How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
I was raised in a family with five girls and one boy. Growing up, I was never taught that a woman should have any limitations a man wouldn’t have. We were expected to work hard, to go to school, to never limit ourselves. That I-can-do-it attitude helped tremendously when I decided to start writing, and it wouldn’t let me quit until I’d succeeded.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I was a stay-at-home mom of three young girls and I was going bonkers. my husband spotted an ad in the paper, for a class on romance novel writing, being held in a local book store. He cut it out, called and registered me, and pushed me out the door one night a week. I’d always dabbled in writing, he knew I read romance novels sometimes, and he wanted me to have something in my life that didn’t involve diapers and car pools.
During that class, we would sometimes do writing exercises–take a prompt or a scenario and write a scene out of it. One day, I wrote this funny, sexy scene about a woman sunning herself in the back yard, and the others in the class encouraged me to keep going with it.
I did. That story became Night Whispers, published by Harlequin in 1999.
How did you come up with the title?
The title ties directly to the plot. The book opens with a woman being brutally murdered, but she’s keeping her eyes open as long as she can, knowing the camera in her brain is capturing evidence every single second, and that those images might help solve her murder. She knows she can not look away.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Veronica Sloan, called ronnie, is a tough, sort of crusty police detective, who has been forged by fire and tragedy into the strong woman she has become. She was raised in northern Virginia, in a family of heroes. Her father and one brother were cops, another was a firefighter. She has a natural inclination to save people. But when her world blew up in she terrorist attacks of 2017, she built a hard shell around her heart, feeling it was better not to care too much since those she cared about were so ruthlessly taken away from her. It’s a fine line to walk between helping victims of crimes without ever letting anybody get too close.
Ronnie is thirty, she’s tall and strong, with short, jet-black hair, cut that way after a two-by-four to the head required half of her hair to be shaved off. She’s not scared of anything, she’s snarky, but deep inside, she has never stopped mourning and never truly moved on from the tragedies of her life.
Why did you choose to write this particular book?
Believe it or not, Don’t Look Away began as a dream. Several years ago, I had this dream that I was riding up a loooong escalator, rising up toward a smoky sky. I emerged from the escalator and realized I was standing in the middle of the National Mall in Washington D.C. But it was on fire. Buildings are burning, people were screaming, ash swirling. I stood there, stunned, trying to figure out what had happened, and then I woke up. That was the start of Don’t Look Away. That was when I really began to think about what would happen to the nation if the very heart of it were successfully attacked. I started thinking about the people who survived it, what they would be like, what the nation might become. And I started writing.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The book was not hard to write, it was incredibly easy because I’d thought about it so much and for so long. But it was hard to sell. For the first few years, no American publisher wanted it. Too dark, too edgy, too depressing. There was also the “she’s a romance writer, what does she know about thrillers” element. Then a German publisher picked up my Black CATs series and decided they wanted something new from me, just for their market. I gave them the Veronica Sloan series, which I was then free to independently publish in the U.S.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned that I have a much darker streak than I’d ever imagined. I’d always loved to read horror, but this was the closest I came to writing it. Don’t Look Away is a suspense thriller, not a horror novel, but there were elements in it, some scenes I wrote, that told me I probably could push myself in that direction if I chose to. Still thinking about that one…
How important do you think villains are in a story?
Villains are critically important. I have one philosophy about villains, which is that no matter what he’s done, or why he’s done it, the villain is always the HERO of his own story! If you look at the whole book, the “case,” through the villains eyes, the whole plot will open up and give you so much more depth and possibility.
Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers?
Thanks so much for supporting me and reading my books. I know I have a bit of an eclectic backlist–from extremely sexy romance, to romantic comedy, to light murder mysteries, to dark suspense, to straight thrillers. I guess you could say I have split-writer-personality. I truly appreciate every reader who has gone along with me for the ride, being willing to follow me into new genres and trusting me to deliver a story they’ll want to read, no matter what.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
My writing enabled me to be a stay-at-home mom while my kids were growing up. I loved every minute of that. I also love not having to get dressed up or wear big girl shoes to go to a job. Staying home and working in my pajamas, giving life to the stories already playing out in my head, and getting paid well to do it, is a dream-come-true.
If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would you want it to be?
Don’t limit yourself when it comes to your reading. I am often amazed when I talk to people who only read one type of book, ever. I get so bored reading only one thing, which is why I’m so constantly glomming-and-switching. Just because you haven’t read x, y or z before doesn’t mean you won’t like it…so step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot.
That said, whatever you like to read…keep reading! The world needs readers, and thinkers, people with imagination and vision. Reading opens up the mind and sharpens the brain cells. Read a book…and pass it on.
When you wish to end your career, stop writing, and look back on your life, what thoughts would you like to have?
I’d like to think that there were people out in the world who were touched in some way by my writing. Maybe they were uplifted. Maybe they were scared out of their wits. Maybe they were made angry or horny or tearful. I think that’s the best thing any writer can hope for…that their words elicited a reaction from their readers.
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Genre - Thriller
Rating – R