Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guest Post - Chelsea Cain

Please join me in welcoming Chelsea Cain, author of The Night Season (review tomorrow) as well as Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart.  If you've read any of Chelsea's books, you'll have a true appreciation for how incongruous that playful smile is on the face of someone who writes such dark and intense stories!

Origin Story

I always knew I would grow up to write gory thrillers.

That's a lie.

The truth is that I wanted to grow up to be a fire-dog. There was a vintage fire truck at the park we used to go to when I was a kid and I just really liked the idea of riding on the back of it, ears perked, black and white fur tickled by the wind. My parents were hippies, so didn't want to limit my potential by telling me that I couldn't grow up to be a Dalmatian.

I never did get a job as a fire dog, so in that sense I'll always be a failure.

My mother wanted me to grow up to be a potter. We had a clay spinning wheel for a while in the backroom of an apartment we rented, and I have to admit I was pretty good at creating lopsided earthenware pen vases, if you like that sort of thing.

But in retrospect I always had a fascination with the macabre.

It started with the pet cemetery. A kitten of mine was hit by a car and I buried her in an elaborate ceremony under the Rhododendron bush in our front yard in Bellingham, Washington. Then, walking home from school a few months later, I came across a dead bird. I picked it up, put it in my lunchbox, carried it home and buried it under the Rhododendron. I found eight more dead birds that week. They all went into the cemetery. Who knows what kind of bird epidemic was sweeping through my town. I guess I'm lucky I didn't catch bird flu.

Eventually kids in the neighborhood started hearing about the cemetery and would appear at my door cradling their dead pets. By the end of that year I had buried fifteen birds, three cats, a hamster, a rabbit, a chicken, and about a dozen gold fish. Each corpse was laid in a shoebox, cushioned with toilet paper, and presented with a piece of costume jewelry from a collection that someone had given me. I would then bury the box and say a few words to whoever was present. I had a special vintage ladies hat I would wear for the occasion. It was black, with white silk flowers piled on it, and a torn black net veil.

I was not an ordinary child.

At the time I was very interested in the Green River Killer. He was our local serial murderer. They found his first victims in 1982. I was ten years old. He went on to kill dozens of women, mostly prostitutes, many of them teenagers. It was the first time that I was aware that there was that sort of danger in the world -- That you could go out one day, and they might find you the next day, dead, naked in a river. His main killing ground was about an hour and half from the town I grew up in. But I still thought about him when I was walking my dog alone at night. I followed the stories in the newspaper and I knew that there was a task force assigned to catch him. I liked that idea -- a team of professionals who were working really hard to keep me safe from the bogeyman.

I still wasn't thinking about writing gory thrillers. Though I will admit that, in seventh grade, I got 40 pages into a novel about a female PI. I typed the entire thing in a cursive font. I thought it looked fancy.

Journalism. That was my college goal at the University of California, at Irvine. I didn't know anyone who wrote books, and after the fire-dog disappointment, I wanted to be realistic about my professional aspirations.

I even went to graduate school in journalism at the University of Iowa where I wrote a column for The Daily Iowan, dyed my hair dark red and stared reading Sylvia Plath. Literary towns will do that to you.

But there was one thing about journalism that I didn't like at all: talking to strangers. Writing books, on the other hand, requires talking to far fewer people. And Iowa City, home of the lauded Iowa Writers Workshop, was full of people writing books.

So I wrote a few too.

That's a lie.

I moved from Iowa to Portland to New York and back to Portland with brief stays in Florida and Pennsylvania, and in the process wrote a dozen books over the next ten years.

But I only published a few.

The rest were really, really bad.

Don't worry. I had a real job. I was a creative director for a PR firm. (My hair was very blond at this point.)  Then I fell in love with the clerk at my local video store, and in the throes of an identity crisis (I had dyed my hair red again), I retired from PR at the grizzled age of 31. I married the video store clerk and a year later, pregnant with my daughter, I was up late at night and I came across an episode of Larry King Live about the Green River Killer.

They had caught him in 2001, nearly twenty years after his first victims were discovered, and he had a name: Gary Ridgway. I hadn't thought about the Green River Killer or that case in years, but there, live on TV, were the cops from the task force I remembered as a kid. I recognized them from the newspapers photographs that were burned into my mind. They had spent their careers looking for this guy. And they had caught him. Finally.

I was safe.

And I thought to myself: gory thriller!

That would be fun to write.

(You find that you have lot of time on your hands when you suddenly are not drinking because you are pregnant.)

So I wrote HEARTSICK. Having begun a book while pregnant and finished it with a baby in the house, I can tell you it is a feat that cannot be adequately praised.

But I guess that I shouldn't be surprised to find myself writing thrillers. It does bring together many of my interests: forensic pathology, medicine, damaged heroes, dead pets, Nancy Drew, TV cops shows, my home of Portland, Oregon, and having an excuse to be alone in a room for long periods. Sometimes I think being a thriller writer might be as fun as being a fire-dog.

But I guess I'll never know for sure.

Copyright © 2011 Chelsea Cain, author of The Night Season
Author Bio
Chelsea Cain's
 first three novels featuring Archie Sheridan -- Heartsick, Sweetheart, and Evil at Heart -- have all been New York Times bestsellers.  Also the author of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, and several nonfiction titles, Chelsea was born in Iowa, raised in Bellingham, Washington and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.


  1. What a loss to the firefighting community! However, your experience in animal funerary services enhances your writerly cred.

  2. Oh my gosh! I laughed so much at this guest post! I love her and am going to have to check out her books. I also have dyed my hair dark red and gone really literary, but have never wanted to be a fire-dog.The part about the pen holders really cracked me up. Great post today. I loved it!

  3. Awesome guest author post! I love Portland, Oregon. Want to return there someday. Good times. What awesome experiences to draw from...having one's own pet cemetery! Looking forward to starting a book. Thanks!

  4. I love this woman! What a sense of humor. I think a lot of folks who write thrillers are actually pretty funny. They have to be or they'd end up serial killers themselves.

    I studied journalism in grad school so that comment about talking to strangers brought it all back to me. It's the reason why I never completed those last 6 units.