CBP: First of all, can you share your Christian testimonies with us?
I grew up in a wonderful Christian home in a small Southern town, Roanoke, Alabama. Surrounded by grandparents and extended family, our lives centered around the church. It was idyllic. Throughout college I stayed close to the Lord, but like the main character of our book, Jill Lewis, I experienced great success in my career early on, and I got so caught up in my work and the lifestyle that even though I was attending church on Sunday's, my personal relationship with the Lord slowly slipped away. I was working all the time, and my life began to unravel in every area, it felt as though the world was caving in on me, and like Jill I felt I was left with nothing. One day I became so panicked I literally dialed 911. It sounds like a scene from a comedy, but it was truly terrifying. After my doctor spent about three hours trying to calm me down, I realized the problem was that God was missing from my life, that I had totally shut him out, and I had nothing. The next couple of years I struggled trying to find God again without much success until one day I stopped by the local laundry to pick up my clothes, and they had used books stacked in the corner. Thanks to my two year old knocking them over and then ripping the cover off one of them, I was forced to purchase Something More by Catherine Marshall. (You can read more about this in my book, STANDING ON THE PROMISES...A Woman's Guide Through the Storms of Life published by Multnomah). After a two-year struggle to find God again, I had become bitter that He hadn't made everything okay, so when I realized the book was Christian, I tossed it. Later that night I felt so desperate I fished the book out of the trashcan. After wiping the carrot peels off the book, I stayed up all night reading and from that moment I really got "it" and Jesus has been the Lord of my life ever since. Oh happy day!
I was raised in a household with a workaholic, alcoholic father balanced by a stay-at-home, Christian mother. Each week my mother marched us three kids down the block to Sunday school where we lived in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. Afterwards Iíd remain behind for church service, awarded to sit beside some elderly lady as my guardian, as the others hurried home for lunch. The smell of the old oak pews was wonderful! But my favorite was the fragmented colored pieces of stained glass coming together in a window depicting Bible stories. I couldnít take my six-year-old eyes from Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. A sickly child I felt lonely and not accepted. My mother told me Jesus was my friend. Of course friends talk to you, donít they? I chattered to Jesus and sang to him, then waited for him to speak. He did. In my innermost parts of my heart he lovingly told me he had something special planned for my life. Deut. 7:6 the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure to Me . Years later, while in high school I went forward at my Methodist church revival and accepted the Lord and then joined Campus Crusade for Christ in college. During that time a personal tragedy knocked my feet out from beneath me. Unfortunately, instead of turning toward Jesus, I turned away from Him. It was a few years later; battered and beaten by my poor choices did I find my way back to the Lord (Billy Grahamís Decision, The Long Road Home). It was in a little country church in Ottawa, Ill. where my future husband served as the assistant pastor. Through a loving fellowship I was able to work my way through this incident and became whole in Jesus again. Remembering the stained glass window of Jesus holding the lost lamb I knew it was I and He had brought me home. After marrying, Richard and I traveled overseas for several years as missionaries before settling down and pasturing an interdenominational church for six years. By the way, my father accepted Jesus as his savior much in the same way as Jillís Dad had in The Chase.
CBP: How did you two get together to write The Chase?
Susan Wales saw one of my stories, Mom's Last Laugh, in Christian Reader and called to ask if she could put it in her Match Made in Heaven Vol. 2 book that was about to go to press. At the time I had nearly one hundred and fifty articles and a dozen short stories in print, but didn't know how to take that next step into fictional novel publishing. We did it together.
The series A Match Made in Heaven, Volumes I & II, written with my friend Ann Platz from Atlanta, is a collection of love stories. Later, when I was in Dallas and asked Robin and her husband to appear on a TV show with me to tell their love story, we shared our dreams about writing novels. A few months later I asked Robin if she'd like to partner with me so she sent the book she'd been working on about a newspaper reporter in Delavan, and we used that as a starting point and the story just evolved.
CBP: Susan, many readers may know you as a non-fiction writer...why fiction now?
I'd been waiting to write novels my entire life. Since I was four years old, I'd been making up stories. My mother read to us all the time, beginning when we were babies and she really fuelled my gift writing. When I was pregnant with my daughter I wrote my first book, a cookbook with friends, and it was quite successful, but soon afterwards, I became a single mom and those circumstances forced me to abandon my writing. Years later I married Ken, and Godís timing is always perfectÖthe day we drove home from taking my daughter Meg to college, I told my husband that as soon as I got home I was going to write. The two of us discussed it and decided I could sell real estate part time to supplement my income. When I sat down at the computer, I couldn't wait to get started on my novel, but then I felt that God was calling me to write a specific book that my friend Ann Platz and I had talked about for years. It was A Match Made in Heaven, whose love stories offers encouragement to singles and comfort to those who have loved and lost as well as rekindling love for couples. Shortly after that book was published, I received a faxed letter from a woman whoíd experienced her third divorce, and decided to kill herself after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, her Mom happened to be standing in line at Samís Club to pick up a few last minute gifts, and bought a copy of the book for her daughter. The young woman read the book, and said the stories gave her such hope, she chose to live! I learned then to listen carefully to Godís voice. If saving this girlís life was the only reason it was written, it was worth it all, and there have been many more letters like hers. After several non-fiction books, I felt God opened the door for me to write my novel, and even though The Chase has only been out since February, Robin and I are already receiving letters.
CBP: Robin, why did you choose this project for your first full book?
I took private creative writing classes in college and began several novels at that time knowing it was important to write what I knew. My family vacationed for generations in Delavan going back to the 1800ís. Having summered there since birth it officially became my hometown at the age of thirteen when we moved there year around. Soon we became dear friends of the townís historian, Gordon Yadon, who is filled with a labyrinth of great true tales. In 1975 I graduated from UW Whitewater, which is nearby in the glaciated area.
My preferred reading genre is thrillers and mysteries. Zealously I watch such programs as Court TV, Discovery, and A & E taking copious notes. I also have a good friend who is a coroner and another who is a surgical nurse who helps my accuracy in writing. My brother is also a former detective of Walworth County where Delavan is located. Combining my hometown with a crime was natural.
CBP: How did you go about researching this Washington, D.C./political story?
So much of it is imagination. Truthfully, when I was a kid I used to always get in trouble for my wild imagination and exaggerating so my parents have gotten a good laugh over how God is using this weakness of mine for the good! What a sense of humor He has! I also did research by traveling to Washington with my husband who had business there while Robin and I were writing the book. For accuracy I consulted a good friend who is an FBI agent, which helped a lot. My husband and I are acquainted with several politicians, and through certain ministries we often get involved in international affairs. In addition there is also a lot of research a writer can do on the Internet.
My family and I spent time in Washington; while on Capitol Hill we met our state representative Dick Armey and Georgia state Senator Sam Nunn at a luncheon. While discussing politics my mind clipped off ideas for a thriller. My husbandís high school economics teacher and coach is now the Speaker of the House, Dennis Haster, which I am basing a character on in another book. My husband and I are both FOX news buffs so I am up on the latest in politics. My father a prominent Chicago businessman knew the first Mayor Daily who often ate at his nightclub so I grew up surrounded with diverse and intriguing characters that later tend to show up in my stories. We also are dear friends of people who manage an orphanage in Nepal. Originally I had the book starting in Delavan. However Susan felt Washington DC was the perfect foil for my rural hometown. Everyone loves to go home in his or her mind. We spend the first half of our lives trying to get away from there and the next half trying to go back.
CBP: Who did you base the heroine, Jill Lewis, on? Is she a combination of people?
At first Jill was based on me. When Susan joined me in working on this project she had her own ideas and Jill began to change giving her more of a past. Susan brought her unique life experiences to the character making Jill grow as I added more of my personal life to other characters, such as Cathy not being able to have biological children.
Definitely a combination of Robin and me. Although my circumstances were different I could really feel Jill's pain as I wrote when she experienced a great loss in every area of her life. Robin and I got a big chuckle out of a line I wrote when Craig asks Jill if he could give her a Bible she said, "No, thanks, we've got plenty of those around my house." This was a quote I overhead my daughter Meg telling someone who was trying to minister to her. Robin said she totally related to Meg. One of the advantages of having two authors...it creates multi-dimensional interesting characters. I loved what Robin did with Jillís sister Kathy and the infertility issuesÖthis is a character I could never have created alone.
CBP: There is a strong undercurrent of striving to achieve a name, being famous, political success. What is the message you want to send your readers?
Our message is what good is it if you gain the whole world yet loose your soul in the end? Mark 8:36 It doesnít matter who you know if you donít know Jesus. From selfishness to selflessness...Jill had head knowledge of God but she didn't give him her heart, soul, or mind till part way through the book. She was too busy gaining the world and then lost it.
This message in Mark 8:36 is the main reason Robin and I felt called to write this book. Having had an experience similar to Jill's when I was in my 20's, and now living in Hollywood among the rich and famous, I can't tell you how important this message is, and I'm passionate about telling it...there is no life without Christ. You can have everything but have nothing without God in your life. Being busy or becoming a workaholic can prevent a person from dealing with the emptiness only for a while, but sooner or later, we must look within with ourselves. When there's nothing inside, it's pretty scary, but then you find God who's been waiting for you all along, life begins makes sense. You discover that God has a plan and purpose for your life, and it's so much better and more fulfilling to discover His plan than the one you were trying to design for yourself.
CBP: What projects are you working on now? Are there plans for a sequel (or as our reviewer asks, a screenplay)?
Iím always working on another project. As for a sequel, Iím hoping for a Chase series!
A sequel to The Chase is in progress now, and what fun it is to return to Jill and the rest of the characters we've come to love and hope the reader loves them as we do. Robin and I have also written murder mystery with a Latino character that we are rewriting at the moment. I'm also working on a non-fiction book, and another novel about our family with two of my cousins that I'm really excited about called House Calls about a country doctor in the South in the 40's, 50's and 60's told from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl who becomes his driver. It's sort of a cross between All Creatures Great and Small and Driving Miss Daisy.
A script? There has been interest in The Chase for film from a production company, but if it is produced, I won't write the script...I'm too busy twirling my baton! Ha! You're probably wondering what Dennis, the book reviewer meant by that, but thereís no time to explain, youíll have to read my book, The Art of Romantic Living, (Thomas Nelson) to learn about my adventures with my baton.
My husband Ken, a film producer, always asks people who want to write a script.
"Would you consider doing brain surgery without attending medical
school?" It's so true a good script takes such skill, training and
experience! I was hired to adapt a book to a screenplay along with
another writer, but it was handed over to a top screenplay writer to do the
final script. Many of my friends, including my mother, have asked if Ken
is going to produce our book into a movie, but he's already got too many films
in development. He does think it would make a great film and has been very
encouraging. It was his influence that helped me develop so many twists
and turns. Ken went to USC Cinema School on a full scholarship from Walt
Disney, and he said the best advice he'd ever received was from Walt himself
was, "Bambi's mother has to die...every good story has to have a certain
amount of jeopardy." Thanks to Ken's influence on my writing and my
partner Robinís love for mysteries, I believe The Chase does.