Suzanne Hartmann is the author of the Fast Track Thrillers series, Christian suspense novels with a twist of NASCAR. She began writing fiction when her children were young, and started on her first novel in 2006. That novel eventually became Peril, the first in the series, which was published by OakTara in 2011, with the remaining books, Conspiracy and Revenge, coming out in 2013. On the editorial side, she is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press, and operates the Write This Way Critique Service, which offers free evaluations and reasonable rates. She has also compiled much of the advice she gives in her critiques into a book titled Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level, available through her blog at . When not writing, editing, or homeschooling, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and scouring local library sales for books to resell on-line.
Jeff Reynolds: Welcome, Suzanne. I've enjoyed reading Peril, the first of the Fast Track Thrillers. What inspired these stories?
Suzanne Hartmann: Thank you for having me here on Sleuths & Suspects, and thank you for your kind words about the first book in my series. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
The stories that eventually became the Fast Track Thrillers originally began as a bunch of scenes I created to entertain myself while sitting through violin lessons, soccer and baseball practice, and the innumerable hours spend driving the kids to and from their various activities.
The twist of NASCAR came about after my daughter decided she had a favorite driver. I knew almost nothing about NASCAR at the time and had never heard of this person. In the process of researching the driver to decide whether he was someone we should encourage our daughter to root for, I realized racing would make an interesting setting for some of the scenes I had created and began incorporating racetracks into my stories.
JR: At the end of his book You Are What You See, film critic Scott Nehring looked at Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and looked at the telling of the story both as the three movies individually and then compared that with the larger story the three parts tell when combined. Did you have a framework in mind when you started this trilogy, or is this more of a blank page approach, with you having no idea where the story's going till you get there?
SH: As odd as it may seem, I didn’t realize that the three books in a trilogy are like the three parts of a novel until I started writing Conspiracy, the second book in the Fast Track Thriller series. When I started writing Peril, I had no idea if it would ever be published, so I wrote it as though it were a stand-alone novel. In the process of writing it, however, I got to know my characters so well that I could see more of their story unfolding after and began to jot down ideas for a second and third book.
None of the books in the series started as a truly blank page. With Peril, I had all of the scenes I’d created over a number of years, although I didn’t know what the ending would be when I started writing it. With Conspiracy and Revenge both start pretty much right where I left off in the previous book, and I knew where I wanted them to end as well as most of the major plot points, so no blank pages there either. But a lot of white space filled the area between those plot points, and I used a much more blank page approach regarding how to get from one point to another. I like to think of it as a dot-to-dot approach to writing. I know where most of the dots are going to be, but I fill in the lines as I write the story.
JR: The second part of this series, Conspiracy, is heading down toward the checkered flag and due to hit the shelves any time.. Could you tell us about this installment?
SH: Conspiracy picks up several months after Peril leaves off. While Joanne continues to deal with serious issues at home, her boss—the director of the nation’s most clandestine intelligence agency—is accused of selling government secrets. When bombarded with lies and deception from within the system, she must rely on God to show her who holds the truth. When she chooses to make a stand on what she believes is truth, she turns to her friend, NASCAR Champion Stuart Jackson, to help her stand against the falsehoods, which may cost more than she’s willing to pay, especially when the enemy is stronger than she is.
JR: Besides this series, you also have a book out titled Write This Way: Take Your Writing To a New Level. Anything you mentioned in this book that may be something I've never thought of before? And how did this book help with the Fast Track series? Or was it the other way around?
SH: the bulk of Write This Way walks an author through the steps of revising and polishing a novel, but also offers basic suggestions for prewriting and writing the draft. So it makes a great resource for both new writers who want to improve their writing and veterans who want to keep an easy-to-use resource book on hand.
One thing I mention in the book that you may have never heard of is called filtering. This is a telling issue, but is also related to POV as it involves filtering the action through the POV character’s senses. Here are a couple of examples: I saw him slip something into his girlfriend’s purse; I heard the screech of key as he scraped it along the side of the car; she wondered if the dress made her look fat. These sentences tell readers the character experienced something rather than showing what the character experienced. It is a POV issue because readers understand that everything shown comes from the POV character’s perspective. Therefore, we only need to show what the character thinks and experiences instead of filtering that through the character’s senses.
I wrote Write This Way after writing Peril. It is based on the many lessons I learned during the process of revising the very rough draft of Peril (my first attempt at novel-writing). When I realized the issues I dealt with were common among new authors, I began blogging about them to teach others how to recognize and fix them. Eventually I had so many blog posts that it just made sense to compile them into a book to create an easy-to-use reference tool.
JR: In my opinion, Peril didn't fit neatly into a typical genre, combining elements from romance, suspense, science fiction, and auto racing. Did the uniqueness of this story create some obstacles in dealing with agents/editors?
SH: I believe it did. Even though the story was well-written, it didn’t fit nicely into a particular slot—an oval instead of a circle, and many publishers don’t like to take a chance on such things. Thankfully, OakTara not only takes chances on novels that don’t quite fit the molds, but seeks them out, because they know there is a huge audience out there looking for books that are unique and break the mold.
JR: What is the spiritual lesson of these books? What technique did you use to develop the faith element in your stories?
SH: Although there are numerous spiritual truths dropped in here and there, the main spiritual thread that overarcs all three is learning to trust God when the direction He’s leading doesn’t make sense according to our human reasoning. I suppose the technique I use to develop it would be hindsight, as recognizing and developing themes is something I struggle with. When I write, I write the story; I write the plot and the characters. The themes are there, but I usually can’t pick them out until the story is fully written. Then I develop them and flesh them out as I revise.
JR: I mentioned that the series is a trilogy. What should we look for next? And are there any other projects on your horizon?
SH: I am currently writing the third book in the Fast Track Thriller series, titled Revenge. This book will wrap up the series with an exciting conclusion: a traitor vows revenge against top-secret agent, Joanne Van der Haas, and will stop at nothing to make sure her deep-held secrets become public knowledge. As he becomes more desperate, his threats escalate to include those he thinks are harboring his enemy--including NASCAR champion Stuart Jackson and the entire NASCAR community--until Joanne must risk those she loves most to trick him into giving himself up.
JR: Thank you for your time, and I'll look forward to reading Conspiracy.
SH: Thank you again for hosting me here, Jeff.
Here are her webpages, so you can follow her and be ready for Conspiracy when it comes out.