Interview with Susan Page Davis
Susan Page Davis, one of our hosts here at Keep Me In Suspense, is back again with another book you won't want to miss, Finding Marie. Susan is an award-winning author, and a double finalist in ACFW's Book of the Year contest with Feather and The Prisoner’s Wife!!!
Tell us some of the background behind the idea for this series and about Finding Marie.
I’m very excited about this book. The idea came partly from my editor at Harvest House, Kim Moore. She had gone through the initial stages of publishing Frasier Island with me, and the publisher was ready to buy a second book as a sequel. I suggested one scenario, but Kim wasn’t too keen on it. When we talked, I tried to listen and discern what she most loved about Frasier Island and wanted to see again. And she loved Pierre.
Now, Pierre Belanger was a main character in that first book, but he wasn’t the hero. He was a happy-go-lucky small-town boy of French Canadian descent who came from a family of eight children and was engaged to a 19-year-old beauty back home in Maine. Everybody loved Pierre. He’s the only guy in Frasier Island that no one got mad at. And I had him get married off stage. After he left Frasier Island, he called his friends George and Rachel there by radio to tell them that he and his longtime sweetheart Marie were married at last and would be going to Japan soon, courtesy of the Navy. Okay, I thought, how am I going to put Pierre in book 2, make it suspenseful, and bring him back to the U.S. Because (confession time) I really don’t know enough about Japan to set a book there and couldn’t afford to do on-location research.
Enter Pierre’s wife, Marie, and fast forward two years. Pierre’s duties in Japan are now ended. It’s time for him and Marie to leave the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka. I thought about just how cruel I could be to this charming young couple. I sent Marie off to San Francisco alone. Pierre would follow in a few weeks via aircraft carrier, or so they thought. And then I let naïve, trusting Marie get into life-threatening, heart-stopping, chase-you-til-you-drop danger.
I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?
Marie is a character who stretches and grows before your very eyes. She becomes stronger and more independent out of necessity. Although she is much younger than me, I empathize with her. I’ve never been good at thinking on my feet, and neither has she. She must make multiple rapid-fire choices that determine her fate, and yet, even though she is a young Christian, she trusts that God is ultimately in control.
What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?
Probably how little I know about writing. I’m still learning things every day. It’s my hope that my stories will get better and better as I go along.
Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?
Immediate plans include a third book in this series, about Marie’s sister, Claudia, a high profile journalist who treks halfway around the globe to interview a special Navy unit and lands in a red hot situation. I’m also working on a set of three cozy mysteries with my daughter Megan (the Blue Heron Lake series from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries) and a trilogy set in colonial New Hampshire for Heartsong Presents.
For farther down the road, I’d like to do more suspense—lots more suspense. I’m in the proposal stage with an equestrian-related series and one about a Maine police detective.
Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?
Write every day, read a lot, and network every chance you get.
What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?
I like to think through the mystery/danger first. Without the basic plot, a suspense book falls apart. You can have wonderful characters and a frantic pace, but put them in an unbelievable situation and you lose the reader. So I always make sure my story and especially the solution will work.
Then I develop my characters, though in the plotting process I’ve usually thought about what kind of person I need to execute it to the best effect. For example, does the heroine need to be a strong go-getter who will persevere no matter what opposition she encounters? Or does she need to be insecure and unsure of her ability to face evil?
What is your system to keep the story/clues organized?
I like to use a calendar. Most of my suspense books take place within a year, some within less than a week. The average is a couple of months. I save extra calendars, especially ones with large squares. After I block out my synopsis by chapters, I write each chapter number on the calendar on the day where it occurs. For instance, if the story starts in early May, on a Thursday I would write a large 1 in the corner of the square for the first Thursday in May. (The year of the calendar doesn’t matter unless your story takes place in a particular year or the plot requires certain days or holidays to fall on a particular day of the week. As my son once pointed out to me, there are only 14 possible calendars. I take whatever people give me.)
Then I write a capsule of the chapter’s major events on that day’s square. For example, for my novel Witness (coming in April 2008 from Love Inspired Suspense), on the day for chapter 1 I would write, “Petra sees a murder. Police find no evidence of a crime.” Below it I write a large 2 for chapter 2, and “Joe has a bad day.” On the next day, Friday, I write another 2, because chapter 2 spans more than one day, and “Petra hears night noises. Joe meets Petra’s sisters. On Saturday, a 3 and “Petra helps sisters and meets Joe. And so on. This method especially helps me not to forget to send characters to church on Sunday or to take a holiday off from work.
Finding Marie had a different timetable, with most of the book happening in a week’s time, then skipping six weeks at the finale. I found myself getting confused about what time it was in different places as characters in several locations talked on the phone, agreed to meet each other, etc.
Instead of a calendar, I made a chart listing the four major locations of the book across the top: Japan, Hawaii, San Francisco and Michigan/Maine. (The last two were in the same time zone, so counted as one location for my purposes even though they are more than 1,000 miles apart.) Down the left side of the sheet I put the chapter numbers, followed by thumbnail summaries of the chapter’s main events, one scene per line. Each chapter might take several lines. Under each of the four locations, I typed in the time in that zone when that scene began. A website that helped tremendously with this was www.timeanddate.com, where I made my own personal “world clock.” The final step was to highlight the times of the major characters in each scene. If George in Hawaii was talking to Pierre in Yokosuka, I’d highlight the times of Hawaii and Japan. Later in the book, when all the main characters moved into the eastern U.S. time zone, I didn’t bother to list times for the other zones.
This method was tedious to set up, but it saved me many headaches in the long run and helped me catch an untold number of glitches. It also helped me to keep the scenes in correct chronological order.
That's great insight. Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story?
A lot of research went into Finding Marie. I did more Navy research (on top of all I’d done for the first book in the series, Frasier Island) and many times visited the websites for the Narita International Airport and San Francisco Airport. I read up on Chinese tongs, TSA baggage rules, and the park at Old Orchard Beach. I nearly wore out my World and U.S. atlases. The whole family got into the act with a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. A gorgeous photo of Mystic is featured on the cover of Finding Marie. And I had a French teacher and a native French speaker edit my dialogue for the French-speaking characters.
To learn more about Susan and her books, visit her site here!
Would you like to win a copy of Finding Marie? Visit our contest page and leave a comment!