Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How I Got Here

In beginning my new blog, I want to go back and reminisce a bit about the journey that I've been on for many years now. I've written off and on ever since I was nine years old, and in my early twenties began a romantic fantasy about two characters named Rodwyn and Lisare. I never finished more than the initial story, and my personal life in my late twenties was so full of upheaval that I put my writing aside for a number of years, not sure if I would ever take it up again.

In my early thirties the idea for Johanna's Journey began to grow, and I continued to develop the story and characters in my mind for several years.  Still, I hesitated to actually start writing a novel. It seemed like such a big commitment, I was afraid that I wouldn't finish it, and if I did no one would want to read it and all my effort would be wasted.  But Johanna (a colonial indentured servant) refused to die. One day in discussing these concerns with my twin sister, she said to me, "Write something for me, Susan. Write it for me, and I'll read it." Knowing that I would have one reader of my new novel encouraged me to sit down and start writing, and the story was so complete in my mind that I finished the first draft in six months. A few months later I learned about a small local writer's group, and when I joined it I now had three readers for my novel. Without this support, I would never have been able to continue writing.

For several years I continued working and refining Johanna's Journey, until one day an author I met at a conference suggested that I create a series that I could promote to editors. Soon afterwards I began a sequel based on Johanna's stepdaughter Ellen, who appears as a small child in the first book. Although I loved Johanna's Journey and was happy with the result, I believed two weaknesses were that I focused only on Justin and Johanna and developed few secondary characters; also the plot was not very complex. In writing Ellen's Intercession, I created a more plot-driven novel with many twists and turns to the story. I also included three men and three women whom I tried to develop well.  The romantic pairings kept changing so that it was difficult to predict who would end up together (a technique I admired in Jane Austen's Emma). I thought this worked well, but the downside was that the reader does not become as attached to Ellen's ultimate hero as she does to Justin in the first book. This book also required a great deal of research. I read about the Huguenots, French galley slaves, 17th century midwifery practices, and smallpox, and also took a couple of trips to visit Huguenot towns in New York.

I thought I would keep writing about Johanna and her progeny forever, but a few years later I was given the chance to submit a novella for a three-story book. The theme for the first book was a historical "Christmas Homecoming" and the second was a contemporary "Love on the Job." I decided to stay with the colonial time period for "Christmas Homecoming" and wrote my first novella about a Revolutionary War soldier returning after the battle of Trenton in 1776. In researching this I learned a lot about the American Revolution (more than I remembered from school!). I later expanded this into a longer romance called The Return of the Rebel.

I had never written a contemporary novel and at first was stuck for a idea for "Love on the Job." At this point my sister suggested I write a story about two missionaries who fall in love on the mission field. I have always been interested in missions and spent a summer as a summer intern with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Solomon Islands. I also studied linguistics in their school and have met many Bible translators that way. I decided to set my story on a fictional island in the South Pacific based on the Solomon Islands, creating a fictional organization modeled on Wycliffe. In writing the novella I fell in love with the characters (especially the struggling Bible translator hero, Chad) and decided to expand this story into a novel. I introduced more characters to add tension, and created a terrorist element as well.

As I was finishing my missionary book, the idea for my fifth book came to me. I was still polishing Kerry's Calling so I didn't start writing it for several years. Of all the books I have written, this is the one that I was most hesitant to begin. The idea seemed far-fetched even to me, I was afraid it would turn my readers off, and I wasn't sure how to end the story in a way that would be both believable and satisfying. But the story wouldn't leave me alone, and finally, with great fear and trembling, I decided to write the first chapter and see how my writer's group reacted to it.  Finding Father is the story that most of my readers have had the strongest response to, mostly in a positive way. Although I have gotten some negative reactions, they were much fewer than I expected.  Many readers have told me they didn't want to set it down once they began.

So this is where I am, many years after I first began to write.  It has been a long journey, and I wonder where it will lead next?


  1. I enjoyed reading your writing history while learning more about you!

  2. I think the ending to Finding Father IS believable and satisfying!