Character, Motive, and Suspense: Inside the Mind of the ‘Fire Angel’

By Susanne Matthews, author of Fire Angel

Fire AngelAfter more than thirty years as an English teacher who spent countless hours teaching students how to plan their writing, I have discovered that I am not a planner; I am a pantser. When I sat down to write Fire Angel, I didn’t think about themes and motifs or character development. I didn’t make an outline, write character sketches, or draw a plot graph; in fact, I did none of the things that I had taught my students to do. What I did do was sit at the computer and ‘fly by the seat of my pants.’ I let the story flow from my fingertips. I wanted to write a romantic suspense novel that would be a page turner, one that the reader would have to finish to figure out ‘who did it.’ That being said, where did I start?

I’m a big fan of suspense movies and television programs, and it seemed to me that motive and opportunity were the most important aspects of the story. Anyone could shoot, stab, poison, or set a fire, but there had to be a reason behind the actions and the opportunity to commit the crime that were not only interesting but believable. It’s true that authors expect the readers to suspend belief, but unless it’s science fiction or fantasy, there must be more than a little realism to the story.

To figure out motive, I had to get into the killer’s mind. I had to understand why my character would want to do the things he did, and that meant research – lots and lots of research! I know more about fire and pyromania now than I ever thought I would. So, if the fire angel were a pyromaniac, what would he be like? What would he feel when he saw fire? Those who designed my book cover captured his vision perfectly. Kudos to them for a great job!

He thrilled to the sound of fire. He loved to hear it crackling as it moved through its tinder. He delighted in the hiss of sap boiling in wood, the sizzle of flesh and fat frying in the blaze, and the popping of twigs, branches, and other exploding matter.

He relished the smell of it. From the caustic scents produced by the lethal chemicals it released, to the unmistakable, unforgettable perfume of burning hair and flesh, and finally to the familiar, friendly, nostalgic aroma of apple wood or pine – each was an aphrodisiac.

He was mesmerized by the constant shifting of the multifaceted flames. He appreciated that color and temperature were codependent and knew just how hot things had to get to suit his purpose. It was marvelous to behold, and when something alive stumbled into its grasp, then it became absolutely magnificent.

Fire was an avenger meeting out justice. The colors were an erotic display for his pleasure, a gift to his senses. It was his mistress, a beautiful dancer writhing and gyrating just for him. It was alive and made him feel alive as so little did anymore. His lover would soon give him the spawn he craved: vengeance.

So, I had my killer, although his point of view didn’t make it into the final manuscript, it was essential to me for the development of the story. Once I had him firmly fixed in my mind, I needed to stop him.

Solving the puzzle, identifying the arsonist, his methods, his actions, and motivation needed to engage my readers; they needed to want to read more, to know more, to understand why and how it all came together. Readers engage when they empathize with the hero and heroine. Originally, I had decided to make my hero the typical alpha male, but then I thought better of it. Why not a wounded warrior – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well? My muse created Jake, my criminal profiler hero, who suffered the loss of a leg and was betrayed by someone close to him while serving his country. Determined to prove himself, he puts himself out there, not just for his community, but for his partner.

With such a hero, I needed an equally strong heroine, a woman in a man’s world, but a woman who like Jake, had a past, a dark secret that kept her from falling in love and committing to someone. I created Alexis, with a feisty ‘me against the world’ attitude – orphaned at ten, abused by an alcoholic uncle, runaway at fourteen, and almost killed in a fire at sixteen. Does she give up? No, she becomes a fire and arson investigator who can get into the head of the arsonist and figure out what makes him tick.

Between them, Jake and Alexis add up the clues to not only find the killer but fall in love. How do they do it? Well, you’ll have to read Fire Angel to find out.

About the Author:
Susanne Matthews grew up as an avid reader of all types of books, but always with a penchant for happily ever after romances. In her imagination, she travelled to foreign lands, past and present, and soared into the future. Today, she has made her dreams come true. A retired educator, she now gets to spend her time writing, so she can share her adventures with her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love.

Susanne lives in Cornwall, Ontario with her husband. She has three adult children and five grandchildren. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, chatting on the Internet with her writer friends, and hearing from her readers. You can learn more about Susanne and Fire Angel at

3 thoughts on “Character, Motive, and Suspense: Inside the Mind of the ‘Fire Angel’

  1. tanya6124

    I loved reading your mindset as you wrote this. Really liked the glimpse into his POV! Cannot wait to read this book! Congratulations on its release! Already loaded and ready on my Kindle!