The two books I picked up at tonight's event. You can win the signed Heartsick! (Book #1 in the series)
Wednesday night, I went to see Chelsea Cain at Elliot Bay Book Company
over on Capitol Hill with my mom. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out who introduced me to the Gretchen Lowell/Archie Sheridan series, I think my mother might've heard about it on the radio or in a news article? Anyway, I've been reading this series from the beginning as have many of my friends, both online and in real life. For those unfamiliar with the series, it revolves around a female serial killer in Oregon and the detective who finally put her behind bars, but not before she tortured him for ten days and completely messed up his mind. The third primary character is Susan, a local newspaper reporter, whom Cain later mentioned she added into the series as an entry point for her as a writer. Cain herself used to be a journalist so Susan's character allows for her to speak with authority about what life is like for someone in that line of work.
We were a few minutes late for the event so when we walked in she was already reading, and the chapter was a gruesome one from early in the book. I had started the book that morning but only got to around 20% on my Kindle before we had to leave. There is a chapter early on wherein Susan is giving her boyfriend a hand job in a public place. It is weird to know your mother is reading about hand jobs. (I can't even begin to think what people think about their mothers and even grandmothers are thinking about whilst reading Fifty Shades of Grey
) So it was with great relief that I sat down and listened to Cain read about a hanged body, stripped flesh, rotten smells, and general grossness. She is an engaging speaker and my mom and I had joked on the way there about what kind of person writes these gory crime thrillers. I don't know if you could ever look at a lineup of writers and guess what genre they write (this could be a really fun blog post), but I don't think I would pick a blonde woman in a Hufflepuff quidditch captain t-shirt
as my go-to for crime thriller, would you?
Remember when I should've put my hair down?
Cain continued to read while I thought about this and then my blood pressure started to rise as she finished the chapter and declared, "Alright, that was the gruesome, now let's get to the sex!" and read the entire hand job chapter. While I sat in the audience. With my mom. Welp, I guess I can cross that off my bucket list. And don't even try to make the argument that I should lighten up and that everyone knows that adult women are all probably familiar with hand jobs. Only someone who has done something similar like watching an explicit sex scene in a movie with their parents and not felt one iota of awkwardness can come in and tell me to get over it. While we're on this subject, here's how she signed my copy of Kill You Twice
Oh, I'm sure they will.
Truth be told, it wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be. After the reading, she took questions from the audience and *gasp* I actually asked a few. When asked where she gets her inspiration, she joked about how she need look no further than the Metro section of her local Portland paper, The Oregonian, because it's filled with some pretty messed up stuff. (She also joked that her computer had once gotten an STD from a bondage website she visited while researching) Chelsea Cain is the type of person who crosses bridges and instead of taking in the view is instead wondering how many dead bodies are in the Willamette River at that very moment. The type of person who reads through articles about how the number of pedestrian deaths in Portland is huge and wonders if there is a serial killer on the loose running random people down for kicks. The type of person who goes hiking and spends all their time eagle eye-ing the woods in the hopes of finding a dead body. (Perhaps I missed my calling as I do these things as well!) An audience member asked a question about how Cain approaches a crime scene. As a former newspaper reporter, the audience member spoke about how she always tried to approach a crime from the victim's point of view in order to rebuild their life for the reader. Cain responded that if she were to do something like that, it would add too much emotion to the books and become a sad experience for readers, which would obviously be detrimental to a successful crime thriller. She approaches the story from Susan and Archie's perspectives and the victim is just a part of the storyline. Cain then went on to talk a bit about Gretchen's POV. (Gretchen is a seriously deranged lady serial killer and master manipulator with a shockingly high body count, for those unfamiliar with her) She said that Gretchen's POV is purposefully left out to keep readers wondering why she does what she does. It would lessen the suspense, in Cain's opinion, if we knew what was driving Gretchen's actions.
The next question cracked me up because it was something I'd been wondering and laughing about while I was reading the beginning of her newest book. "Is she making fun of Portland/ers?" Here is an example of what made me wonder about it:
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Jake Kelly only drank fair trade coffee. It guaranteed a living wage for coffee farmers, who otherwise might be slaving away for a price less than the cost of production, forcing them into a cycle of debt and poverty. Jake needed a cup. He needed the caffeine. But the center only had Yuban. He could smell the nutty aroma of French roast wafting from the brewing air pot. Was he tempted? Yes. But then he thought of the indigenous people of Guatemala, working for pennies in the coffee fields. Every choice a person made, what to buy or not to buy, what to eat and drink, had the power to change lives. You were either part of the solution or part of the problem. (Locations 131-136).
This reminds me of Portlandia
and also several experiences and people I've encountered in Portland
. (I'm still trying to forget one of the worst hangovers of my life when all I wanted was a greasy breakfast and a pop and what I got was a 45 minute wait at a "hip place for brunch
" where I was told they didn't have fountain drinks but only italian sodas and homemade root beer and instead of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, I could have something more pretentiously described and less tasty.) Cain isn't making fun of Portland. "No way," she said, "Portland is a character in the book." She said she set the series there mostly because she's lazy, but that it has worked out well because it is a fabulous setting and it feels relatable to a lot of people, including Germans, for some reason.
Having read all installments in the series thus far (Heartsick
, Evil at Heart
, The Night Season
, and last week's release, Kill You Twice
), I asked Cain whether she has an end in sight or an idea of the overall story arc of the series. Cain joked that she'd like to write as many of these as she can but that she'd probably write 57. She said that she's not an outliner but that she has the main storyline in mind and side ones are added in when she's plotting a new book, some that she has thought of already to add in over the series and some that come up while writing. This question and answer made me a bit nervous, actually, because Tatiana, Catie, and I talked recently about series that go on for too long and I hope that doesn't become the case in this one. (Also, I am very excited at what other crazy serial killer characters Cain can come up with!) As it stands, Cain signs 3-book contracts for the series.
The next topic up for discussion and one I am super psyched about is that FX is developing the series into a television show. Everyone in the audience and Cain seemed to be very excited to discuss casting choices. The pilot was written by a Finnish screenwriter who contacted Cain and was a fan of the series from its onset. The first season of the show will be Heartsick
and so on, that is, if the network picks up the pilot. (I hope they do!) The author has no specific choices in mind for casting, but people have told her they'd love to see someone like John Turturro
as Archie and she thinks Charlize Theron
would be a killer (pun intended!) choice for Gretchen because the actress needs to be scary and believable and with a certain intelligence behind her eyes. When speaking about Henry, Archie's fellow detective, Cain and an audience member talked back and forth a bit about whether Henry is black or white. I was surprised this came up because I'd never thought of Henry as anything but black, though I can't point to anything that really made me think that. (For the record, the audience member thought the same) Cain says that he is white but that it is interesting that so many people wonder about that because she originally wrote him as a black man and then changed it because she felt it to be too cliche to have a black best friend/partner. Meh, I think I'll just continue on my way, reading him as black. (and also picturing him as Henry from Eureka
) Even if the show's story deviates from its source material, Cain isn't too worried about it because FX produces some amazing shows. Agreed.
Susan, the reporter from the books, is known for her sense of style and her ever-changing hair color. Someone in the audience asked Cain what her favorite color has been for Susan's hair, to which she responded pink, and said that she's been careful to only use colors that are actually real ones in the Manic Panic line
. Fun factoid: Every piece of clothing that Susan wears is actually part of Cain's wardrobe in real life. The author, while talking about Susan's pink hair, then went on a tangent to discuss Barbie Theatre
, which is a subsite on her webpage where she uses her daughter's Barbies to create trailers for her books. One of my favorite portions of the evening was when Cain talked a little bit about funny things that have happened with her daughter due to her job as author of crime thrillers. She joked that her daughter chastised her for leaving fake blood on one of her dolls, Cain found her once engaging two fake severed hands in an imaginary conversation with each other (she was giving away signed severed fingers with book purchased at the event. I'm sad I forgot to ask for one), and that Chuck Palahniuk
once lent her a book and she later found her daughter using a crime scene photo in it as a coloring book. (The two authors are in the same writing group and meet up weekly)
I asked her what she likes to read for pleasure and Cain said she was currently reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
and that she loves the Sherlock stories because the solutions to the crimes are always so ludicrous but that we, as readers, just totally believe them. (True. Also, she's a fan of BBC's Sherlock
. (Who isn't?!) She also likes to read nonfiction like the work of Bill Bryson
and often mines books for factoids that she can use for Susan's character in the series. In terms of her television tastes, she likes Game of Thrones
, True Blood
, Mad Men
, and Law & Order
, which she thinks she's now seen every episode of. She joked that she knew she'd made it when she saw a character on True Blood
reading her book.
The "I knew I'd made it" moment.
She's also a fan of British television, which is a holdover from her childhood, during which she watched tons of Masterpiece
. One of her favorite shows, Wire in the Blood
, is based on the crime series that inspired her to write Heartsick
. (Val McDermid's Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series
) She finished all the books from the series and was wary of starting a new series to fill the void and finding that it wasn't as good. She decided to just write her own book that would be exactly what she wanted to read. Cain also joked that when she was writing Heartsick, she'd think about how she'd write this book, it would be successful, and that somehow she'd get the chance to meet Robson Green
, star of Wire in the Blood
. She got her wish last year when she was nominated for a British literary award and met him at the awards show.
The next question was which book in the series is Cain's favorite. She said that next one (which is already finished!) is her favorite. It is Halloween-themed and will contain a big reveal. When restricted to those books already published in the series, she wasn't sure if she had a favorite but that Evil at Heart
was her least favorite. My least favorite was The Night Season
because it was less gruesome and Gretchen was largely absent from it. Cain spoke a little bit about that particular book and said that her publisher asked her to write an installment that was more accessible those unfamiliar to the series and its gore and that might serve as an later entry point. This kind of validated my feelings about the book so I'm glad it was addressed. She said that she really missed Gretchen while writing and that it would definitely be a long time until she writes another book without her. (Thanks!) In terms of her characters, Cain answered an audience question about whether they were based on real people with the statement that she was never able to actually finish a book until she stopped basing characters on real-life people. Nowadays, she often uses people's real names for the victims and just kills them, which some people appreciate and others find less amusing than she thought they would. She said her beta readers thought Susan's character was a huge asshole, which entertained Cain because she used Susan's character as the vehicle to say all the things Cain herself would say in the situation but would never actually
After the event, I bought the newest book, which you saw signed above, and a copy of the first book in the series to give away. Are you still reading? Have I piqued your interest? Enter to win a signed copy of Heartsick!
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