By Chelsea Cain,
Author of The Night Season
*Chelsea Cain’s newest thriller, The Night Season, will be out March 1, 2011.*
I always knew I would grow up to write gory thrillers.
That’s a lie.
The truth is that I wanted to grow up to be a fire-dog. There was a vintage fire truck at the park we used to go to when I was a kid and I just really liked the idea of riding on the back of it, ears perked, black and white fur tickled by the wind. My parents were hippies, so didn’t want to limit my potential by telling me that I couldn’t grow up to be a Dalmatian.
I never did get a job as a fire dog, so in that sense I’ll always be a failure.
My mother wanted me to grow up to be a potter. We had a clay spinning wheel for a while in the backroom of an apartment we rented, and I have to admit I was pretty good at creating lopsided earthenware pen vases, if you like that sort of thing.
But in retrospect I always had a fascination with the macabre.
It started with the pet cemetery. A kitten of mine was hit by a car and I buried her in an elaborate ceremony under the Rhododendron bush in our front yard in Bellingham, Washington. Then, walking home from school a few months later, I came across a dead bird. I picked it up, put it in my lunchbox, carried it home and buried it under the Rhododendron. I found eight more dead birds that week. They all went into the cemetery. Who knows what kind of bird epidemic was sweeping through my town. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t catch bird flu.
Eventually kids in the neighborhood started hearing about the cemetery and would appear at my door cradling their dead pets. By the end of that year I had buried fifteen birds, three cats, a hamster, a rabbit, a chicken, and about a dozen gold fish. Each corpse was laid in a shoebox, cushioned with toilet paper, and presented with a piece of costume jewelry from a collection that someone had given me. I would then bury the box and say a few words to whoever was present. I had a special vintage ladies hat I would wear for the occasion. It was black, with white silk flowers piled on it, and a torn black net veil.
I was not an ordinary child.
At the time I was very interested in the Green River Killer. He was our local serial murderer. They found his first victims in 1982. I was ten years old. He went on to kill dozens of women, mostly prostitutes, many of them teenagers. It was the first time that I was aware that there was that sort of danger in the world — That you could go out one day, and they might find you the next day, dead, naked in a river. His main killing ground was about an hour and half from the town I grew up in. But I still thought about him when I was walking my dog alone at night. I followed the stories in the newspaper and I knew that there was a task force assigned to catch him. I liked that idea — a team of professionals who were working really hard to keep me safe from the bogeyman.
I still wasn’t thinking about writing gory thrillers. Though I will admit that, in seventh grade, I got 40 pages into a novel about a female PI. I typed the entire thing in a cursive font. I thought it looked fancy.
Journalism. That was my college goal at the University of California, at Irvine. I didn’t know anyone who wrote books, and after the fire-dog disappointment, I wanted to be realistic about my professional aspirations.
I even went to graduate school in journalism at the University of Iowa where I wrote a column for The Daily Iowan, dyed my hair dark red and stared reading Sylvia Plath. Literary towns will do that to you.
But there was one thing about journalism that I didn’t like at all: talking to strangers. Writing books, on the other hand, requires talking to far fewer people. And Iowa City, home of the lauded Iowa Writers Workshop, was full of people writing books.
So I wrote a few too.
That’s a lie.
I moved from Iowa to Portland to New York and back to Portland with brief stays in Florida and Pennsylvania, and in the process wrote a dozen books over the next ten years.
But I only published a few.
The rest were really, really bad.
Don’t worry. I had a real job. I was a creative director for a PR firm. (My hair was very blond at this point.) Then I fell in love with the clerk at my local video store, and in the throes of an identity crisis (I had dyed my hair red again), I retired from PR at the grizzled age of 31. I married the video store clerk and a year later, pregnant with my daughter, I was up late at night and I came across an episode of Larry King Live about the Green River Killer.
They had caught him in 2001, nearly twenty years after his first victims were discovered, and he had a name: Gary Ridgway. I hadn’t thought about the Green River Killer or that case in years, but there, live on TV, were the cops from the task force I remembered as a kid. I recognized them from the newspapers photographs that were burned into my mind. They had spent their careers looking for this guy. And they had caught him. Finally.
I was safe.
And I thought to myself: gory thriller!
That would be fun to write.
(You find that you have lot of time on your hands when you suddenly are not drinking because you are pregnant.)
So I wrote HEARTSICK. Having begun a book while pregnant and finished it with a baby in the house, I can tell you it is a feat that cannot be adequately praised.
But I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself writing thrillers. It does bring together many of my interests: forensic pathology, medicine, damaged heroes, dead pets, Nancy Drew, TV cops shows, my home of Portland, Oregon, and having an excuse to be alone in a room for long periods. Sometimes I think being a thriller writer might be as fun as being a fire-dog.
But I guess I’ll never know for sure.
Copyright © 2011 Chelsea Cain, author of The Night Season
With the Beauty Killer Gretchen Lowell locked away behind bars once again, Archie Sheridan — a Portland police detective and nearly one of her victims — can finally rest a little easier. Meanwhile, the city of Portland is in crisis. Heavy rains have flooded the Willamette River, and several people have drowned in the quickly rising waters. Or at least that’s what they thought until the medical examiner discovers that the latest victim didn’t drown: She was poisoned before she went into the water. Soon after, three of those drownings are also proven to be murders. Portland has a new serial killer on its hands, and Archie and his task force have a new case.
Reporter Susan Ward is chasing this story of a new serial killer with gusto, but she’s also got another lead to follow for an entirely separate mystery: The flooding has unearthed a skeleton, a man who might have died more than sixty years ago, the last time Portland flooded this badly, when the river washed away an entire neighborhood and killed at least fifteen people.
With Archie following the bizarre trail of evidence and evil deeds to catch a killer and possibly regain his life, and Susan Ward close behind, Chelsea Cain — one of today’s most talented suspense writers — launches the next installment of her bestselling series with an electric thriller.
Chelsea Cain’s first three novels featuring Archie Sheridan — Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart — have all been New York Times bestsellers. Also the author of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, and several nonfiction titles, Chelsea was born in Iowa, raised in Bellingham, Washington and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.
My sincere gratitude to Chelsea Cain and FSB Media Associates for making this post possible. My review of The Night Season will be up this month.