Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Susan Page Davis, who we get the pleasure of speaking to again here at A Pen for Your Thoughts,  is the author of thirty novels. She and her husband Jim, a freelance editor, live in Kentucky with the youngest two of their six children. They also have six wonderful grandchildren. A native of Maine, Susan is adjusting to life in the South She’s an ACFW Book of the Year Winner, a two-time Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award Winner, and her July book, The Crimson Cipher, from Summerside Press, was named a Top Pick at Romantic Times Book Reviews. I know you will look forward to getting to know her a little better in this interview and as you hear about her newest book out.

About The Crimson Cipher:

After her father is murdered in 1915, Emma Shuster is recruited as a Navy cryptographer to help expose enemies she didn’t know America had. Lt. John Patterson introduces her to the Signal Corps. She soon learns that the men who killed her father are still out there, and now they want to stop her. She finds new strength in her faith as she and John strive to outwit her adversary, known only as “Kobold”—German for “goblin.”

SKC: Ooh! That's intriguing! You have me interested already. By the way, Susan, I think I met you at last year’s conference. We were riding in the same van. What a joy that was meeting you. It's a pleasure having you here now. First of all, what inspires you each day with your writing from morning till night?

Susan: Yes, I remember. That was a fantastic conference, and I’m looking forward to this year’s ACFW conference in September. My inspiration comes from a lot of sources—my family, the world around me, other people. For a historical novel, I like to read up on the history of the area it’s set in, and I’ll often find some nuggets that will make interesting incidents in my plot. For the Crimson Cipher, one of those was the bombing of a bridge in Maine. I had no idea German saboteurs had been at work in my home state in 1915.

SKC: Starting and ending a book is often the most difficult, for many writers. Describe how you come to decide the beginning and ending of your stories. If it’s easy, hard, seat-of-the-pants, or carefully thought out.

Susan: I’m a plotter, and I’m most comfortable if all the problems are worked out before I write the story. That doesn’t mean I never vary from the original synopsis, but the major points of the plot usually stay the same. I know where my characters are at the beginning, and where they will end up. Getting there is the fun part.

SKC: I wish I could be a better plotter than I am. I try, but somehow I end up writing from the seat of my pants more often than not. How does a person who uses one side of her brain for things that deal with logistics in the process of story writing and getting their brain into the creative mode?

Susan: I’m not sure I understand that question, so I’ll just say, I don’t know. I just sit down and write.

SKC: I wasn't trying to catch you off guard. I think you probably answered that question when you stated that you plot, which is a more logistical way than just writing off the top of your head. What do you believe is the KEY to writing a good book so far?

Susan: A lot of elements have to come together, but I think most important is to have a great story to tell. And then to tell it—get it down in written form.

SKC: What do you do when you discover your daily writing time begins to interfere with your family time or quality time with God?

Susan: That’s usually time for a break and an evaluation.

SKC: Have you ever experienced your publisher changing your title after you worked so hard to come by it, and, if so, how did you feel about their decision making?

Susan: Oh, yes. One publisher in particular has changed every one of my titles. Sometimes it worked better, but in a couple of cases I was very unhappy. One of my books now has the same title as another book by another author, and it did not seem to me that it fit my story. If you can’t do anything about it (in that case, I couldn’t—they told me it was too late and that was their decision) then you just have to live with it and thank God you have a book. On the flip side is one editor who brainstormed titles with me until we got it right.

SKC: Can certainly be a tricky situation, huh. Every writer has a process that fits her or him personally. How do you settle into your page goals, your chapter goals, your storylines, and the rest? And do you create character studies to work with?

Susan: Sometimes I do character sketches or studies, and sometimes I don’t. Usually I do it if I feel I haven’t gotten to know the character well enough, or if I have an ensemble cast and feel the editor might find it useful to have a short profile of each major character.

By page goals and chapter goals, I think you mean how much I write per day or week. I usually go by words per day, not pages or chapters. I figure out how much I need to write each work day before my deadline in order to have time to get critiques and make revisions. I am usually comfortable with 2,000 words or so a day. In times of stress, 1,000 has to do. In “crunch times,” I write much more than that.

My storyline is usually settled and approved before I begin to write. Coming up with the idea and working through it to be sure it’s good enough and big enough for a full length book takes a while, but the planning is well worth the effort.

SKC: This subject went around ACFW recently. I was in on the question, because it was one of mine. I thought I would ask you your thoughts on it too. How do you deal with unlikable characters without ruining the goal of your story, which might be for the purpose of showing a change in someone’s attitude?

Susan: That’s an excellent question, Shirley, because it’s true that readers don’t identify with a heroine or hero they don’t like. If my main character has to be brash, mean, or otherwise unlikable at the beginning of the story, I try to give her some other qualities to balance that. Even a well-developed villain has some “good” qualities. If you can let the reader in on a different side of the character’s personality, or drop some hints about a past that explains some of the behavior, or show another person who likes the character and understands what makes them tick, it can help a lot. As a quick (oversimplified) example: A heroine might be a strict curmudgeon of a supervisor at work because she feels she has to act that way to keep her position. But when she goes home at night, she might be a wonderful aunt to her sister’s children, or maybe she goes after hours to the animal shelter to volunteer, or maybe she cries about the situation she won’t give in to at work.

SKC: Other writers and readers will appreciate your answer to that above question, Susan. The readers here at A Pen for Your Thoughts also get excited, I believe, about the reflection question an author offers. What would you like to ask both our readers and writers in the next few days...something they can respond to, and what book will you be offering our winner?

Susan: I’m offering The Crimson Cipher.

My question is: Has reading fiction ever altered your plans or your actions?

SDC: Oh, I love that question. (I also love your book coverR!) So many of us write with a message of some sort, in hopes we WILL affect the way a person sees certain things. Thanks for being a part of A Pen for Your Thoughts, Susan. As we close out today, please let us know where we can buy signed copies of your work, and how we can find you and read more about you.

Susan: For a signed copy, email me through my Web site: http://www.susanpagedavis.com/ (or just drop by for a visit). You can find my books (or order them if you can’t find them) in bookstores, or at http://www.amazon.com/, http://www.christianbook.com/, or http://www.barnesandnoble.com/. Eight of my books are available electronically.


Congratulations to Ann Lee Miller, Gilbert AZ. It's so great to share these books with so many wonderful people we are having the pleasure of meeting.
Be watching for your book, Ann. And THANKS so much for following A Pen for Your Thoughts and leaving your comment!

Thanks to all the rest as well!


  1. Definitely a compelling question. And yes...When I read "All the President's Men" at age 21, I decided to go into journalism school/college. Reading mysteries inspired me to begin writing. Now, my first novel, which is based on a true story, is on the way this fall with a US launch.(Love the cover on the 'Cipher' book...and oh-oh...my list of 'must have' books is getting longer and longer... :))

  2. Congratulations on your book, Susan Michaels! You never know what consequences reading a book will have on you.

  3. I love the question! This doesn't exactly answer your question, but reading The Chamber by John Grisham changed the way I looked at the death penalty.

    Everyone should go out and buy Crimson Cipher! I've had the privilege of reading it, and it is good!

  4. Thanks, Darlene! I feel a great responsibility as an author on how I present issues. We never know the impact our words will make, do we? I appreciate your sharing that thought.

  5. i don't think I have ever altered my plans from reading but I have been exposed to new things and ideas and have maybe altered how I think about people and situations. I like how you get to 'hear' peoples thoughts in books and that helps me understand how my actions may affect others. not sure if that makes sense.

  6. I think fiction affects me more on a subconscious level--which makes it hard to pin down specific changes. But I know fiction often affects me deeply. I carry stories around for years in my head, sometime even a favorite simile.

  7. Wow, what a great question. Reading Mary DeMuth's works was part of what gave me a desire to write Christian fiction.

  8. Hi, Susan,
    Great to see you here!
    Plans changed because of reading, and same for writing: my house is either spotless or a disaster, depending on whether I have to say "This is not right" or "how could she have done this!" and jump up and clean or cook something to cool off. Or I get so entranced I don't pay attention to mundane things, like time. Works either for reading or writing.

  9. Great question. I wouldn't say it has directly altered my actions, but it definitely makes me think about things and maybe in a round about way effects my actions - for the good I hope. :)
    Deborah M.

  10. Reading fiction has altered my life in that I now read for enjoyment and knowledge, in order to recommend the book(s) to my blogging friends and FB friends. I've always loved books, but now I can promote them. What a blast and responsibility, as I look for Spiritual content in books.
    Your book sounds terrific. Please enter me.
    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

  11. Great answers. I can tell fiction plays a big part in each of our lives. I had the pleasure of picking up one of my married daughters today for a 4-day visit. We intend to do lots of fun girl things.

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  13. Interesting question. I can't say I can pinpoint a specific action or plan that changed because of a fiction book I have read. I have always been drawn to stories that have a purpose. Historical themes teach me more about a time or place that has always interested me or show me a different side that I never considered. Mysteries and thrillers stretch my analytical thinking skills.

    Crimson Cipher appeals to me on may levels and it is definitely going on my wish list.

  14. A lot of times I have found myself researching a subject after reading about it in a fiction book, such as when I read the book, On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I wanted to know more about the Japanese internment camps and so I checked some books out of the library to know more. Fiction has taught me a lot about life and history!


  15. please dont enter me I will be getting this book but wanted to stop by and say I liked the interview.

  16. Thanks, Jenny! Judylynn, I've had much the same thing happen when I read a book that interested me so much I went on and read more about the topic. I love the ease of access we have today through our computers! When I start researching a new book I often find more topics that might go into future stories--there's always more great information than I'll have space for in the current book!

  17. Oh yes, it has many times changed my life, i think when a fiction book is skillfully written it makes you start to think about your actions like the characters in the book and apply it to my own life. martha(at)lclink(dot)com