I remember reading Mary Higgins Clark suspense novels, studying the organization and plot lines of her books, and wondering if I could write something better. Clark makes it look so easy. Certainly it can’t be that hard, I told myself, little realizing what I was getting myself into. (What an organizational challenge! If you’re not an organized type, take my word for it: never try to write a novel like hers.) Something else pulled me to her stories. I like her shifting points of view and her short, numerous chapters. Her novel Remember Me is one of my favorites, but her novel You Belong to Me especially inspired me to try my own hand at a serial killer, “female in jeopardy” suspense novel. Because most Christian readers are women, I also decided to make my main protagonist a woman—in fact, a pastor’s wife (a protagonist you don’t read about too often). Add to that my love of true crime and the popular art of forensic science, and I was on my way.
Another novelist was a big influence. I’ve always had a high regard for Frank Peretti’s early novels, especially This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. I wasn’t so much pulled to the supernatural warfare aspects of his stories as much as the way he took average, unassuming folks like a pastor and his wife—a true Everyrman and Everywoman—and wove them into a suspenseful tale of extraordinary proportions. He also integrated overt biblical truths that I’m afraid are so lacking in much of what Christian novelists are producing nowadays. Afraid of being called “preachy,” so many seem gun shy about writing anything but sanitized stories when they could be doing so much more. Motivated by the best of Frank Peretti, I wanted to write something not only fun and suspenseful but also meaningful. I wanted the message to resonate with readers and maybe even challenge their spiritual thinking a little bit without being too didactic. It’s a precarious tightrope to walk between message and story. Hopefully I succeeded.
An occurrence in my past also provided a creative springboard. Years ago, I witnessed a church discipline situation that was mishandled according to Scripture (Matt. 18). The church voted to remove from membership a woman who was sincerely repentant of immorality. I began to play the “what if” game in my mind (every good author plays this game). What if the person who was disciplined got really ticked? What if he or she became mad enough to kill? I thought that was an unusual motivation for murder—hence one of the subplots in Fatal Illusions. I also read Ruth Brandon’s The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, a biography of the famous illusionist. The biography helped me develop the characterization of the bad guy in my story. In fact, there’s even an important clue connected to Houdini. (-;
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