My new release is Suicidal Suspicions and since it is the 8th book in my mystery series, I was having trouble coming up with new challenges for my protagonist, psychotherapist Kate Huntington, to face. The two greatest nightmares for a therapist are a client committing suicide and a malpractice suit. So I have one of Kate’s clients commit suicide, and then the client’s parents threaten Kate with a malpractice suit. But since it was a murder mystery, why not have the suicide be a bit suspicious? Kate alternates between questioning if the client’s death was indeed self-inflicted and questioning her own professional judgement, and at times her own sanity as she struggles with guilt and doubt. Meanwhile all the time and emotional energy that she’s putting into her investigation is taking its toll on her relationships with her husband and kids, adding to her guilt.
Which is more important characters or setting?
I think it’s important that settings be authentic–the reader should be able to envision them in their mind’s eye–and I try to be as realistic as possible with my settings. But my stories are definitely character-driven. What’s going on inside my characters’ heads, the challenges they’re facing, how they’re coping with those challenges, all that is the main fodder of a story for me.
Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life?
No, not any specific people, but I was a therapist for 20 years, and like my character, Kate, I specialized in trauma recovery. I know the disorders commonly caused by trauma extremely well. My great fear is that my former clients will think I’m modeling a character after them specifically, because there are so many common trends in the way these disorders present themselves, but all my characters are totally fictional.
Do you have a reoccurring theme to your books?
Yes, it’s that even strong, “together” people can fall apart for a while when something bad happens to them. Being strong isn’t about never getting sucker-punched by life. It’s about brushing yourself off and putting the pieces back together. I saw my clients do this again and again, and I was always so impressed with these “average” people who kept on going, no matter what life dished out.
What do you hope readers take away from your work?
First and foremost, I want them to be entertained. That’s why they paid good money for my books and I want them to get their money’s worth. But I also want them to get a better understanding of, and empathy for, those who suffer from mental disorders. I focus on at least one disorder per book. I’ve explored everything from PTSD to a pathological serial killer (okay, maybe not empathy for him so much). In Suicidal Suspicions, the young woman who has supposedly committed suicide suffered from bipolar disorder.
Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out?
Oh yeah, a couple of them in the book with the serial killer (Fatal Forty-Eight). He doesn’t torture his victims physically, rather he does so psychologically. A few scenes definitely made me shudder as I was writing them.
What’s next for you?
I have a few more things in store for Kate Huntington, but I’m also starting a new series that I’m really excited about. It’s a cozy mystery series featuring a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers, mainly combat veterans. I’m currently editing the first book and hope to have it out in a couple of months. So stay tuned for the Marcia Banks and Buddy series.