Q & A
Answers to questions readers have asked:
Why did you decide to write The Wild Place?
It was something I had to do. Years ago, when I was at a meeting with a group of writers, a novelist encouraged us to undertake a book. He said, “You don’t want to be on your deathbed saying to yourself, ‘I never did write that book!’” It was a chilling thought. The idea of The Wild Place had been in the back of my mind for some time, and at that moment I knew I had to write it.
How long did it take?
After I finished the first draft, several mystery writers asked me how long it had taken. I told them it was about four months. They were too polite to laugh, but their expressions suggested that I had more work ahead.
I have no idea how many drafts I wrote, but it took years before the manuscript was ready—partly because the first draft was really awful, but also because I had to put the manuscript aside periodically, often for months at a time.
Did you do any special research?
Yes, when I was writing The Wild Place, I took two courses in self-defense for women, and I spent time at a firing range learning how to handle guns and how to shoot. I wouldn’t be able to write about shooting and self-defense techniques without actually doing them. I also learned about various types of knives. And I heavily researched the characteristics of psychopaths, which I'd also studied in college.
How old were you when you first became interested in books?
Very young. I remember as a little kid the day I discovered I could go to a place called a library and actually take books out—free! From then on my parents had to walk with me to the library until I was old enough to cross streets by myself.
Did you do any writing in school?
I was feature editor of the high school paper and wrote most of the articles myself. Features interested me much more than news. And at Northwestern I took a few courses in creative writing.
Did you have a job before you became a writer?
After college I worked for a few months as a technician at a pharmaceutical company, but it didn’t hold my interest.
When did you seriously consider becoming a writer?
When my children were young and I was looking for something to do part-time, I took an adult education course in nonfiction writing.
Our first assignment was to write one paragraph on any topic. When I turned in my assignment, the instructor said it could be published as a humorous filler in a magazine. She told me how to market it, and the paragraph sold the third or fourth time out. I was thrilled!
Then I started writing full-length magazine articles. When the first one sold, I was hooked. From then on I sold almost every article I wrote.
Did you major in English or journalism in college?
Neither. Actually I was interested in theatre, so I enrolled in the School of Speech at Northwestern. But my parents urged me to do something “practical” instead—and after all, they were paying the bills. So at the last minute I switched to liberal arts and became a biology major with a psych minor—which turned out not to be very practical anyway, because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do with my degree.
Are you still writing nonfiction?
Yes, I'm a medical writer. So I guess my degree in biology turned out to be useful after all.
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