“Sometimes… real-life events intersect with fiction. For instance, two murderers recently broke out of a New York prison, and the ensuing manhunt put all of the Northeast on high alert. Coincidentally, my new novel… starts with a violent criminal’s escape…” The Writer interviewed her via email:
1) What was your initial impulse in writing your crime novel What Doesn’t Kill Her? And how did you “find” the main characters?
That’s a long story, but the short version is that both The Edge of Normal and What Doesn’t Kill Her are rooted in an actual case of kidnapping and captivity. Years ago, I attended a kidnapper’s trial, visited crime scenes, interviewed sources, and ultimately coauthored a nonfiction book, Perfect Victim, with the prosecutor. That story haunts me, but it also inspires my fiction.
My protagonist, Reeve LeClaire, is a survivor of kidnapping and captivity who must come to terms with what has happened to her, and in that process discovers inner strengths. Yes, she has physical and psychic scars, but she’s also tough and resilient and has a hot sense of justice. My antagonists are also rooted in real life, specifically the sadistic criminal I wrote about years ago.
2) So both The Edge of Normal and What Doesn’t Kill Her have the same protagonist. What distinguishes the sequel? Are there different impulses or issues in the second book?
Yes. Just a few years ago, my friend Colleen, who was a real-life victim of kidnapping and captivity, voiced concern about her former captor being released from prison. That was the seed. What do you do when your nemesis—a truly despicable criminal—is again free to walk the streets? How does that reality weigh on you? In What Doesn’t Kill Her, my heroine tries to block this out and go on with her life as a student at U.C. Berkeley, but she can’t separate the present from the past. There’s no denying her own history. And she comes to realize that her relationship with this convict is unique: As captor and captive, they define each other; they’re two sides of the same coin.
3) In terms of writing, what kept you going when the going got rough?
Great question, because I had a really hard time finishing What Doesn’t Kill Her. After I’d written about sixty thousand words, I ran into trouble with the ending. I’d created too many storylines, being somewhat delusional about how easily it would all come together. So I wrote like mad—my hands literally ached for months—but when I finally delivered the manuscript, my editor hated it. I had to completely rewrite the ending, which meant ripping out scenes all the way to the first chapters. It was brutal.
But how did I keep going? I guess there was never any question of stopping. I just kept wrestling with it. I’d try a new perspective, a different character’s point of view. I’d try to clarify questions before going to bed so that my subconscious could work on the problem overnight, and sometimes I’d wake up with an answer in the morning that seemed just plain obvious. Other times, I’d walk on the beach and talk to myself. Really, you have to be willing to be the crazy person who’s out there drawing diagrams in the sand.
4) Lastly, I understand that you just got some exciting news. Could you tell us about that?
I’ve been ready to burst since I heard the very first whispers about this, but was sworn to secrecy. Now
Variety has spilled the news that Bold Films has optioned The Edge of Normal for development into a feature film. My agent cautions me that it’s a long and bumpy road from option to production. Nevertheless, I’m dancing around the room. This is singularly sweet moment.
Carla Norton is a novelist, journalist, and true crime writer. Her debut fiction, The Edge of Normal, won a Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Unpublished Mystery in 2012, was internationally released in 2013, and was a Thriller Award finalist in 2014. The sequel, What Doesn’t Kill Her, has just been released. (The book is titled Hunted in Australia, New Zealand, India, and the UK.) Carla previously wrote nonfiction and coauthored 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 articles, essays, and really bad poetry. To learn more, visit CarlaNorton.com, or find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.
Carla Norton will be the Visiting Writer at the upcoming MFAW-VT Residency in January of 2016.