I'm an attorney and lover of mysteries. I really enjoyed the book, especially your main character. I can see a lot of opportunity for growth in future novels and am looking forward to the next one!

Asked by Anonymous

Thanks so much!  I really appreciate it.  There is nothing better than hearing from people who liked the book.

The next Dagny Gray is coming along.  Sometime down the line, I’d like to write a legal thriller about the lawyer in The Bubble Gum Thief, Percy Reynolds, and maybe another book starring Cecil Rowanhouse.  I’ve always like the way Greg Iles’ populated the city of Natchez with multiple characters capable of carrying a story, so I’ve tried to  lay some groundwork that would let me do the same.  

Dagny was a freshman at Rice. Do you have any connection with Rice? Enjoying the book ...

Asked by Anonymous

When I was 19, I was a second-year student at the University of Virginia.  My long-distance girlfriend attended Rice, as well as one of my best friends from high school, and I went to visit them at the university over my spring break.  I really liked the school—it seemed like a much better fit for me than UVA, probably because Rice was the right amount of nerdy for me.  I thought it might be the right amount of nerdy for Dagny too.  

As I mentioned, I’m hard at work on the next book.  Most of it will take place in a small town in Ohio, but part of it happens in places pretty far from there.  Here’s a taste of where I am today.  Thank goodness for Google Street View, which lets me travel there for free.  

Hollow World

My friend, Michael J. Sullivan, has become known as a fantastic fantasy writer as a result of The Riyria Revelations series.  He was also a great contributor to my First Page Project (which I need to revive).

Michael read a copy of The Bubble Gum Thief before it was published, and he gave me some great ideas about changes that made it better.  Then Michael honored me by asking if I’d give him thoughts on his new sci-fi novel, Hollow World, when it was still in a draft stage.  It’s a vivid depiction of a kind of future society, and a truly great story.  But it’s also a thoughtful attempt to grapple with issues of interconnectedness and technology, and that’s what I liked best about it.  Michael’s fantasy work harkens back to the classical era of fantasy books, so it’s not much of a surprise that Hollow World harkens back tonally to the days of Asimov or Bradbury, even while addressing concerns of our day.   I don’t usually read science fiction, but Hollow World made me want to. 

Hollow World is out now.  You can buy it here.

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Progress on the Sequel

Very nice people have asked how the next Dagny Gray book is coming along. So far, I’ve written about 108,000 words. That’s a lot of words. The Bubble Gum Thief is about 116,000 words. So what I’ve written is almost as long as The Bubble Gum Thief.

Although I’ve written a lot of words, that doesn’t mean I’m almost done. There’s still about a fourth of the story to tell. Then I’ll have to cut and revise considerably. Some things I love will have to go because they aren’t serving the story, not matter how much I love them. There will be problems to fix—temporal problems, character problems, tone and timing problems. Jokes will need to be fine-tuned. Scary moments will need to be more frightening. Emotional moments will need to ring more true. I will spend hours laboring over single sentences, only to cut them in subsequent drafts. At some point, I’ll question whether I have any business writing a novel. Editing is just as hard as writing; maybe harder.

A lot of writers spend many years on their first book, and just one year on their second. As a result, a lot of second books disappoint. I want my second book to be better than my first, so I won’t let it out until I think it is. I owe that much to my readers, and to Dagny.

The tentative title of the second book is Borderline, or Borderline Insanity, or Borderline Insane. I haven’t quited decided. Feel free to let me know what you think sounds best.

When it comes to writing about anorexia, the only truly radical move, as far as I can tell, would be to show clearly just how profoundly boring it is—not sad or prurient or overdetermined… . I don’t know what a deliberately boring book about anorexia would look like. The closest Osgood gets is when she writes, “I used to sit in trigonometry class and calculate my intake obsessively in the margins of my notebook, each time coming up with the same answer, each time dismissing my mathematics as unreliable.” That is a much more accurate description of the disease than anything involving clavicles or frozen yogurt or sexual abuse or the fear of feeding tubes. If we really wanted to protect our supposedly susceptible youth, we’d paint anorexics as they are: slowly suicidal obsessives who avoid other people and expend ninety-five per cent of their mental energy counting the calories in green vegetables. We wouldn’t see them as worth reading about at all.

-Alice Gregory, from Anorexia, the Impossible Subject, in The New Yorker.

One of the reasons I was interested in depicting Dagny’s anorexia in The Bubble Gum Thief is that genre fiction gave me a chance to attempt exactly what Alice Gregory is talking about here. If I were using Dagny in contemporary literary fiction, the focus of the story would probably be about Dagny’s struggles with anorexia, which meant that anorexia would have to entertain the reader and keep him or her engaged. That would require either embellishment or romanticization. In a mystery/thriller, murders do that heavy lifting, which means that Dagny’s anorexia can exist as it actually would—as a facet of her personality that doesn’t define who she is, even though it affects how she lives.

When I wrote my first outline for The Bubble Gum Thief, Dagny wasn’t anorexic, and her character felt empty and flat. I thought about the protagonists of other thrillers that I loved, and the flaws that made them feel real. Some were alcoholics; some liked to gamble. Some just couldn’t get along with authority. None of that seemed like Dagny to me. (Maybe, maybe some of the last one, but that wasn’t enough).

If your thriller is set in the real world, it should feel like the real world, and the people in it should feel like real people. People tend to think anorexia is something that happens to young women in high school or college, but it’s increasingly common with women in their thirties (like Dagny) and beyond. As I delved more into Dagny’s character, I began to wonder whether Dagny might be anorexic.

Since I’m not a woman suffering from an eating disorder, it seemed terribly presumptuous to think that I could write about a woman suffering from an eating disorder. I watched videos about anorexia; I read medical studies about it. I went to the library and checked out every memoir about eating disorders I could find. Many of the women who wrote these memoirs were extremely intelligent and ambitious—just like Dagny.

I got to a point where I felt that I could relate enough to the impulses underlying anorexia and the emotions surrounding it to do it justice. Readers can judge for themselves how successful I was at capturing Dagny’s eating disorder, or balancing it with the plot of the book, but I believe the choice to take on this affliction as part of Dagny’s character was correct.  Again, eating disorders exist in real life, and should therefore be present in some depictions of reality.  Moreover, extending awareness about these disorders might make people more observant about those in their own lives who might need help.