Questions from Robert J. Ray (The Weekend Novelist)
- Where did your sleuth (Dr. Zoe Goldman) come from? How long did she take to create? Days? Months? Years? Why did you make her conspicuously tall? (PS: Zoe’s got a crazy wit—very captivating, and helpful with survival in a hospital ruled by males.)
Zoe Goldman came from my subconscious somewhere. I knew that I wanted my protagonist to be a psychiatry resident, and over days and weeks (not years), she started talking to me. By her thought process – which was all over the place – I also made a diagnosis of ADHD! As for her height, this was a conscious decision, another way she feels uncomfortable in her own skin.
- Since your head is filled with medical lore, how does your writer-self choose what diseases and/or medications-situations to use in your story? Do you start with the medi-lore, how dangerous it is if used wrong? Or do you start with the character: Killer? Victim? Sleuth? Helper?
I’m a neurologist, not a psychiatrist, so while there is overlap, the conditions treated are quite different. In The Girl Without a Name, the story came to me as a first line. “We call her Jane, because she can’t tell us her name.” So, then I knew that she had catatonia, and the medications and treatments all came thereafter.
- This is a style question: Why do you write in present tense?
I don’t know why. But, it just feels the most natural and vital to me.
- This is a structure question: Can you tell the readers about your writing process? For example, when do you know your ending? Do you write more than one opening scene? Do you work with an outline? Notes or random jottings? Do you build a full scenario, scene-by-scene, before you write?
I always know the ending before I write the book. Many things will change, but my basic three-act structure does not. As for the beginning, in my first Zoe book (Little Black Lies), I changed the first scene quite a few times. But as I said above, in The Girl Without a Name, the first line dictated the whole book for me. I do work from an outline/synopsis and then write out each scene, one building to the next. I am not, and will never be, a (write-by-the-seat-of-my) pantser.
- This is a marketing question: Were you nervous about using the word “Girl” in your title? Were you aware of the horde of girl-title novels that have preceded The Girl Without a Name? Not only The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Girls, but so many girl-titles that Emily St. John Mandel did some research and wrote an essay, click here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-gone-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-on-the-train/.
Yes, I was a bit nervous. But, my book was in the midst of those books, not trailing it. For my third Zoe book, it was “strongly suggested” that the title contain “Girl” again, but I fought against this. At some point, a title can almost become self-parody. The third book is called The Secret Room – so as you can see, I won that one!
- How do you develop your characters? Do you see them in a situation? Do you see them as people you follow around so you can write down what they do and say? Do they come to you in a dream?
I view my characters as if I’m in a movie scene with them. I see their clothes, hear their voices, including their accents and cultural rhythms. I have to feel up close to them to get all the details right.
- What did you read growing up? What writers influenced you in becoming the successful author you are today?
I never really thought about what I used to read when I was a kid, until you just asked, actually. Turns out…mysteries! I would race through all the Jupiter Jones and Great Brain books. Some authors that have influenced me as an adult include Sue Miller, AnneTyler, Gillian Flynn and Kate Atkinson.
- What are you working on now?
My third (last?) Zoe novel is coming out in April, so right now I’m taking a Zoe break and writing a stand-alone, a suspense novel about a woman who is drugged and attacked in college with no memory of the event. Five years later, someone posts the video on Youtube, and she decides to seek revenge…