Susan Vaughan here. My next book, Hidden Obsession, will be released this coming Wednesday. Reaching that achievement has been a long journey, eleven years, to be exact. Not that I’ve been writing it that long, but the germ for it sprouted that long ago as I wrote Primal Obsession, published in 2008 .
That romantic suspense novel tells the story of the couple Annie and Sam. Annie is an investigative reporter in Portland, Maine, who has been covering the crimes of a serial killer dubbed the Hunter, who murdered her good friend, an avid outdoorswoman. An avid indoorswoman, Annie books a wilderness canoe and camping trip to spread her friend’s ashes.
Sam is a former Major Leaguer (yes, Red Sox) who was injured and is now struggling to make a new life working in his family’s wilderness business. He and Annie banter and argue until the woods turn deadly, forcing them to work together. And, of course, fall in love. Annie’s brother Justin, a Maine state police detective, worries about her because the Hunter has contacted her. But Justin believes she’ll be safe in the northern Maine woods because the killer kidnaps his victims in towns and cities first and “hunts” them in the woods.
Anyone who’s read “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connor knows what that means. That book features a romantic suspense set in the wilderness and some police procedure with Justin, the detective heading up the Hunter case, who remains unaware of the danger to Annie and the other five campers until late in the plot.
Long after I finished Primal Obsession, Justin kept nagging at me. Other authors know what that is like. You create characters who intrigue you and you want to keep revisiting and expanding on them. That’s what it was like for me. Fast forward to a couple of years ago. Under the influence (of Maine Crime Writers), I decided to try writing a cozy mystery, working title “Murder by the Book.” I chose the title because the female sleuth was/is a freelance writer. Financial straits force Sheri to return to her Maine peninsula hometown to ghostwrite an elderly woman’s memoir. She wants to avoid revisiting her tragic past while doing her job. But after a brutal murder and attacks on her best friend and her client, she can’t help being deeply involved. And, in the mode of amateur sleuth, try to uncover the murderer.
My obvious choice for the detective was Justin. For those who don’t know, in the state of Maine only the largest cities have police departments that investigate major crimes like homicides. The detectives of the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit are in charge of those investigations throughout the rest of the state. I was excited to have a chance to further flesh out the character of Justin and give him a plot. Developing internal conflict and backstory for him wasn’t coming to me, and I didn’t know why, so I just kept writing and hoped it would work out. By the time I’d written about half the draft, my critique partners guessed the murderer’s identity. Sigh.
First, I should never have let anyone read chapters before I’d finished the whole thing and developed the other characters into suspects. One of the best pieces of advice about romantic suspense (and mysteries as well) I’ve heard is from bestselling author Sandra Brown, that everyone in the story should have a secret. Second, I realized the reason Justin’s character was too flat was that he had no relationships, but was focused solely on the case. In Primal Obsession, he was more personally involved, with his sister in danger. In the new story, he needed something at stake—a romance with Sheri.
Rather than struggle against the current, I started afresh and rewrote the story as a romantic suspense, no easy task. It took me two years to write what has become Hidden Obsession . Now Justin has a strong internal conflict and backstory, a good reason to hate secrets, one reason he’s a cop. And his truth seeking collides exactly with Sheri’s need to protect her secret. More than its predecessor, the new book is part police procedural and part romantic suspense, and I enjoyed meshing the two. I owe big thanks to one of our Maine Crime Writers, author Bruce Robert Coffin, for advice on police procedure.
Writing this book has been a journey and a challenge, and I’m happy and relieved to send it into the world. The e-book is on pre-order at Amazon. On the release date, October 2, both the e-book and print version will be available to purchase.
Congrats, Susan. I look forward to reading it.
Thanks so much for the congrats and all!
I too am at work on a murder mystery made in Maine. I appreciate your tips and persistence when a character niggles at you! My question is do you outline your plot or fly by the seat of your pants then do heavy revisions? I am pantsing it now but it doesn’t seem to move me along fast enough. I feel pantsing is more creative especially when I am describing the fantasy town and characters, but it isn’t serving me well right now. Thanks for any advice you can give.
Thanks for your comment and the tough question. I am generally a plotter. I plot the major turning points and sometimes “pants” my way from one to the other. This has worked well for me enough that I have revisions, but not heavy ones. Sometimes I have to add a scene or delete one, but mostly it’s tweaking. But my experience is that each writer has her own approach that fits her brain, and what works for one might not work for another. Good luck with your mystery!
Thanks for that and you are so right! And another quick question—do you think we should read your books in order?
So excited about this new book coming out. Your first book in this duo was amazing. So can’t wait to see Justin and Sheri’s story on my Kindle in a few days. Congrats on finally figuring out what Justin needed 🙂
As one of your Beta readers for this book, let me just say I had NO idea ‘who dunnit’ until the very end and then I felt silly for not adding up all the clues, hehe. Ms. Brown is correct – everyone has secrets, and you gave your characters some doozies! Congratulations on the new book!
Sometimes the books with the longest journeys tell the best stories and this one sounds amazing. I love the “everyone has a secret” advice. Congratulations on your new book!