An interview with Susan Elizabeth Phillips

There’s a new Chicago Stars book coming out which I, of course, had to read. I have always enjoyed the chance to chat with Susan, so when her team asked if I’d like to do an interview with her about the book, I was thrilled!

Dabney: Susan, how lovely to get a chance to chat. I do hope you and yours are thriving.

Susan: We’re camped out in Southern California for the winter, so we’re definitely thriving.  I love living in the Midwest, but I’m not a fan of doing my semi-daily 2 mile walk on icy sidewalks. 

Dabney: So, it’s another—yay!—Chicago Stars book. What inspired you, beginning with When Stars Collide, to return to that world?

Susan: Writing a Stars book is always in the back of my mind because I know readers love entering this world.  Once I introduced the young QB, Clint Garrett, in When Stars Collide, I knew readers would never forgive me if I didn’t write his story, but he was, in my mind, still too young to settle down. That made me think about his family. What if he had an older sister, for example, who grew up in the shadow of a younger brother who was good at everything when she wasn’t? That intrigued me.

Dabney: In this novel, the leads are a wanna-be chocolatier and a sports agent—he’s actually the protégé of the much-loved Heath from Match Me If You Can. Let’s start with Rory. Tell me what you love about her? 

Susan: Rory is just so real¾the kind of loveable, flawed heroine I most enjoy writing. She’s passionate about making chocolate, but she’s not a great judge of character.  And she has the shadow of her mega successful little brother hanging over her.  It’s no wonder that she’s had a hard time finding her way.

Dabney: Brett is a man who is sure love is not for him. This hero trope is beloved in romance. What do you like about it as an author?

Susan: There’s more to Brett Rivers than simply not believing he wants a permanent woman in his life.  He’s a guy who’s so driven, so single-minded, he can’t imagine tolerating any distractions. Work, success, being the best are everything to him. Failure is simply not an option. (He is in for a very rude awakening!)

Dabney: The dynamic between Rory and Brett is intense. How did you navigate their journey from adversaries to reluctant allies?

Susan: Despite the big difference in their personalities and life views, they have a common goal, which means they have to figure out a way to work together.  It won’t be easy!

Dabney: Balancing the murder mystery with family drama is quite a feat. How did you manage to intertwine these elements without losing the storyline?

Susan: A lot of rewriting! 

Dabney: Heath the Python and Annabella’s cameos were a fun surprise! How do these familiar characters from Match Me If You Can fit into this series, and why include them?

Susan: Since Brett is a superstar sports agent, it seemed like a good time in my mind to have him working for The Python. As we know, The Python has a low tolerance for fools. And where the Python is, you can be sure Annabelle is nearby.

Dabney: Rory’s personal growth amidst the chaos was fascinating. How did you weave her inner journey into the broader narrative?

Susan: Exploring how characters grow is central to every SEP book.  I never have a clear vision when I begin.  I have to let the characters breathe on the page until they’re fully formed in my mind.  That’s one reason I’m such a slow writer. It takes time.  

Dabney: Humor mixed with intense moments—how did you maintain that blend without losing the story’s momentum?

Susan: Humor is a natural part of my author’s voice, and it carries over into the dialogue I write. That said, it’s always important to make sure humor is appropriate to the scene and to the character. For me, humor combined with a few tears makes the most satisfying story.

Dabney: I loved the relationship between Rory and her stepmom, Kristin. How did you develop their relationship complexities?

Susan: I love writing more mature female characters, and since I have grown sons with spouses, exploring family relationships fascinates me. Kristin is someone I’d want as a best friend.

Dabney: As I’d expect from a Stars book, the sports industry backdrop feels authentic. What research or real-life experiences influenced Brett’s world?

Susan: Other than following the Chicago Bears (Yikes!), I’m not much interested in watching sports, but I’m very interested in the business of professional sports.  I try to stay current with what’s happening in the NFL. And something always is.

Dabney: I do love me some Stars! Any hints on what’s next for the team and the women they come to love?

Susan: Yes.  The Stars current QB, Clint Garrett, has finally grown up enough from his first appearance in When Stars Collide and his second appearance in Simply the Best to deserve his own story.  I’m working on that now.  He really is a sweet guy, but he has his limits when it comes to women….

Dabney: Thanks for talking to me. It is always a pleasure.

Susan: For me, too. Thank you right back.

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