The view from Sue Duffy's Lake Murray home office looks out on a patch of winter woods, spare, leafless hardwoods set amid a thick, crunchy groundcover of fallen leaves.
The twinkling expanse of Dragon Cove, a panorama of changing scenery that spreads out from her glass-front living room, is down the hall but out of sight. And that's just the way this writer of Christian suspense novels likes it.
For Duffy, there's distraction enough amid the pages of her latest book as her main character, concert pianist Liesl Bower, attempts to outrun a Russian spy network intent upon killing her to uncover secret information she doesn't even know she possesses.
"You sit down and start writing and the characters start talking," Duffy said. "Pretty soon, they are having a conversation and you are the third party, listening in."
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"The Sound of Red Returning" is Duffy's third novel, and the beginning of a trilogy that will keep her writing about Bower, Harvard music professor Schell Devoe, CIA agent Ava Mullins and a cast of dangerous Russian spies.
Duffy, a former advertising writer and magazine editor, has yet to strike it big in the publishing world, but she is getting noticed.
Publisher's Weekly reviewed the book in a January issue, noting that while some plot threads were underdeveloped and a pious president may not be everyone's cup of tea, "the pop-pop-pop of surprise resolutions at the end makes a fine coda."
Duffy considers herself a spiritual writer, compelled to inject the presence of God into her story lines with a thoughtful, nuanced hand rather than relying on trite, formulaic writing.
"I was always fascinated about entering the world of someone on the run," said Duffy, whose literary tastes run to John LeCarre, Ken Follett and other intrigue novelists. "I thought, wouldn't that be interesting to overlay that with the concept of a higher power."
Duffy said her deep faith imbues her writing. "God just kind of infiltrates anything I look at," said Duffy, a mother of three grown children and grandmother to six, ages 1 to 10. And it does for protagonist Liesl Bower, who finally discovers God amid years of questioning.
Duffy was editing Lake Murray magazine, a publication of The (Columbia) State, when she sold her first novel, "Mortal Wounds," the story of two siblings and the deadly political intrigue surrounding a presidential election.
The seeds for that novel were planted on a drive through the North Carolina mountains. As she made her way through a small town, the people there became crystallized in her mind. Stopping at a cemetery to scribble notes, the names on the tombstones became the names for some of her characters, she said.
When she returned home after that trip, she told her husband, Mike Duffy, "I think I'm going to write a novel."
When Duffy, a custom-home builder and real estate developer, designed and built their Lake Murray home seven years ago, he made sure she had a comfortable office, tucked away from the allure of the lake.
It was there she turned out a second novel, "Fatal Loyalty," the plot turning on drug trafficking and politics in Florida, where she grew up.
Each morning, Duffy arrives in her office -- dressed as if she were heading out the door, with make-up and hair in place -- and works for about seven to eight hours. She takes a break at noon to have lunch with her husband, who works in an office below hers.
During those working hours, she immerses herself in research on Russian-American relations, domestic terrorism and other issues that will become fodder for books two and three in the Red Returning trilogy.
She writes about 1,200 to1,500 words a day, "and then I'm done," she said.
By that point, she knows her characters so well it's as if they are there in the room with her.
"You have to know them inside out," Duffy said, "and keep them true to themselves."