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 red flag.

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!


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Comment by John on March 12, 2010 at 9:15am
I was at a book discussion the other night and one of the themes that kept being repeated by the authors was how difficult it is to make somebody disappear these days because of technology and social networing. As far as the cleaning goes, Chelsey and I would love to have you over some weekend for a cleaning and sorting party because she leaves things EVERYWHERE and I want to hold on to EVERYTHING! ;-) Now, I should probably reread that section of the book you referenced...

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