I’ve come to know a lot of authors in my career as a writer. It interests me to learn why they write and what the underlining message is that they feel compelled to share. So when I interview authors, those questions usually pop up.
I’ve interviewed Marlene Bateman Sullivan before, when her book Gaze into Heaven was released a year ago. I learned a lot from that book, loved it, and highly recommend it. Today’s review focuses on a new release for Marlene, A Death in the Family.
Why are you a writer? I mean, was there something in your life that drove you to write?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was in elementary school. I think a large part of wanting to be a writer came from reading so much. As a child, I was a voracious reader. For three years in a row in elementary school, I won the award for reading the most books. And the prize was: A book! I was delighted, of course. Sometimes I wonder if writers are born, because I’ve certainly always wanted to write. I kept writing until I got married and had children, because—let’s face it—you can’t do everything at one time. To everything there is a season. When my babies got a little older, I began writing articles and stories for magazines. Then, as the children got still older and I had more time, I started writing books.
Do you primarily write non-fiction or fiction? Which did you start out with and why did you add the other?
I started out writing non-fiction. I longed to write fiction, but didn’t think I could do it. But I wised up and at some point realized that non-fiction writers are just as talented as fiction writers. Duh. So I finally decided to write a novel. It was hard, but very rewarding. I worked on the manuscript for three years, then sent Light on Fire Island, to a publisher, who accepted it. I was so excited when it turned out to be a bestseller. Yay!
For me, writing non-fiction is easier than writing novels. All of my non-fiction have been collections of inspiring stories and experiences from early Latter-day Saint Church history. Three have been about angelic experiences (And There Were Angels Among Them, Visits from Beyond the Veil, and By the Ministering of Angels) where people have actually seen or heard an angel. Two books (Heroes of Faith and Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines) were collections of stories about Saints who were super valiant in the Church and stood up for their beliefs, despite the very real peril to their lives. One was about Brigham Young and the men who helped him bring the Saints across the plains and colonize the Great Basin, Brigham’s Boys. And my latest non-fiction book was Gaze into Heaven: Near-death Experiences in Early Church History.
Researching takes a lot of time and you have to be super meticulous, but then, I love that part. Since I’ve done a number of non-fiction books, I’ve settled into a routine of writing. It’s harder with fiction. You have to be really creative in order to come up with an interesting plot, figure out scenes and characters. Fortunately, once I get the plotting (months of work) down, and the first draft written (more months), it becomes easier and is a matter of making sure all the clues are in place and the timeline is correct. Then comes polishing, polishing, and more polishing to make the book as good as it can be. I derive a great sense of satisfaction when all my editing and revising results in an entertaining and intriguing mystery. So far, I’ve had three mysteries published (Light on Fire Island, Motive for Murder, and A Death in the Family), and more are on the way.
Do you have an underlining message you want to convey in your writing?
With my novels, I want readers to be interested, engaged, and entertained—because that’s the primary job of an author. However, since I’m a Latter-day Saint author, I also want to enlighten and inspire. I try hard not to be preachy, but I always include side plots and/or bring up issues that show the gospel in action and how God is there for all of us in our lives. I hope by doing this that my writing can be an influence for good as people see through the course of the book that God loves us, is aware of us, and will always help us.
With my non-fiction, the religious element is more overt. I am planning on writing a sequel to Gaze into Heaven, with more near-death experiences. I’m very excited about it. Before I wrote Gaze into Heaven, I never realized there were so many near-death experiences which had occurred in the early days of the Church. It was an incredible spiritual experience to research and compile those stories. My testimony of the gospel has increased and it is awesome to see how well these experiences agree with Latter-day Saint Church doctrine.
What affect does your writing have on your family?
Most of my children, having grown up with me sitting at the computer, are not too interested or impressed by my writing. Some of them still think it’s a cute, little hobby. My oldest daughter, who is now 35, has never read any of my novels. Other of my children are happy for my successes, and that makes me happy. My husband, Kelly—bless his heart—is extremely supportive. When he comes home from work, he’s interested to hear how my day of writing went. He often reads my manuscripts and offers valuable suggestions. Kelly also accompanies me to book signings to help me “hear,” since I became hearing-impaired when I was in my late twenties. All in all, he does everything he can to support me.
What are you working on now, or what is your latest release?
My latest release is the mystery A Death in the Family. It is the second in the Erica Coleman series, with Motive for Murder being the first.
Each book is a stand-alone, kind of like Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote. Erica is the private eye in each book, but each book has a new mystery and characters. I’ll give you the back cover synopsis of A Death in the Family.
Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
In A Death in the Family, the second in the Erica Coleman series, private eye Erica Coleman and her family happily anticipate Grandma Blanche’s eighty-first birthday celebration in the picturesque town of Florence, Oregon. But when the feisty matriarch, a savvy businesswoman, suspects wrongdoing and asks Erica to investigate her company, things get sticky.
Before the investigation can even begin, Blanche’s unexpected death leaves Erica with more questions than answers—and it is soon clear Grandma’s passing was anything but natural: she was murdered. When another relative becomes the next victim of someone with a taste for homicide, Erica uses her flair for cooking to butter up local law enforcement and gather clues.
Erica’s OCD either helps or hinders her—depending on who you talk to—but it’s those same obsessive and compulsive traits than enable Erica to see clues that others miss. When she narrowly escapes becoming the third victim, Erica is more determined than ever to solve the case.
As for current projects, I’m finishing up another Erica Coleman mystery. Once I finish that, I will begin work on the sequel to Gaze into Heaven.
I’m also finishing up a romance called A Home for Christmas. Here is a short summary:
Kenzie has big plans—the only problem is she hasn’t told anyone about them. One of them is to buy the house she grew up in—the home her brother, Tom, recently put up for sale. When she arrives in Lake Forest for Christmas vacation, Kenzie is shocked to find that her brother has accepted an offer on the house she desperately wants to buy. Unwilling to give up her plans, Kenzie tries to wrest the house from the man who made the offer, a handsome widower named Jared Phillips. Although they find themselves attracted to each other, it’s impossible for Kenzie to even think about a relationship with the man who is taking away the house she desperately wants. Then, a surprising revelation works a Christmas miracle. As a special bonus, seven delicious cookie recipes are included.