Friday, September 7, 2012

Chelsea Cain, An Interview

Today is a very special day for me.  I am interviewing one of my favorite authors of one of the MOST fantastic psychological thriller series out there, Chelsea Cain of the wonderful Heartsick books.  Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan have made for a simply fantastic thrill ride that just doesn't get boring.

Thank you Chelsea for coming by!

Gretchen is just the perfect psychopath, how hard was she to create?

Here’s the thing about Gretchen--wait for it.  Most psychopaths are actually not witty, charismatic beauties.  I know!  It’s disappointing isn’t it?  I conceived of Gretchen as this seductive, dangerous woman, and immediately set out researching violent female psychopaths. It didn’t take me long to learn this: there aren’t many.  Don’t get me wrong—Women kill.  But we tend to stew for years, plan it all out, and then poison our husbands or smother our babies, and we get away with it.  (I have this theory that there are, in fact, plenty of violent female serial killers – we are just very clever and never caught.) I wanted Gretchen to commit murder, not because she felt wronged or because her daddy was mean to her or because she was mentally ill.  I wanted her to kill for the hell of it.  Because she liked it.  In other words, I wanted her to kill like a man. So after months of reading tedious criminology case studies of female offenders who were nothing like Gretchen, I slammed the books shut and said, “Screw it, I’m going to make it up.”  I can’t tell you how freeing that was.  I created Gretchen out of whole cloth, or at least melded her together from every evil fabulous pop culture character who’d come before her.  (What would Dynasty have been without Alexis?)  

Is she capable of loving Archie?

That’s the question, isn’t it?  This is one of the driving inquiries of the books.  I think that part of what makes Gretchen a powerful character is that readers don’t know what she’s thinking.  She never has a point of view.  We never get inside her head.  So we don’t know.  Does she care about Archie, or is this all part of some long-term plot?  We yearn to know what she’s thinking, just as Archie’s does.  But she’s unreliable.  She’s a liar.  And we known we shouldn’t trust her.  But at the same time there is something vulnerable about her when she’s with Archie and we want to believe that she is capable of caring about him – but is she?  See how I totally evaded that question?

Side stepping her penchant for killing just for a moment, is she modeled after anyone or a complete creation of yours? 

Side stepping her penchant for killing?  That’s like eighty percent of Gretchen’s character!  You are hoping, perhaps, that I will admit to basing her on a popular girl in school?  (I did attend LowellElementary; make of that what you will.)  People ask me if there’s any of me in Gretchen.  I wish.  I mean, setting aside the killing, she is very articulate and charming and beautiful.  She says the stuff that I come up with ten hours after the conversation has ended.  Plus, she’s so confident.  She has very high self-esteem, that woman. And she isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. 

Stephan King can be brutally honest with his criticisms (Stephanie Myers Twilight), how did his tip of the hat to you on 1 & 2 feel?

Oh, Stephan King!  He is a handsome and very wise man.  This is what he said about Heartsick and Sweetheart: "We've been down Hannibal Lecter Avenue many times, and these two books shouldn't work...but they do. Chalk it up to excellent writing and Cain's ferocious sense of humor."  You know what part of that I love the most?  The part about my “ferocious sense of humor.”  Can we just bask in that last sentence for a moment?  That was so important to me.  Because here’s the thing  -- the books ARE funny. Dark, yes, but funny. And I worry that the humor is often overshadowed by the sex and gore.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for sex and I am all for gore.  But it’s important to me to inject something else in the books – something light hearted, albeit fucked up, and yes…funny. Before I wrote thrillers, I wrote illustrated humor books—true story.  And I think that a thriller without humor is just a slog.  It’s just too intense.  But I think that many people have an impression that my books are these gripping dark sagas without any relief.  I begged my publisher to put that “ferocious sense of humor” quote on the books.  They used the quote.  But not all of it.  Printed on the back of the paperbacks is the following quote. “Ferocious – Stephen King.”  Sigh.

Any thoughts on why female serial killers are nil in the book world, especially since it's mostly women who read the thrillers?

Women are like 75% of all thriller readers.  Why are female serial killers are rare in fiction?  Probably because they’re rare in life.  Also, they’re not as culturally scary.  We tend to kill people we know, and we do it quietly, without much fuss.  I think a better question is why are popular thrillers so lacking when it comes to any sort of strong female characters?  There are certainly exceptions.  But there are also many bestselling books featuring these weak women wearing inappropriate shoes.  I think that one of the reasons that Gretchen resonates with so many female readers is that she is a powerful archetype in a genre where powerful female archetypes are sadly lacking.  She knows what she wants.  Most of the women we see reflected back at us in books and TV and in movies do not know what they want. Whereas most men we see on screen or on the page, do.  Again, lots of exceptions.  I’m speaking generally.  But it’s interesting to think about, isn’t it?  So when a woman comes up to me after a reading and says, “I find Gretchen Lowell so inspiring,” (and this actually happens), she doesn’t mean she admires Gretchen’s skill with a scalpel.  She’s just excited to come across a female character who appears not to experience any self-doubt.

Do you ever have to take a step back when it gets too intense or is that when it flows the best for you?

Whenever I get nervous when I’m writing, I know I’m doing something write.  I love to push the boundaries.  If my readers don’t say, “I can’t believe she went there,” at least once when reading my book, I feel like I’ve failed them.

What book is on your nightstand right now?

There isn’t a book on my nightstand right now.  I don’t read right before bed.  I’m a before-bed TV watcher.  (Usually DVR’d episodes of Law & Order.)  So my bedside table has a remote on it.  But if you’re asking what book I’m reading right now, the answer is “Dora: A Headcase,” by Lidia Yuknavich.  It is mighty spectacular, too.

Favorite authors?

Val McDermid, Henry James, Maurice Sendak, Mary Gaitskill, Mary Oliver, Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker, Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Lewis, Anthony Lane and Carolyn Keene.

How stoked are you with FX picking up Heartsick?  Please tell me you're going to hold onto some control or specify certain changes as unacceptable. A director who shall remain unnamed has absolutely butchered a wonderful series and I would be heartsick (oh no I didn't)  if the same happened here.

I’m pretty epically stoked.  Like massively, heart-attack-inducing, stoked.  I will be a creative consultant on the series, which means basically that I can give them all sorts of feedback and they can take it or completely ignore me.  But, know this.  I personally partnered with the head writer of the series.  I love him.  He read Heartsick when it came out, and all the other books following.  He is a true fan of the series and of the characters. Frankly, he knows the universe better than I do.  I trust him completely with the characters. And FX is known for giving their show runners total creative control. This is their thing – they let creative people do what they do, and see what happens.  This is why they have put together such fine shows as The Shield, Damages, American Horror Story, Justified, Louis, The and Sons of Anarchy.  They are currently working on getting the pilot written, cast and filmed. Then they will look at the pilot and decide if they are going to order a season of shows.  But let me be clear.  I have absolute confidence that if FX picks up the pilot, they will produce an amazing, awesome TV show.  It might be different from the books.  But it will be excellent and interesting and I will DVR it and watch it before bed.

Did you ever imagine this kind of love for your books?

Never, ever.

This was awesome and I truly appreciate your time.  Lots of luck with all your endeavors! I will be waiting for the show :)


  1. Paula, you and Chelsea totally rocked this interview. I felt both your personalities coming out.

    I loved how she answered but didn't answer the question, lol

    Intense, gore, sex, yup got to love those.

    So I finally picked up Sweetheart, reading it now, thanks for the kick in the arse to get me going again.

    1. This was quite a highlight for me : ) I loved the interview and am honored she took the time : )

      I am so glad you started the book!

  2. That an awesome interview!!! I have her books on my shelf just waiting for me to read!!

  3. What a great interview! I've only read the first book in her series but am very excited it may be a TV show. Funny that she listed four of my favorite shows. Thanks for doing this!

    1. I'm excited too! The rest are just as good as the first :)

  4. I am picking up her books! Thanks!'

    Here is my Thrill Week review of The !2th Victim by Katia Lief

    1. Glad to hear it! You won't be sorry :)


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