From cozy mysteries to heartwarming love stories, Guideposts Books has something for everyone.
Posted in , Sep 16, 2019
Susan Downs is Senior Editor of Fiction and Continuities at Guideposts Books. She has been with Guideposts for nearly a decade, having spent most of her life as an editor in some capacity or another. She took her first editorial job as a proofreader at age 9, for the family-owned weekly newspaper in Yukon, Oklahoma. Her publisher-father boss paid her a nickel for every typo she could find before they sent the small-town paper to press each week. She didn’t get rich on the job, but it kept her sufficiently supplied in coin to spend on candy at Frank’s Variety Store next door. Susan and her minister husband of 47 years have five children and five grandchildren.
Downs took time out of her busy editing schedule to email us and share what’s going on with fiction at Guideposts books.
Guideposts.org: I know that your team is actively producing several series at this time. What are you most excited to bring to readers?
Susan Downs: Surely, you aren’t going to make me pick just one, are you? We have a stellar line-up of exciting fiction series in various stages of production right now. Our newest series to launch is the Mysteries of Lancaster County, set in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. This series follows the exploits of the three Classen sisters, who return to their family homestead following the death of their mother to manage the gift-and-thrift shop, Secondhand Blessings, which has been in their family for generations. Hidden amid the gems they consign to sell are a host of mysteries needing to be solved and secrets waiting to be revealed.
Coming this fall [of 2019], we are bringing scripture to life in the Ordinary Women of the Bible series. Each fiction story will feature a little-known woman of the Bible, such as Samson’s mother, or the woman with the bleeding disorder who touched the hem of Jesus’s garment and was healed. These stories explore what their lives might have been like, and include a nonfiction supplement in each book that provides biblical and historical background information to enrich each armchair journey back in time.
In the spring of 2020, we’ll see the series launch of Savannah Secrets, set amid the southern charms of Savannah, Georgia, which follows the exploits of two life-long friends who join forces to become the city’s newest private investigators when Meredith Bellefontaine decides to reopen her late husband’s detective agency, Magnolia Investigations.
Of course, we also have a number of other series in full swing, including Secrets of Wayfarers Inn, set in Marietta, Ohio, where three retired schoolteachers turn a historic building that once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, into a popular inn. Each book features a story-within-a-story as we see glimpses of the past through the diary entries of Prudence Willard, a conductor on the Underground Railroad who helped many escape to freedom. Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard follows the exploits of a widow from a Kansas farm who inherits a lighthouse on the Massachusetts coastline and finds mystery and adventure at every turn in her new surroundings. The much-loved Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries series explores Sugarcreek, Ohio, along with Cheryl Cooper, a newly arrived Englischer, and her Amish friend Naomi Miller as they lend a helping hand to their neighbors and untangle the mysteries of Sugarcreek. Then, there’s Tearoom Mysteries, Mysteries of Silver Peak, Secrets of Blue Hill Library, Secrets of Mary’s Bookshop, Grace Chapel Inn—and, very likely, a few more that I’m forgetting at the moment!
GP: Who is your favorite character in these series and why? How about your favorite villain?
SD: This is like asking a mother which of their children they love most! But, shh…promise you won’t tell? I have a little insider secret to share with you. When we are first crafting the characters in a new series, I like to give the main characters some of the unique details and characteristics of people who are nearest and dearest to my own heart. For example, the Classen sisters in the new Mysteries of Lancaster County series share the same last name as my own mother’s maiden name. (My grandkids’ names and personalities can be found sprinkled amid the secondary characters as well.) Of course, all the main characters in our fiction series share my same intense love of mystery!
Now, as for the villains… I can’t say I really have any favorites among the truly bad guys, but I do have a soft spot for those chief suspects who turn out to be good guys who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I love it when the villain turns out to be someone I never suspected until I read the big reveal at the end of a good mystery!
GP: How do you and your team keep all the continuity details straight? If a character has blonde, curly hair in book 2 of the series, how does the writer in book 14 know it?
SD: This can be tricky business, let me tell you! When we are working with a team of eight or so authors, with several writing their sequential stories in a series at about the same time, getting the details right is a challenge. Each series incorporates a series editor on the editorial team. The series editor does the first review of all incoming manuscripts. Every new detail that is presented in that story is added to an ever-changing series guide, whether it be a new grandbaby that just arrived on the scene, or a store we’ve not yet visited until this latest volume. The updated series guide is then shared with all the authors and editors who are working on a series. We also create a private Facebook page for the authors and editors of each individual series, through which we can interact, ask questions, and share interesting tidbits about the series settings that we come across in our research. This interaction builds a great sense of comradery amongst our cozy little band.
GP: What is the most important element in cozy mystery series? Pace and plot? Character development? A rich setting?
SD: All of these things are necessary in creating a world that beckons the reader to enter into that special place of story and immerses them in that fiction realm. As a reader myself, I want to escape in the pages of a good book, to relate to the characters, and find myself caught up in the heart-stopping adventure of it all. Take me to that happy place by any and every means available!
GP: What is your relationship with deadlines?
SD: I like the comfort of knowing how much time I have to devote to something…but it’s also unsettling to know there are never enough hours in a day to do all that needs to be done!
GP: What advice can you give authors to help them include authentic faith elements into their writing?
SD: Spiritual insight and wisdom springs from the overflow of an author’s soul. So, first and foremost, an author should speak from her own spiritual experience when she shares matters of the heart and soul through story. We write what we know. Conversely, we can’t write what we don’t know. Therefore, faith elements in a story must first be faith elements experienced within.