Sheryl, what was your inspiration for writing TO CATCH A KILLER?
My inspiration for To Catch a Killer? There’s a simple answer and a more complex one. I’ll give the simple answer here, but the more complex one will be included in my interview on the Tor/Forge Blog, posting Feb. 7. (Keeping it real for the home team!)
The simple answer is a friend of mine moved his family from California to Denver. He had a teenage son who was starting at a new high school. During a phone call I asked how his son liked the move and especially the new school. My question was part concern and part writer nosiness. New kid in school stories are a staple of what I write. Anyway, my friend was effusive in telling me how much his son loved it, especially his Forensics Class.
My immediate thought was FORENSICS CLASS!!?? Seriously, where do I sign up?
I wrote it down on a post-it note and attached it to my computer monitor, which is where I store all my brilliant ideas until the sticky fades and they drop like leaves in Vermont. Next, I invested in some research time: was high school forensics classes really a thing? And I found out more than I ever dreamed. I learned that the study of forensics perfectly matches the curriculum for 10th grade biology and that schools found that by retooling their classes and calling them Forensics, they had students signing up like crazy. In fact, in a single year, the National Academy of Forensics reported that 800 schools across the US switched from simple 10th grade biology to Forensics.
In the heat of that moment, my idea was born.
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 hardest scene to write in To Catch a Killer was when my young protagonist, Erin, out alone, late at night, literally stumbles on the body of her beloved Biology teacher, Miss P, floating in an expanding pool of blood. Erin knew that the fact that the blood was expanding meant this just happened and the killer could be nearby or even watching her.
As part of my research I had read this amazing non-fiction book: The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, by Gavin de Becker. You know the physical sensations that flash or creep over your body when you are scared or worried or even just a little uneasy—well, de Becker believes that, like animals, these sensations are actually signals. If we listen to them, we have the ability to detect if someone intends to do us harm.
After I read de Becker’s book I really wanted this scene to come across as visceral and believable. I wanted to creep out the reader big time. I worked and slaved over this scene trying to get all the physical responses and synapses described in as realistic and terrifying terms as possible.
But, in the end, what this scene became was a sticking point for nearly everyone who read it. It stopped them cold and they complained about it. There were even several agents who cited this specific passage as their reason for not offering representation. (Go figure?) So, in each pass of the book I took out more and more of that description. It’s completely gone now. But I still remember what I wrote and when I come across that scene I can feel it.
What do you hope readers will take away from TO CATCH A KILLER?
To Catch a Killer is about identity and belonging and family. Sure, it’s a detective story, but like all good detective stories there’s another story layered underneath.
The book opens with Erin wanting to know three things: Who killed her mother. The identity of her father. And, she wants to know that her father wasn’t the one who killed her mother, leaving Erin alive and alone in the house for three days.
The murder investigation is the A-story, but the B-story, or underpinning of this book, is about a strong and true family cobbled together by fate and held there by the thinnest threads of love.
To Catch a Killer is about how making the choice to bond together as a family is way more important than just being one. And that’s what I hope readers will come away with—that this story is about identity and belonging and family. It’s also about the healing power of the truth.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I can’t write in coffee shops or any public place, really. I must hunch, grimly over a keyboard, with unwashed hair and no make-up, for long hours at a time. But I do have an espresso machine in my office and I treat myself to what I like to call “cup of joy” at least once during every writing session.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
If you can quit writing…then do it. Because you’re not a writer and this message isn’t for you. If you can’t quit, then don’t. Dream. Believe. Keep working. Make friends with other writers and talk to them. Listen to what they have to say. Keep writing. And above all…don’t quit!
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a humorous zombie story because I love the word shambles. Actually, that’s not why, though I do love the word.
ABOUT THE BOOKTo Catch a Killer
by Sheryl Scarborough
Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father's identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother's best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.
Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother's killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she's secretly doing on her own.
Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she's close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it's too late.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SHERYL SCARBOROUGH worked as a story writer and series developer in children's television before receiving her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College, where she studied under Rita Williams-Garcia, Tom Birdseye, and Susan Fletcher. Scarborough has more than twenty years of writing experience, including writing for Kim Possible, Doug, Tiny Toon Adventures and Punky Brewster, among many other credits. She currently lives and works in Kalama, Washington. To Catch a Killer is her debut.
Twitter: @Scarbo_author, Tumblr: Scarbo_author, Instagram: scarbo_author, www.facebook.com/Scarbo_Author, www.sherylscarborough.com
Have you had a chance to read TO CATCH A KILLER yet? Have you ever been inspired by a high school class? Are you haunted by a scene you had to remove? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
Emily, Jocelyn, Anisaa, Sam, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, and Lori Ann