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An Alex Delaware Novel

Written by Jonathan KellermanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jonathan Kellerman



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On Sale: October 01, 2002
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

L.A. psychologist-detective Alex Delaware has received a strange, anonymous package in the mail. Inside is an album filled with gruesome crime-scene photos. When his old friend and colleague, homicide detective Milo Sturgis, views the compendium of death, he is immediately shaken by one of the images: a young woman tortured, strangled, and dumped near a freeway ramp. The murder was one of Milo’s first cases as a rookie homicide cop: a vicious killing that he failed to solve—and has haunted him ever since. Now, two decades later, someone has chosen to stir up the past. As Alex and Milo set out to uncover what really happened twenty years ago, their relentless investigation reaches deep into L.A.’s nerve centers of power and wealth—past and present. While peeling back layer after layer of ugly secrets, they discover that the murder of one forgotten girl has chilling ramifications that extend far beyond the tragic loss of a single life.

Excerpt

The day I got the murder book, I was still thinking about Paris. Red wine, bare trees, gray river, city of love. Everything that happened there. Now, this.

Robin and I flew in to Charles de Gaulle airport on a murky Monday in January. The trip had been my idea of a surprise. I’d pulled it together in one manic night, booking tickets on Air France and a room at a small hotel on the outskirts of the Eighth arrondissement, packing a suitcase for two, speeding the 125 freeway miles to San Diego. Showing up at Robin’s room at the Del Coronado just before midnight with a dozen coral roses and a voilà! grin.

She came to the door wearing a white T-shirt and a hip-riding red sarong, auburn curls loose, chocolate eyes tired, no makeup. We embraced, then she pulled away and looked down at the suitcase. When I showed her the tickets, she turned her back and shielded me from her tears. Outside her window the night black ocean rolled, but this was no holiday on the beach. She’d left L.A. because I’d lied to her and put myself in danger. Listening to her cry now, I wondered if the damage was irreparable.

I asked what was wrong. As if I had nothing to do with it.

She said, “I’m just . . . surprised.”

We ordered room-service sandwiches, she closed the drapes, we made love.

“Paris,” she said, slipping into a hotel bathrobe. “I can’t believe you did all this.” She sat down, brushed her hair, then stood. Approached the bed, stood over me, touched me. She let the robe slither from her body, straddled me, shut her eyes, lowered a breast to my mouth. When she came the second time, she rolled away, went silent.

I played with her hair and, as she fell asleep, the corners of her mouth lifted. Mona Lisa smile. In a couple of days, we’d be queuing up as robotically as any other tourists, straining for a glimpse of the real thing.

She’d fled to San Diego because a high school chum lived there—a thrice-married oral surgeon named Debra Dyer, whose current love interest was a banker from Mexico City. (“So many white teeth, Alex!”) Francisco had suggested a day of shlock-shopping in Tijuana followed by an indeterminate stay at a leased beach house in Cabo San Lucas. Robin, feeling like a fifth wheel, had begged off, and called me, asking if I’d join her.

She’d been nervous about it. Apologizing for abandoning me. I didn’t see it that way, at all. Figured her for the injured party.

I’d gotten myself in a bad situation because of poor planning. Blood had spilled and someone had died. Rationalizing the whole thing wasn’t that tough: Innocent lives had been at stake, the good guys had won, I’d ended up on my feet. But as Robin roared away in her truck, I faced the truth:

My misadventures had little to do with noble intentions, lots to do with a personality flaw.

A long time ago, I’d chosen clinical psychology, the most sedentary of professions, telling myself that healing emotional wounds was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. But it had been years since I’d conducted any long-term therapy. Not because, as I’d once let myself believe, I’d burned out on human misery. I had no problem with misery. My other life force-fed me gobs of misery.

The truth was cold: Once upon a time I had been drawn to the humanity and the challenge of the talking cure, but sitting in the office, dividing hour after hour by three quarters, ingesting other people’s problems, had come to bore me.

In a sense, becoming a therapist had been a strange choice. I’d been a wild boy—poor sleeper, restless, overactive, high pain threshold, inclined to risk-taking and injuries. I quieted down a bit when I discovered books but found the classroom a jail and raced through school in order to escape. After graduating high school at sixteen, I bought an old car with summer-job cash, ignored my mother’s tears and my father’s scowling vote of no-confidence, and left the plains of Missouri. Ostensibly for college, but really for the threat and promise of California.

Molting like a snake. Needing something new.

Novelty had always been my drug. I craved insomnia and menace punctuated by long stretches of solitude, puzzles that hurt my head, infusions of bad company and the delicious repellence of meeting up with the slimy things that coiled under psychic rocks. A racing heart jolted me happy. The kick start of adrenaline punching my chest made me feel alive.

When life slowed down for too long, I grew hollow.

But for circumstance, I might’ve dealt with it by jumping out of airplanes or scaling bare rocks. Or worse.

Years ago, I’d met a homicide detective and that changed everything.

Robin had put up with it for a long time. Now she’d had enough and, sooner rather than later, I’d have to make some kind of decision.

She loved me. I know she did.

Maybe that’s why she made it easy for me.

CHAPTER

2

In Paris, clichés are just fine.    You leave your hotel, step out into the winter drizzle, walk aimlessly until you find yourself at café near the Jardin des Tuileries where you order overpriced baguettes and grainy, French-press coffee, then move on to the Louvre, where even during the off-season the lines prove daunting. So you cross the Seine on the Pont Royal, ignoring the motor din that washes the bridge, study the murk of the water below, try the Musée d’Orsay and murder your feet for a couple of hours, sucking in the fruits of genius. Then, deeper into the grubby side streets of the Left Bank, where you press yourself into the all-in-black throng, and laugh inwardly at an imagined wheezy accordion sound track overpowering the burping motor scooters and the whining Renaults.

It was early afternoon, near a shop in St. Germain, when it happened.

Robin and I had stopped into a dark, narrow men’s haberdashery with a window full of aggressive neckties and slouching mannequins with pickpocket eyes. The rain had been coming in fitful bursts all day. The umbrella we’d cadged from the hotel concierge wasn’t generous enough to shelter both of us and we each ended up more than half-wet. Robin didn’t seem to mind. Her curls were beaded with droplets and her cheeks were flushed. She’d been quiet since we’d boarded the plane in L.A., sleeping for most of the flight, refusing dinner. This morning, we’d woken up late and barely talked. During the walk across the river, she seemed distracted—staring off at nothing in particular, holding my hand, then dropping it, then grabbing again and squeezing hard, as if scrambling to cover for some infraction. I put it down to jet lag.

The St. Germain stroll led us past a private school where beautiful, chittering adolescents spilled out onto the sidewalk, then a bookstore where I’d intended to browse until Robin pulled me into the cloth- ing store, saying, “These are good silks, Alex. You could use something new.”

The store peddled menswear, but smelled like a nail salon. The shopgirl was a skinny thing with hacked-up hair the color of eggplant rind and the anxiety of a new hire. Robin took a while thumbing through the goods, finally found me a very blue shirt and an extravagant red-and-gold tie of heavy weave, got my nod, asked the girl to wrap it up. Aubergine Tresses scurried to a back room and returned with a stout, cardiganed woman in her sixties who sized me up, took the shirt, and returned moments later brandishing a steaming iron in one hand and the garment in the other—newly pressed, on a hanger, shielded by a clear plastic bag.

“Talk about service,” I said, as we returned to the street. “Hungry?”

“No, not yet.”

“You didn’t touch breakfast.”

Shrug.

The stout woman had followed us out and was standing in the doorway of the shop. She looked up at the sky dubiously. Checked her watch. Seconds later, thunder clapped. Flashing us a satisfied smile, she went back inside.

The rain was harder, colder. I tried to draw Robin under the umbrella but she resisted, remained out in the open, raised her face and caught the spray full force. A man scrambling for cover turned to stare.

I reached for her again. She continued to balk, licked moisture from her lips. Smiled faintly, as if enjoying a private joke. For a moment I thought she’d share it. Instead, she pointed to a brasserie two doors up the street and ran in ahead of me.

“Bonnie Raitt,” I repeated.

We were at a tiny table tucked in a corner of the clammy brasserie. The restaurant floor was a grubby mesh of white tile and the walls were cloudy mirrors and oft-painted brown woodwork. A clinically depressed waiter brought us our salads and wine as if service was harsh penance. Rain washed the front window and turned the city to gelatin.

“Bonnie,” she said. “Jackson Brown, Bruce Hornsby, Shawn Colvin, maybe others.”

“Three-month tour.”

“At least three months,” she said, still avoiding my eyes. “If it goes international, it could stretch longer.”

“World hunger,” I said. “Good cause.”

“Famine and child welfare,” she said.

“Nothing nobler.”

She turned to me. Her eyes were dry and defiant.

“So,” I said. “You’re an equipment manager, now. No more guitar-making?”

“There’ll be luthiery involved. I’ll be overseeing and repairing all the gear.”

I’ll, not I’d. One-vote-election, nothing tentative.

“When exactly did you get the offer?” I said.

“Two weeks ago.”

“I see.”

“I know I should’ve said something. It wasn’t—it dropped in my lap. Remember when I was at Gold-Tone Studios and they needed those vintage archtops for that retro Elvis video? The tour manager happened to be in the next booth, watching some mixing, and ended up talking.”

“Sociable fellow.”

“Sociable woman,” she said. “She had her dog with her—an English bulldog, a female. Spike started playing with her and we started talking.”

“Animal magnetism,” I said. “Is the tour dog-friendly, or do I keep Spike?”

“I’d like to take him along.”

“I’m sure that’ll thrill him to no end. When do you leave?”

“In a week.”

“A week.” My eyes hurt. “Lots of packing ahead.”

She lifted her fork and pronged dead lettuce leaves. “I can call it off—”

“No,” I said.

“I wouldn’t have even considered it, Alex, not for the money—”

“Good money?”

She named the figure.

“Very good money,” I said.

“Listen to what I’m saying, Alex: That doesn’t matter. If you’re going to hate me, it can be undone.”

“I don’t hate you, and you don’t want it undone. Maybe you accepted the offer because I made you unhappy, but now that you’ve committed yourself, you’re seeing all kinds of positives.”

I craved argument but she didn’t answer. The restaurant was filling, drenched Parisians seeking shelter from the downpour.

“Two weeks ago,” I said, “I was running around with Milo on Lauren Teague’s murder. Hiding what I was doing from you. I was stupid to think this trip would make a difference.”

She pushed salad around. The room had grown hotter, smaller; scowling people crowded tiny tables, others stood huddled at the doorway. The waiter began to approach. Robin repelled him with a glare.

She said, “I’ve felt so alone. For a while. You were gone all the time. Putting yourself in situations. I didn’t bring up the tour, because I knew you couldn’t—shouldn’t be distracted.”

She rolled the side of a small fist along the table rim. “I guess I’ve always felt that what you do is important and that what I do is . . . just craft.” I started to speak but she shook her head. “But this last time, Alex. Meeting with that woman, seducing her. Planning a damned date in order to—your intentions were good, but it still came down to seduction. Using yourself as a . . .”

“Whore?” I said. Thinking suddenly about Lauren Teague. A girl I’d known a long time ago, from my quiet job. She’d sold her body, ended up head-shot and dumped in an alley . . .

“I was going to say ‘lure.’ Despite all we’ve had together—this supposed enlightened relationship we’ve got, you go about your own business. . . . Alex, basically you’ve built this whole other life from which I’m excluded. From which I want to be excluded.”

She reached for her wineglass, sipped, made a face.

“Bad vintage?”

“Fine vintage. I’m sorry, baby, I guess it just comes down to timing. Getting the offer exactly when I was so down.” She grabbed my hand, squeezed hard. “You love me, but you left me, Alex. It made me realize how alone I’d been for so long. We both were. The difference is, you enjoy going it alone—you get high on solitude and danger. So when Trish and I started talking and she told me she’d heard about my work—my reputation—and all of a sudden I realized I had a reputation, and here was someone offering me great money and the chance for something of my own, I said yes. Just blurted it out. And then driving home, I panicked, and said, What did you just do? And told myself I’d have to renege and wondered how I’d do it without looking like an idiot. But then I got home and the house was empty and all of a sudden I didn’t want to renege. I went out to my studio and cried. I still might’ve changed my mind. I probably would’ve. But then you arranged that date with that tramp and . . . it felt completely right. It still does.”

She looked out the rain-clouded window. “Such a beautiful city. I never want to see it again.”

The weather remained gray and wet and we kept to our room. Being together was agonizing: suppressed tears, edgy silences, too-polite chitchat, listening to the rain tormenting the dormer windows. When Robin suggested we return early to L.A., I told her I’d try to change her ticket but I’d be staying for a while. That hurt her but it also relieved her and the next day when the cab showed up to take her to the airport, I car- ried her bags, held her elbow as she got into the taxi, paid the driver in advance.

“How long will you be staying?” she said.

“Don’t know.” My teeth ached.

“Will you be back before I leave?”

“Sure.”

“Please be, Alex.”

“I will.”

Then: the kiss, the smile, trembling hands concealed.

As the taxi drove away I strained for a look at the back of her head—a tremor, a slump, any sign of conflict, regret, grief.

Impossible to tell.

Everything moved too fast.


From the Hardcover edition.
Jonathan Kellerman|Author Q&A

About Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman - The Murder Book

Photo © Karen Miller

Jonathan Kellerman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of three dozen bestselling crime novels, including the Alex Delaware series, The Butcher’s Theater, Billy Straight, The Conspiracy Club, Twisted, and True Detectives. With his wife, bestselling novelist Faye Kellerman, he co-authored Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. He is also the author of two children’s books and numerous nonfiction works, including Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children and With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. He has won the Goldwyn, Edgar, and Anthony awards and has been nominated for a Shamus Award. Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live in California, New Mexico, and New York.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Jonathan Kellerman
Author of
THE MURDER BOOK

Q: Where did the idea for The Murder Book come from?

A: This particular novel grew out of my desire to learn more about Milo. When I wrote my first Delaware novel, When the Bough Breaks, I never thought it was going to get published let alone that I would write a series. I followed it up with two more Delaware stories and then a non-Delaware novel. At that point I said to myself if I’m going to do more books about this guy I want to learn more about him. So the next novel in the series, Silent Partner, featured Delaware as the protagonist. He wasn’t just a professional solving a problem for others; he was the focus of the story. I did the same thing again in Bad Love. The Murder Book takes that same approach for Milo. He has been a major character of the series since the beginning—to some extent as important a character as Alex himself—and I wanted to further explore his life. The story also grew out of my desire to write a book that resonated beyond the crime story. The Murder Book explores Los Angeles in greater depth than previous books in the series. It’s a classic novel of corruption that spans several decades. I know that’s been done before but I thought I could put a unique slant on it.

Q: You’re already well known for documenting the social and economic climate of Los Angeles. How is this book different?

A: It’s not different in type as much as in degree. While I always go back in the past—I’m enough of a psychologist to believe you can’t escape the past, you have to deal with it—The Murder Book provides more of a historical perspective on Los Angeles by going back in time and dealing with changes in the city over a twenty-year period. I’ve always considered Los Angeles a character in my books. I’m often identified as a writer of psychological thrillers. But reviewers have also noted these are very much LA novels, and that’s how I see them. With the exception of one book all my novels have taken place here. I think that puts me well within the tradition of Southern California hardboiled detective writers.

Q: What is it about Los Angeles that so fascinates you?

A: I’ve always been fascinated by the extreme disparities between the haves and the have-nots in this town. They’ve become much more acute over the years and helped turn Los Angeles into a Third World colony. They also lead to anger and tension and frustration and hunger, which in turn breeds crime and extreme behavior. And although Delaware does solve mysterious puzzles, what he’s really exploring is human behavior under extreme circumstances. I’m also fascinated by the influence of the film industry here. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since I was a kid—since 1959—and over the years I’ve watched this city become more of a company town than ever before. Los Angeles used to have a much greater range of businesses. Today it is permeated through and through by the film industry—not just economically but in its entire zeitgeist. There’s a blurring of reality and fantasy here that’s almost palpable.

Q: Prior to the 1985 publication of your debut novel—the first in the Delaware series—you spent fourteen years churning out a slew of novels that ended up being rejected. What changed for you as a writer that allowed you to make that breakthrough?

A: There were a couple of things that changed. In 1981 I realized I needed to approach fiction writing more professionally. I had always used writing as a catharsis. Well, if you want to do that you might as well write for yourself and stick your work in a drawer. If you want to write for other people you need to approach it as you would a job. I began writing with a lot more discipline. I outlined and polished and rewrote and honed it. In other words I worked a lot harder at my writing and took it much more seriously. By that time I also had much more to say because I had had some interesting life experiences. When I won the Goldwyn award at age 21 I was the epitome of callow. I wasn’t experienced enough to have anything significant to offer. But by the time I was in my early thirties I was a veteran psychologist. I had worked in the trenches long enough to have something to say about human misery. That enabled me to write a more interesting story.

Q: Up until that time you had worked very hard at keeping your identity as a psychologist separate from your fiction. Why?

A: Essentially it was cowardice. I was afraid to reveal anything about myself. On some level all fiction is biography. If you’re going to succeed as a fiction writer you have to be willing to put yourself on the line. It took a long time before I was ready to do that.

Q: To what extent do you draw on specific experiences from your years as a hospital psychologist in writing the Delaware novels?

A: I’ve never drawn on my list of patients to depict specific individuals or families in distress. And I never will. But I certainly know what it’s like for families or individuals to be under stress. During my time as a hospital psychologist I treated thousands of children suffering from chronic and terminal diseases, birth defects, handicaps, and injuries. I also dealt with the aftermath of alcoholism, drug abuse, homicide, suicide, divorce, rape, physical abuse, sexual molestation, and grinding poverty. I like to think what I learned in those years imbues my writing with emotional authenticity. I also benefited from the fact that Children’s Hospital was multi-cultural in the strictest sense. I was dealing with people of every conceivable background: paupers and the idle rich, educated and uneducated, Black, White, Hispanic, you name it. I couldn’t have found a better training ground to be a writer if I had tried. In retrospect I’m glad I was a rejected writer for fourteen years. It gave me a chance to learn.



Q: Do you ever go back and reread your earlier novels?

A: Very rarely. In my down time the last thing I want to do is read my own work. I’d rather read the works of other authors and spend time with family and friends. Except for the occasional need to check a fact or two, I rarely go back to my previous works. When I write a novel I live with it every day for about a year. And during that process I tend not to be too introspective. I think to some extent introspection can be the enemy of productivity. One reason I’ve been able to write so many books is I focus on each project to the exclusion of all else. I have no doubt that if I did read my earlier books I’d spot things I wouldn't necessarily do today. That notwithstanding, on those few occasions when I do leaf through an old passage the work seems to hold up pretty well. When the Bough Breaks came out more than 20 years ago and still sells at a steady pace. Apparently when people pick up a new Delaware novel they often decide to go back and check out the older ones. I get a big kick out of that. It’s a very gratifying feeling.

Q: Writers often talk about finding their “voice.” How do you describe your writer’s voice?

A: I don’t think about it much. It’s just the way the words come out of my head. I’d much rather write than talk about writing. What people say they like about my books is the sense of place and the memorable characters. And they like the psychology—the insights they feel they’re getting. They like that peek into another world. My voice in the Delaware novels tends to be somewhat hardboiled. There’s an element of cynicism in it. It’s the outsider, the observer, looking in. And that’s what a psychologist is. The stories are rarely about Delaware himself but rather about what he sees and the people who talk to him. The voice is that of the observer offering comments to others or, more often, to himself. Much of the story in these books takes place in Alex’s head. That’s why they’re not turned into movies. A lot of what goes on is internal.

Q: What inspired you to make Milo Sturgis, Delaware’s partner in crime solving, a gay homicide detective?

A: I wish I could say it was some great sensitivity on my part. I never liked the notion of an amateur detective coming in and showing up the cops. I felt a psychologist who worked with cops was much more plausible. Once I figured that out I knew I had to have a policeman in the story and I wanted to avoid the boring cliché of the gruff, grizzled veteran detective. This was back in 1981 and I knew the LAPD officially had no gay officers. So I thought making Milo gay would create a certain amount of tension. Ironically, one of the guys who wants to be the next police chief here is a gay, Jewish associate chief. That shows how far things have come at the LAPD. But back then a gay homicide detective was a revolutionary concept and certainly played against stereotype. For the same reason I had Delaware’s first girlfriend working with power tools while he was the one dealing with emotions. What interests me in the world are the exceptions rather than the norm.

Q: Among the secondary characters in The Murder Book are several Los Angeles real estate moguls. Are they based on anyone in particular?

A: No. That’s always been a point of pride with me. The fun of writing fiction is in making things up. And because I came to fiction as a psychologist I was always careful not to betray confidentiality. That made me a better writer because it forced me to use my imagination. In Silent Partner I had a Howard Hughes-like character. I viewed him not as a person but as an icon, a metaphor, and a larger than life figure. In Flesh and Blood I had a character that was a colleague of Hugh Hefner. But he was quite different from Hefner. These guys were made up of a whole cloth, as are all my characters. Each time you write a book you’re creating new people. It’s a godlike illusion.

Q: A well-known quote about writers suggests they hate to write but love having written. Is writing easy or hard for you?

A: That’s a tough question to answer. In one sense it’s very easy. I never get writer’s block. Words just seem to flow out of me. But that’s because I outline compulsively in order to get a firm grip on my stories, which tend to be very plot heavy. It’s not that I love plotting but I believe a writer should never cheat the reader. That plotting process is hard work. The writing I find most difficult is non-fiction, which requires you to aim for clarity and elegance of style. Fiction writing allows you much more leeway because you’re creating a whole world.

Q: Your wife, Faye Kellerman, is also a well-known best-selling author. What’s it like to be married to a fellow writer? Do you talk about writing or give each other feedback on story ideas?

A: It’s great being married to another writer. One of the nice things about our situation is we don’t compete with each other because we were married for 12 or 13 years before we got published. And neither of us came to writing from an English department background. (Mine was psychology; hers was theoretical mathematics and dentistry.) We don’t trade ideas but we do read each other’s books. It’s a great luxury having an in-house critic who’s really constructive and on your side. We used to read each other’s work in progress every week or so but over the years we’ve gotten more secure in our own abilities. Nowadays, instead of looking for help from each other we basically say, “read it and have fun with it.” Fortunately we enjoy each other’s stuff. When we do “talk shop” we tend to focus on the business side of publishing—which can be very strange—as opposed to the creative side.








Q: Twenty-five years ago you helped found a psychosocial rehabilitation program for kids with cancer at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles (CHLA). The program endures to this day and is considered one of the finest of its kind in the country. Are you still actively involved?

A: Not directly. I’m still a Clinical Professor of Pediatric Psychology at USC’s School of Medicine and a Clinical Professor of Psychology at USC’s Department of Psychology. Although I don’t do a lot of teaching I do occasionally supervise grad students, post-doctoral fellows, medical residents, and so on. Some of my students are full professors. I try to keep in touch with the field. Aside from that my main contact now is philanthropic in nature. For example, our foundation recently funded a quality of life research study at CHLA of children with brain tumors.

Q: We’ve talked about how your work as a clinical psychologist played a major role in what you bring to the Delaware character. Does your work as a writer impact what you do as teacher and psychologist?

A: I don’t think it does. When I sit there with a grad student talking about a case, we’re just talking about the case. I’m a psychologist again, not a writer.

Q: How does it make you feel to know, twenty-five years later, that the CHLA program you directed and help found has been so successful and changed so many lives for the better?

A: I was there for only a few years but I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of that program. Like most people who become healthcare professionals I became a psychologist because I really wanted to help people. It was a chance to give something back and make a difference in people’s lives. I treated a lot of kids and they got better. There’s no greater feeling in the world. With perhaps one exception I’ve always considered the work I did as a psychologist much more important than what I did and continue to do as a novelist because when you get right down to it fiction writing is very narcissistic work.

Q: What was the exception?

A: In 1993 I published a book called Devil's Waltz, a Delaware novel that dealt with a condition known as Munchausen by Proxy, a dangerous form of child abuse in which a parent induces symptoms in his or her child in order to win the attention of healthcare professionals. At the time few people had heard of the syndrome, including most doctors. After the book came out I got a number of calls from doctors and nurses around the country who said, “You know, we have this kid and we didn’t know what the hell was going on with him…and now we know.” That novel saved lives. It was incredible.

Q: Is there any part of you that misses your old life as a psychologist?

A: No. I like what I’m doing now. But it did take me a while to totally let that old life go. I wrote three books while working full-time as a psychologist. Eventually, however, I had to give it up. The demands were antithetical to what I wanted to accomplish as a writer and what I needed to do for my publisher. For example, it’s difficult for a psychologist to just up and leave town. But publishers want you to go on book tours and travel. I decided I was going to try writing full time to see if I liked it and so I eased out of my practice. (It took a couple of years to finish up with the kids I was seeing.) What I really like about full-time writing is the personal freedom. As a therapist every hour of my day was booked up for months. I’d routinely have nine or ten appointments per day. Now I can wake up and say, “Gee, I can do whatever I want.” It’s very liberating. Fortunately, one of the things I got from my former career was a strong sense of discipline. A lot of people have difficulty dealing with a lack of structure in their lives. If they have too much leisure time they get nothing done. Because of my years as a psychologist that was never an issue for me.

Q: What do you consider your greatest strength and your greatest weakness as a writer?

A: Sometimes I think I get a little too wordy. I’m always trying to rein myself in and say more with less. At the start of each day’s writing I always go back and revise my work from the day before. I consciously try to make sure I’m not over-writing. Perhaps my greatest strength is the psychological insight I bring to my fiction. I like to think there’s a certain unique quality to what I do but that’s up to other people to judge. I also think I have a pretty good sense of place. And people tell me I’m a very vivid writer; that there are scenes and characters that stick out in their minds. I also like to think I bring a sense of compassion to my writing. I’m basically an optimist. I don’t want pat happy endings but I also don’t see a need to write an ending that’s morose. People should be entertained when they read. Arguments over whether a piece of writing is entertainment or literature are nonsensical and pretentious. If we don’t stray too far from our caveman ancestors sitting around a fire telling stories, that’s okay. Some of the world’s most enduring classics are simply great stories at heart.

Q: What’s the most important thing your reading public should know about you?

A: How much I appreciate them. Like most writers I write for myself and not an audience. But at the same time I have a profound appreciation for my readers. It’s a great thing to take a project from initial concept to finished book, put it out in the public, and have people not only buy what you’ve written but also come back again and again for more. I couldn’t do this without them.


From the Hardcover edition.


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