Crime fiction writer, Chelsea Cain, has a new book coming out in March, The Night Season (2011). It’s apart of an ongoing, fast paced series and features a female serial killer similarly compared to Hannibal Lector sans cannibalism. There is graphic violence in this series akin to that of Karin Slaughter’s books if you’ve enjoyed her Grant County & Will Trent series.
I thought I’d re-post this interview I did with her for those who are unfamiliar with this author in anticipation of her new book. Admittedly, this is not the best author interview out there (no laughing) but the fact that I managed to get her to talk to me was like…awesome. It’s the weekend so what can it hurt and my apologies for the repeat post for those who read my other blog. I’ve only done two author interviews in my blogging life. This is one of them. Also, if interested, the complete reading order of the series is at the end of the article.
I have read and enjoyed both Heartsick and Sweetheart and I am really excited about this series. I was more than thrilled when Chelsea Cain granted me this interview. If you enjoy fast paced thrillers that serve up surprising plot twists with interesting characters, then this series is one that should not be missed. Hope you enjoy the interview.
Can you tell readers a little bit about your new series? What readers can expect in your new novel, Sweetheart?
CC: HEARTSICK and SWEETHEART are basically both really twisted love stories. HEARTSICK is about a Portland, Oregon, Detective, Archie Sheridan, who has spent ten years leading a task force looking for an infamous and quite lovely serial killer dubbed “The Beauty Killer.” She catches him and tortures him for ten days, then mysteriously lets him go and turns herself in.
The book picks up two years later, when Archie is called off medical leave to hunt a second serial killer. He’s addicted to pain killers and still obsessed with the Beauty Killer (her name is Gretchen Lowell) – he still visits her in prison, and is working to close cold cases they suspect she’s behind. Susan Ward, a journalist for The Oregon Herald tags along during all this for a profile she’s writing about Archie. SWEETHEART, the second book in the series, takes place a few months after the events of HEARTSICK. Basically, Gretchen escapes from prison and all hell breaks loose.
What is your background in relation to the stories that you write?
CC: Well I lack considerable experience in the serial killer department. I’ve never killed anyone. Not a single person. I’ve also never been a cop. I’ve never even been a security guard. But I have been a journalist. That was my way into the story. I created the character Susan Ward. Susan has an MFA and writes funny, random features stories, and then gets thrust into covering crime for the paper. I’m no Bob Woodward, but I know newspapers enough to give that experience a little authority. I also live in Portland, Oregon – where my series take place. Which is very handy. I’m trying to figure out a way to make my mortgage tax-deductable as a work expense…
As a debut novel, HEARTSICK, was well received and a NYT bestseller (debut #8 in hardcover and #26 in paperback) and I really enjoyed reading it. Did you feel any pressure in writing the follow-up?
CC: I was almost done with SWEETHEART by the time HEARTSICK came out, so I actually feel way more pressure with the third book, which I am working on now. But it was definitely a challenge to write a sequel. I kept finding myself indulging in these enormous asides that tried to catch readers up on characters and events. It was so tedious. Finally I just cut anything that I found myself skimming over.
How many books are planned for the series? Or what direction you see the series going?
CC: I have so many ideas for stories about these characters. I want to write books about them until I can’t sell any of them – even to my relatives.
Why did you choose to write about a prolific serial killer? Was the gender purposeful?
CC: I wanted to write about a female serial killer for a bunch of reasons. I was interested in exploring the kind of obsessive relationship between a killer and the cop who’d hunted her for so long – so it seemed obvious that making the killer a woman would add a compelling sexual tension.
But I also wanted to explore the danger of beauty and the layers of power in any sort of relationship, but specifically between men and women. Plus, there aren’t a lot of models for female serial killers, so felt some freedom to really have fun with the character.
Are your stories inspired by any real life serial killers?
CC: By hundreds of them. But the idea of the task force and the long-term hunt for the killer came from growing up in Bellingham, Washington, when the Green River Killer was at large. He was on the loose for twenty years, and there was a task force assigned to catch him. Even as a kid I was fascinated by the fact that there were all these people working to catch the bogeyman.
Do you feel that there is a double standard in being a woman crime novelist as opposed to a male crime novelist in relation to the violence that you read about in most mystery novels?
CC: I think that I’m asked more to justify the violence in my books than I would be if I were a man. People seem to want to know what it’s like for me to write gruesome scenes “as a woman,” or “as a mom.” I don’t think that male thriller writers are asked what it’s like to write gore “as a dad.”
How did you come to create Archie Sheridan? He is such a riveting character alongside his nemesis, Gretchen Lowell. I know as I was reading Heart Sick, I anticipated his scenes.
CC: He’s the kind of character I’m always a sucker for. Smart. Damaged. Suck-y at interpersonal relationships, but great at his job. Obsessive. Loyal. Most of all, he’s got self-knowledge. He’s fucked up, but he knows he’s fucked up, which I think allows the reader to forgive some of his sins.
Can you please describe this relationship between Archie and Gretchen? It is driving me crazy. [g] Why has he allowed her to be such a divisive and manipulative force in his personal life?
CC: I try to address this question in SWEETHEART. It’s complicated. He’s addicted to her. And addiction is, by definition, destructive. I think it’s this question of “what the fuck?” that drives the books. What draws these two people together? (Besides some serious pathology.) Once I answer that question entirely, the tension is lost. That said, I will explore the relationship a bit more in each book.
What is the purpose of writing for you? What inspired you to put pen to paper and craft your own novel?
CC: I really just write the kind of books that I want to read. (I’m incredibly self-indulgent that way.) It’s all about me, me, me.
Off the wall question: what is the strangest thing a reader has ever said to you?
CC: “I find Gretchen Lowell so inspiring.”
As an avid reader what other authors do you enjoy reading?
CC: The two books I’ve blurbed recently are The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe and Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. Both are terrific, twisted, gory thrillers. Seriously fucked up. I mean that in a good way.
You can visit Chelsea Cain’s website if you’re interested in learning more about her books. The reading order is below. Other authors similar to Chelsea Cain, well, Karin Slaughter comes to mind first. After that I draw a blank.