Satin Russell was a financial advisor for many years until she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. It took her a year of saving and planning before she was able to commit to her goal full-time. Her debut novel, the romantic suspense Secret Hunger, was released in 2015. In Secret Hunger, thoughtful and independent Olivia Harper put her dreams of becoming a gourmet chef on hold and opened a cafe to support her younger sisters after her parents' unexpected death. On her 27th birthday and with her sisters taking care of themselves, Olivia begins to contemplate the next stage in her life, asking herself if she should continue running her successful business or take a risk to go back to school. Her debate is put on hold when two strangers with an intertwined past arrive in her small town, drawing Olivia into an unexpected romance and a dangerous pursuit. You can read an excerpt from Secret Hunger in the March 28 issue of The Beautiful Worst. Satin and I spoke about her process in this Writers on Writing interview.
What is your writing process like? Do you have any daily habits or work routines?
I try to write a minimum of four to five hours a day, including at least one weekend day. I’m not much of a morning person, so this usually entails writing from about 11-5. Most of my best writing is done at local coffee shops. If I stay home it’s too easy to get distracted by the dishes in the sink or doing the laundry. Plus, I’ve noticed that I become too much of a hermit. Staying in my yoga pants or pajamas makes me less and less motivated and more likely to be lazy, procrastinate, and binge watch Netflix. The act of putting myself together so that I’m decent enough to go out in public forces me to stay on target.
Secret Hunger is a romantic suspense novel. Can you describe the genre to folks who may not be familiar?
Basically, the romantic suspense genre has two, equally important, plotlines. There are the usual romance components: a meet-cute where the two romantic interests are introduced for the first time, a conflict that keeps them from getting together, a steadily increasing sense of attraction, and a happy ending. Combine those elements with a plotline that incorporates the threat of danger running throughout the book and – Voila! – it’s a romantic suspense.
What inspired you to write Secret Hunger?
A few days before my thirty-sixth birthday I found myself awake and staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. I had been working the last seven years in finance, in a role that was almost exactly opposite of what my strengths and interests were. The path I was taking wasn’t giving me any satisfaction or joy and I needed a way to jump tracks. I was no longer content with just reacting to my circumstances.
One of the underlying themes of Secret Hunger is this concept of being at a crossroads in your life. I think most people can relate to those moments where things would be decidedly changed if you had made a different choice. Sometimes those occasions happen quietly and you only become aware of their significance after the fact. At other times, there will be a decision where you are highly cognizant of the effects it will have. I was intrigued by the idea of actively choosing life’s path and making the conscious decision to pursue your dreams.
Reading the novel, the romantic and mystery storylines complemented each other perfectly. Do you have any strategies to make sure they stay balanced?
I used the threat of danger to ratchet up the pressure on my two main characters. It was a way of constantly pushing them into new situations that they then had to react to, either by pushing them together or pulling them apart.
Secret Hunger is told from 3 different characters' perspectives--Olivia, Mason, and Robert--and the continuity between these POV's is seamless. As you were writing, how did you ensure these details were in sync?
That was actually pretty difficult! It helped that I was writing every day, so I was fully immersed in the world I was creating. One of the other habits I’ve gotten into is doing a quick read-through of my work from the previous day, just so I can get into the right frame of mind. I tried to stick to one POV per chapter and then braided them together.
The antagonist, Robert, is one of the narrators. He's deeply misogynistic and commits violent crimes against women. What were some of the challenges of voicing his character?
There were two main concepts that I had to keep in mind while writing his scenes. First, I had to remember the saying that every antagonist is the hero of their own story. They don’t see themselves as the bad guy. Secondly, the more uncomfortable I felt, the more honest I knew the writing was. It’s a little disturbing to know that you can plumb the depths of your own mind and come up with such terrible things. There was a tendency to self-police or censure my own thoughts, and it was one of the most difficult things to let go of while writing this book. (Incidentally, it was this same instinct that I had to overcome while writing the sex scenes, too.)
You're currently working on the next book in the series, Secret Need. How is the process of writing a sequel different from writing Book #1 in a series?
For some reason, this second book has been much more difficult and slower than the first book. I think it’s partly because I’m more aware of the future readers that I’m writing for. Ignorance was definitely bliss when I was writing Secret Hunger because I had no idea if anyone would actually pick it up and read it. There’s also the challenge of maintaining continuity from one book to the next. Although this is made easier because each sister will have a standalone story that is not contingent on the one that comes before it, there are still considerations of background and keeping the same ‘tone’ of each character. I’m also more aware of the things I don’t know, both in the act of writing and publishing, but also in what comes afterwards with selling and marketing.
What's on your TBR list now?
Lately, most of my books have been about writing or have been written by friends. The next book on my list is called Juniper Smoke by Sadia Ash. Besides reading romance and romantic suspense, I’m also a big fan of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and YA stories.
Do you have any advice for writers?
Be disciplined in your writing habits, stay open to learning, actively search out knowledge about your craft and your industry, foster relationships with other authors, build a community of writers and readers, and lastly – have fun!