I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Story, with a capital S. Why do we authors feel compelled to tell stories? Why do others read our stories? Why do we choose one story to tell over another?
So I decided to interview a writer friend of mine who has just released the seventh book in her mystery series, and who also happens to be a retired psychologist, to see what her answers to these questions might be.
So let me introduce you to Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington mystery series.
Hi, Kass, thanks for joining me today.
Thanks for having me, Jen.
We wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t have stories itching to come to life. So why do you feel compelled to tell stories?
“Storyteller Under Sunny Skies,” clay sculpture by Rose Pecos-SunRhodes, in The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
*laughs* Have you ever seen one of those figurines of a Native American storyteller surrounded by children, some in her lap, some hanging over her shoulders? I’m convinced that was me in a former life.
I think human beings are storytellers by nature. Our earliest cultures used stories to entertain, to educate and to explore deeper issues in life.
People constantly ask me where I get my story ideas, and I’m sure you get the same question. How do you answer it?
The idea is not usually the hard part. We authors have over-active imaginations that love to contemplate the “what if’s” of life. What if this happened, or that happened?
My recent release came out of a thought I had about two years ago: What if a therapist was kidnapped by someone posing as a new client? It could happen oh-so-easily. Therapists trust that the people calling to set up appointments, and then walking into their offices for the first time, are on the up and up.
Where do you go from there with the “what if” thought?
I usually let it percolate for a bit. Some ideas fade out and are forgotten. (Jen’s note: thank goodness!) Others grow and a basic storyline starts to form in my mind.
You have an ongoing series with a character you know well. How do you decide which story idea to go with next?
Once I have a new idea, I ask myself if it works with my characters. Is there something in this new storyline that will push them to change and grow in some way? Sometimes I postpone an idea until later in the series, because it’s not right for where the characters are at that time.
When I first had the “what if” idea for a kidnapping from a therapy office, I assumed that my psychotherapist protagonist, Kate Huntington, would be the victim. But then it would have to be the last book in the series. No way would a therapist continue in private practice after that had happened to her! So I tabled the idea.
A few months later, it occurred to me that Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, could be the victim, and Kate and her P.I. husband would be trying to find her before the kidnapper killed her.
So once you’ve decided on a particular plot line, what’s next?
I try to dig a little deeper. What will be the theme of this story?
Theme is the deeper meaning, the question or issue we want to explore so that our stories not only entertain but enrich our readers. I want them to come away from my stories with a new perspective on something that maybe they hadn’t thought about much before.
One of the things that really stirs my empathy is missing people. I’ve never had a loved one go missing, but I can imagine it tops the list of worst experiences ever. How do our overworked police departments respond? How do the individuals who care about the missing person cope (or not)?
Also, one of my objectives in each book is to give readers a sense of what it’s like to experience one or more psychological disorders. In this story, Fatal Forty-Eight, the reader gets a close-up view of a psychopathic serial killer.
Close up of a psychopath – shudder! But this story is definitely more a thriller than your regular whodunit mystery. What made you decide to go that route?
In a thriller, the bad guy is revealed early on. The main characters may not know his name, but they at least have a general idea of who he is. And they’re trying to stop him from doing whatever heinous act he is planning.
This seemed the right way to go with this story. I wanted to show the readers the unfolding of the bad guy’s pathology, as well as the main characters’ attempts to find him before its too late for Sally.
Once you have the story idea, do you carefully outline the plot or are you more a seat-of-the-pants type writer?
I’m definitely more of a pantser. I like to see how the story pans out as I go along. I’m often surprised and delighted by where things go, especially when characters evolve in ways I hadn’t anticipated. In this story, several of the secondary characters did this.
One was the hard-nosed female police detective who’s had a minor role in previous books. Standing in her shoes was very enlightening as she has to tell people that someone they care about has been kidnapped by a killer.
The victim’s lover, Charles, was originally supposed to have only a few lines. But a good man wouldn’t just fade into the background as I’d intended he would. He’d pursue every avenue to find his woman. Early on, Charles is confronted by the fact that there’s very little he can do, and this sense of helplessness almost drives him crazy.
And then there’s the victim herself. Sally Ford was a minor player in my first three books. I’ve always liked her elegant style coupled with a no-nonsense mentality. I thoroughly enjoyed developing her character further in this story. She is someone I would want to know in real life.
Those were my questions for Kass, but now it’s your turn. Did any of her answers surprise you? Do you have anything you’d like to ask? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, and she and I will be popping in to answer!
Also, check out Kassandra’s new thriller below. She’s holding a contest with some cool prizes, to celebrate her new release. Click HERE to check it out. You can enter several times.
Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.
With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound.
But they can ill afford these distractions, when Sally’s time is about to expire.
Connect with Kassandra here: