If you ever read my blog, you know I love the suspense genre–reading it and writing it. So I was excited to have the opportunity to interview successful suspense author Dianna T. Benson. And wow, my head is still reeling! What a Renaissance woman. I’m amazed at everything she does–and I’m sure all of her experiences play into her books and give them authentic flavor and detail. (And I also love the story from her childhood, when she realized not everybody made up stories and scenes in their heads all the time. I remember when that realization struck me, too!) And now, here’s my interview with Dianna:
Tell us about your new book.
Here’s some info about it:
Cayman Islands Trilogy
*** SPOILER ALERT *** Reading Persephone’s Fugitive (including the book blurb) before The Hidden Son (Book One in the Cayman Islands Trilogy) will ruin the ending of The Hidden Son. However, both books are standalones.
When a routine 911 call turns deadly, Paramedic Sara Dyer finds herself held at gunpoint by Jason Keegan, an injured psych-ward patient charged with murder. The situation spirals out of Sara’s control when the confrontation becomes a tense standoff between Keegan and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
As Keegan’s hostage, Sara fights to save them both before he blows them up. She realizes his warning to the Cayman police is no empty threat since he’d rather die than spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. Sara soon discovers Keegan is just as determined to survive as she is – provided he can escape Grand Cayman and disappear forever. As she struggles to trust in God’s protection, help from an atheist turns her struggle into a lure away from her faith.
When did you start writing? Have you always written suspense?
I was in fifth grade the day President Reagan was shot. From that real event I developed all sorts of fictional scenes and dialogue, something I did on a continual basis daily. When I asked friends and teachers what scenes and stories they created because of the attempted assassination, none of them had a clue what I was talking about. At that moment I realized I was the only person I knew who did this sort of thing every day. As time passed I recognized my desire to write suspense novels, and like my respiratory system inhales and exhales, each day throughout the day my mind instinctively creates scenes and dialogue, always suspenseful in nature.
In 1993 I wrote my first suspense. In 1996 Author Eve Byron asked me to join her critique group and be one of her beta readers for My Lord Stranger. Soon after that I had my second child and my husband and I moved our family across the country, then I had my third child and entered medic school. I continued writing suspense during those years, and I first submitted to agents in 2000. Spring 2007 six agents offered me representation on my fifth completed manuscript; it was difficult to choose one since all six are top-notch. Fall 2007 a film agent requested a screenplay of The Hidden Son after reading the book, but just weeks before I finished the script she suddenly retired due to health issues; I haven’t pursued anything further with the script. In 2009 I was offered a four-book contract, but my husband had just been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, so I turned it down to focus on our young family of five. In 2012 for thirteen weeks I had a pending contract offer with B&H, but they discontinued their fiction department. Days after that Ellechor Publishing House offered me a contract.
In addition to writing, you work in the medical field, correct? How does this play into your stories?
I write inspirational suspense with emergency medical elements. Suspense is my natural writing voice. Being an EMT and a HazMat and FEMA Operative for a decade, I authentically implement my firsthand medical and rescue knowledge and experience into all my novels.
I love reading suspense of all types, but I notice that lots of secular suspense novels are really dark. Is that sort of a requirement for suspense, do you think? Do you think Christian suspense writers are guilty of self-censoring and “toning things down,” or how do you handle integrating dark subject matter?
I started out in secular suspense with my first agent in 2007, but when my husband was diagnosed with cancer I turned to Christian fiction for support and comfort. Unaware of its existence, I stumbled upon the genre of inspirational suspense and read a bunch of those books. Then I started writing one myself and loved it. Inspirational suspense fits my writing voice and within my characterizations and plotlines like a key puzzle piece. The faith elements in my books are subtle enough that non-Christians contact me telling me they enjoy reading my books, yet the violence required for a suspense is either off-screen (implied) or written without details and also softened as to keep it non-offensive, which is exactly the suspense style I enjoy reading.
How do you respond to people who say Christian fiction is “preachy”? How do you avoid that in your stories?
In all my books I want readers to see how my characters don’t just “get through” or try to “get over” the difficult stuff in life; instead, my characters accept the pain difficult events in their lives cause them and they move forward with a renewed sense of understanding in themselves, in life, and in God. So, that said, my books are focused on the characters and their journey in the story and with their faith. Since all my characters are human, thus flawed and trekking through the ups and downs of life, they’re struggling Christians just simply trying to figure it all out. Like me, they know they don’t have all the answers; instead, they question if they have any at all.
What are you writing now? What’s next?
Illusion of Safety, Book One in MCI Trilogy (Mass Casualty Incidents)
FBI Agent Jenna Nichols is onboard a flight for a Canadian vacation when she spots three American terrorists. Despite her efforts to diffuse the imminent danger, the airplane crashes in the stormy mountains of West Virginia. Along with Jenna, military-paramedic Aiden Shaw is among the survivors. As they work together to help injured passengers, they discover one of the three terrorists survived the impact.
When you aren’t working, how do you like to spend your time?
Sports are a huge part of my daily life and have been since I was a toddler and my dad (who was a tri-athlete before he died in a bicycle accident when I was a junior in high school) taught me how to play tennis, ski, and climb Colorado 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation). In my younger years I played tennis at the National level and I was an equestrian who competed in three-day eventing (dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping). To date, I’ve climbed to the summits of thirty-three of Colorado’s fifty-four 14ers. I’m an active runner, cyclist, climber and scuba diver with my husband. Our oldest daughter swam for Virginia Tech under a full scholarship and is an ACC Champion and competed at NCAA Championships and US Olympic Swim Team Trials. Scoliosis surgery seven weeks prior to the 2012 Trials prevented her from doing anywhere near her best at trials and then ended her swim career due to nerve damage. Our son was a Jr. Hurricanes goalie at the AAA level and was drafted into Junior Hockey but post-concussion syndrome ended his career before it had the chance to begin. Our youngest daughter plays soccer and strives to play in college at the D1 level.
How can readers stay in touch with you? Where can they buy your books?
All my books are available wherever books are sold, including your favorite local bookseller. If they don’t have it in stock, your local store will order it for you.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Thank you so much, Robin, for hosting me on your blog and featuring my newest release, Persephone’s Fugitive. I enjoyed our time together in this interview.
Thank you, Dianna, for the amazing interview! I’m wishing you all the best on your new book and your career!