Q: Black Out is a stand-alone thriller and a departure from your character Ridley Jones. How was writing this novel different from your previous two, Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth?
A: I have to say it was a good deal more painful to write Annie’s story than it was to write Ridley’s. Ridley’s story was a dark one in many ways but she was a whole and healthy person, someone thrown into ugly circumstances. She had good memories of her past, which turned out not to be what she thought it was. In many respects she was an innocent. Annie’s story and her history are more complicated, her inner life is more tormented, her past is harder to reconcile.
Annie is so different from Ridley, not older but certainly more mature. A life of psychic pain, emotional abuse, and trauma have colored her perspectives. Ridley comes from privilege and Annie from a troubled home. So they see the world and their respective places in totally opposing ways. It’s hard to compare them, except to say that they are both lost girls who must find a way to claim themselves or be crushed by the forces at work in their lives.
Q: How did the idea for this story come to you?
A: I can usually pinpoint the exact moment a story began for me, the first moment I heard a character’s voice, the first time I saw a particular scene in my head. But I can’t be as definite about Black Out. I don’t know when or how I began seeing this woman fleeing on a boat from some unknown pursuer. I didn’t know who was chasing her or why, I just knew that it wasn’t who she thought it was. I knew she was deeply fractured. For Beautiful Lies it was a flier in the mail that sparked the story, the point at which I started hearing Ridley’s voice. The inspiration for Black Out was something internal.
But just as Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth mirror in an extreme way my own internal struggles at the time of their writing, Black Out is no different. I was a new mom while writing this book, struggling to be both of these big, wonderful things – a mother and writer. Battling all the anxiety and stress of new parenthood, while coming to terms with the hypnotic, passionate love I had for my baby that didn’t allow room for much else, my identity as writer seemed pretty distant. So, all of that is mirrored in Annie’s struggle, though Annie’s fracture is a bit more harrowing.
Q: Much of the story takes place in Florida where you live. You highlight the shadowy side of the state. What’s the significance of this?
A: I’ve been living in Florida for nearly 8 years now, which is hard to believe. Most of that time, I’ve been writing about New York. But this place has been getting under my skin, into my blood. And one of the things I love about Florida is that it’s so different than people imagine it to be. People think of Florida and they think of Disney and pink flamingos, margaritas and Jimmy Buffet. And it is that, of course. But it’s also this wild, dark place with vast, untamed spaces. People who write about Florida seem to focus on the funny, weird aspects – the kooky politics and the criminal element and the black humor of it all. But I sense a feral heart here – I’ve trekked though the everglades and kayaked through the mangroves, been diving in the Keys and I feel something truly spooky beneath all the kitsch and sunsets on the beach. It fascinates me and has been leaking into my work.
Q: Were any of the characters in your story–Annie, Ophelia, Gray, Marlowe–drawn from people in your real life, or where they strictly born from your imagination?
A: In a way, both. Of course every character a writer creates is some composite of self and other. Writers are observers, always watching and absorbing. So the characters that spring from our minds must come from everyone we have seen or heard or been or imagined. That said, none of the characters in Black Out are modeled after any real person in my life or in my past. Probably Marlowe comes closest to be being based on a terrible person from my own past, but he’s totally fictionalized. And as for Annie and Ophelia, well I suppose the theme of the lost girl comes up again and again in my work. And maybe it wouldn’t if I hadn’t struggled in finding and claiming myself.
Q: You’re a recent new mom. Do you see any part of your own daughter in Victory? How do you think being a mom influenced the way you wrote this character?
A: Being a mother has definitely changed everything about me, down to the way I see the world. And this, in turn, has changed the way I write. It has to, since I live and write from a very immediate and authentic place. My daughter is much younger than Victory but already I see a strength and intelligence in her that I’m not sure she got from me. I think Victory is a very wise and strong little girl, with that kind of innocent horse sense that kids possess. I can already see those things in my little girl, though she’s not quite two.
Q: Does writing such a dark story affect your personal life? Do you find it hard to detach yourself from the characters at the end of the day?
A: It’s hard to shift back and forth between the real and created worlds at the best of times. I find myself often conflicted between those two places. When I’m working, there’s always part of me just wanting to get back to my daughter. When I’m in my life, there’s a part of my brain that’s always working, ideas germinating, plots weaving, characters evolving. But I think I’m better than most at keeping a foot in each world. I can be present for my daughter and be present for my work; it just takes more effort and concentration.
Q:After writing several literary thrillers, are you planning to tackle any other genres? What’s next for you?
A: I’d like to think that I might stray from the dark side one of these days. But for now, that’s what fascinates me. I’m at work on my next literary thriller. So for a while I guess I’ll be peering down the murky alleys, pushing open the door to the darkened room, fleeing the faceless predator and hoping my readers come along for the ride.