C. S. Lakin lives in the otherworldly kingdom of California, in a forest that resembles Tebron. In addition to the many fairy tales she writes, she also forays into the real world with her many psychological mysteries. Her novel Someone to Blame (winner of the 2009 Zondervan novel contest) releases October 2010. When she is not writing, she works professionally as a book copyeditor and writing coach. She has two amazing daughters, a dedicated and encouraging husband, a demanding but lovable black lab pup, and three persnickety but irresistible cats. Whenever possible, she disappears for days atop mountain peaks or explores the ocean sixty feet below the surface. The rest of her life is spent between sea and sky waiting for a city not made by human hands.
Favorite verse: That’s like saying what brand of chocolate do I like best. I default to Romans 8:31, 32: What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
but depending on the day, the verse varies. As we all know, the Bible is frozen Holy Spirit, so when we open it up, God directs us to what we need to ponder on right then. Seems each week I have a different favorite verse. My all-time funny one is in the NRSV of Proverbs 30:2 and is often my theme “for the day” :”Truly I am too stupid to be human.” Really, it says that!
Our Interview with Susanne Lakin
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been writing and been agented for over 23 years. I quit after my third novel didn’t sell. Gave up, very discouraged for about ten years. I wasn’t a Christian then. I’m feeling so blessed now. Not because he’s open doors to having my books published as much as he is so kind and gracious to care about what is in our hearts. I do believe all my life experiences occurred to be fodder for my writing—that he knows how our lives will play out and our dream and purpose in him. What’s exciting is to ask him to show you what that is and then go with it with all your heart. I know now that it was his plan all along for me to become a novelist and writing coach, to write these books and be faithful to the dream he’s put me in. It is a very different viewpoint that when I was not a believer. Now I don’t stress or worry about my “career.”
On another note, I am married to Lee (28 years) and we have two terrific grown daughters, Megan and Amara. I have a big black lab pup named Coaltrane and three kitties. I love to backpack, snowboard, and scuba dive, although I’m not finding much time these days to do those things. I work professionally as a writing coach and copyeditor.
How did you get started writing Christian fiction?
Well, having lived in the dark world most of my life, I felt a strong desire to reach those who don’t know God. I’m very sensitive to how much a turnoff most CBA books are to unbelievers. Well, many are to me too because of their preachy, arrogant style. I am not interested in preaching to the saved or just entertaining to make money. I feel passionately about God and how tough this life is. How the road to God is one of not just searching but groping for God. It can be messy, painful, agonizing, confusing, frustrating, heartrending—in fact, it usually is. God put us on this planet to learn some important stuff and you don’t learn it by just reading a book. You learn it by living life.
I love it that the Bible is a collection of people who encountered God and then told about their experience. In a way, that’s what I do as a novelist—I let what I’ve experienced about God spill out through the stories I tell. Many of my books don’t mention God or faith. But I explore what being a fallen human sinner is like and what things are important—forgiveness, grace, hope, trust. Sometimes this leads to a discussion about faith, but not always.
I had written three novels for the commercial market that didn’t sell, but once I turned my writing and heart over to God and asked him what to write, he set me on a new path. I wrote three books in a fantasy series and Someone to Blame all within a couple of years. All four sold last year. Just goes to show what can happen when you give up your dreams and let God put his dream in your heart.
How did you come up with the concept for Someone to Blame?
Someone to Blame was the sixth novel I’d written. I’d already written three contemporary relational dramas/mysteries, one a psychological takeoff of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” her best-selling mystery. I thought it might be fun to do another based loosely on “Murder on the Orient Express.” So instead of on a train, this story is set in a small coastal town. At first I had planned to make this story primarily about the young drifter who comes to town and have him cause so much trouble the townsfolk murder him. But as I laid it out, it morphed into something much deeper and more universal. I especially got hooked with exploring the theme of blame and how we blame ourselves and others sometimes in ways that is hurtful. So the focus shifted to a family reeling from tragedy that moves to this town to heal, yet gets entangled in this drifter’s life. I love writing ensemble pieces set in a crucible, and this certainly is what happens to both Billy Thurber, the drifter, and the Moore family. Through this collision, there are unexpected repercussions of healing and grace. I originally intended it for a commercial audience, but then decided to tweak it for believers too.
How did you choose the setting?
I lived on the north coast of CA for over twenty years and always wanted to set one of my novels there. The moodiness of the coast and damp weather made a nice ambiance for the story.
How much of Someone to Blame is factual?
There’s nothing at all factual about the story. However, most of the characters are medleys of many people I’ve met and known in that area of the north coast. The environs and area descriptions are pretty accurate, and certainly my sensory impressions of the north coast with its weather and seasons.
How closely is Someone to Blame based on your life experiences?
I can’t imagine how any author could avoid putting herself or her life experiences into her characters in one way or another. I certainly do. And I put in just about everyone I know, in bits and pieces along the way. My latest novel, Conundrum, is 95% autobiographical, although it is a mystery. I’d say most of my other nine novels in both genres only pull from my passions and opinions through the voices and actions of my characters. However, the town of Breakers featured in Someone to Blame is very much like the small town where I raised my daughters. The actual plot of the story is nothing I’ve experienced, although reviewers have said they were sure I’d lost a child because of the way I wrote about that topic.
How long did Someone to Blame take you to complete?
I wrote this book in the winter with snow piled up outside so I couldn’t do much else but write. It took about 2-3 months from idea to finished draft, but that was writing every day. I don‘t often get to write that much at one time, but it’s what I prefer. Most of my books take about 4-6 months to write, and a lot of that is just scribbling ideas, notes, and scene ideas before actually writing. I feel it’s very important to let a book idea germinate and grow for a while before starting in. God has a reason for each book and a theme or point he wants me to make. I need to take time to sift that out, turn it around, look at it from every angle. All my books are heavily theme-oriented, as you can guess by the title of Someone to Blame.
Do you have a favorite character in Someone to Blame? Why?
I love deep, rich characters. I’m a very character-driven author. I have about fourteen POV (point of view) characters in this book, but my favorites are probably Jerry Hubble, the newly divorced motel owner who wants to stir up trouble in town and Sheriff Joe Huff, who feels a lot like Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity on the Firefly series (which I happened to be watching a lot at the time of writing his scenes). Firefly fans may pick up a bit of Mal’s jargon. But Huff is his own character—a daydreaming wishes-he-really-was-retired sheriff trying to keep the town of Breakers from falling apart as all the crimes escalate. I’d like to do a spinoff book featuring Huff, so it may happen one day. Hubble nurses a lot of anger at his ex-wife and directs it toward everyone else.
How much research did Someone to Blame take?
Very little. I don’t write books that require much research other than really delving into human nature. I did need to learn a little about firearms, jurisdictions, and ballistics but I just call the appropriate county sheriffs, marshals, Das or whoever and they talk with me on the phone and answer my questions. Everyone loves to help a novelist write an accurate story!
What was the most interesting tidbit you learned while writing Someone to Blame?
Honestly, can’t think of any!
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Probably the same ones every author faces who trusts in God. Letting go every day. Reminding myself that it’s about him, not me. That God has a plan and purpose for my writing and it often doesn’t look anything like my plan!
What was your favorite book(s) as a child?
Probably anything and everything by Ray Bradbury. I can’t recall one favorite book—I read so much! I did prefer fantasy and short stories over classics.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Getting to imagine stories, cast the characters, play with plot and theme. It’s so exciting to create something from nothing and to sense God’s leading in bringing the story to life. I love the aha moments when ideas start steamrolling on their own and taking off. When I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the inspiration. It’s so invigorating!
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)
I’m very much a plotter. I always do allow lots of wiggle room for God’s spirit to lead, but I plot out the books with charts, graphs, index cards, you name it. I keep a notebook with tons of pages, handwritten notes on theme, Scriptures, characters. I’m very hands on and visual, so I need to lay papers out on a table, brainstorm, scribble, cut things up. At some point it all goes on either index cards for each scene or, with my newest novel Intended for Harm, I’m using huge posted boards with stick notes for each scene. My plots are very complex so this really helps.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
Sure they do. Any good character will want to hog center stage. You have to keep them in line! Although it’s good to listen to their ranting because sometimes they do have something important to say about where I am taking them in the story.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
I’m finishing up The Unraveling of Wentwater, book four in my Gates of Heaven fantasy series with AMG/Living Ink. I’m starting Intended for Harm, a very commercially structured novel about Jacob and Joseph set in modern day. So, we’ll see what door opens. In the meantime, I just keep writing.
What message would you like your readers to take from Someone to Blame?
This book has some very powerful messages. Obviously, it deals with how we all blame and judge those we don’t know. And how hurtful it is to blame ourselves for tragic things that happen in our lives, even if we feel we are responsible for them. Someone to Blame is an intense book that really reaches deep into exploring faith at its hardest moments. I hope this book will help readers realize God is in the midst of it all.
What is your greatest achievement?
In general, raising two awesome daughters. But overall, I don’t feel I can’t take credit for accomplishing anything in life. God gave me these great kids; I certainly don’t deserve them. My mother always cursed me with: “Some day I hope you have a child just like you—so you can see how much aggravation you gave me.” I thank God he didn’t listen to my mother!
As far as writing, my best book is coming out in a few months: The Map across Time. It is truly my heart song, the best thing I’ll ever do. To me it’s perfect, as it is the book of my heart. Okay, it has a stupid fat while talking pig with a bad British accent. Can’t be helped. But when I hold THAT book in my hand, I will say “Okay, I can die now. It is finished.” (Okay, I know God is not finished with me yet and I have lots more books to write, but you get the idea, right?)
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
To break hearts and mend them again in one fell swoop.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I hike and backpack. I have to get pretty remote to get unplugged from technology—the higher the mountain, the better.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I am grateful to all those who take the time to read my books. I appreciate your thoughts and comments. I write for you!