The Oregonian always struggles to determine how to cover the work of its writers while maintaining an appearance of propriety and journalistic excellence. With my new book HEARTSICK due out this week, my editors came up with an improbable solution. They would ask me to interview me. This would avoid any bias, as well as save money. It was brilliant.
“Don’t let yourself off the hook,” my editor advised. “Remember, you’re in charge of the interview, not yourself.”
I met me at a coffee shop on Hawthorne Ave. I looked stunning in a pair of slimming jeans and a vintage lace shirt. I was punctual, polite and only occasionally combative.
O: Tell us a little bit about the book.
CC: It’s a thriller about a Portland detective who led the hunt for a beautiful serial killer for ten years. She captured him and tortured him for ten days before mysteriously turning herself in and saving his life. Now it’s two years later. She’s in jail and he’s addicted to pain pills, and there’s another serial killer on the loose, and the detective is called off medical leave to lead the search for the new killer.
O: Sounds funny.
CC: I know. It’s a departure.
O: Do you worry that fans of your gentle and nostalgic Sunday column in this paper will be put off by how dark and violent the book is?
CC: A little, yeah. The book’s got a very different tone. But the characters are witty and I hope that Oregonians will enjoy reading a book with corpses that wash up in familiar surroundings.
O: One of the killer’s victims is a student at Cleveland High School and several scenes in the book take place there. What do you have against Cleveland?
CC: Nothing. I participated in Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program several years ago, and I served a two-week residency at Cleveland. I loved it. I had this group of incredibly smart students that could writer better than I can. When I needed a high school for the plot, I chose Cleveland because I’d spent time there and could conjure some details. For the record I also kill students from Lincoln and Jefferson.
O: At one point in the book you describe torturing a victim by pulling out her intestine with a crochet hook. Do you worry about contributing to the culture of violence?
CC: I would worry about the war we’re fighting in Iraq and Saw III and the 24-hour news channels, before I blamed our culture of violence on books.
O: You’re evading the question. You have a two-year-old daughter. Surely you’re concerned exposing her to a book like yours.
CC: She’d a toddler. I worry about exposing her to Sponge Bob. Though I will admit that I am very nervous about my grandmothers reading HEARTSICK. I fear they may be surprised by my capacity for sexual deviance and gore.
O: Let’s hope so. HEARTSICK is #14 on the best-seller list in the UK, it’s a BookSense 76 pick here in the US and has been lauded by Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. The book is going to be published in 16 languages, all over the world. You got a big advance. It must be pretty exciting.
CC: It’s weird, because it’s not even out here yet. So in many ways my life has changed completely, and not at all.
O: How has it changed?
?CC: Well, we moved. We live in a house with columns. I have been flying all over the place doing pre-promotion. My carbon footprint is enormous right now.
O: Do you think the industry would have been so excited about this book if you’d been a man?
CC: Probably not, actually. A lot of women read thrillers, and yet the genre is still very male dominated. So publishers are really hungry right now for women thriller writers who can tell a grisly page-turner.
O: Speaking of girl power, a lot of the early reviews draw attention to the fact that your serial killer is a beautiful woman. Talk a little bit about that.
CC: Reviewers seem to like that. I guess it’s a twist on an old theme. Of course in real life, there aren’t that many violent female serial killers. We tend to kill quietly, suffocating our babies or poisoning our husbands, and we tend to get away with it. But I wanted to explore a woman who killed violently, like a man, because she liked it. The relationship between Archie, the detective, and Gretchen, the killer, fascinated me and I basically wrote the whole book as an excuse to explore it. He’s obsessed with her. He’s spent his career hunting her. And then she kidnapped him and tortured him, an experience that created this sort of forced intimacy between them.
O: You’ve described the book as being a “very twisted love story.”
CC: I never said that.
O: Yes, you did.
CC: Okay. I might have. I think it’s a love story in the sense that these two people share an obsession with one another. It’s not healthy. It’s not romantic. But there’s an intimacy to it that is a little like love, if you happen to be in a manipulative, violent, deeply dysfunctional relationship.
O: HEARTSICK is the first book in a series, right?
CC: There will be at least three books, because I have a contract for that many. But I have ideas for more after that. I just turned the second one in. All the characters who survive the first book are in the second.
O: One of your protagonists, plucky pink-haired reporter Susan Ward, works for the Oregon Herald. Any resemblance to The Oregonian?
CC: Absolutely not.
O: That’s funny, because it really reminded me of the –
CC: I told you. It’s just a coincidence.
O: Are there any questions you wish I’d asked?
CC: Ask me where I get my ideas.
O: Okay. Where do you get your ideas?
CC: The Metro Section of this paper. Seriously. If you want to write a disturbed thriller, you just need a highlighter and a couple of issues of The Oregonian. It’s all there.