When Life Imitates Art

I’m in Anaheim this week for RWA. I am blessed to have been nominated for a Rita® in Romantic Suspense, which is overwhelmingly exciting, but also bittersweet on a certain level, because the book that’s nominated, WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE, is the last in my Taylor Jackson series for a while. Several months ago, my team and I made a decision to let Taylor take a long vacation, and focus on a new character, Dr. Samantha Owens.

Suffice it to say, starting a new series was scary for me. After seven books with the same lead character, I was in a groove. I knew how everyone would react. It was simply a matter of creating a dynamic plot and a cool villain to confront them with.

But Sam had been knocking on the doors and windows of my Muse’s hamlet, begging to strut her stuff on the page. When at long last I relented, and decided to spin off her character, changes needed to happen.

To do the new series justice, it needed to be different. To start – a new setting. I settled on Washington, D.C., my former home of many years. And Sam needed to be unmarried, and unencumbered by children. I debated long and hard. Divorce? Custody arrangements? Multiple scenarios, but they all kept her tied to Nashville. There was only one choice.

Her husband and children had to die.

I fought against this reality for weeks. I couldn’t do that to her. And there are rules in writing. You can’t kill animals, and you can’t kill children. Except you can. And I did. The question became not if they died, but how. Car accident? Been done. Plane crash? Been done.

And then it hit me. The flood.

Nashville was stricken with a flood of biblical proportion in 2010. As it happens, A DEEPER DARKNESS released on the second anniversary of that fateful weekend, that moment in time where we lost so much. Synchronicity at its finest. I was able to both honor those hurt and killed in the real flood and give Samantha a chance to recover with everyone else. Recover we did. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re back on our feet.

Another challenges was finding the right tone, the right mood, to express Samantha’s loss without suffocating the reader in her grief. I needed to get in her head, and live there, trying to understand how hard it must be to lose a husband, and to lose her twins. How, and if, that sadness could be overcome.

I used a lot of music to guide me, mostly the mournful, melancholy cover of “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. The song makes me weep, and the video tears a hole in my heart. Imagining the loss of my own husband, how frightened and alone I would feel, helped me mine Sam’s grief.

With grief comes hope. With hope comes possibility. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and for a young, dynamic, intelligent widow, simply surviving her loss makes her invincible. Samantha stares into the abyss, acknowledges its presence, and somehow, some way, pulls herself back from the brink. And is rewarded for her strength.

Ironically, without realizing it, I was writing the story of my past few years. My husband and I have struggled with infertility for half a decade. Multiple pregnancies resulted in multiple miscarriages. IUIs and IVF didn’t work. Over and over, I lost my own children.

I thought I was fine. Normal. Nominal. That I’d dealt with my own grief, my own loss. But it wasn’t until I read A DEEPER DARKNESSin galley form that I realized I’d used the book as therapy. All of Sam’s losses mirrors my own. Her strength, her hope, her will to continue on gave me the strength to do the same.

A DEEPER DARKNESS isn’t a sad book. Samantha Owens is all of us: our hopes and fears, our determination and our weakness. For the first time in my writing career, I’ve put myself on the page. And that’s possibly the most terrifying thing of all.