Q & A with cj petterson

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A big welcome to fellow author and Sister in Crime, cj petterson, who’s visiting the blog to chat about her latest book, a romantic suspense novel titled “Choosing Carter,” which releases today (Aug. 17, 2015).

Choosing Carter coverVF: Choosing Carter features taut suspense and heavy action, with a sweet and genteel romance or what your publisher describes as “behind closed doors” sensuality. This is an interesting mix that I found very appealing. How do you achieve that kind of balance? Why do you think it works?

cj: I believe that less is more when it comes to romance. Readers’ imaginations are wonderful things, so I try to take the scene just far enough so imagination can kick in. Suspense works the same way. Action, however, is a different thing. Unless the reader has personally seen or been involved in a similar action taking place in the story, they won’t understand unless it’s fully described.
Like short stories, this is where the right words really matter and must do double duty. To quote Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” As to balance, I use the love scenes as the spaces where the readers can catch their breaths before the next action. Sometimes, I miss and there’s too much action…because I love, love, love writing those scenes.

VF: You grew up in Michigan and now live in the South. (BTW, I grew up in the South and now live in Michigan!) But the book is set in Colorado. There’s a strong sense of place in Choosing Carter. How and why did you select this setting for the book?

cj: I chose the Colorado/Utah area because I wanted the target of the terrorism to be in the center of the U.S., not the obvious big-city targets. The sense of place comes because I once spent five-and-a-half days white water rafting on the Yampa, the last undammed river in the U.S. (and despite having taken swimming lessons, I still didn’t know how to swim).
I also once spent two days on a doors-off Jeep Jamboree off-road adventure on the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, sometimes driving over boulders as big as my living room!
It seemed natural to let my protagonist enjoy my adventures while she was in Colorado. However, just so you know, those adventures of mine were more than twenty years ago. I did hours of Google research to refresh my memories and even wrote to a white water rafting group that still plies the Yampa for more up-to-date information.

VF: Do you write in genres other than romantic suspense?

cj: I enjoy writing in multiple genres as well as nonfiction. In fact, one of my works-in-process is a YA fantasy and the other is a detective story that has, as do almost all genres, a side of romance.
I stumbled into the romance genre. Actually fell flat on my face there. Before I knew what I was doing, I entered a Romance Writers of America contest with what I thought was a wonderful love story. One of the judges wrote that when she got to the ending, she was so disappointed she threw the pages against the wall! I had failed to obey the cardinal rule of all romance stories…they MUST have a happily every-after ending or at least the promise of one.
Love stories don’t have that requirement so the protagonist and the hero in my contest story ended up very much in love but moving in separate directions — lots of love and angst, but no HEA. I changed the ending and submitted it to Crimson Romance, which published it in 2013 as Deadly Star.

In a “love will find a way” and “my brother’s keeper” kind of way, Choosing Carter is a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in the high mountain desert of Colorado. It is a high action story of how a woman’s idyllic trip with the man she loves turns deadly when she discovers that the changing face of terrorism never seemed as horrible as it does when the face she sees is that of her brother.

Choosing Carter is available on Amazon, click here.

Author “cj petterson” is the pen name of Marilyn A. Johnston. Marilyn is an award-winning writer whose short fiction and non-fiction stories have appeared in several anthologies. Her works-in-progress include another suspenseful romance, a mystery series that features detective “Jake” Konnor, and a young adult fantasy. A first-generation American, Marilyn was born in Texas to Swedish parents and takes her pen name from her paternal grandmother. She is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, SCBWI, and a charter member of the Mobile Writers Guild. She spent 25 years in the automotive industry and now lives near her sons in Mobile, Alabama.