Communications technology has changed the way I plot my suspense
novels over the course of my career. Fifteen years ago, people
weren’t constantly in touch with each other. It was much easier for
someone to disappear—willingly or not—without raising an immediate
These days, thanks to cell phones, text messaging, voicemail, and
email, we are accustomed to instantly and spontaneously touching
base with our family, friends and colleagues at any given moment,
no matter where they are. In 2010, not hearing back from someone
you’re trying to reach is a more immediate ominous sign than it
ever would have been a decade or two ago.
So here, when Nick seems to fall off the face of the earth-- --it’s
understandable and realistic that his kids and even Lauren are
uneasy. Of course they’re going to try to reach him while he’s
away; of course he’s going to reply—if he is willing, or
able--despite the fact that he’s on an island vacation. That he
doesn’t reply launches questions in his family’s, and the reader’s,
minds. Which is it? Unwilling, or unable? With an untrustworthy
character like Nick, you just don’t know what to think. Lauren’s
natural anger toward Nick is complicated here by genuine worry when
she stops hearing from him.
Then there’s the tag sale. I was wistful, I’ll admit, writing those
scenes about getting rid of clutter. I love to clean and sort
(crazy, I know)—especially at this time of year. I spent all last
spring while I was writing the book wishing I could take time away
from the keyboard to purge some of the clutter in my own house. Not
all of it—just the “junk.” Like many of you, I suspect, I surround
myself with sentimental mementos with which I can’t bear to part.
Fortunately for me, I don’t have to—at least, not until we sell our
house, which I suspect might not even be in my lifetime.
Unfortunately for Lauren, cleaning out drawers and closets is
particularly bittersweet, because her marriage has ended. I’ve
recently seen several good friends through divorces, and have been
struck every time by the painful but necessary rite of dividing up
the household belongings. That old Van Morrison CD is, for Lauren,
much more than a relic of the pre-download era. For her, it’s
symbolic of a turning point in her marriage—the night she and Nick
conceived Sadie. Getting rid of it is as painful as the prospect of
hanging on to it.
Living in an affluent Westchester suburb myself, I know plenty of
people who hire others to do just about everything from shopping to
planning their kids’ birthday parties. Because I actually enjoy
doing those things—along with cooking, gardening, sewing, etc.,-- I
doubt I’d farm them out even if I could afford to. But gardeners,
cleaning staff, and dog walkers are a routine part of daily life in
this part of the country, and service people usually have keys to
their clients’ homes. I really wanted to depict Lauren as a woman
whose husband is not only no longer committed to chores on the
homefront, but who has subscribed her to domestic maintenance
services that routinely bring strangers into private homes, because
that adds to her vulnerability.
Sadie’s fierce attachment to her possessions was necessary to the
story, but I wasn’t sure, when I set out to write it, that it was
realistic behavior for a child in her circumstances. Then I did
some psychological research and found out that a grim reality
played right into my plot: children who have experienced a loss due
to divorce or death frequently latch onto material belongings. I
spent quite a bit of time learning about how a child like Sadie
might behave and react to situations I needed for my plot.
When we go into the villain’s point of view, my longtime readers
will note, I have used the gender-nonspecific narrative that has
become a trademark in my suspense novels. We don’t know whether the
stalker is a male or female. Writing scenes without pronouns is, as
I often say, quite a challenge. The one that begins on page
181 is a prime example. I labored over it, as I often do, and I
hope that in the end, it doesn’t feel forced.
I provide a bit of backstory about the Quinns in this section, and
attentive readers will want to make note of the details—not just
for what comes later in this book, but for what will unfold in the
sequel, SCARED TO DEATH. Elsa Cavalon’s neighbor, Meg, will also
reappear in SCARED TO DEATH—as will Detective Mike Fantoni--so
readers, take note.
Go ahead and read chapters 13-15 and come back in a day or two for
my insight into that section!