Writing My First Thriller

I thought today I’d share a little insight into the making of my new book: Imperfect Memories. Let’s just start with the book blurb so you have some background.

“After losing her husband and daughter in an all-too-common act of senseless terror, Nina Rogers thinks she might also be losing her mind. Is she slipping because of the tragedy, or is her memory actually failing her? Is she experiencing the same thing her mother did, or is this something different? It might be easy to figure out in a normal person, but Nina is anything but normal. She has hyperthymesia: the ability to recall every minute of every day of her life.
As the days go on, she sinks even deeper into madness and knows that she needs to find some answers to what is happening to her before it’s too late. Tragically, the one person who may be able to help is also the man who killed her family.”

There were several firsts for me that occurred while writing this book. First of all, this is the first “thriller” I’ve attempted. In some ways it wasn’t all that different than writing a mystery and I would say that this story does have a strong mystery base to it, but I also added more suspense and tension that hadn’t existed in my previous work. I might even be so bold as to call it a psychological thriller given that it goes pretty deep into the inner-workings of the main character’s psyche.

The next first was that this is the first book in a series. I wasn’t sure initially if I liked the idea of doing a series, or even if I was really capable. I guess that is still to be determined since book two isn’t finished quite yet. Still I knew that in order to get the full story out, I would need to break down this plot. That alone felt like a good reason to create multiple books.

The idea for the story came to me from several different angles. First, I knew I wanted to add a bit of a sci-fi element to the book. While I’ve been writing primarily full-length mysteries, the short stories I sometimes produce tend to have an element of science fiction. I wondered if I couldn’t somehow mash my love of the two genres together. Admittedly, I didn’t go very heavy on the science fiction, but the story is set some years in the future and even though I tried to mostly create a world I think is possible, some might find it to be less so.

The next thing I wanted to play around with when writing this book was the style. I knew that I was going to have several scenes in which characters would just be having long bouts of dialogue and I didn’t want to write a ton of filler into each one, so I decided to use a unique feature. I added transcription into many of the chapters. Surely most readers already know what it might look like for someone to be speaking with a therapist so it felt redundant to have to set that stage each time the main character dove into those talks.

Lastly, I was very interested in giving my character an unusual condition and I thought it would be fun if it had to do with her memory. I went with the very interesting condition of Hyperthymesia because I had read about it previously and I wanted to know more. I did a good bit of research and I wanted the reader to learn what I had, in perhaps a slightly more fun way.

Overall, I’m happy with how the book came out and I’m hoping that readers will be as well. If you’d like to check out Imperfect Memories: Book 1 of the Temporal Shift Series, it is just .99 this entire week!

Buy it here!




No Laughing Matter

I’ve already written her eulogy. Is that weird? Probably. But I did it because I needed to organize my thoughts; because writing it down is easier than saying it directly to her. And, frankly, I’ve been avoiding that since she was diagnosed last year. I’ve always hated dealing with realness and this is about as real as it gets. I guess I thought if I never said goodbye, maybe her demise wouldn’t come. I was wrong.

I take a deep breath and gently take her hand, being mindful of the IV line.

“Mom,” I begin, making eye contact with the drab hospital wall. “I’m not good at this stuff. Never have been. But you know that. You raised me. All by yourself. Even after your parents and my father abandoned you and you were left with nothing. But me.

“And what did I give you in return? I can’t even tell you now how I really feel. I guess that’s why I became a comedian.” I laugh, because it’s what we do when we’re uncomfortable.

“Anyway, I was thinking about it; because, well, I’ve had some time here to think, and I came up with a great idea. There should be mandatory life reviews. You know, like the kind of review they do at an office job? Quarterly, I think Moms and daughters should be forced to do that too. If we’d been doing that, we’d be all up to date and instead of talking now, I could just tell you to read through your file.”

Mom doesn’t laugh.

“Seriously, though,” I continue. “This is not a joke. For once in my life, I can’t spin this into something funny. I really don’t even know what I’m going to do after…you know. I have no idea what I’m going to write for my act because, well, there is really no punchline here. Trust me, I’ve tried to come up with one. If I used this stuff in my show, the people at the club would mob the stage with pitchforks and torches and throw me straight out on my ass.

“Do you remember the first time you came to see my show? I was so pumped because I’d had a great set. The club booker had just told me they wanted me as a regular. It was huge for me. I found you after and asked what you thought. You had this puzzled expression on your face.

“You said, ‘I guess I didn’t get it, Josie. You made us sound like lunatics.’

‘Those were jokes, Mom. That’s what a comic does.’

‘Mmm. Does it pay well?’


‘I don’t get it,’ you said again.

“I know you wanted me to be normal. I know I’ve disappointed you. But I’m happy with comedy, Mom. Really. If I had to work in an office, that’s when you’d find out what a true lunatic is. I mean, without comedy, there’s a dark cloud floating around inside my brain and beneath it sharks swim freely waiting to gobble me up. Plus, I can’t wear nice pant suits like you, Mom. It’s just not me.

“Remember that time in middle school when I went to my first dance with a boy? I wore that hideous dress that was too big. I knew it was ill fitting. Christ, even the dog was aware. I was so awkward. I was just trying to hide it in all those layers of neon tulle. It looked like someone vomited fluorescent clouds all over me. It was so obvious I was uncomfortable, but you were oblivious as ever. That is until my date, Nate something-or-other, was there standing next to me in front of the banister while you took like a million pictures. That’s when you chose to mention it. Couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t just say I looked nice. You said, ‘We really should have gotten that dress taken in, Josie. It’s too saggy in your chest area.’

“I remember my arm flying across the front of my dress in an attempt to beat out Nate something-or-other from inspecting the area in question. He looked anyway. So to break the tension, I said, ‘Actually, Mom, I’m planning to wear this dress again next year and by then my boobs are definitely gonna be huge.’
“It was my first foray into comedy. The first time I figured out that laughs distracted from reality. I’ve told that bit now a dozen times in my act. It always gets a big response.”

I clear my throat.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. I might be forced to grow up and find someone to commit to. I mean, you aren’t gonna be here to disapprove of everyone I bring over for you to meet. You won’t tell me they aren’t right for me. And I won’t see exactly what you were talking about a few weeks later and be forced to dump them. I might even have to get married one day, maybe even be forced to have my own children who will torture me just to avenge your death.”

I look down at my mother for the first time since I started talking. Her eyes are closed. I’m sure she hasn’t heard a word I said. I softly rub the top of her hand. It feels dry and delicate, so different from what I remember it feeling like when I was a kid, which was probably the last time I held it. The faint beeping of the monitor is the only thing letting me know she’s still with me.

I feel sick. The nurses gave me ample warnings. I had, in turn, made up excuses to put this off: Mom was tired, she was too drugged to hear me, the doctor was coming soon. Instead of confronting it, I’d spent the last several days crying in the hospital bathroom, in front of the vending machines, in the private waiting room with the bad coffee.

I can see it all playing out. My mother is going to die in front of me without knowing how I feel. And I’ll regret it and spend the rest of my life telling my therapist the story over and over again.

I touch my mother’s cheek grasping for something concrete, knowing I may never have it again. She slowly opens her eyes. A weak smile appears on her face.

I take a deep breath and start over. “Mom,” I say.

“I need to tell you something, honey,” she says.

“Mom, you don’t have to…”

“Stop it now, Josie, let me talk.”

I wipe an errant tear from my cheek.

“Remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”

“Yeah. You hated that trip,” I say.

“It keeps coming back to me now. I didn’t want to go initially, that’s true. I thought, of all the vacations we could possibly take, why on earth would we go see a big hole in the ground? I wanted to go someplace warm, to relax on a beach in the sun. You were only, what? Twelve, thirteen. But you were adamant about it. So I thought, okay. Let’s do it. I was curious just what you were expecting to find there. I figured once we got there, you’d see the canyon and say, ‘You were right, Mom. We should have gone somewhere else.’”

She stops and I help her take a sip of water.

“But that’s not what happened at all. When I looked out over that canyon, and then I saw your face looking at it, I realized a very important thing. You, my child, were in awe. And, that feeling, the one where it finally dawned on me that I actually brought this amazing person into the world, someone who could be deeply moved by a natural landmass, taken by the simple beauty of it, I understood then and there that it was all worth it. You were worth it. When your child teaches you something about yourself in the context to the world, that’s the moment you know you did it right.”

“You never told me that,” I say.

“You wouldn’t have listened. You’d have just turned it into a joke.”

“You’re right. I probably would have.”

“I want you to know that I don’t regret it. I know you think I held some kind of grudge. Maybe if I wouldn’t have had you at sixteen my life would have been better, but that’s not the case. No. You were the one who made my life better. You don’t have to say anything now. You said it all standing there looking out at the Grand Canyon.”

“Mom…” is all I manage to get out.

“Jos. One more thing. That shirt is a little loose. You do realize those big boobs never came in, right?”

With that, Mom closes her eyes.

And with that I want to say thanks for coming out tonight, everyone. Drive safe.

An Update

To celebrate this very nice article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week, I’m putting Painting the Lake on sale tomorrow through Monday! In addition, my new novel will be coming out in mid-January, so stay tuned for that.




Book Launch

Painting the Lake is now available in kindle format or paperback.


Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CAPMZJQ


Winter in Minnesota can be deadly. George has always plunged into the season with a sense of contentment, but as the snow begins to fly he hits a patch of icy luck. Newly retired, he heads up north to escape his troubles and do some painting. There he meets a young woman who begins pursuing him for more than his art. When she takes him on a wild ride, George isn’t surprised to find Detective Nancy Simmons at his cabin door. For Nancy, winter comes with a much harsher reality. She feels the bite as she investigates who dumped a young woman’s body in Lake Superior’s frigid waters.

Maybe George isn’t as innocent as he seems.