K.D. Hays interview with Susan Sleeman
Q: Let me start with asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself.
A. I’m a fairly conventional soccer mom – except that my kids don’t play soccer. Instead the minivan is constantly headed to baseball games or precision jump rope shows. And because I’m a history nut, I’d rather experiment with cooking an 18th Century recipe over an open fire than focus on preparing palatable dinner for my family in my own kitchen. So they end up eating a lot of cereal and sandwiches.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A.I think I’d always wanted to be a writer but I did not realize it until I was in my mid-30s. I spent a lot of time discovering what I did not have a passion for (acting, politics, law) before I figured out where I wanted to be. For instance, when I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be an actress because I liked the idea of living in lots of different times and places. Then I majored in drama in college and realized I did not have “the bug.” Now I know that being a novelist is the best way to play pretend and spend time in different worlds.
Q: Could you give us the highlights of your professional writing career including how you got your first writing break?
A. The first writing I got paid for was legal writing (big-time snooze) and after about five years as a legal writer and editor I got a spot as a newspaper columnist writing about religion. That was much more rewarding spiritually and emotionally, if not financially, and I continued with that for nearly ten years until the newspaper business really began to change. As far as fiction goes, I wrote short stories in my early 20s but whenever I tried to write something longer like a play or novel, I ended up hating my characters. I couldn’t expect anyone else to like them if I didn’t, so I gave up. When I finally felt able to write a full-length story, I was advised to join Maryland Romance Writers, and they really helped me with both the craft and the business of writing. It took me about two years to finish the first draft of my first novel, and other year to revise it until it was ready for submission—and rejection. I did eventually find a small press publisher for it. Small press does not pay well but it does give me the freedom write stories without worrying about how marketable they are. I generally write for the secular market, but my characters often display strong Christian beliefs, so I need editors who aren’t afraid of that. My first break in the Inspirational market came when I heard that Barbour was looking for cozy mysteries for a new mystery book club. I had the beginnings of a story I’d started years ago that was initially a very dark mystery full of secrets and revenge. But it really didn’t work at all –I can’t seem to write dark stuff because my characters always end up doing something silly to break the mood. Anyway, when I heard about the new line, I thought maybe I could take my heroine from the failed mystery and make the plot much lighter. And it worked.
Q: Would you tell us about your current book releases?
A. My mysteries George Washington Stepped Here and Worth its Weight in Old are nominally mysteries about a fledgling private investigator trying to determine who stole the historical society’s most valued artifact and who is vandalizing furniture and art in a local gallery. But to me they are more a story of the investigator trying to find her life, rather than the perpetrators of the crimes. She’s divorced and her whole world revolves around being a mom and doing stuff for her kids. In these stories she gets the chance to turn her job into more of a career and to start dating and doing things for herself. She also starts to develop a relationship with God that goes beyond the formal religion she rejected in her younger days.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for Worth Its Weight in Old?
A: I honestly can’t remember. I know it had something to do with some chairs in a storefront window. They were plain wooden chairs but they were obviously old and I just had to have them. Fortunately, they weren’t too expensive. But how did the desire for some antique chairs turn into vandalism? That’s probably a part of my subconscious mind I don’t want to explore…
Q: What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?
A: Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself. If you spend all of your time doing things for others, you can’t grow in your relationship with God or anyone else. The roles we take on in life should enrich us, not suffocate us.
Q: What is your favorite scene/chapter from these books?
A: One scene I like is where Karen is asked out to dinner and instead of a restaurant, she finds herself at a Multicultural Dinner hosted by a church youth group. She thinks going to church on a date is pretty rotten, but the evening turns out to be more fun than she would have guessed.
Q: What inspires you to write? A. The voices in my head. Really.
Q: How has being a published novelist differed from your expectations of the profession? A: I guess I thought once I was published I’d be considered a “good” writer, both by myself and by the public But it didn’t happen. Some people think I write well, others don’t. And some days I think my stories are pretty good, while other days, I think I should take up knitting or go back into law.
Q: What advice or tips do you have for writers who are just getting started?
A: Keep writing. Show your work to someone who can look at it objectively and tell you what doesn’t quite work. But be sure to use criticism as a tool to improve and don’t let it undermine your faith in your ability. In the work of every writer, there are some good aspects and some aspects with room for improvement. Keep the good and be proud of it. Then learn how to adjust the bad. The day I stop trying to improve is the day I should call it quits.
Q: Would you share with us what you are working on now?
A. My daughter and I are working on a book about a Sunday school class that ends up facing demons. I started to write this years ago for her and now she’s old enough that I can write it with her. And that’s great because I really need her creativity on this one.
Q: What is something your readers might be surprised to learn about you?
A. I coach a precision jump rope team. Most people don’t realize jump rope is a competitive sport these days.
Q: When you’re not writing what do you like to do?
A. Like most writers, I love to read, especially history and historical fiction. I also like to talk long walks in interesting places, travel (when time and money permit) and ride roller coasters.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell or share with us?
A. No, this has gone on long enough. Don’t you have something else you should be doing other than reading this?
October 05, 2011
SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational and clean read romantic suspense books. Awards include Thread of Suspicion-2013 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Best Book Award, No Way Out-2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence finalist, and The Christmas Witness-2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence finalist.
In addition to writing, Susan also hosts the popular website TheSuspenseZone.com. She currently lives in Oregon with her husband, but has lived in nine states. They have two daughters, a son-in-law, and an adorable grandson. To learn more about Susan visit her at her at her website, or any of these social media sites-
About K.D. Hays
K.D. Hays is the alter ego of author Kate Dolan. While Kate writes a variety of historical fiction and non-fiction and volunteers as a living historian, K. D. Hays spends her time riding roller coasters and water slides with her kids. Both authors studied English, history and drama at Catholic University in Washington, DC., earned a law degree at the University of Richmond, and currently live in a suburb of Baltimore where they coach jump rope and manage a menagerie of dogs, anoles and one very destructive rabbit.
Hays writes contemporary mysteries about a divorced soccer mom who’s trying to figure out just where God fits into a life full of kids and career. She also collaborated with her daughter Meg to create her latest book, Toto’s Tale, which tells the story of The Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view. Currently, they are working on a book about a Sunday School class that fights demons and trying to find the absolute best roller coaster in the world.
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