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Interview: September 8, 2016

Bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has found fans all over the world with her warm contemporary love stories that manage to touch both hearts and funny bones, so it’s no wonder she's the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. Now, she returns with FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT --- the eighth book in her Chicago Stars series --- about a feisty female detective and a no-nonsense sports hero who go head-to-head in a seductive new story. In this interview with The Book Report Network's Bronwyn Miller, Phillips opens up about her latest heroine and hero --- including how they’re different from typical “SEP” characters, the reason she felt compelled to write their story, and why they’re a perfect match.

The Book Report Network: After NATURAL BORN CHARMER, readers demanded another book in your Chicago Stars series.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Tell me about it! NATURAL BORN CHARMER was supposed to be the last of the series. I was certain I couldn’t bring anything fresh to the characters of the football player. And then Piper Dove showed up. And she needed a formidable opponent. And I wanted a big city book. And Chicago is the Big City I most love writing about. And there I was, right back in Chicago Stars territory with Cooper Graham, the only hero I could think of who was a match for my girl detective.

TBRN: Piper Dove is not a typical SEP heroine --- not that there really is a typical SEP heroine.

SEP: True. But Piper is my first heroine with Mad Skills --- traditional male skills. She’s proficient at martial arts, she can shoot, she’s trained in offensive and defensive driving --- all the skills I don’t have. Wish fulfillment on my part?

TBRN: This is the eighth book in your Chicago Stars series, but you have said you don’t really think of it as a strict series because all the books stand alone. Do you enjoy revisiting these characters as much as readers do?

SEP: I love seeing the characters I’ve created having good, happy lives. Readers, on the other hand, can be a bit more sadistic. They want me to revisit past heroes and heroines and mess with their lives. Not that they actually say it that way, but that’s exactly what would happen if I created a new book around former couples. That said, I love giving these familiar characters walk-on parts in new books. (Although Heath and Annabelle from MATCH ME IF YOU CAN are a little more than walk-ons in FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT.)

TBRN: Does Cooper get his love of gardening from you?

SEP: Nope. I have a garden, but I don’t consider myself a real gardener --- witness the Japanese beetles even now destroying my roses. Cooper, on the other hand, is a man who loves to plow his hands into the dirt --- a natural gardener. I love the balance between his tough guy competitive nature and his need to grow things.

TBRN: Do you start writing your characters with a real-life figure to work off of, like a Tom Brady or an Eli Manning?

SEP: Never. I also don’t cast actors in my head as I’m writing. That would mess with my process way too much. I need to create my characters from whole cloth and let them grow into the people they are destined to be.

TBRN: What would you like readers to take away from FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT?

SEP: A sigh. A smile. A desire to read all my old books and anticipate the new one.

TBRN: A big part of writing and publishing a book is the book tour. Do you enjoy the readings and public speaking?

SEP: I love and hate book tours. Does that make sense? Love, love, love meeting readers. I love talking to groups. But hate getting up at 5am to catch planes. And, like a good romance author, I miss Mr. Bill. If you don’t follow me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, he’s my husband, not my pet goldfish.

TBRN: What has been your favorite fan interaction?

SEP: This is so evil of me, but I’ve had times when readers have started to cry when they meet me. They’re, of course, mortified, while I am kind of jumping up and down inside. You can’t possibly imagine how much it means to me to know my books have touched people so personally. That keeps me going on days when the Inspiration Fairy is off getting her hair done.

TBRN: If you could offer any aspiring writers one piece of valuable advice, what would it be?

SEP: Write. Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t procrastinate by doing tons of research and copious outlining, but never actually get around to putting any sentences on the page. It’s simple advice, but remarkably hard to follow.

TBRN: Do you recall anyone offering helpful words of wisdom when you began your writing career?

SEP: Keep your butt in the chair. It doesn’t get much more helpful than that.

TBRN: You have so many readers all around the world. What is it about your books that people find so universal?

SEP: It has shocked me how passionate my international audience is --- I’m published in over 30 languages now --- especially considering my books are so American. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Readers everywhere love strong conflict, and romance is a universal language.

TBRN: You have mentioned turning down offers for TV movie adaptations of your books. Why have you not pursued any?

SEP: Hardly a week passes that I don’t get an email from a reader asking me why there aren’t movies of my books, but think about it. A reader wants to see a movie of the book that is in her head, and that’s not what happens. Literature and film are two different beasts. That said, look at how brilliantly Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is being adapted --- all because they’re not trying to fit one book into one movie, but instead are doing an entire season on each book. Brilliant.

TBRN: If there were a movie of FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT, who would you cast as Cooper Graham and Piper Dove?

SEP: Hmm….readers are so much better at this than I am. How about Chris Hemsworth as Cooper? Piper needs to be a little eccentric. Let’s give that part to Jennifer Lawrence. Do you agree with my choices or disagree? Your opinion is as good as mine.

TBRN: You’re an avid traveler. Do your trips ever work their way into your work?

SEP: I’ve taken some amazing walking/hiking trips: Peru, Morocco, Iceland, Europe --- as well as a safari in Zambia last year. But the only trip that’s made its way into a book was a walking trip in Tuscany. I was on the trail headed for Volterra when the idea for BREATHING ROOM popped into my head. I spent the rest of the trip taking furious notes (imagine me trying to write while I was on the trail and tripping over tree roots more times than I care to admit). This year I’ll be hiking in Sicily. Who knows what will happen?

TBRN: What are you working on next? Any plans to revisit the Chicago Stars universe any time soon?

SEP: For once in my life, I’m keeping my lips sealed. (I know…hard to believe!)