Talion | Cantraip Press | Suspense | March 27th, 2010
The dying body has a thousand voices, and all of them speak to Rad Sanders. Now he has found his tenth and youngest victim, a fifteen-year-old girl whose death will sing more purely and beautifully than any other. Lisa Duncan has no idea she has attracted Rad's interest. When she goes to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle at their small mountain resort in Utah, he tracks her there and awaits his chance. He watches as Lisa befriends Lu Jakes, the daughter of employees at the resort. Lu enters his fantasies as well. He learns she is being abused by her stepmother and toys with the notion of freeing her from her sad life and keeping her awhile as his captive. Introverted and strange, Lu seems like an easy conquest who could be persuaded to turn on her new friend. But she possesses a power Rad cannot imagine.
Please tell us your latest news!
I'm working on a series of suspense novels with a museum curator as the protagonist. In the first book, Chasing the Light she takes in a free-spirited photographer who disappears under sinister circumstances.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would write more about Talion and his cohorts. Quite a few readers have wanted to know more, and I certainly could have developed this aspect further. I worried about letting the novel become so long that readers would be turned off, and in fact made cuts to keep it under 300 pages.
Please describe your writing environment.
I'm lucky enough to have an office of my own with a spacious desk - a mixed blessing since it provides lots of room for papers and books to pile up. Every so often I straighten my desk, but paradoxically I have a harder time finding things that are neatly stashed away.
I have a Herman Miller scooter - a small, adjustable table - to hold my keyboard and mouse, and a Herman Miller desk chair. My reference books are close are at hand, although the Internet has made them less essential than they used to be. The window behind the computer screen looks out on a pretty garden with a birdbath.
There are plenty of bookshelves, but not enough to hold all my books. In most ways I'm not a hoarder, but I have a hard time getting rid of books.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favorite suspense writer is Thomas Harris and not just because of the graphic violence. When readers think of Harris, they're haunted by images of savaged bodies with shards of mirror in their eye sockets, skinned bodies with exotic insects jammed down their throats, or a man alive and conscious as Hannibal Lecter slices his brain from his open skull. But in his earlier work anyway, Harris renders the quieter passages as memorably as the violent scenes. It's not Lecter's cannibalism and other gruesome acts that capture my imagination in Silence of the Lambs, but his creepy conversations with FBI agent-in-training Clarisse Starling. Harris can make even minor characters unforgettable. Maybe the clearest image I retain from Silence of the Lambs is the witness who tips her head back so her mascara won't run as she weeps for her missing friend.
Do you see writing as a career?
I see writing as a calling, necessary to my happiness. I don't feel true to myself unless I'm writing and offering my stories to readers. Most writers cannot support themselves through their writing, and like many of them I teach writing at a university
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I started writing fiction soon after I learned to read. My brother Steve and I shared an imaginative life where we dwelt on an island and fought constant battles against the monsters across the river. Our characters had secret identities so they could sneak among the monsters and spy. We acted out scenes, taking the parts of various characters, making up dialogue as we went. We fought duels with imaginary swords. When Mom gave me a scrapbook, it seemed perfect for drawing a map of our island. Steve and I argued, as usual, over details - where the river went, how much of the island the forest should cover. We filled the book with a story of our adventures written in pencil and illustrated in crayon.
As a child I was awed by books. I wanted to grow up and be one of those amazing people who could create an entire book from out of their head.
Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?
I have a clear conception of the characters when I begin, but they have a way of surprising me. In Talion, I envisioned Lisa's Aunt Debbie as a static character, but she became complex once I began writing from her point of view. I enjoy telling stories from multiple viewpoints for just that reason - to develop character.
Who has been your best supporter? How have they been there for you?
I dedicate Talion to my writing group, the Eastern Illinois University Writer Babes, and to my husband, Joe.
The Writer Babes are the best writing group I've ever participated in. In addition to expert and honest editorial advice, we give one another encouragement and inspiration.
Joe's support has been steadfast. As I say in the dedication, he had faith in my work even when I did not. Joe and his co-author write articles and books on film criticism, so he understands the demands of writing. We give each other support and solitude. One of his gifts is his ability to stand back from situations that seem overwhelming, to study them and find solutions. At moments when I feel like giving up, Joe is there with dispassionate advice and unwavering loyalty.
Do you like to mix genres?
Well, Talion is a cross-genre novel. Serial killer novels are supposed to have a detective or FBI profiler as the hero, but Talion breaks that rule. I think Lu Jakes is an unusual and unforgettable hero, an abused teenager who somehow remains whole despite the forces bent upon tearing her apart. And she has supernatural companions, introducing an element of fantasy.
How much research do you do for your books? Have you found any cool tidbits in your research?
I did research on serial killers for the character of Rad. I read maybe two dozen books. The most useful were those by FBI profilers such as Robert Ressler, John Douglas, and Roy Hazelwood. Their books have popularized concepts such as signature, the details of the killer's crimes that express his inner needs and fantasies - his ritual. If he needs to arrange his victims' bodies in lewd poses, that's part of his signature. His MO might evolve as his skill increases or circumstances dictate, but his signature never changes.
Part of Rad's signature is using polypropylene tape to disfigure his victims. He loves the stuff. I happened upon this detail while helping my mother move. This kind of tape is used in shipping, and as one of the movers sealed a box, he remarked off-handedly that polypropylene tape can rip the skin right off you.
If a bookstore was putting up "Is Like" plaques, who would be listed as being like you?
Talion bears some likeness to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones in its mix of paranormal and realistic elements, and its violence has prompted comparisons to Thomas Harris and James Ellroy.
What main genre do you write in?
Suspense / Mystery