Carla and I met on a warm April day at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest, where we served together on the thriller panel. But I already knew of her from her stellar fiction debut, THE EDGE OF NORMAL, which was one of best books I read in 2014. The writing was excellent, but it was her main character, Reeve LeClaire, who was so striking. I couldn’t wait to read more about her, and this year, Carla is releasing the sequel, WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, which walks a fascinating line between straight-out thriller and really creepy stalker story. Carla’s got a very cool background, too, so let’s get to it. I will say this, if you’re new to Carla’s work, I can’t wait to hear what you think. Welcome, Carla!
Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?
Ah, it’s a nice piece by acoustic guitarist Eric Hansen, called “String Theory.”
Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
This morning I’m working on my novel-in-progress, which I can’t talk about until it’s close to finished. (I’m a bit superstitious about that.) Later today, I need to work on handouts for a writing workshop I’m teaching.
What’s your latest book about?
WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER is a crime novel about a 23-year-old survivor of kidnapping and captivity named Reeve who is just getting her life back on track when her abductor escapes from a mental lock-up facility. His escape is Reeve’s worst nightmare, and as he evades capture—baffling authorities and leaving a bloody trail through the forests of Washington State—she realizes that she knows him better than anyone, and must risk everything to try to stop him.
It’s the second in my series—the sequel to THE EDGE OF NORMAL—but I’m getting great responses from first-time readers, so I’m hugely relieved that it works as a stand-alone.
Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
For me, the first hours of the day are for carrying the dream state onto the page, so I mostly write in bed in the morning, then migrate to my office in the afternoon. But I’ll carry my laptop all over the house, and I keep notepads everywhere—even by the shower—so that I can always jot down ideas.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I read Nancy Drew, but she was already driving, which made her hard to relate to, so I preferred the Trixie Belden series, because a 13-year-old tomboy who solved crimes while riding a bike was more to my taste. The next book that springs to mind is HENDERSON THE RAIN KING, which I read it in high school. Before that, I saw literature as a dusty stack of books by dead guys from which teachers pulled reading assignments, but Saul Bellow’s writing was so vibrant, he rocked my world.
What’s your secret talent?
Ha! That’s a good one. I can’t sing, tap dance, or juggle. Does speaking Japanese count?
What book are you reading now?
I’m reading a lot of nonfiction, which is research for my next book, so I can’t talk about it. But I recently read ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, which was absolutely terrific. No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize.
Who is your writing idol? Have you met him/her? If so, did you completely nerd out or keep your cool?
I’d love to be cool, but unfortunately, I either freeze or nerd out. For instance, my stomach was doing flips when I first spotted Stephen King at the Edgar Awards. He looked extremely handsome and quite imposing in his tux, and it took several glasses of wine before I rallied the courage to speak to him. Then I grinned and babbled while pumping his hand. To his credit, he was thoroughly gracious.
What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
My all-time favorite quote about writing is from Walter Mosley: “Plot is the structure of revelation.” I love that. But there’s a more down-to-earth quote from my grandfather that also resonates with me. He used to say, “I don’t give a damn about it unless it breathes,” and that applies to writing as well as to life. Forget the pontification. Don’t try to dazzle everyone with long, lyrical passages and esoteric vocabulary. Readers want to be moved, so it’s our job to slip inside the skins of our characters and breathe life into them.
What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
When I’m stuck, I’ll go for a walk on the beach, where I can draw in the sand and talk to myself like a crazy lady without frightening anyone. Then I might approach a scene from another character’s point of view, or I might set that scene aside and move on to the next one. Recently, I was struggling to find drama in a section that needed to be cut out of the action and relegated to backstory.
Are you creatively satisfied?
Oh, for brief, glorious moments I’m lifted by a kind of literary glee. But then I’ll write something leaden, which brings me back down to earth.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I’ve never even considered that question. Let’s see… World peace?
Alright, now for the really important questions:
- Beach or mountains? Beach, please, though I love to ski when given the chance.
- Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning, and tea in the afternoon. Writing requires frequent doses of caffeine.
- Skydive or bungee jump? Neither, thank you very much. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground.
- Chocolate or vanilla? CHOCOLATE! It’s brain food, right? So there’s no guilt in having some dark chocolate, especially with almonds, or orange, or chili.
- Winter or summer? Summer. I love the long days.
- Cake or pie? Peach pie with ice cream. Yum.
- Cats or dogs? That’s a tough one. Dogs are brave, empathetic creatures, and I’m a secretly in love with Cesar Milan, but dogs are also a lot of work. The truth is, I prefer cats because they’re wonderfully independent and I’m just plain lazy.
- Pens or pencils? Pens.
- Truth or dare? Truth.
- Print or ebook? I read ebooks when I travel, but I prefer to have physical books—especially the ones I love most—close at hand, on the bookshelf, where I can fondle them at will.
Carla Norton is a novelist, journalist, and true crime writer. Her debut fiction, THE EDGE OF NORMAL, was a Thriller Award finalist in 2014. The sequel, WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER, is coming in June. Carla’s true crime books include PERFECT VICTIM, which was put on the reading list for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. She also writes monthly for AlgonquinRedux.com. To learn more, visit CarlaNorton.com, or find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.
And you can catch Carla at some of her book tour stops below!
Tues. July 7: Book Culture, 450 Columbus Ave., NYC, 7:00 p.m.
July 8-11: Various events, ThrillerFest, NYC
Wed. Aug. 5: Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA, 7:00 p.m.