I grew up near the dumping grounds of The Green River Killer, which made a deep impression on my psyche. Serial killers are rare, but they are real, and the destruction they cause is very real indeed. A lot of people make the assumption that I enjoy serial killer fiction, be it on TV or in books, but I rarely do. Anything that takes joy in serial killers is automatically out, as is anything that flies in the face of reality. That said, I’ve arguably read way too much nonfiction about serial killers. I think I was just driven to try to understand how a human being becomes a predator.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
The scene that was hardest for me to write is within Wolfman’s backstory. It is the chapter wherein he finds his first victim. When I was a kid, I was bullied severely by a series of girls. Girls not unlike Wolfman’s first victim. In writing Ruthless I learned I was not over those childhood traumas. I realized I still had a lot of rage. The best thing I got out of writing Ruthless was a sort of final catharsis on dealing with the past and letting it go. Writing is the cheapest form of therapy going. I highly recommend it. The scene that I love the most is Ruth drifting down the river, looking up at the stars and singing “O Holy Night.” To me that scene is the very heart of the novel. It is a moment of redemption and rebirth, it’s what happens when you let go of the past and find transcendent gratitude for the present. I am most proud of the river scene. I think it has a unique beauty to it.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
Well, to take it on the vice versa, if you are a big fan of The Hunger Games you might well like Ruthless. They both have gritty action, a quick pace, and a tough female protagonist who isn’t always the most likable. Ruthless is a contemporary realistic novel, not a dystopian future, but to my mind genre isn’t as important as those other qualities.
How long did you work on RUTHLESS?
From beginning to end, it took a bit less than a year from page one to querying. However, I took several months off in the middle of that year as my marriage fell apart. As I began Ruthless, I was fighting for the survival of my marriage. There is a turn in the book when Ruth escapes into the wilderness and in so doing, comes face-to-face with mortality. It was at that juncture that my marriage ended and I resumed writing. When Ruth comes to a peace with death I was in the process of absorbing the death of my marriage. I didn’t realize it at the time, but later it was wildly apparent to me that I was exorcising those demons as I wrote. All in all, it took about five months of writing, with very little rewriting.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
The main thing I take with me from this experience is to have patience with providence. Success happens when preparation meets opportunity. I think it’s easy to be in a rush, to feel we are already prepared or that this opportunity must be the right one. Looking back, it is easy for me to see how everything worked out for the best. When I am tempted to be frustrated with the pace of the present, I bring back that knowledge. If something hasn’t happened yet it’s because the right preparation and opportunity haven’t come together. All that’s needed is to continue to prepare, to continue to be open to wherever it is I’m supposed to go.
What do you hope readers will take away from RUTHLESS?
I want them to leave with a willingness to fight. As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I don’t know of a truer statement. Even people who appear to have it all might be struggling in private, dealing with absolutely torturous circumstances. The truth is, once we’ve become entangled in some kind of darkness, it is invariably a long and difficult march back into the light. It takes fight, determination, and persistence. It takes the willingness to hit the reset button and begin the fight again even after failures. I don’t think anybody gets through this life unscathed. Trauma visits us all. My hope is that reading Ruthless gets readers’ blood up and puts them back into their own fight, whatever it might be.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
I wrote a novel in 2009-2010 and secured an agent. We went out with it, got close, but it never sold. (Huge blessing in disguise. Ultimately, not a very strong novel.) I wrote a second novel. It failed to connect with my agent. She left me (during the same two-week period wherein my husband left, my dad’s cancer returned, and my beloved grandmother-in-law contracted pneumonia and received the Last Rites. IT WAS AN AWESOME COUPLE OF WEEKS, Y’ALL.) I wrote Ruthless during 2012-2013. Wound up signing with Mandy Hubbard September 30th, spent one week polishing, went out with it, seven days later had an offer, three days after that it was a done deal – a done six figure deal, no less. (IT WAS A LEGITIMATELY AWESOME COUPLE OF WEEKS, Y’ALL.)
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
The best thing my first agent did was force me to revise my first novel to death. I’d always hated revision, but I learned to love it, learned how the magic was found deep within the process. That said, Ruthless came out almost fully formed in the first draft, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s head. However, the lesson still applies. It isn’t about how many drafts you write, it’s about how deep you have to get into the truth of your story.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I am not one for routines, although I do love to start my writing day with a few Conor McGregor quotes to psych myself up. Conor is an Irish UFC fighter who has a brilliant way with words. I am a huge fan. I don’t like music while I’m writing. I find it very distracting. The only other constant is that I need a window. When I get stuck I need something to stare at. I can stare at trees or a busy city street, it doesn’t matter, but I need something to watch to get my brain moving. When I get really, really stuck I take “thinking showers.” The white noise of the water is like an idea faucet pouring solutions straight into my brain. When I am really churning out a manuscript I can take as many as two or three thinking showers a day. I am very clean when I am in the fever of writing.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Follow your bliss. Your truth is unique to you alone. Don’t chase trends or care about what’s on your neighbor’s page. Whatever is most real to you, whatever is knocking the hardest and demanding to be let out, open that door, let that story out into the world.
What are you working on now?
I’ve returned to that second novel that didn’t connect with my first agent. It is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever worked on in my life. It is a beast. But I love it. It’s far and away my favorite thing I’ve ever done. If I can get it right (and published) I could die happy. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how passionate I am about this story. It’s called The Book of Ezra. It is a Gothic horror set in an Upstate New York poorhouse and insane asylum in 1894. Like Ruthless, there’s a good bit of action, but I believe Ezra is a far more likable protagonist. He is a humble hero and I really hope someday people get to meet him.
ABOUT THE BOOKRuthless by Carolyn Lee Adams
A spine-tingling debut about the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse in reverse as a teen struggles to retain hope—and her sanity—while on the run from a cunning and determined killer.
Ruth Carver has always competed like her life depends on it. Ambitious. Tough. Maybe even mean. It’s no wonder people call her Ruthless.
When she wakes up with a concussion in the bed of a moving pickup trick, she realizes she has been entered into a contest she can’t afford to lose.
At a remote, rotting cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruth’s blindfold comes off and she comes face-to-face with her captor. A man who believes his mission is to punish bad girls like Ruth. A man who has done this six times before.
The other girls were never heard from again, but Ruth won’t go down easy. She escapes into the wilderness, but her hunter is close at her heels. That’s when the real battle begins. That’s when Ruth must decide just how far she’ll go in order to survive.
Back home, they called her Ruthless. They had no idea just how right they were.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORCarolyn Lee Adams is originally from the Seattle area, breeding ground of serial killers and those who write about them. She attended USC Film School and graduated with a BFA in screenwriting. RUTHLESS (Simon Pulse, Summer 2015) is her first novel. When she isn't exploring the dark side of human nature in her writing, you'll find her on stage as a stand-up comedian. Because those things go together.
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