Here at Career Authors, every once in a blue moon, a coincidence too crazy to ignore comes along. Both Paula and Brian have new books releasing on the same day (November 5th) and so they’ve decided to interview each other in a Career Authors exclusive double feature.
This week, Paula is up first, answering questions about BLIND SEARCH, her new mystery inspired by the true search-and-rescue case of an autistic boy who got lost in the Vermont wilderness.
(1) BLIND SEARCH is the sequel to your acclaimed series debut A BORROWING OF BONES. Which book did you find more difficult to write and why?
The second book in a series is, as our pal Hank Phillippi Ryan told me, “the hardest book you’ll ever write.” As an agent and acquisitions editor, I’ve helped a lot of writers through the perils and pitfalls of Book Two—and that didn’t help me much when it came to my own. The pressure is on to write the novel (much) faster than you wrote the first book, the good reviews for that first book are coming in just as you worry your work-in-progress will never be good enough, and you seem to forget everything you ever knew about writing. At least that was my experience. Revision saved me.
(2) Mercy (and Elvis) return in the sequel, but I’m curious to learn if she’s changed since the events of the first book? Is Mercy in a better or worse place emotionally and professionally when this case lands in her lap?
Mercy’s fiancé Martinez was also Elvis’s handler, and he died in Afghanistan. In the first book, both Mercy and Elvis are mourning their man and their mission. They say that you don’t move on from grief, you move forward—and that’s what they’re trying to do in this story. They’re also learning to navigate the civilian world again. It’s a “three steps forward, two steps back” process.
(3) In BLIND SEARCH, you introduce a new character—a nine-year-old boy with autism. How and why did you decide that Henry should be autistic? Do you have experience with autism in your personal or professional life that you could draw on to inform this character? If the answer is no, how did you become knowledgeable enough on the subject to feel confident enough to write a character with autism?
The plot was inspired by a true story about a boy with autism who was lost in the Vermont woods. That child was found safe and sound, thanks to search-and-rescue personnel. I knew that hikers and hunters get lost in the forest, but in researching the book I discovered that the most likely people to wander off into the woods and get lost are elderly people with dementia and children with autism.
My close circle of family and friends includes both children and adults dealing with autism, and I drew upon my own and their experiences. They also helped me with sensitivity reads. I also read many memoirs and journals written by people with autism, to help me with Henry’s voice.
(4) As an agent and an author, you are in a unique position to be able to give yourself professional advice. What advice does Paula the Agent need to give to Paula the Author? Conversely, what advice (if any) does Paula the Author get from Paula the Agent, that she sometimes ignores?
What a question!
Paula the Agent tells Paula the Author to 1) get on with the writing, and 2) do what the marketing people say to do.
In return, Paula the Author whines that she doesn’t get to come out and play/write/promote as much as she should because Paula the Agent is busy busy busy.
In the end, it’s Gina Panettieri the Agent who’s really the one who gives both Paulas the best advice, and the biggest kick in the pants when needed.
(5) Is Elvis based on a real live search & rescue canine, or is he an amalgam of different dogs you’ve owned and interacted with? What is his favorite character trait for you?
Elvis was inspired by the working dogs and handlers I met when I helped out at a fundraiser for Mission K9 Rescue. There were soldiers and bomb-sniffing dogs, cops and drug-sniffing dogs, game wardens and illegally procured fish-sniffing dogs. There were labs and German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, and I fell in love with all of them. But the Malinois I met were such fiercely elegant dogs that I knew Elvis would be one of that breed.
In terms of personality, he’s an amalgamation of all the dogs I’ve ever known, from my dad’s Weimaraners to the one dog I did not meet at the fundraiser, the young Malinois who had to stay in his state trooper’s vehicle rather than attend the fancy-dress function, because he was not “cocktail party ready” yet.
(6) What is Mercy’s greatest strength as a hero? What about as an investigator? What is her greatest weakness?
Mercy is as fierce as Elvis is. She is smart and observant; she notices things other people don’t notice and she makes connections that other people don’t make. She’s perfectly happy on her own, and she doesn’t let many people in, but she’s wildly protective and to-the-death loyal to those she does.
She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and that can get her into trouble sometimes. Oh, and she hates to ask for help, and will rush in where angels fear to tread without back-up because in her mind Elvis is the only back-up she really needs.
(7) Tell us about what’s on tap next for you? Will Mercy and Elvis be back for a third installment and if so can you share any details?
I’m working on the third book in the series now. Working title: THE HIDING PLACE. It’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma so far, but I can tell you that it’s about Mercy protecting her grandmother when the man who killed her grandfather gets out of prison, jumps parole, and comes after her.
Thanks for the great questions, Brian, and I look forward to talking with you about RED SPECTER in the coming weeks!