1-What inspired you to become a suspense novelist, and how did you get your start in the industry?
I crave reading almost the way other people rely on breathing. I knew medicine would inspire me to write because every day, I’d meet a person in crisis, which is a natural flash point for stories. At the end of my emergency medical training, I decided to write about a resident physician like me, Dr. Hope Sze, who solves murders as well as saves lives, jump starting my mystery/suspense/thriller career. But I got started in the industry by writing fantasy and science fiction short stories for magazines, which I consider an excellent training ground.
2-How do you balance the need for suspenseful tension with the development of well-rounded, relatable characters?
Exactly! You have to balance the tension with characters people care about, or else a death means nothing. When I pick up a book, I often skim a prologue where Someone Is In Danger but you don’t give a crap about that someone. Hope and other characters live and breathe in my head like real people. I care about them. I drop them into dangerous situations and struggle to shuttle them out, giving myself and my readers white hairs along the way.
3-What do you believe are the most important elements of a successful suspense novel, and how do you incorporate these into your writing?
So you already know that I can’t live without characters and plot/tension. I also love humour, romance, and genuine surprise. I walk my dogs, read a ton (novels, news, short stories, science, non-fiction, poems, whatever), write every day, talk to fascinating people, go see plays, listen to music, work out, watch the occasional movie, and fold it all into my books. Truthfully, I write to surprise myself, which means I write tons of words and have to cull it mercilessly afterward.
4-How do you handle criticism or negative reviews of your work, and how has this impacted your writing process?
I struggled with this. Don’t read mean reviews if you can help it. Otherwise, they live rent-free into your head until the poison finally wears out. Sometimes I’d pivot by writing in a different genre. A trusted friend, Kandy Gray, sent me this funny video, “Thank You Hater!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=uz2jbCJXkpA (not safe for work)
5-What challenges have you faced in your writing career, and how have you overcome them?
Oh boy. My parents couldn’t understand why I read so much, let alone why I’d write. I overcame that by marrying a man and making friends with writers who did understand. It’s hard to make a living in the arts, so I became an emergency doctor and socked money away, which gave me the financial freedom to write. Right now, every writer is struggling with sales, so I started crowdfunding and doing terrific in-person sales led by W3G. The hardest part for me is balancing writing and children. Sometimes I’d prioritize writing, and other times I’d read them the same book, play the same game, or play Powder Puff Girls until my husband or a babysitter took them so I could write or sleep. Never underestimate the power of sleep and relaxation. My kids told me I should spend more time with them, and I feel guilty about that, but writing is a calling that I can’t shelve without hurting myself. I’ve been celebrated nationally and internationally for my work and consider my stories my children too. Hard to keep everyone happy, so you just do your best. Every career has its downside. Elizabeth Gilbert said that you have to decide how much you like that sh*t sandwich for that particular career. She loves writing so much that she’d ask someone else, you going to finish that sandwich? Me too, Liz. I love writing that much too