Susan Page Davis

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than twenty published novels. A maverick (not yet branded), she's released ten Heartsong historicals, six romantic suspense novels, two cozy mysteries, a historical novella, and two YA books in fantasy and contemporary genres. Upcoming books will include more suspense, contemporary romance, and historical romance with mystery/suspense elements. A winner in the Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest, ACFW Book of the Year, and Heartsong's Favorite Historical of the Year, she's enjoying spring in Maine. Her work in progress is for Barbour, the second book of The Ladies' Shooting Club series. Visit her at

On Being Scared

We don’t like to be scared. Or do we?

If that spurt of adrenaline, the chattering pulse, the sudden intake of breath is caused by what lies on the printed page, we love it.

I write romantic suspense novels. My three-book American Heroes series from Harvest House carries the reader off to adventure with naval officers and the men and women who love them. In the latest volume, journalist Claudia Gillette gets into situations I couldn’t get myself into in real life if I wanted to. Ultimately, she barges into a top secret mission and royally messes it up. Poor Lieutenant Bill White has to salvage what he can of the op and also keep Claudia from getting killed.

One of my favorite ways to up the ante for the reader is to put a person who just doesn’t “get it” in danger. Here’s an excerpt from Inside Story, when Bill rescues Claudia. She’s an intelligent woman but doesn’t understand the magnitude of their danger.

“They’re targeting the boat,” Stu said. They watched helplessly. A small explosion poofed, and orange flames rose from the stern of the boat.

“Direct hit,” Heidi whispered.

Suddenly the plane turned and sped toward the island.

“Take cover!” Dryden pushed Heidi ahead of him and rushed back to help Stu shove the radio equipment toward the overhanging rock face.

Bill ran through the brush, grabbed Claudia’s wrist, and yanked her out of the small clearing. He shoved her into the thickest underbrush and threw himself on top of her.

“Keep your head down.” He smashed his face into her back. She had no helmet, but at least his body armor could protect her, to some extent.

“I can’t breathe!” He barely heard her protest as the plane roared directly over them. As the sound of the engine grew a little less unbearable, Claudia wiggled, and he raised himself on his elbows to give her more mobility.

“That was close.” She tried to shove him away.

“It’s not over,” Bill said grimly.

“What do you mean?” The engine noise grew louder.

“They went straight for the boat, then made a pass looking for us. Come on, move further into the woods.”

Too late. Sporadic gunfire erupted as the plane swooped over their position again. Bill pushed her down and hid his face again. A couple of the men on the ground opened fire on the plane as it skimmed the treetops. A shell exploded only yards away. Bill jumped and held Claudia down in spite of her wriggling. Another hit farther away, then another.

There comes a point in each suspense book when you wonder if the main characters will be able to get out of the fix they’re in. Of course, you’re pretty sure they’ll come through it alive and for the most part unscathed. And the bad guys will get their comeuppance. But for a few minutes, we ignore that knowledge and let ourselves be scared so that we enjoy the tension and excitement of the story.

Most stories of this nature have some characters to whom, unfortunately, we must say good-bye. As Terry Brooks once put it, “Some are only there for cannon fodder.” But others are characters we come to know and, yes, even respect and love, like Stu in Inside Story. It took a lot of nerve to do what I did to Stu. I still feel remorse.

I don’t like to kill characters. But it comes with the territory. As filmmaker George Lucas puts it, Inside Story“The trouble with cliff hangers is you get somebody into something, you sort have to get them out in a plausible way.” Sometimes, especially in suspense books, that way is painful.

(In case you’re wondering, Claudia learns fast. After the above episode, she grows to the point where she is able to rescue someone more vulnerable than she is.)

I also write historical romance, contemporary romance, cozy mysteries, and I even have a couple of children’s novels. I have to plead guilty as charged—no matter what genre the story is, if you pick up one of my novels, you’ll probably find at least a smattering of suspense between the covers.

It doesn’t have to be gasping, heart-thumping terror on every page. Sometimes it’s just a little mystery—who’s messing with the family business’s books? Sometimes it’s out-and-out danger and intrigue—did the next-door neighbor really kill his wife? After all, suspense is the form of conflict that best keeps us turning the pages. I can’t seem to write a story without it, and I’m not sure I want to. Suspense, danger, that quickening of the pulse as you read . . . the ultimate in whisking us out of our boring lives.

To writers, my advice is: Go ahead. Make your characters take more risks. And to readers: Enjoy every hair-raising second.