I’m drawn to novels that provide a visceral experience for the reader. They should be thoughtful, intelligent, and multi-layered, but on some level they should also feel like a gut punch. Psychological thrillers do that. They mess with your head. When I sit down to write, my intention is to create a story that you can’t get away from, something that will haunt you long after you’ve finished that final chapter. And if you read it at night, sleep may be a long time in coming.
Is there a lot of research that goes into your books?
Yes, there is. Not all of it shows up in the final version of the novel, but it’s in the background. The best research is practical in nature. To write about something, it’s best to experience it, or talk to someone who has. One’s got to get their hands on the intended murder weapon—or, in some cases, the body—to see how it actually behaves in the real world. Because the physical world does not bend to one’s improper understanding. The mistakes become obvious. Anyone who’s ever attempted to submerge a body in a lake without the proper weights to keep it anchored to the bottom could tell you that.
Granted, this can pose a problem for crime writers. For most of us, our experience is incomplete. There are only so many bodies one can toss into the lake before the neighbors start getting suspicious about all those midnight excursions in the rowboat.
Menaker State Hospital is the setting for my latest novel, THE HIDING PLACE, a story that unfolds at a psychiatric institution responsible for housing patients who’ve committed heinous crimes but have been deemed either incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. It is not a forgotten place, but it is a place for forgetting—the crimes committed by its patients settling into the dust like the gradual deterioration of the buildings themselves.
The story is told from the perspective of Dr. Lise Shields, a psychiatrist at Menaker who finds herself treating a patient she feels does not belong there. Is this new patient truly guilty of the horrible crime for which he has been convicted, or is he a victim to a far more ominous conspiracy? As Lise attempts to uncover the truth, she becomes a target herself. But in a place like Menaker—where no one can be trusted and nothing is as it seems—there is no escape from the forces at work within its walls. And for Dr. Lise Shields and the patient she is trying desperately to protect, those walls are closing in fast.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
Don’t try to write the perfect novel. Just write. Get it down on the page. The first draft should come from the gut. Revisions will make it better—more polished—but until you get the basic story down you’ll never know what kind of beast you’re dealing with. Put a suit on it later and comb its hair if you like. But keep it wild, dangerous, unpredictable. That’s where the fun is, and that’s what we’re here to enjoy.
My days spent working in the Emergency Department are pretty exhausting, and I don’t try to write when I’m tired. Instead, I write on my days off, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I don’t write to music because the characters talk to me during the creative process and it’s important that I can hear what they have to say. Finding a balance between writing and living is essential. No matter what the chosen genre, authors draw from their life experiences. If we close ourselves off and forget to experience the world, the well can start to run dry. That’s not good for anyone.