As part of our continuing series of interview our MCW bloggers, today’s interviewee is Susan Vaughan. We hope you find this interview as fascinating as we did.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in West Virginia in a family of teachers and became one, although I really wanted to write. Had to get a “real job,” you know. I studied French literature, because I love languages. A perpetual student, I have two advance degrees, one in that college major, and the other in reading education. Most of my teaching career was as an elementary reading specialist, a very rewarding and challenging job.
Are you one of those writers who has wanted to write since you were a child?
Guilty as charged. I’ve always had a bit of insomnia, and even before I learned to read and write, I made up stories in the dark as I waited for sleep to overtake me. When my first-grade teacher read us a story, she told us about the author, something my parents hadn’t done, maybe because they taught at higher levels. I was instantly fascinated that “real people” wrote those books, so I wanted to do that too. Once I learned to read and write a bit, I started creating stories, printed carefully on folded paper. Then in high school, I wrote a terrible gothic romance that was about three chapters. Hey, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end! I did write a few short stories at that time as well. None of those early efforts exist today, which is probably just as well.
When and how did you start writing again?
I didn’t consider writing seriously for a long time. When my husband and I moved to the coast of Maine, my goal of writing fiction resurfaced. Something about meeting artists and published authors, who were “thick on the ground,” as it were, in this state, made me think I could/should try. I was teaching in a middle school, and that influenced me to write a young adult novel. When I told my husband, he said, “Do it. You’ve been talking about this for years.” I used the summer vacation to write. I completed that story, a mystery, and a second, which was published by an online press, now defunct.
Tell us more about your journey to publication.
I grew up reading mysteries, first Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and later whatever mysteries my mother read, along with the mystery/romance novels written by Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. Later, a friend introduced me to romance novels, and then I discovered romantic suspense by reading Nora Roberts’s Genuine Lies and Honest Illusions and Sandra Brown’s early novels. Tess Gerritsen, who was then writing for Harlequin Intrigue, invited me to join the nascent Maine chapter of Romance Writers of America, and that set my path.
When I began reading romantic suspense, I knew that was what I really wanted to write. I didn’t want to write just for myself; I wanted to be published and have people want to read what I wrote. I subscribed to Harlequin’s Silhouette Intimate Moments (now defunct) because most were romantic suspense. Lisa Gardner got her start writing for that line. Not only did I devour the stories, I studied them—the characters’ conflicts, the plot structure, the romance development, everything. I had no luck finding an agent, but that imprint didn’t require agented submissions, so eventually I had my first sale, published in 2001 as Dangerous Attraction. I went on to sell four more to that line before moving on. I then had a standalone novel, Primal Obsession, published by The Wild Rose Press. And by the way, those two and six more are set in my adopted state of Maine.
How would you define romantic suspense? What’s the balance between the romance and the suspense?
Romantic suspense combines mystery and romance, along with elements of thrillers. Generally, in a romantic suspense novel, the protagonists, that is the hero and heroine, are trying to prevent a crime (disaster, deaths, destruction, etc.) rather than solve one that has already occurred. Most often, the heroine is the one in danger, along with a more high-stakes disaster plotted by the villain, antagonist if you will. Sometimes the villain’s identity is even known to the reader, and the mystery aspect may be unearthing his goal or what is planned.
The balance can be fifty-fifty or sixty romance and forty suspense or sixty suspense and forty romance. Of most importance in a romantic suspense, is to never separate the romance from the suspense. In these stories, you have two of the most powerful human emotions: love and danger. The writer must use one to drive the other and to create conflict and move the story forward.
I enjoy the way the romance and the suspense plot are intertwined, or at least ought to be in a well-written RS. And I enjoy the process of creating that connection, so that the characters’ goals, internal conflicts, and their romantic attraction are impacted by the suspense plot. I do love a puzzle. I have to confess that my readers and my author friends tell me I really write romantic adventures that blend suspense and thriller.
I do this and have always wondered if other writers do, too. Do you find yourself working on your stories while you’re going to sleep or waking up?
Here’s where my insomnia comes in. Yes, while I’m trying to go to sleep, I’m plotting or developing a character and thinking about what other characters are needed for the story. I’m going through this right now.
Tell us about your books. You have several series, right?
Yes, I have four series. Each book stands alone, but is connected to the others in the series in some way. Task Force Eagle has four books centered around different government agencies stopping a Central American smuggling gang. I have the rights back to my first Intimate Moments book and the rest. An updated version of one is the first in that series. Updated because technology changed dramatically in the interim. I’ve published it and the others independently. What was Dangerous Attraction is now Always a Suspect.
A reader favorite is my Devlin Security series, which as of 2021 comprises five books. “Protecting Priceless Treasures” is the security company’s charge. What do I mean by priceless treasures? In On Deadly Ground, for example, the characters must return a figure of the Mayan earthquake god to its temple, and of course various bad guys want the artifact for their own reasons. Cleopatra’s Necklace focuses on, well, you can guess. The newest one, Genuine Fake, has an art forgery plot.
The DARK Files also has five books. DARK is an acronym for a government agency, the Domestic Antiterrorism Risk Corps. The first one, Dark Memories, was first published by Silhouette Intimate Moments as Guarding Laura. In it I used the small Maine resort setting and a couple of secondary characters from that first young adult mystery written long ago. With the exception of Dark Vision, the rest are also former Intimate Moments novels.
I also have the rights back to Primal Obsession, mentioned above. It now has a companion novel, Hidden Obsession, making that a two-book set. Hidden Obsession gives the detective from the previous book his own story. Both Obsession books are set in Maine. The series involves, as you might guess, an obsession of some sort. I’m pondering a third book, but we’ll see.
Over the course of your career, you’ve gone from having a publisher to being your own publisher. Isn’t that a lot of work?
It is a lot of work. Absolutely. There’s a saying about self-publishing: “The advantage is that the author is in charge of everything—the story, the editing, the formatting, the cover art, the advertising—and the disadvantage is that the author is in charge of everything. I do like being able to have a say in how the book will look, that is, the cover design. I pay a cover designer and for formatting the digital version. The royalties are greater than when I was published by publishers, which helps. The entire process is time consuming and sometimes tedious. But I wouldn’t go back now.
Where can we find your books? Do you have physical books? E-books? Audio books?
Currently, my books are published only on Amazon as both e-books for Kindle and in trade paperbacks. In Maine, Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops carry several of my books. Readers everywhere can find them all on my Amazon Author Page, http://viewAuthor.at/SusanVaughan or on my website, www.susanvaughan.com.
Dare I ask: Do you have a favorite book, or is it always the book you’re working on?
You guessed it, the book I’m working on.
Thank you for this interview. Your questions have encouraged me to revisit how and why I’m in this crazy world of writing novels.
One lucky commenter to this post will will a copy of Primal Obsession. (Digital version if you live in Hawaii or outside the US)