INTERVIEW WITH LINDA LADD
Author of the Claire Morgan Homicide Thrillers
Readers love your Claire Morgan homicide detective series. How many books are there in this particular series and what are the titles?
There are seven Claire Morgan books to date. The first six have already been published. Book Five, Remember Murder, came out in June 2013, and Book Six, Mostly Murder came out in December 2013. Book Seven is titled Bad Bones and will be published in September 2014. I'm looking forward to seeing the new cover.
The titles in order of publication are: Head to Head, Dark Places, Die Smiling, Enter Evil, Remember Murder, Mostly Murder, and Bad Bones.
How did you come up with the Claire Morgan character?
I wanted to write a really strong and intuitive female lead. Claire is a smart woman who loves her job as a homicide detective and puts her career above everything else, at least until she leaves the LAPD and moves to Missouri in Book One, Head to Head. I like multi-dimensional characters so I gave her a tragic and complicated past that I wanted to use in shaping her emotional roles as a woman, a friend, and a lover. She is unique in the way she approaches her job and her investigative work means everything to her. Her past heartache and personal losses has caused her to build up so many defense mechanisms and internal walls that she rarely lets anybody see what she thinks or feels. When she meets Psychiatrist Nicholas Black, her love interest in these books, she finds her life begins to change in lots of ways, and she feels vulnerable and isn’t sure she likes it.
The characters in your books are extremely likeable. People seem to identify with them, especially with Claire Morgan. You also create some interesting relationships and dynamics among your secondary characters as well, including the villains with their own storylines. How do you do that?
When I write a character, I try to make him or her as real to life as I possibly can. In many ways, Claire is a typical American woman. She likes to eat at McDonalds. She shops at Walmart. She watches Bruce Willis movies with one of her criminalist friends. She loves Snickers bars, especially if they’re frozen. She teases her partner about being so neat. She works hard and doesn’t make a whole lot of money. She wears jeans and T-shirts and high-topped Nikes and could care less about high fashion or makeup or looking pretty. She isn’t always happy and carefree. She isn’t always in a good mood. She does not have a lot of girlfriends outside of law enforcement because law enforcement is all she thinks about. She has her own take on people and situations, and that opinion is often laced with dry humor. I think it’s important to bring comic relief into my homicide thrillers, just to take the edge off the killer’s dark deeds.
But I don’t write a super hero who can do anything and always comes out on top, unscathed, hands on hips, cape flapping in the wind. Claire gets hurt at times when she deals with the brutal serial killers that she pursues. So do real cops. They put their lives on the line every day for the rest of us. She does, too. Nicholas Black thinks at first that Claire has a death wish, but she really doesn’t. She fights for the homicide victims and their families and the justice she can give them by bringing in the killers who took their loved ones away. Her detective job is her life, at least until she meets Nicholas Black. He brings added dimension into her character as they fall in love, and her character grows with every book. That’s important to me, as the writer, to incorporate the lessons learned in one book into the characterizations in the following books. Since Claire has little family left, she interacts with her law enforcement friends and is loyal to a fault to all of them. But just like those old Canadian Mounties, Claire always gets her man.
And then there is Nicholas Black, who is one of the most tongue-burn-hot, sexy heroes to come along in a very long time. He’s got ice blue eyes and black hair, a physique to die for, and is rich and famous. Why did you make him a doctor, and in particular, a psychiatrist?
Well, in the beginning, Claire probably needed a psychiatrist, with all the terrible things she experienced in her past. Her tragic childhood is something she learned to hold inside, locked behind walls she’d constructed long ago to protect her fragile psyche. All of it makes her stronger and more self-sufficient, but it also makes her distrustful of others and unwilling to reveal her innermost thoughts or emotions. As a shrink, Nicholas Black sees this from the beginning and wants to help her. Everything about Claire fascinates him from the first moment they meet and continues to do so as he uncovers all the issues from her past that she struggles so hard to deal with on her own.
When they meet in Book One, Head to Head, Nicholas Black is Claire’s number one murder suspect. For that reason she keeps him at arm’s length for as long as she can, and longer than most women would want to, considering his charm and sexy good looks. She does not want to get involved with him because she hates and distrusts psychiatrists for putting her through hell during some of her traumas, because she wants to protect herself from getting too close to somebody else she believes she will eventually lose, and because she believes him to be wealthy and pretentious and entitled.
But Nicholas Black is not as shallow and vain and self-centered as she first believes. His fortune is self-made, and he carries a few mysterious secrets about his own past that she doesn’t find out for quite some time. In fact, even now, after six books, they still don’t know everything about each other. Some very interesting information about Black’s past is coming out soon that will throw Claire for a loop. And vice versa. Nicholas Black is a man who knows what he wants, and he wants Claire. It’s as simple as that. He loves her and wants to help her come to terms with her demons. Claire is the one in the relationship who is dragging her feet about commitment, and it drives him crazy.
I often get letters from readers who love them as a couple and are afraid they won’t end up together, especially after Claire meets Joe McKay, a rather cool, bad-boy psychic that I introduce in Book Two, Dark Places. Although she first thinks Joe is a quack and charlatan, his charm grows on her and they become good friends. Some readers would like Claire to hook up with Joe, but most of them want Claire with Black, and tell me so in no uncertain terms. It’s sort of a Team Black and Team McKay thing, but Black is winning hands down at the moment. They are still together now, as I finish up Book Six in the series. I love it that the readers are so involved and feel strongly enough to write to me. I love hearing from readers.
You are also known for writing some very scary and memorable villains, some of whom are serial killers. How do you come up with their unique methods of murder?
When I first envisioned this homicide detective series, I knew I wanted to show my readers why these killers turned out the way they did. I wanted to show what made them kill, what turned them into psychopaths. Serial killers and psychopaths/sociopaths have always interested me. I did lots of research and was shocked to find that some experts believe that one out of every twenty-five people is probably a sociopath, which is basically a person who has no scruples, no moral compass, and no empathy for other people. They feel no remorse when hurting or murdering other living beings; everything they do is designed for their own gain. Not all sociopaths kill, of course, but when that same reference book also mentioned that there might be a sociopath living next door to me, I wondered if I did know someone who is a sociopath, someone who lives in my neighborhood, perhaps, or with whom I work or play tennis or think of as a friend. And that struck me as such an alien and disconcerting concept that I found it intriguing. The same might be said for serial killers, of course, some of whom are sociopaths and some of whom are not. Some just love to kill for the sake of killing.
In order to inform the reader as to why the killers in my suspense thrillers were committing such terrible crimes, I gave the killer his own point of view that I present in his own chapters, which are interspersed between the chapters depicting Claire’s investigation of his latest murder. And I start in the villain’s childhood because many serial killers kill because of what happened to them when they were young and impressionable. I decided to use a different theme in each book but all of which present elements which would cause a person to kill, such as severe abuse, corruption by an older person, thirst for revenge or control, etc.
And then in some of the books, I wanted to show the “born” sociopath, who has no childhood triggers but only acts on his needs and desires without any feelings of remorse for his cruelty, just as long as it gets him what he wants. It is truly fascinating to study such people. I do try to write the killer’s chapters in a clinical way, without much gruesome detail, but at the same time still give the reader a feeling of what makes sociopaths and serial killers tick. And I think it’s relevant in this day and age when we so often hear of serial killers and just plain evil people lurking among us. One reader told me once that my husband had better sleep with one eye open. That remark made me laugh.
Your book, Remember Murder, came out in June 2013. What’s it about? And what does the title signify? Is it also set in Missouri?
Remember Murder is sort of a sequel inside a series. It begins where Book Four, Enter Evil, ended. In Enter Evil, Claire’s vehicle goes into a river when she is being abducted by a violent serial killer. At the end of that book, she suffers a head injury in the crash which puts her in a coma. Therefore, in Book Five, Remember Murder, the story resumes when she wakes up from the coma. Problem is, she is suffering short-term amnesia and doesn’t remember the last few years, including her lover, Nicholas Black. This element of the story presented some fun for me as the writer, but not for Black, who is frustrated when Claire tries to keep him at a distance while she recovers. Unfortunately, the bad guy in that crash survives, too, and she can’t remember what he looks like, either. All this results in some interesting scenes when Claire tries to remember Black and her other friends, while she tries to figure out who is murdering people around her. I hope Claire’s fans will have as much fun reading this story, as I had writing it.
Most of the Claire Morgan books are set in mid Missouri at a large resort area called Lake of the Ozarks. It is known throughout the state for the conventions held there at several large and exclusive hotel resorts. I decided to make another fictional resort on the lake called Cedar Bend Lodge. It’s owned by Nicholas Black, and is where he sees some of his high profile celebrity patients and where Claire’s first homicide occurs. Claire works for the Canton County Sheriff’s Department at the lake, which I fictionalized from the Camden County Sheriff’s Department, not wanting her to work at an actual police department. Book Six, Mostly Murder, is different, in that it is set in the bayous around New Orleans, which is where Nicholas Black was born and grew up. Get ready for some Cajuns and voodoo and scary fun down in the bayous of Louisiana! In Bad Bones, Book Seven, they will return to Lake of the Ozarks and a homegrown killer.
Do you work from an outline? What kind of writing process do you have? And has it changed through the years?
I do now. When I first started writing, with my historical romances, I wrote in longhand and never used an outline. I would wade through it, letting the characters and situations dictate where I went next. In other words, I would figure out the plot as I went along. However, when I changed genres to suspense thrillers, the plot itself became a lot more complicated. I had to lay down the clues, the leads, and the witnesses in the investigation, as well as throw out the necessary red herrings to fool the reader about the killer’s identity, and all in a precise order. On top of that, the investigation and the killer’s story lines ran side by side, one occurring in the present and one occurring in the past, and eventually came together at the end of the book. It is a fairly complicated task to line them up in such a way, especially with Claire uncovering the killer’s background one step at a time as the book moves along. That’s when I decided to make a long outline, maybe fifteen to twenty pages, with the major points and specific murders figured out in advance. Doing that has saved me a ton of time getting the book done. Along the way, I also graduated from longhand, to typewriter, and now to laptop computer. It’s very easy now with Windows 8, and it saves me all kinds of time and grief.
I’m an author who tries to get the entire first draft completed in very rough form, and then I go back over it in many other drafts to polish the work and make sure everything lines up and makes sense. I have author friends who write one chapter at a time, put it in the box as a finished product, and then go to the next chapter. How they do that, I cannot imagine. I find the multiple drafts help me add things, change things, catch repetitions, and tighten up the actual writing itself. Every draft adds pages to the manuscript and makes it better, I believe. I usually write all morning, take a break, and then write some in the afternoon. It really depends on the draft. When I’m putting down the very first draft on an empty white page with that cursor blinking, it takes me forever to get through to the end. That’s the draft where I also have trouble getting started each day. After that, though, when I am reading and editing the first draft, I work for long periods, and time seems to fly by.
I find the difficulty in writing a series of books about the same characters is remembering all the details and making certain that a character doesn’t have brown eyes in one book and blue eyes in the next one, for instance. I think I’ve managed to catch that sort of thing so far, but I also worry about including the same phrase or descriptive term because my past wording has a tendency to slip into my mind again. So please bear with me, if you do catch something like that.
Tell us about your family and personal life? Have you always been an author or have you worked at other things? Any hobbies? Sports?
I’ve been married for over forty years, and we’re still going strong. I have a daughter and a son, and they are both happily married. I always wanted four children, and now I feel like I have them. My husband and my daughter are teachers, both quite famous in our town. My son-in-law is a crack attorney. My son is a prominent accountant/CPA, and his wife is a successful vice-president and comptroller in a bank. I have two beautiful grandsons, Tucker and Cooper, and love playing with them. The best times in my life are family times. We have a lot of fun and go on vacations together all over the place and sometimes with our extended families.
Actually, I started writing relatively late in my life. I was in my late thirties and enjoying staying home with my small children and reading historical romances, which were very popular at that time. I decided to try one, found that I liked writing fiction, and after a few rejections, I sold my first three books to Penguin-Putnam, and then a month later, sold another book to Avon Books. It was all very exciting. I wrote twenty or so historical romances before I switched over to homicide thrillers. But I have done other things as well, including teaching high school business, working as a legal secretary, acting as the Advertising and Public Relations director at a small college, and working at a religious denomination world headquarters. I still perform developmental testing on three- and four-year-old children, which I love.
I love to play tennis and waterski and swim. I love to watch basketball games, especially the NBA Toronto Raptors because a member of that team, Tyler Hansbrough, is from my home town in Missouri. He has done very well, and we always root for him. I am a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, too. Truth be told, I’ve always been athletic and love to watch all sports.
I love traveling, especially with my family, and hope to visit Europe soon. I especially love Italy and all things Italian. Maybe I’ll even take Claire and Black there on one of her cases, just so I can hang around in Rome awhile.
Do you have favorite genres or authors you just have to read?
I love to read and have since I was a child. I love all kind of genres and read everything I can get my hands on. Right now, I’m reading the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I do love Jack Reacher. Talk about a cool guy. He and Claire would make a fantastic team of investigators! I also love Private Eye Elvis Cole, as well as his sidekick, Joe Pike, who are both written by Robert Crais. Elvis has this really great sense of humor that I enjoy. In fact, I would also like Elvis Cole and Claire Morgan to run into each other and investigate a case together. If I knew Robert Crais or Lee Child personally, I would ask them to co-write a book with me so our characters could meet. I always read Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke and Stephen King and the fabulous John Grisham.
I like romantic suspense, too, especially the late great Beverly Barton, who was a friend of mine. In fact, I co-wrote her last book, Don’t Say A Word, when she passed away before she could finish it. I also like Lisa Jackson, J.D. Robb, Wendy Corsi Staub, Karen Rose, and Eileen Dreyer. But there are many, many more authors that I always want to read.
I also very much enjoyed In the Garden of the Beast, and Unbroken, and Lost in Shangri-La, as well as all the Philippa Gregory books about the Tudors. I love movies and all the detective shows on TV, especially NCIS and Justified and Banshee and The First 48. I love the elegance of Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. I am obsessed with the TV series, Supernatural, my favorite, bar none.
What can we expect in Claire’s and Black’s relationship? Many readers want them to get married. Can you tell us if that’s going to happen? Are there any other major changes in Claire’s life coming up in the future books?
Well, they are together at the moment. Black’s already hinted around that he wants to get married. It’s Claire who’s not sold on the idea. He does make her a rather interesting proposal at the end of Remember Murder, I will say that, and she’s seriously considering it, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is. Then another and most intriguing thing happens at the end of Mostly Murder. But to answer your question, I wouldn’t be surprised if a wedding happens one of these days. Nope, I wouldn’t be surprised about that at all.