What is your writing process like? Do you create a detailed outline, or do you let the characters and the plot determine the course of the narrative?--Marshal Zeringue
This book was really determined for me by the characters. When I started, I only knew two things. One was that the main character would be a wife and mother who discovers that the murderer in the news is her estranged brother. The other was the family had some connection to California history. My first task when I started writing was to figure out the brother’s crime. It took me a while, but I finally hit upon a mail bomber. That decision sent the story in a certain direction. The same was true about the choices with the other characters. What the father did for a living, for example, and Natalie—and so on. I also discovered the characters—and by extension the novel—in the writing of scenes. For example, I’d put two characters in a room and let them define themselves in interaction. Sometimes they went in a completely different direction than I’d planned.
Natalie and Sarah are very different, very complex individuals. Which sister do you relate the most with?
I suppose that Natalie is more like me. She leads a relatively conventional life. She’s a wife and mother. I feel great empathy with her. She’s pulled in so many directions, trying to balance the needs of her own family while she deals with the crisis in her original family. A part of her just wants to get out from under, but she understands that might never happen. As Bobby’s sister, she also carries a heightened awareness that children can be lost. That said, there’s a lot of me in Sara. I was the oldest child in my family and somewhat oblivious to the lives of my younger siblings. Like Sara, I just wanted to...[read on]