Jennifer Younger is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE: “Resurrection”
In 1948 Los Angeles, a woman is forced to confront her past when the man who left her for dead years earlier unexpectedly reappears in her life.
Q: What intrigued you about the theme of FATALLY HAUNTED that led to the story you wrote?
A: For me it was one of the quotes that accompanied the invitation to submit: ‘It was haunted; but real hauntings have nothing to do with ghosts finally; they have to do with the menace of memory.’Anne Rice. I thought about the memories that keep us stuck in a certain place and time. The voice that keeps speaking to you until you take action to put it to rest.
Q: Is your story a who-dunit, a why-dunit, or a how-dunit? Why did you make this choice?
A: Resurrection is none of these finally. It is a story of revenge and redemption of self. It is a little bit of a how-dunit at the end. This was Hessie and Jimmy Pritchard’s story to tell. And as I listened to each of them and wrote the story from their very different perspectives, I discovered what a truly manipulative SOB Jimmy really is!
Q: What is different about writing a short story? What did you learn from this experience?
A: Short story writing is the lesson of “economy of words”. In a short story every character clamoring for your attention doesn’t get to have their story told. The action in Resurrection moves fairly quickly so I really had to cut out words, phrases and sentences that didn’t serve the story. I also had to give action to my dialogue. That was a great piece of advice from a writing mentor, Sue Ann Jaffarian.
Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from working with her?
A: I had the good fortune of having a terrific editor in Laurie Stevens. She gave me advice about getting rid of the extraneous characters that I had floating around that weren’t really useful to the story. She also made plot suggestions that were just that . . . suggestions. If I had a different take, she let me know if it worked or didn’t and challenged me to find my own “story” within her suggestions. She also challenged me to see Jimmy Pritchard for exactly who he is.
Q: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
A: I am working on a noir manuscript set in post WWII Virginia. My goal is to finish the draft by the end to the year. Write every day!
Q: What does your writing space look like?
A: I write long hand, so my writing space is where ever I make it. Usually that means on the couch in the living room or on my bed. Once I am ready to transfer to the computer, I have a space set up in my dining room. Nothing fancy . . . table, chair, computer, listening to the blues, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington.
Rachel Howzell Hall is one of the three editors of Fatally Haunted, SinC/LA’s 2019 anthology. Avril Adams, member of Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles, had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Howzell Hall, author of the Lou Norton LAPD detective series. Her latest published novel is City of Saviors. Her upcoming standalone, They All Fall Down, is based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
AA: You always knew you wanted to be a writer. When did you decide to become a crime writer? What attracts you to the genre, especially the police procedural? Have you ever attempted to write in another crime genre?
RHH: Back when I was starting my very first novel, A Quiet Storm, I didn’t know really that there were these things called ‘genre.’ I just knew that I had this story I wanted to tell about two sisters, one battling mental illness, and how bad things happen when you ignore sickness. Whether it was literary fiction, suspense, whatever, I didn’t really think about that. And my attempts to write stories after that first one was hard because of that – I had stories to tell that flailed from one genre to the next. That’s when I discovered crime – all stories fit into crime. Big violent stories. Quiet insidious stories. My writing fell into the middle of these and here I stay. And I love it.
Police procedural was the easiest entry for a new, outright crime writer because it had structure. I like structure. And there’s an obvious heroine with a mission. But I was initially terrified to write a police procedural because I wasn’t a cop, and the whole ‘write what you know’ thing had kept me in my lane. Fear. But then, I survived being pregnant with cancer and through that, I met true fear. Thinking about my mortality and deciding to do those things that mattered to me before leaving this earth resulted in the creation of LAPD Homicide Detective Lou Norton. And now, years later, I’m still in crime but my standalone isn’t a procedural. I’m expanding my world.
AA: Most female crime writers have not tackled the police procedural as opposed to, say, amateur sleuths. Is that because the police department environment is-or has been-almost exclusively male and the ranking personnel generally male?
RHH: I’d say it’s a difficult world to break into because it is all male. And there’s this notion that all cops are male. Or if the cop is female, she’s just like her male counterparts but with nice hair, boobs and ovaries. There are gatekeepers in the police department, and many of them only take male crime writers serious. Especially the LAPD – I’m still waiting for them to return my calls. Ha. So it’s easier to say, ‘Screw it, I’ll write me an amateur sleuth and not deal with the bull.’ I’ve been lucky to have a few police officers from other city’s departments to answer my questions.
AA: Does your publisher represent more than one African-American crime writer?
RHH: Oof. Umm… Forge is my publisher, and I can’t say with 100 percent certainty, but I may just be the one. If there’s another, I hope she/he lets me know! I can say that they publish a lot of female crime.
AA: Your wonderful detective, Elouise Norton, has been promoted from detective to detective sergeant in your most recent novel, City of Saviors. She supervises a racially and sexually diverse group of homicide detectives in Los Angeles’s Southwest Division. However, there are no other female detectives, much less black female detectives. How does Elouise survive in an atmosphere of racial hostility that ebbs and flows with the times, from Rodney King, to O.J. Simpson to Barack Obama and Donald Trump?
RHH: How does she exist? The same way Black women have existed since being brought over here. Or showing up to class and being the only one. Or showing up to work and being the only one. Like us, she makes note of it, and gets going, committed to do her job and make a difference in the lives of those who are depending on her. Like us, Lou can’t stop, won’t stop because stopping isn’t even an option. Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Lou would probably whisper that in between sips of a good Cabernet Sauvignon.
AA: In City of Saviors, Sergeant Norton feels challenged by the low expectations and lack of respect some of her colleagues feel toward her because of her race and gender. Isn’t the urban police department a hotbed of these attitudes? Do you feel women and especially black women have made progress in being accepted in police departments?
RHH: I believe some cities have made progress – Los Angeles is far from that department known for its shenanigans that led to the Riots and the OJ Simpson thing. Community policing is a ‘thing’ now in LA – but buildings had to burn down, people had to be beaten, racists and bigots had to be kicked out of their places of power before attitudes changed. We’re not perfect – I don’t think that’s possible. We’re just at Base Camp 1 of Mount Everest, trying to catch our breath.
AA: Policing agencies and fire departments were some of the last institutions to be integrated throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90’s. They were the consummate “white boys clubs” and the subjects of ongoing lawsuits for discrimination, racial and sexual harassment. Is there now enough of a critical mass of females and racial minorities to change that equation? Would it be possible to write a book, say like one of those by Joseph Wambaugh devoid of the racial component? Would it be difficult to be published if the police department is presented in a more negative light? Would there be an audience for such a book?
RHH: I don’t think you can separate race out of any conversation to be had in America. Our country’s very founding, the wars fought on our land. All of it has been fueled by race and white boys’ clubs. Books that won’t acknowledge that, in my opinion, would be intellectually dishonest and cowardly. That would be like… discussing haute couture without acknowledging the LGBT community’s role in fashion. Or… or… discussing World War II and discussing land grabs while skipping over the Holocaust.
AA: Detective squads, particularly homicide squads, are an elite and coveted assignment requiring passing written exams and oral interviews. These squads seem to be very cohesive. There is plenty of jealousy and rivalry among ambitious officers to make that rank. I feel Elouise is more cognizant of this situation in City of Saviors.
RHH: I agree – she’s bright, ambitious and deserves her badge and her success. Some of her fellow officers are resentful and jealous because they know she has something that they’ll never have. Our skin color and our femaleness allows us to connect with people in ways others can’t. At the same time, she’s very much aware of how she’s perceived and that they’re just waiting for her to slip up. She’s very aware of the Black Tax and acknowledges that the behavior some of her co-workers exhibit would never be tolerated if she acted that way. And in City of Saviors, this plays out even more since Lou’s been on medical leave, since Lou isn’t feeling well and isn’t at her best. I’ve always aimed to write her as real and vulnerable and strong, all at the same time, but in City of Saviors, I think I did it best.
AA: City of Saviors is a perfect balance between pathos and humor. Elouise Horton seems to get along with her all-male squad by sharing wise-cracks and gallows humor. Eloise is a champion at this kind of ribbing. She brings to mind Sue Grafton and Walter Moseley at their best. That’s quite an achievement. Has Eloise tapped into this vast reservoir of irony and humor by getting in touch with her inner African-American? She seems somehow freer in this book. She’s a really fun character. Can or will you sustain the humorous aspects of your characters?
RHH: I love Lou – she is fun. Down for ribs and wine, martial arts, Fallout 4 on her Xbox… She is free in some ways – of loving Greg, for example, and proving her worth to the LAPD. But she’s still burdened – by being a good daughter to her mother, a good cop for the sake of her neighborhood. Again, like many black women, we’re free but yet… not. We still hold our breaths whenever a horrible story comes on the news – we’re hoping that the perpetrator is not black. We still go above and beyond at work – to prove how fabulous and gifted we are, yes, but to make sure our bosses and colleagues know that we’re not mercy hires. We can be Oprah Winfrey and still told we can’t buy a scarf from Hermes. And while that is frustrating, I find humor in that. A very ‘shaking my damned head, ain’t that a bitch’ humor in that. That’s how I sustain the humor – there’s so much in this world, in this country right now, to laugh at, to chuckle and sigh. I think crime allows this more than any other genre. I remember being rejected by one editor, when I was still trying to find my voice. She noted that she didn’t like that I found humor in the subject matter I was writing about. But it’s called ‘gallows humor’ or ‘black humor’ and there’s a place for it and I live in that place. If I didn’t laugh, I’d weep and pee my pants. All the time. A big wet mess. Laughing and seeing irony and writing it all down kept me sane through biopsies, ultrasounds, lumpectomies and mammograms.
AA: There’s a significant thread of feminism present in City of Saviors. Without giving away plot points, the topic of witches and uncontrollable women exists in the text and the subtext. Why did you choose to include this theme in your plot?
RHH: Glad you saw that! Lou is seen by her male peers as an uncontrollable woman. Her dead sister was seen as an uncontrollable woman. When I was writing this story, we were going through the primaries. Someone was probably saying something rude and racist about Michelle Obama. Women who use their voice, who don’t back down, who are magic and make things happen? Witches. Uncontrollable women. The church, which City of Saviors focuses on, has a history of wanting to control women – our bodies, who we love, our souls. All of it just came together in this book, and I’m thrilled that you picked up on that. No one’s mentioned that before.
AA: You show an in-depth knowledge of police procedure. How did you become so intimately acquainted with the highly detailed aspects of a police investigation?
RHH: I ask a lot of questions of other writers who happened to be police officers. I attended Writer’s Police Academy. I read a lot of Miles Corwin and essays by David Simon. Read, read, read. When I watch shows like The First.
AA: I understand your new project is based upon Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. Why did you choose to base your book loosely on Christie’s? Is Christie one of your models? Why?
RHH: I wanted to take something very English and make it American – and from the perspective of a black American. Less about class and more about morality and shades of gray. As you probably know, Agatha Christie had to rename this story — it was Ten Little Niggers. So that history, of course, made me cock an eyebrow. Really, she wasn’t the most… racially sensitive writer. And throw in the allure of taking characters to a remote island and being confronted with their past crimes…
Thank you, Rachel for this comprehensive and delightful interview. We look forward to reading your new book.
Sheila Lowe is one of the three editors of Fatally Haunted, SinC/LA’s 2019 anthology. Avril Adams interviewed Sheila about what is dear to her heart: the art and science of handwriting analysis, and psychography as it relates to automatic writing.
AA: Can you begin by relating your professional background, life experiences related to your professional experiences, the books, articles, scripts you’ve written?
SL: I started studying handwriting in 1967 while a senior in high school. My boyfriend’s mother had read a book on the subject and analyzed my handwriting. I was instantly hooked by what she had to say about me—wow, someone understood me! For the next ten years I studied on my own, then took courses, became certified in 1981, branched into handwriting authentication (forgery cases), and was subsequently qualified as a handwriting expert by a L.A. Superior Court Judge in 1985. Since then I’ve testified more than sixty times.
I started writing stories as a young teen, mainly featuring the Beatles—Ringo was my favorite. It wasn’t until way later in life that I wrote my first full-length mystery, Poison Pen. By then, I already had two nonfiction books published: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis (2000 and 2nd ed. 2006) and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous (2001). I’ve also written dozens of monographs and articles about handwriting and worked with a software company to produce Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.
My tortuous path to publication in fiction took about ten years. In 2000 I came in third in the Southwest Writer’s Conference contest (our own Aileen Baron took first place) out of 97 mystery entries. I thought that meant I would be published in a hot minute. Uh uh. Long, ugly story short, it took another 7 years. POISON PEN was published by a small startup publisher and got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which brought me to the attention of Kristen Weber, senior editor at Penguin’s Obsidian imprint. She bought the first four books in the series (who knew it was going to be a series?!). When she got married, left Penguin, and relocated to L.A., the editor who replaced her was not interested in my series and dumped me (she later got dumped, too. I try so hard not to feel schadenfreude). In between publishers I self-published WHAT SHE SAW, the story of a young woman with amnesia. Then Stuff Happened and I had the great good fortune to end up with Suspense Publishing, eventually got my rights back from Penguin, and Suspense repackaged the first four books, my standalone, and published the next three books in the Claudia Rose series.
AA: The first set of questions relate to the mystery novel, Inkslingers Ball.
AA: Your technical characters are extremely credible in the book partly because you exhibit a tremendous knowledge of police investigation, such as DMV procedures, camera surveillance, fingerprint technology. What is the source of this knowledge? It seems too thorough to be something you only read about. Where does your very comprehensive knowledge of forensic coroner investigative procedures come from?
SL: For one thing, I took Derek Pacifico’s 3-day course in police procedure. When I’ve needed law enforcement-type info, I’ve consulted with him and the wonderful George Fong has generously helped with FBI procedure. Police procedure isn’t the same in every jurisdiction. DEAD WRITE (book 3) takes place in New York, so I contacted a detective in the borough where the action takes place and he was tremendously helpful. When I have medical questions I call on Doug Lyle, who has always been quick to answer. I have a friend who is a fingerprint expert. He answers those types of questions. There are some great coroner websites for authors for autopsy info, and Aunty YouTube has videos on every subject I need to know about. In other words, I call on the experts.
AA: How did you come about your knowledge of criminal law, specifically California criminal law?
SL: Uncle Google has many of the answers. Also, in my work in the legal system, some of my cases are in the criminal courts, which has taught me a lot. When I can’t find what I need, I ask one of the criminal defense lawyers who are my clients.
AA: You also know an awful lot about American and Samoan tattoo and the biker gang culture that sometimes goes with it. How did you come about this knowledge? SL: Most of what I know about those topics comes from my older son, Erik, who is himself a tattoo artist.
AA: Tattoo culture is something many people know nothing about even though tattooing has become mainstream. Why do you find it interesting?
SL: Erik, who has always been artistic, took an interest in tattooing when he was a teenager. When he was seventeen I discovered that he had made his own tattoo gun and tattooed his younger brother’s arm. I later bought him a real one and we came to an understanding that he was only to work on people who were over eighteen or had parental permission. He has often offered to tattoo me, but I don’t even have pierced ears, so have always declined.
AA: How do tattoos relate to handwriting analysis? Does tattoo verification more closely resemble handwriting or visual art verification and authentication?
SL: Tattoos and handwriting are both graphic expression. The gestalt principles of spatial arrangement, graphic forms, and graphic movement can be applied to both. If you look at the hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs, you can see where they change scribes.
AA: Let’s move on to handwriting analysis. AA: How does tattooing in tribal cultures resemble handwriting?
SL: I don’t claim expertise in that area, except to repeat that it’s all about space, form, and movement.
AA: In your book you discuss synchronous writing and margin drift in analyzing evidence in fraud or forgery cases related to insurance claims. Are you regularly called by insurance companies to examine contracts? How about wills and other legal documents? You also discuss simulating signatures. Is this forgery? How do you analyze tremors, illness or age? How about age, gender?
SL: Yes, I do all the kinds of work you mentioned.
Simulating signatures is indeed forgery if it is done for the purpose of defrauding the person whose signature is being simulated. Let me say, though, that successful simulations are extremely rare.
Age and gender cannot conclusively be determined just from handwriting.
In order to analyze the tremor of illness or age, the analyst must be familiar what the handwriting of different illnesses look like. Tremor can also be a feature of forgery, but is quite different from the tremor of illness.
AA: Do lawyers ever seek discovery on confessions where the text and signature differ?
SL: One’s signature is the public image, and often differs from the text. If there is any question of authenticity, it would be important to have a significant number of samples of each for comparison. We must compare apples to apples, i.e., signature to signature and text to text. It would not be useful to compare signatures to text or vice-versa.
AA: Why does handwriting slant left when the writer is lying? Is the leftward slant similar the leftward eye movement when a speaker is lying?
SL: Handwriting may slant to the left in a lie because people do not really want to lie, and they pause for a microsecond, literally pulling back before writing the falsehood. There are other signs of lying, too, such as leaving a little extra space before the lie. I cannot address the body language aspect in this case.
AA: Your handwriting expert, Claudia, in Inkslinger’s Ball, refers to “persona writing.” I’m pretty sure I know what she’s referring to but can you expand on that?
SL: Persona writing looks more drawn than natural and pulls the eye to the letter designs. A good current example is Meghan Markle’s handwriting. She uses a calligraphy style. People who use a persona writing are more concerned with the image than the message. While it is slightly more difficult to analyze, persona writing still reveals the basic personality of the writer.
AA: What does a combination of cursive and block letters indicate to a handwriting expert?
SL: There is no “this means that” in handwriting, so it’s not possible to generalize. All depends on the writing. It might signify creativity or impulsiveness, or a host of other things. It depends on the letter designs, spatial arrangement, rhythm, speed, pressure, and many other factors.
AA: At one point, Claudia says cursive writing lets us get in touch with our feelings. Can you elaborate?
SL: All handwriting styles are expressive behaviors. Printed writing has many starts and stops, which makes it less suitable for writing freely about emotions. Cursive writing has a much greater degree of connectedness, which allows thoughts to run more smoothly. Try writing about an emotional topic—it can be quite cathartic.
AA: Does handwriting change under intense emotional stress such as PTSD, psychosis, fear?
SL: In a word, yes.
AA: Handwriting expert, Claudia, mentions that the way the character Ariceli writes her capital I indicates trouble with the parental relationships? What did she mean by this?
SL: Except for Russian Cyrillic, English is the only language that uses a single letter to represent the personal pronoun, which makes it a very important letter. Generally, what the writer does when s/he starts writing (the shape of the letter) reveals much about his/her feelings towards mother (or other female caregiver) and where it ends expresses feelings towards father (or other male authority figure). When those loops are missing or are angled instead of rounded, or are otherwise changed from the school copybook style, it is suggestive of issues with one or both parents.
AA: Let’s move on to Psychography, specifically, automatic writing. AA: Wikipedia refers to the ideomotor effect as an explanation for automatic writing. Do you concur or do you believe such writing derives from spiritual or supernatural forces?
SL: No doubt there are many causes of automatic writing. I am currently hosting an online group that deals the spiritual/supernatural type. What I’ve learned is that automatic writing can be many different things, from handwritten to typewritten. Some writing is channeled, where spirit takes over the writer’s hand and writes the message they want to get across. Some is dictated through the writer’s mind and the writer takes it down like a secretary.
AA: Does automatic writing take place in a trance state or under normal consciousness?
SL: It is recommended that someone who wants to do automatic writing first make sure their motive is pure, begin the session with a prayer of protection, and set the intention through meditation (music or white noise can be helpful), which may lead to a trance state. At the end of the session, be sure to say Thank You to any spirits who came through.
AA: If a subject is exposed to hypnotism or suggestion can they be encouraged to automatic write?
SL: Yes, but that is more likely to be from the person’s subconscious or perhaps their higher self than from an energy across the veil. And that’s fine, too.
AA: Will a person’s handwriting change under “suggestion” or hypnosis? Can forgeries “improve” under hypnotic suggestion?
SL: Yes, to the first question. A person responding to a suggestion that they are a small child, for example, will produce the handwriting of a child that age. Successful forgery requires two difficult processes: 1. Setting aside the master pattern the forger has developed through his/her lifetime. 2. Taking on the master pattern of the victim. That is akin to walking or talking like someone else, extremely difficult to do. Hypnosis cannot give the client talents that he does not already possess.
AA: In psychography, does the writing reflect the handwriting of the sender or the receiver? When stressors are apparent in the writing which party is most likely to show stress?
SL: It’s an interesting philosophical question. The emotions of the energy sending the writing would influence the receiver.
AA: How do you handle messages written in foreign languages or ancient languages?
SL: In gestalt graphology, which is the method I use, any graphic expression can be analyzed. In fact, just this week I had an assignment to analyze the handwriting of Richard Cresey, a Revolutionary War figure. I have clients around the world and have analyzed Hebrew and Arabic, Japanese, all kinds of European and other languages. Regardless of the language or time period, there is still space, form, and movement.
AA: That was wonderful, Sheila, so elucidating. Thanks for agreeing to be one of our great editors for the Fatally Haunted anthology. Thank you also for granting us this interview. I’m sure our readers may discover an interest in psychography that they didn’t have before. Inkslingers Ball, Poison Pen, and all your other works open a window on an exciting topic for us to explore.
Laurie Stevens is one of the three editors of Fatally Haunted, SinC/LA’s 2019 anthology. Avril Adams interviewed Laurie about her four book series featuring homicide detective Gabriel McRay.
AA: Why do you write police procedurals?
LS: I’m intrigued by the processes of law enforcement. My fascination is with forensics, which is why I created another main character in Dr. Ming Li, Chief Medical Examiner. The deeper attraction is to the battle between good and evil.
AA: Why were you drawn to a character with a hidden case of PTSD perhaps brought on by adolescent sexual abuse?
LS: I wanted a character that seemed all man on the outside but a hurt child on the inside who might be inclined to the dark side himself because of his violation. Each villain in the series triggers Gabriel’s psychological healing progression.
AA: Your police psychologist follows the practices of Dr. Alfred Adler. Alfred Adler investigated the social determinants of mental health. Were you aware of the connection between PTSD and sexual abuse before you wrote the book or did you discover it in the process of writing the book?
LS: Alfred Adler sort of popped up in my trauma research. He believed that as children we create coping mechanisms for situations that intimidate or frighten us. As we grow, we forget that those behavioral patterns were created to get us past a challenge and we continue practicing them.
AA: Your series has a serial killer at its heart. Serial killers are often fascinated with police work. Some have tried to become police officers. Does Gabriel share this attraction to police work with the serial killer? Do killer and cop share the problem of “masculine protest,” so-called Adlerian aggressive overcompensation, for feelings of helplessness?
LS: I think it’s a way for him to feel less emasculated. A police uniform is a good costume to hide behind.
AA: Police officers may or may not remember the traumatic events which have caused their PTSD. They may deny that there is a problem, other than the day- to-day stresses of the job, when in fact they feel inside that they are going crazy. Does Gabriel’s reckless behavior in pursuit of the criminal indicate that pressure is building inside him and he may actually be “going crazy”?
LS: He certainly feels like he’s going crazy, and his insecurity prompts him to believe he may even be the killer! That’s seriously doubting yourself.
AA: What role does toxic shame play in Gabriel’s love life? Ming Li, his medical examiner love interest, seems to feel shame too. Do you think Gabriel’s odd rejecting behavior causes Ming to “catch” his shame? Does Gabriel arouse shame in Ming in romantic situations?
LS: Ming likes to revel in her role of successful career woman, and Gabriel shakes her up because Ming is forced to ask herself, “Why am I attracted to this damaged man?”
AA: By modern standards the sex-role reversal between Gabriel and Ming exists but is incomplete. For instance, Ming has perhaps the higher status occupation than Gabriel, as a physician. She makes professional demands on Gabriel but Gabriel actually plays the feminine role as the sex object in the affair, pursued by an unrequited Ming. Does this partial role reversal equalize the relationship?
LS: I always think we need a little more of that in real life… Why should a stay-at-home dad feel like a Mr. Mom? It’s funny that you bring the subject up because a student at UCLA did a paper on Gabriel and Ming’s sexual role-reversals. I hadn’t thought that much about it until the student sent me her paper and there it was in black and white. I thought, “Oh. Now how do I explain this?” As I wrote the series, it seemed the natural course for their relationship to take. You’re a writer, Avril, so you know that sometimes the stories take on a life of their own. The role-reversal, I believe, makes Gabriel feel comfortable around Ming because she is so okay with him, and that helps him to become “okay” with himself. She’d tear a macho jerk apart anyhow.
AA: As a writer you seem at ease with the psyches of violent men, both cops and killers. Do you find it easier to identify with your male or female characters?
LS: To be at ease with psyches of violent men and killers… I don’t know, is that a good thing? On to the second part of the question! I was beginning to believe I only felt comfortable identifying with male characters until I began a new, non-mystery series and wrote from the perspective of a woman. Imagine that!
AA: How do men and women in your novels generally differ in their handling of sexual trauma?
LS: In “Deep into Dusk” we meet Tara Samuels who handles her “issues” in a far more insidious way than Gabriel does. When the two of them meet, it’s a train wreck. Despite her dangerous behavior, Tara is a somewhat tragic figure. The key difference is that Gabriel seeks help. Not only does he attend therapy, but also he tries to find a lesson that pertains to his spiritual growth in every experience he undergoes, including solving crimes.
AA: Do you feel a particular empathy toward victims of sexual violence? Does the sometime secretive nature of this trauma present a rich psychological vein for you to follow?
LS: I do, especially with children, because childhood should be filled with a wide-eyed wonderment of innocence, and that particular abuse simply kills it. To your second question, Gabriel and his therapist battle to keep his issues in the forefront. A difficult thing to do, because the secretive nature of the trauma makes Gabriel want to bury it.
AA: How do your female characters help the male protagonist heal?
LS: With Tara Samuels, she inadvertently helps Gabriel by trying to force him into the role of a perpetrator, which he abhors. Dr. Ming Li shows him a lot of patience… and humor. Gabriel’s mother appears eventually, and she encourages her son to build trust in their relationship again. This is very healing to him.
AA: Any interesting anecdotes you’d like to share?
LS: One of the best emails I ever received was from a guy who had a similar childhood experience to Gabriel’s. I told him I was sorry for him. He said that he was reading the books and getting a lot out of the therapy scenes. That made my year!
This interview with Ms. Stevens was short but tasty. You can order her series online or in bookshops citywide. Learn more about Laurie and her work at LaurieStevensBooks.com
Thanks very much for sharing your views with us, Laurie.