Our bookseller Brandi Bailey (BB) recently had the opportunity to interview Chelsea Cain (CC)!
Chelsea and Brandi
A few of you may remember her our recent Bedtime Stories for Adults event (if not, have a look at #themomentbeforepjs on Twitter) for the launch of Suzie Vitello‘s book The Moment Before.
We adore her…for good reason! @ChelseaCain
Our Fav Queen of the Damned
BB: Let’s start with some background, I know that you and I share a Nancy Drew heritage, and I personally think it’s a crying shame that your Nancy Drew satire, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, isn’t in active print any longer.
Find this one…read it.
How does the early influence of things like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Scooby Doo, et al influence your thriller writing today?
CC: I love the idea of a “Nancy Drew heritage,” like it some sort of recessive gene. I definitely have the Nancy Drew mutation on my eleventh chromosome. It was mysteries or nothing for me.
“She always has close calls when she solves a mystery!”
I really had zero interest in the books my friends were reading about girls who rode horses or girls who lived on prairies or girls who had to make friends at new schools (unless one of those friends was murdered and the girl had to investigate). I have branched out a little since then. I have even read whole books in which not a single character is menaced by a psychopath. But I don’t like writing them. High stakes drama is exciting, it reveals character, and when it’s done well it’s utterly absorbing. Everything else falls away. It’s a form of meditation, only with more cardiac activity. Also, notice that I have never written a standalone thriller. Honestly, I don’t really like to read standalone thrillers. Ideally, I like there to be at least three books in a series before I even pick it up. With a standalone anything can happen. But if there are sequels, you can enjoy the thrills with the pleasant comfort of knowing the main character probably won’t bleed out in the last chapter.
“I have even read whole books in which not a single character is menaced by a psychopath. ”
BB: One other question about influence: Your writing group has given rise to several well-know authors who aren’t exactly known for pulling any punches when it comes to their readers’ delicate sensibilities, our good friend Chuck being the most controversial. How has this camaraderie helped craft your present style?
CC: I have learned most of what I know about writing from the people around that table. They are my first audience and my dear friends. They are also all deeply disturbed, perverted, twisted individuals. There is no shocking them. You would not believe what we read out loud to one another on a weeknight. No shame whatsoever. It’s no wonder I have no censor function. But they are unerring in their feedback. Not individually – individually they have all given me terrible advice – but when they see something as a group I know I’m in trouble, and I listen. Correction, first I cry. Then I listen.
“They are also all deeply disturbed, perverted, twisted individuals.”
BB: So, enough about famous friends and titian-haired teenagers, let’s talk about One Kick.
I loved it! It’s edgy and dark while being incredibly fast paced. It’s rare for me to be able to become so invested in a character when I devour a novel in less than a day, but I am incredibly invested in Kick. What’s the compromise you make between pacing and character development? Is it even a conscious decision?
CC: I try not to segment it like that. Ideally the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Character can be revealed in all kinds of ways. A seat-of-your-pants fist fight can (and should) show you a lot about a character. So I guess the answer is that I don’t compromise. It’s not like I’m thinking ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, BUBBLEBATH.
“It’s not like I’m thinking ACTION, ACTION, ACTION, BUBBLEBATH. ”
Every scene has to carry its weight, and every scene has to serve the story. But it’s all just an excuse to explore character. It’s like solving a riddle. All the little details accrue. Patterns emerge. New information changes perspective on past events. (Can you tell I’ve been in therapy?) This book is third person, but it’s entirely in Kick’s POV, which is a departure from my other series. Writing a thriller in the head of a single character is hard. There’s no cutting away. We never know what other characters are thinking. We only see the world through Kick’s lens. Because we don’t have any other perspective to weigh in we have to know Kick well enough to know when she’s wrong. There’s no room for error. So I had to make every scene count. I wish I could say that it was all intuitive. But I have to work at character development. It takes layering. I don’t get it right the first time. Pacing is just maintaining tension. Once you crack which narrative tools to use, you can make just about any scene a page turner. Eating cereal can be terrifying. Character is so much trickier because it’s as much about what’s withheld as what’s shared.
“Eating cereal can be terrifying.”
BB:I really cannot praise the delicate balance between Kick’s fragility and toughness enough. This is a stunning portrait of a survivor. What research did you do to sculpt her character? Did you read the Elizabeth Smart book which gets name dropped in the novel? Was there any particular real-life victim you were modelling her after?
CC: Thank you! It was important to me that Kick be strong, but also vulnerable enough that we would root for her. She owes a lot to the stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard. I followed every detail of both of those cases. Who doesn’t love a resurrection narrative? Those girls were presumed dead until the minute they were rescued. Elizabeth Smart grew up to be a wholesome, smartly-coiffed young woman. But wouldn’t it have been awesome if she’d learned how to shoot and throw knives and pick locks and she’d started responding to Amber Alerts?
BB: The network of pedophiles at the center of this thriller is chilling. How did you even go about looking into that world without locking your own children up safely inside 24/7? Does the fact that you’re a mother color this tale at all?
CC: Well I tried to avoid Googling “child pornography” for obvious reasons. This is harder than you might think if you’re trying to research child pornography cases. There was this article I had read in the NY Times that I was trying to find and I kept trying to use these euphemisms to find it, and was having no luck at all. Finally I Googled “New York Times Child Pornography” and it came right up. But it’s not like I was poking around in the dark corners of the Internet. The scary stuff is all from People Magazine and USA Today. It’s from the metro section of your local newspaper. These stories, when they do happen, blow up and I think they create a sense that the world is more dangerous than it is. Most kids who are abducted are not taken by strangers, and most kids who are sexually exploited know their abuser. I’m not worried about my kid being snatched by a guy in a van; I’m worried she’ll get skin cancer because I don’t put enough sunscreen on her. Statistically the latter is a lot more probable. For me the idea of a network of pedophiles, while scary, is also wishful thinking. A network is interconnected – that’s its vulnerability. Once you find a way in, you can bring down the whole evil enterprise. You just need an entry point. And a quick-witted avenging angel who can get past any lock.
“I’m not worried about my kid being snatched by a guy in a van; I’m worried she’ll get skin cancer because I don’t put enough sunscreen on her.”
BB: It seems like you might intend to bring us some more Kick (Two Kick?) in the future. Might this be true? Are we seeing a series being born?
CC: Look for book two at Elliott Bay Book Company in August, 2015.