Media Hooks and Q&A
Why does Susan call her work Soul-Stirring fiction? What are her books about and why does she get dozens of letters each week from readers whose lives are changed by books like Happily Ever After, and Everything’s Coming up Josey?
Living life on the other edge of the world
Eight years in Siberia as a missionary with her husband and four kids gave Susan a plethora of story ideas from the time she sat on a rat to the time she was held hostage. How did living in Russia influence her life, her parenting, and her stories? What is it really like to be a missionary?
Grace in Crisis
March 1st, 2003, three men broke into their flat in Russia and attacked Susan and her three children. Susan talks about how God saved them, what lessons she learn from this traumatic event, and how she incorporates them into her stories and speaking ministry.
The Great Sale, a story of forgiveness and hope
After her first four years in Siberia, Susan returned home to discover that someone she loved had sold everything she owned, without her permission. How did God use the loss of everything she had to show her that she had more than she could ever imagine?
Getting dirty for her clean books
Susan is an avid researcher, relying on first hand experiences to tell her stories. Go behind the scenes to learn how Susan researched burning buildings, ranching, bull-riding and great adventures in countries across the globe.
Blooming where you’re planted
Homeschooling her children, speaking nationally, ministering in her local church, writing adventure stories? –How does Susan tend each area of her life? Susan discusses priorities and learning to nurture the garden of life.
The Art of Home-making
From an RV to a garage, tent to trailer, from Siberia to Taiwan to Tennessee, Susan has lived across the globe in sometimes-scary conditions. What are the essentials to creating a home? Susan shares some of the techniques she’s learned and employed to create a home for her husband of 18 years and their four children.
Q & A with Susan
What do you feel your calling is as a writer?
I believe I am called to be authentic and honest in my storytelling. As a Christian woman, I am not interested in cardboard characters with unrealistic struggles who receive pat answers. Life can be overwhelming and at sometimes messy and confusing. Relevant faith-filled fiction deals with that and yet offers hope. I don’t presume to know all the answers. I just try and write stories about people learning to walk in faith, every day trusting God just a little bit more.
Who are your favorite authors and mentors? How have they influenced your work?
Francine Rivers and Dee Henderson are my favorite authors. They write books that seep into my soul and stay with me, characters that make me want to examine my own walk with Christ. This is my desire as a writer – to create stories that cause people to draw nearer to God. Francine has an easy-going writing style and her characters are so rich I feel like I could point them out on the street. When I was learning to write, I spent time analyzing her writing and learning how she drew such rich characters. Dee’s characters are also compelling and she also weaves in a suspense that keeps me up all night. I love Dee’s plots and the way she formats stories – I also studied her books until they were dog-earred. My hope is to write as well as these two ladies someday. Both of these authors also were patient enough to offer me advice and answer my newbie-writer questions. I try to follow their example in my life by doing the same with other starting authors.
Do you have any favorite stories of encounters with readers?
My readers are so nice to me! I receive the most encouraging fan mail, and occasionally at conferences I’ll meet a reader who tells me how much they enjoy my books. I’m so humbled by this, it’s hard for me to know how to respond. But once, a reader left me speechless…she made an appointment with me at a conference (I do a lot of teaching) and then gave me a gift – a beautiful framed photograph she’d taken in Italy. She’s a gifted photographer and the photo is of a husband helping a new bride with her shoe. It’s just…well, I have it on my bureau and I am still so deeply touched. It reminds me to take seriously the fact that people spend their hard-won free time reading my books, and that it’s my privilege to write stories that will hopefully touch their lives.
Describe your writing space and schedule. How many words per day do you write and do you have a minimum goal you hope to reach before you push away your keyboard?
I am a horizontal organizer…everything has to be out and around me for easy access when I write a story…so I have a comfy chair and a huge ottoman on which I spread my characters and other pertinent information. And, during the creative phase, I leave it all out and just get up and walk away from the mess, closing the door. I try and write 1 chapter/day…whether it’s 2000 words or 5000 words. That way I finish the rough draft in about a month or two (depending on how many days I write per week). I usually write in the afternoons, between 2-6 pm. I find it takes my brain that long to warm up! And sometimes, if I’m stuck, I’ll get up and take a walk and sorta work it out verbally. (Good thing I live in the woods in a secluded area or people might think I’m looney!).
Are you a SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer or a plotter? Or do you possess a blend of both?
I’m a meticulous plotter – with reams of notes, and chapter by chapter summaries. BUT, once I sit down to write the chapter, knowing my parameters and what I hope to accomplish, I let the characters take over and do their thing. So I’m a little of both, I think. And, I also let the story grow, so if, in the middle of the book, I realize it can’t happen the way I’ve plotted it, I let myself change it. Just as long as I end up basically where I’d hoped.
How important do you believe it is for a new writer or even an established one to join a writing group such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)?
Oh, I think this is absolutely essential. Without ACFW I don’t think I’d be published today. My fellow writers taught me how to hone my craft, and if it weren’t for contributions by authors like Brandilyn Collins, and Lynn Coleman, and Deb Raney, I would still be in Siberia, wondering what GMC was! Most of all, my ACFW family gave me support during those days when I wondered what I was doing, trying to write something. Writers are a rare and strange bird…we don’t come out of our nest often, so we need to have friends willing to perch with us as they’re tapping away in their own nests. Writing groups do this.
It’s because of this need that I began a writing community – www.mybooktherapy.com. It’s a group that that focuses on step by step coaching and advanced writing techniques that are easy to apply to the novel writing process. (If you’re a writer, join us!)
What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? How many books have you sold since then?
Disbelief? Shock and Awe? I remember reading the email and thinking…is this some sort of cruel joke? And after I confirmed that no, Tyndale seriously wanted to publish MY book, well then, I think there was some loudness, maybe screaming, probably some chocolate consuming involved. Oh, and tears of joy and thankfulness. Not necessarily in that order. By the end of this year, I’ll have 21 books on the market. Yeah, wow.
Tell us about your personal faith journey.
I grew up in a Christian home, and knew Christ at a young age. Even as a teenager, I knew God wanted me to be a missionary, but I rebelled from this idea, not wanting to be poor or even live overseas. I even walked away from God for a few years, deciding that probably I could do better on my own. Uh, no. Without that daily relationship with God, my life felt empty and as if I were running, but I didn’t know where. I recommitted my life to the Lord in my junior year of college, and also surrendered to His calling on my life to be a missionary, wherever He took me. I served him with my husband and children in Siberia for ten years, and now I believe he has me in a different kind of “missionary” work.
Who are your spiritual mentors?
I devoured anything by Elizabeth Elliot in my early days, and then as I got older, I read all the Beth Moore Bible Studies, and also dove into the writings and sermons of John Piper. I’ve also been blessed with Titus women in my life. Wherever I am, I’ve had women who come alongside me and encourage and guide. And, of course, my mother had a great influence on me.
What is your current church community involvement?
Our family belongs to a small church in our community, approximately 90 members. Hence, we are very active. Our family runs the children’s church program, and I serve as the building chairperson of our new church building program. I’m also involved in VBS every summer.
What are your Scripture reading habits? Prayer habits?
I spend every morning, before I do anything else, in bible study and prayer. I use various tools – Beth Moore studies, Navpress studies, but most recently, I armed myself with my own set of study helps – Bible knowledge commentaries, Strong’s Concordance, Vine’s Bible Dictionary, Bibles in different versions – and began writing my own Bible studies to accompany the books I am currently writing. I love the dual journey of story and scriptural insight and this study helps me intertwine the spiritual threads with my characters.
If you had one message for Christians today, what would it be?
Christianity isn’t a set of rules, or behaviors, or even a certain denomination of church you attend. It’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and letting that relationship affect every area of your life. Fellowship is important, but most important is that daily time with the Lord, and believing that God is who he says he is.
Tell us about your family. Spouse? Kids?
I have four children (two of whom are homeschooled) and have been married for seventeen years. My husband is a morph of every hero I’ve ever written.
Tell me a little about your family and what a typical day at the Warren house looks like.
A typical day! These days, the only thing typical is that I’ll open the fridge about 6:00 pm every night and say, Hmm, food…wonder what I should serve for supper.*grin* But, if I were put it all together and shake it all about, the “average” would look something like:
Get up at 6am, have my QT while I intermittently harass my daughter to get out of bed and into the shower. She’s out the door with my husband by 7:30, and then I throw in some laundry and hop on the treadmill, reading a good book while I walk 1-3 miles depending on how much I have to get done. (Or how good the book is.) Then I wake my boys (ages 10-12-15) and roust them out of bed while I hit the showers. We spend the rest of the morning working on home-school assignments (in-between me doing email and other writing-biz stuff). Then, after a lunch break where I either answer more email or maybe watch a TiVoed episode of Prison Break/Gilmore Girls/NCIS/Men in Trees, or Heroes, I go up to my room, hang a sign on the door that says, “Cry me a River,” which translates to “You’d better be bleeding from the ears or have a really technical math problem before you THINK of knocking on this door.” And then I write like crazy, or sometimes just WISH I were writing like crazy and not surfing the net reading my friends’ blogs. But no one knows, because, well, the door is CLOSED. I do try to write 3000-5000 words a day. I take a break around 4pm to greet my daughter, and hear the latest Jr. High gossip, and check in on the home-schoolers, maybe do some threatening of missed Play Station games if they don’t knuckle down to work, and then retreat to the office for more writing/procrastination. Which brings us to the moment, when my husband is puling into the driveway and I’m looking at the fridge wishing I had a cook. The rest of the evening is spent with the fam…
Every time I turn around, it seems like you have another novel coming out. How do you balance your writing career with the responsibilities of everyday responsibilities of raising children and caring for a home?
Balance? Oh, you said the B-word! I once lamented that I go in cycles – sometimes my house is immaculate, but I haven’t written a word in weeks. Then I’m a writing maniac but no one has any clean clothes. My girlfriend, who also happens to be a life-coach said balance isn’t when everything is perfect all the time – balance is an average, say a month, where if you put it all together, you managed to accomplish it all, just not all in one day. I really liked that definition. Mostly, I prioritize my family and my time with the Lord, and if the house gets cleaned, if I have balanced meals, if we have clean clothes and if I get my allotted writing done, well then life is very good. I do have to interject that 1. I ask for help from the kids. 2. On my gravestone, I am okay if it never reads, “And she had a really clean house.” (Although I have to say, my house is pretty clean…*g*)
Do you and your family have any special traditions?
We love to camp, and have the privilege of living in the woods, so we go camping every summer, either on a canoe trip or to a local campground. Also, we have a “Labor Day” campfire where we head down to the beach (we live on Lake Superior) and cook out and say farewell to the summer. When we lived in Russia, we also did the camping thing. And, of course, because I lived overseas away from my family, we developed our own holiday traditions. One of our favorites is our Russian New Years eve party – we serve all Russian food (most of the time) and remember the many New Years eves we spend with our Russian friends. We also have “Pizza and Movie” night every weekend…usually Sunday nights.
Do you ever feel your priorities slipping and if so what do you do to get back on track?
Sometimes, if I am up against a deadline, and I’m spending a lot of time writing and haven’t seen another living soul for a few days, well, I might feel as if my mothering priorities have slipped. But even if I am swamped with work, I make sure I take time out to tuck the kids in bed. If they don’t have a story read, they’ll live through the night, but they have to have those few minutes with me. Or rather, it’s me who needs those few minutes with them. And, if I am going through a couple weeks when writing takes a higher priority, I talk to them about it before hand, and I find they are surprisingly supportive. If I involve them in my dreams, I believe they will involve me in theirs. I also brainstorm with my kids, and ask them to go on “brain-cleansing” walks with me, and talk out plots with them. They are involved in my stories and as excited as I am, and very proud of their mom when I have a new book come out. And I in turn tell them how proud I am of them, for being such great kids as to give me the time and support to write.
At one point you were a missionary in Russia, writing as well as homeschooling. When did you find time to write and did you ever feel like you’re neglecting your children when you did write?
Here’s the thing about home-schooling – when you are with your kids for six, seven hours a day, they WANT you to go to your room and leave them alone! By 3pm my kids were all but pushing me into my room with promises of heavenly behavior, housecleaning and cooking. At that time, when they were little, I had an absolute OPEN DOOR policy, where they could come in anytime, for any reason. (And I wrote more than one book with a child on my lap!) But I did ask them to respect my time, and if they could solve the problem themselves, I asked them to do it. I think it taught them not only responsibility, but an understanding that Mommy was a person with dreams, too. Also, I made them a part of the celebration process. When I finished a chapter, we all got ice-cream. When I finished a book, we went out for dinner. They practically begged me to write! *g* The one year that they were all in public school, I only wrote when they were gone. Now, I have to say that although I started writing when my youngest was two, I didn’t commit any significant time to writing until he was about five or six. One of my tricks was to let him watch a movie (or a learning-channel show) while I sat in the room with my laptop and earphones on. I was there for him to see when he needed me, and yet able to focus on my work. I think the essential component here is, my children always knew that they were numero uno in my life, even if I wasn’t spending every moment with them.
What are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?
I love to read, (of course!) and canoe, camp and fish, and in the winter I snowmobile and downhill ski. My favorite thing to do is grab a cup of coffee with a friend and sit down for a chat. Don’t get to do that enough…
What are your media habits? Television? Movies? Music? Etc?
Since I spend so much time interacting with written words, television watching has taken on a new dimension of relaxation since I became a full-time writer. I’m deliberate about it, though. I have a TiVo, which means I only watch what I want to watch, and when. And thus, I also get to follow series. I am a fanatic about Gilmore Girls and Smallville, but I also love Lost, Crossing Jordan, House, NCIS and my new fav – The Unit.
What excites you about life?
I love finding new stories, meeting new people, and seeing God at work in my life and the life of my kids. I love knowing that I’m on a journey, and that this step will lead me to the next, and that nothing is ever wasted with God. I love the fact that although I’m on earth for a short time, my impact isn’t up to me, but up to God and that’s freeing.
What role does faith have in Everything’s Coming Up Josey? What inspired you to write it?
For years, friends and supports encouraged me to “write my own story” – I served as a missionary in Russia for ten years. However, every time I tried to put my adventures into a non-fiction format, it felt flat, and uninspiring. The Chick Lit format seemed the perfect avenue to share all my crazy adventures, and the “fiction” aspect allowed me to take a step back and find the humor and authenticity the story required. I suppose in many ways, Josey was also good therapy! As far as the faith element – Josey is on a journey of what her faith means in her life, so I guess it’s integral to the story.
You’ve recently received the great news that your novel, In Sheep’s Clothing, was selected as a Christy Award finalist. Where were you when you found out? How does it make you feel to join the ranks of the other authors who have reached this landmark in their writing careers?
How did I find out? My nine-year old told me. I arrived home from running errands in town and he said, “Hey mom, somebody called about an award.” I was thinking…that Ed McMahon, he tracked me down! But no, I got online and found an email from my editor at Steeple Hill. Chaos broke out and for the next hour or so, things got pretty loud! I am really humbled by this…especially since Sheep is a different kind of book – about a missionary, set in Russia. I am grateful that the Christy Award judges are open to different types of stories. Two years ago, my first novel, Happily Ever After (Tyndale) was a finalist, but I have to say I’m even more humbled by this nomination because of the nature of the story and how near and dear it is to my heart.
Where did the idea for Reclaiming Nick and the Noble Legacy series begin?
Reclaiming Nick, as you might guess, was not the original title. However, when I began to write the story, I realized that these stories were so family driven, that the books had to belong to the main characters. Hence, why we decided to name them, in essence, Nick, Rafe & Stefanie. However the themes I use are taken from Philippians, and are about being the people God desires us to be, people called by his name. His NOBLE name. *g* Actually, the name Nick Noble was born before we decided on the series name, but now I see how God orchestrated it all to work together. As for the idea for Nick – the premise came from a story of grace that is revealed in the book – one that deeply touched me. I began to wonder what a gift of grace might look like, not from the recipient, but the giver…one who never thought he’d never be redeemed. Hence, the story of Nick Noble, the prodigal, who longs to “reclaim” the legacy he forsook.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share? Will Nick come visit us again?
I just finished book 2 in the Noble Legacy, Taming Rafe. This was SUCH a fun book to write because I took a headstrong, trouble-making bull-rider and paired him with a strong, wise woman who is trying to find out where she belongs – in the world of cowboys, or the New York social scene in which she was raised. And once I put these two together, sparks ignited. So fun to watch Rafe be…”tamed.” (or…not!) The preview chapter is in the back of Reclaiming Nick and will be up on the Meet Nick site hopefully soon. I’m now starting Book 3 – Finding Stefanie…