How did you come up with the idea for WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW?
As a middle-schooler, I witnessed the daily bullying of a boy in my class. I was terrified by the bully’s cruelty, yet I lacked the maturity/guts/confidence to intervene.
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW grew from that experience. The characters witness, endure, commit and sometimes survive bullying, not just in the schoolyard, but also in friendships, marriages, professions and politics. I first confronted the topic years ago, but it seemed especially timely and important to write about today.
Who is your favorite and least favorite character from (WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW) and why?
My favorite is Tommy, the victim of bullying who, in turn, bullies his sister. I am drawn to his stamina, his quirkiness, and his ultimate refusal to give in to those who target him.
My least favorite—although I have a few—is Paul, the handsome, charming, narcissistic candidate for Senate. Paul lacks empathy, simply gets off on ego and power, sees relationships as a series of negotiations through which he can manipulate/dominate others and achieve his goals.
If you could put WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW into three words, what would they be and why?
SECRETS because, except for the children, everyone in the book has big ones and goes to great lengths to protect them, even sometimes risking their lives.
SURVIVAL because the protagonist, Nora, is determined to endure. No extreme is too great, no sacrifice too dear if it will protect the life she’s built for herself and her children.
MURDER because that’s what the characters do in order to protect their secrets or ensure their survival.
What is your writing process like?
I need at least three unbroken hours, prefer four. No music, no beverage, just solitude. I work in my home “office,” which is also the guest room and den. Also, I need to be near a window, or I get distracted by claustrophobia.
I begin by rereading the pages I’ve written the day before, so I can get back into the “moment” where I left off. I prefer to write in the morning or early afternoon. But at night, ideas come to me while I’m falling asleep, often dialogue bits or action, so I jot them down on a note pad I keep next to the bed.
I never like a book I’m working on while I’m working on it. But I keep going anyway. When it’s finally done, I see where it was going the whole time, and I’m usually pleased.
Do you prefer stand alones or series?
I’m not sure yet, because WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW is my first stand alone. Writing it was intense, not unlike writing the first book of a series. Getting to know each character and his/her backstory takes time, and you can’t rush the process.
But I also found freedom in the stand alone because there were fewer constraints than in a series. For example, I could kill anyone, because no one—not even the protagonist had to survive for “the next book.” As a writer, I felt unbound, and able to let the characters go wherever they wanted or needed, even at their own peril.
But what I love about writing series is that I get to revisit the characters and maintain relationships with them over time, in different phases their lives. For example, in the course of five Harper Jennings thrillers, Harper doesn’t just confront major evil-doers, she also evolves. At various stages, she earns an archeology degree, resolves her marital issues, makes peace (sort of ) with her mother, gives birth to a baby, and travels abroad to work on a dig. Getting to know characters over time, reconnecting with them at various stages—That’s the best part of a series.
Name three books you could read over and over again.
I’m not good at rereads, don’t have the patience no matter how much I love a book or an author. Maybe Huckleberry Finn. Winnie the Pooh. Don Quixote. War and Peace? Classics.
If you could take one character from any of your books and bring them to life, who would it be and why?
Oh, tough question. It might be Charlie, from THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, even though he’s already dead when we meet him.
But Charlie appeals to me because he wasn’t who he seemed, which was a cheating rascal-liar-scoundrel. After his death, his wife, Elle Harrison, discovers—at her own peril—who he really was. His secrets prove him to be a much deeper, more decent man than she’d ever imagined.
Or maybe Tommy, from WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. He’s complicated but I feel for him. Or Zoe Hayes…(I can go on.)
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Mixture. I start with a basie outline and a tentative ending, so I know where I’m heading. But along the way, the plot often takes sharp turns and goes in unplanned directions. The characters assert themselves, and often, they have better ideas than I do.
If your writing could be described as a color, what would it be?
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yikes. The only advice I have is that if you’re a writer, then write. Tell your story, even if/when you get discouraged. The only way to finish is to start. The only way to write better is to write more.