Hello everyone, long time no see ( did I seriously just type that?) today I’m very excited to announce the sixteenth author in our line up, Ms.Eileen Cook!!! Today she will be answering questions about the inspiration behind With Malice, how she goes about constructing a mystery novel, her favorite bookstagram picture and more! I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did! But, before we begin, I’m going to share some information about With Malice.
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With Malice by Eileen Cook
Genre: Mystery and Thriller
Release Date: June 7th 2016
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.
As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.
Q. How do you go about constructing a mystery? Do you start with the crime, main character, setting etc….?
A. Ideas tend to come to me as a question of “what if’s.” What if you couldn’t remember what you’d done? What if you were being blamed for a murder? What if you discovered someone close to you betrayed you? What would it take to make you do something really out of character? What if a friendship you’ve had your entire life started to change? All of those what ifs start to bunch up in my brain and bump up against each other to create new and interesting situations. Around that same time I start thinking about who would be an interesting character to put into that situation.
I’ve discovered over the years that it’s important to let ideas sit for a period of time and not to rush them. If you let them stew for a bit they can grow into even more interesting ideas.
Q. I’ve seen pictures of With Malice all over Instagram, do you have any favorites?
A. I do! Someone took a photo of themselves holding up their copy of WITH MALICE to the Italian coast the same place where the photo on the cover was taken. I thought it was so neat to see them together. I will admit I’ve enjoyed seeing all the pictures. Writing can be a very lonely activity so it’s nice to have the opportunity to share it with others and when they like it- it’s even better.
Q. What are some of the challenges of writing from the perspective of an unreliable character?
A. I think all characters (and people) are unreliable to some degree. We all filter the truth through own lens made up of values, experiences, memories etc. The reality is that the truth is a very flexible thing- we like to think it is black and white, but all of that depends on who is telling the story. Some unreliable narrators are lying to the reader- trying to misdirect them. In this case Jill is unreliable even to herself. She doesn’t know what’s happened either so she is trying to figure it out along with the reader. She was a tremendous amount of fun to write.
Q. What inspired you to write With Malice?
A. There were a few things that came together to form the idea of this book. I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew I wanted to write about two friends who had been in a relationship for so long that at times it was hard to tell where the good parts and the bad intersected. I’d also worked for over twenty years in the field of vocational rehabilitation assisting with people with injuries and illnesses as an expert for the BC Supreme Court. I had done a lot of work with individuals with brain injury and taking the opportunity to explore identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory was exciting.
Once I wrote a full draft of the manuscript I knew it was missing something and two other pieces of inspiration fell into place. The first was that I was planning a trip to Italy and it occurred to me to set the book there. I did a semester abroad while in college. It was an amazing experience, but there is something very disorienting about being so far away from home and your own culture. I felt it would give Jill an extra push to explore her friendship if they were out of their current element. As I prepared for the trip I started to read more about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add the pressure coming from the media- where everyone else is deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information.
The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR. (If you haven’t listened- download it- you’ll thank me.) It’s a true crime story about a murder trial that happened in the 1990s. With each person that told their story I would shift my feelings. “He’s totally innocent! He’s guilty! Wait-he’s innocent!” I wanted to see if I could recreate that feeling for readers by providing them with new perspectives that might change how they felt about the storyline.
Q. What type of research did you have to conduct for With Malice, and what’s the most interesting thing you learned?
A. I worked for years as a counselor for people who had gone through traumatic injuries or illness and I worked in a rehabilitation hospital similar to the one in this book. Because I’d done a lot of work with people who had experienced a brain injury that gave me a head start when writing this book. I already knew quite a bit about common problems people have when they’ve had a head injury and what their rehabilitation might look like. I had to learn more about the police system as well as details about Italy. I had the chance to travel to all the cities that exist in the book and that was my favorite part of the research.
Q. Who was your favorite character to develop?
A. This is such a hard question because I really enjoy all the characters in this book. (If you’re going to make up imaginary friends and spend hours, weeks, months, years with them you should at least make up people you find interesting.) I really enjoyed writing the friendship between Jill and Simone. Friendship can be a very complicated thing. At times it can be the best thing in your life and it can also be very harmful. One of my favorite people in the book is Anna- Jill’s roommate in the hospital. Anna is a combination of many people that I worked with when I worked in rehab- she’s tough, determined and has a sense of humor that will get her through this very difficult period in her life.
Q. As an author I’m sure that you always have a million story ideas running through your head do how do you decide which ones to develop into a story?
A. I keep a notebook (I have dozens on my shelves) and when I get an idea I write it down. Sometimes I get ideas when I have no time to deal with them. I might be writing another book, traveling or generally busy. I write them down so I don’t forget them. What I’ve discovered is that some ideas seem BRILLIANT when they first come to you. You’re all excited. You can’t wait to get started, but after a couple of days the excitement around them tends to drift away. You realize that they aren’t that brilliant after all. In fact, they might be down right boring.
But the ideas you can’t stop thinking about? The ones that wake you up in the middle of the night with a new twist. Or the ideas that start to mesh together with other ideas to create an even larger ones. Those are the ideas that eventually make it into a book for me. It takes a long time to write a book. And it will be really frustrating at times. There is nothing I would rather do than write- but there are days when I want to pound my head on the desk. It helps to keep you motivated if the idea you are working on is one that you are completely head over heels in love with.
Q. If you could do one thing to make this world a better place, what would you do?
A. More time to play with dogs. Who can be angry when they are petting a dog belly? In all seriousness I think the world is a better place if we focused more on being grateful and enjoying small things. There will always be someone who is smarter than you, thinner, has more money, has a bigger book deal, better hair, clothes etc. Instead of comparing ourselves to others we can focus on what makes us happy, spend more time doing those things and surround yourself with people who support you and make you happy.
Thank you so much Ms. Cook for answering my questions today! I’m so glad that you were able to participate in SHTSBR! Make sure to pick up a copy of With Malice at your local library and/ or bookstore and share with the hashtag #SHTSBR!