Welcome to another Tuesday Talks author interview. Today we’ll be hearing from Suzanne Leonhard. Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.
I grew up in Spokane, Washington, but currently, live in West Virginia where I dream of living in sunny Florida. My husband and I have been married for almost twelve years and together we have ten children (his, mine, and ours) and six grandchildren. We also have three Ragdoll cats and a ninety-pound German Shepherd who thinks he’s a Ragdoll cat. I was raised in the Mormon religion, with a well-intentioned but spiritually insufficient focus on family. When I stepped out into the real world and started having children of my own, the harsh light of reality led me to break with Mormonism along with any faith I’d had in a higher power. As a result, I struggled through my twenties and thirties, relying on ever-changing resources (instinct, self-help books, secular values) to direct my path. Twenty years later, I met my 2nd husband, Bob, a life-long Christian. By then, I’d been a devout, outspoken, depressed and anxiety-ridden atheist for over two decades. With patience and biblical expertise, Bob introduced me to Christianity (1 Peter 3:15). At first, I was resistant, and set out to cure him of his religious brainwashing, but when his thought-provoking answers to my tough questions proved too intriguing to ignore, I began doing my own research into Biblical Christianity. After almost a year of personal study, I realized that I had developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…and that relationship has directed my path ever since.
What an incredible journey. Thank you for sharing that with us. Personally, that was very encouraging. Tell us what’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?
I love all kinds of genres: Romance, horror, thriller, YA, Sci-Fi, Fantasy… My favorite genre changes from year to year. When I was in my twenties, it was all about romance novels and authors like Jude Devereaux and Johanna Lindsey. That’s when I was writing time travel western romances for Harper Collins under the pseudonym Suzanne Elizabeth. After that, I got hooked on horror, and authors like Anne Rice and Stephen King. Then it was YA, and books like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games caught my attention. I started wondering what a book like The Hunger Games might look like set in the Christian worldview of the Tribulation. That’s when I came up with the idea for The Goliath Code.
What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?
I’ve been a voracious reader since kindergarten. I tried to write my first book when I was in high school—”tried” being the key-word. That’s when I realized that it took more than a love for books and the ability to string sentences together to create a great story. I kept at it, though, and completed my first novel at twenty-one. It was a time-travel romance called Timeless Love, about a young woman who traveled to the 1800s by sitting on a magic rock. Surprisingly, the book never sold (LOL). I still have that novel, written in a mangled spiral notebook, carefully hidden away where no one will ever find it. When I finished that first book, I immediately started on the second book, and then on the third. I was starting to get the hang of things and for the fourth book I came up with another crazy idea for a time-travel romance. This one would be a western about soulmates and guardian angels. It took me six weeks to write that fourth book. I titled it When Destiny Calls and sent query letters to five or six different publishing houses (that was back when you didn’t need an agent to query for you). Editors from two of the publishing houses actually called me on the phone less than a week later. That was mind-blowing. Within days, I accepted a three-book contract from Harper Collins for When Destiny Calls and two other western romances I was working on at the time. That was a really good day. I went on to publish eight novels with Harper and win several awards, including a Romantic Times Reviews Choice Award.
Wow… what an exciting time! Tell us about this book. What did you learn about yourself through writing it?
The Goliath Code is a Christian Science Fiction Thriller about a teenage girl living in a small town in the Pacific Northwest during a cataclysmic natural event that quickly plunges the entire world into chaos. I’ve always been fascinated by apocalyptic stories. As a dedicated student of eschatology and the Book of Revelation, I was determined to write a story that was true to the drama, ferocity, and grit of the Tribulation as described in the Bible. As you might imagine, it was quite a stretch for a previous writer of romantic comedies to turn her efforts toward an action thriller. I wasn’t sure I could pull the story off and worried I was writing too far outside of my wheelhouse. It took me a while to find my apocalyptic voice—the battle scenes were seriously daunting—but I relied on my in-house military expert (my retired Army husband) to guide me on weaponry and battle plans and just kept chipping away at the story. I’m happy to say the book’s been well received. It’s been #1 on Amazon’s Young Adult Christian Science Fiction best seller list for over four weeks now and, at the time of this interview, has 128 reviews with a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. The book was also recently awarded an IndieBRAG medallion for excellence in Independent publishing.
Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?
I do both: I start with an idea that grows into several movie scenes in my head. I spend a lot of time thinking through conflicts, different pivotal events, and how I want the book to end. Once I’m satisfied with my plot and have developed a strong protagonist with an equally strong antagonist, I write the first chapter, then revise it, then edit it. Then I write the second chapter. Then revise it. Then edit it. The first 1/3 of a book is vitally important to my process and always takes me twice as long to write as the final 2/3’s. As I’m working on the first 1/3, developing the characters and the story arcs, I’m filling out a brief chapter by chapter outline of the rest of the book to use as a loose guide. This is how I write, but every writer is different. Just like every writer has to find their own voice, every writer has to finetune the writing process that works best for them.
Is there a special place you like to write?
My work environment changes depending on where I’m at in the writing process. I always use a laptop for my first drafts and seek out places that are private and quiet: by the fire in the living room, in a rocking chair on the front porch, maybe in bed first thing in the morning. When it comes to edits and final drafts, I prefer the big screen on my desktop in my office where I can open multiple pages and shift paragraphs around. The one place I do not write is in public places like coffee shops or airplanes; I can’t help but worry that somebody’s reading over my shoulder. It’s too distracting and prevents me from becoming immersed in the story.
What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded? What character do you like best?
My favorite part of the writing process is when the characters become so fleshed out and real that they take over the writing of the story. That’s just plain magical. When David began to act out his character arc based on his own pride and insecurities, I was genuinely surprised at the depths to which he was willing to stoop to have his way. Pride goeth before the fall and David certainly embodied this philosophy. My favorite character in the first book would have to be Grandpa Mark Donner. His story and where it ultimately led him totally wrecked me.
What advice would you give a new author?
-Read a lot of books.
-Find your own voice.
-Edit and revise. Edit and revise. Edit and revise.
-As Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.” What matters is the story as a whole, not your favorite paragraph or chapter.
-Writers write, so never quit.
-Write the story you’ve always wanted to read.
That’s some good advice. What project are you working on now and how do we find your books?
Right now, I’m working on the second book in The Goliath Trilogy and hope to have it available for readers by Christmas. You can find The Goliath Code on Amazon and in all major bookstores. It’s available in eBook, paperback, hardcover, and audio. If you’re interested in my previous romance novels, formerly published by Harper and written under the pseudonym Suzanne Elizabeth, they have all been revised and are now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon.