimum. My hope is that readers will take what these people are on the inside and create an outside that fits the character and appeals to each reader individually. As the characters are “born” in my head, I do picture them, but they’re not modeled after anyone in real life.
I was looking at your website and saw that while the last few books were romantic suspense, the first ones are considered Contemporary Romance. What made you go from Contemporary Romance to Suspense?
My first six novels (Back Roads, The Road Home, Magnolia Sky, Promises to Keep, On Blue Falls Pond and A Kiss in Winter) are contemporary women’s fiction (which is contemporary romance with a wide range of other things going on in my main character’s lives – family, community, etc). All of my women’s fiction novels have an interwoven mystery or suspense element, which seemed to grow stronger with each book I wrote. So my “leap” to romantic suspense isn’t quite a large of one as a person might have imagined. Certainly the pacing is faster in the romantic suspense, but I still have the multi-faceted characters and many threads to the story. My suspense is psychological and personal to my characters; I don’t deal in serial killers. And I really love writing suspense. I love getting the hook just right at the end of each chapter and slowly revealing truths that lead up to a twist of an ending.
Like I mention you have wrote Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense. Are there any other genres you have written? Anything that you have not written but you would like to? Anything you would never even try to write?
I have a couple of unpublished novels in the paranormal and historical genres (written in my early writing days, no doubt they need lots of work). I have a novel in mind that will be a mainstream women’s fiction story revolving around a very emotional issue (as yet undisclosed to anyone but my critique partners and my agent). I doubt I’ll ever try my hand at futuristic or fantasy – but never say never.
Are you working on anything now? Can you give us an idea of what it is about?
Right now I’m working on a mainstream women’s fiction with a slow-boil psychological suspense undertone (how’s that for a confusing definition?). It’s about a widow of an army Ranger killed in Afghanistan who gets caught up in a web of deceit and treachery. It’s in the early stages, but coming together nicely. I’m also playing with developing two other storylines. Watch my website for updates!
There is a video on your homepage about Best Buddies. Would you like to tell us a little about this program? How did you get involved with this program?
I owe my involvement with Best Buddies to my son. He has been doing a great deal of promotional work for me and suggested we team up with a philanthropic organization for my hometown book launch of Sleep No More. He knew of Best Buddies and the great work they do. This organization was a logical choice, as one of my favorite characters in Sleep No More is a young woman with Down Syndrome.
I have met some of the most wonderful people through this organization. And I’m a real believer in their mission: to provide one-on-one relationships for those with intellectual disabilities and help develop the social skills that will allow them to fit well in the world.
Your biography mentions your love from books. Who are some of your favorite authors? Which genres do you like to read?
Oh boy, I love reading all sorts of things. I tend to like a bigger book with well-drawn characters and subplots. That favorite author thing is a tricky question, there are so many and I’m discovering new ones all of the time. I’ve always loved Tami Hoag, Karen Robard, Anne Stuart, Sandra Brown, Iris Johansen, Stephen King’s earlier works, Dean Koontz, Susan Wiggs, LuAnn Rice, some of Anne Rice’s novels, The Witching Hour in particular, Mary Balogh, Jodi Piclout, Ann Rivers Siddons; loved Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, To Kill a Mockingbird, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Pride and Prejudice … that’ll do for starters.
You and your sister co-authored four books that were never published. Have you ever thought about having them published now or trying again with your sister?
As I said earlier in this interview, those early books written with my sister probably need a lot of work. One of these days I’ll pull them out and take a look at them again. Right now I have so many projects lined up that it’ll probably be a while before I do. My sister has moved on to another career, but you never know what the future will bring.
Since you write suspense-themed books, it got me to thinking about movies and such. Do you like scary movies or mysteries? If so, is it the older black and white thrillers such as Alfred Hitchcock or the newer ones? And why?
Love scary movies, the psychological thriller, not so much the slasher-in-the-closet kind. I love a mystery or a plot with a good twist that I didn’t see coming. I’m into both the new and the old. Hitchcock had such a great way of underplaying things, building slowly with a steady hand; you don’t see that many these days. We try to go to the movies once a week -- I feed my muse and my husband eats popcorn – so we see lots of different kinds of movies.
Can you tell the readers something quirky about yourself? Maybe something that no one else knows.
Hmmm, quirky, me? Let’s see, I’m one of the few women in this world who wouldn’t miss chocolate if it disappeared from this earth. I guess that’s more odd than quirky!
Do you have any social network pages such as Facebook, MySpace, etc.?
Yes indeed, I do. Blog, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter.
One last question that I like to ask all my interviewees. In keeping with the Coffee Time theme, if you were described as a flavor of coffee what flavor would you be and why?
Now this is a great question! I’d probably be vanilla, because I’m so darn ordinary.
Thank you so much for this interview! I had a blast and hope you did as well.