Petty Moshen, the main character in your debut novel The Drowning Game had an extremely unusual background that formed the premise for the entire story. What was your inspiration for the character?
I started writing THE DROWNING GAME in February 2013, a time of great turmoil in my family. I submitted the first chapter of it to my writers' critique group, and one of the members, Mike, said, "Petty is really unusual—she seems almost autistic."
What I hadn't told my group yet was that my daughter Layla had just been diagnosed with autism at age 14. While she is high-functioning, it had been a mystery to our family (as well as numerous experts who misdiagnosed her three times during her young life) why she was so hard to reach, hard to communicate with, why she struggled socially and misread social cues.
Mike's comment made me realize that, in order to characterize Petty, I had subconsciously used the characteristics of autism, which mimic what I imagine it's like to be raised in isolation, fear, and suspicion. Autism can isolate people by preventing them from understanding the motives, feelings, and actions of other people (this is referred to as a deficit in "theory of mind"). That's why THE DROWNING GAME is dedicated to Layla. You'll be happy to know that Layla is now 17 and has been receiving Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, which has greatly improved her social skills and quality of life.
Becoming a USA Today bestselling author with your first novel is a HUGE accomplishment. What did you do to celebrate and, more importantly, what secret sauce did you use to achieve such success?
This has been an amazing season for me! We've become very accomplished at celebrating...I've drunk more champagne in the past 18 months than I had collectively in my entire life previously.
I credit several things for my success: the most encouraging, supportive husband on earth; the world's greatest, most driven critique group; a tireless agent; an intuitive, genius editor; persistence; Bookbub; and hitting the Amazon algorithm just right! A lot of times, you just can't pinpoint what pushes your book over the edge. But as it turns out, and contrary to some opinions out there, having a major publishing house behind you really can help.
What are you reading right now?
I just got back from Thrillerfest in NYC, and my head is still spinning. One of the many workshops I attended was helmed by the brilliant David Morrell (of First Blood fame). I was so inspired by his advice that I downloaded and started reading his thriller Testament as soon as I got home. It is harrowing.
If you could co-author a book with anyone who would it be and why? (Feel free to time travel on this one—it can be any author, living or dead)
I hope this isn't cheating (and oh, well if it is...), but it would be my oldest daughter Chloe, with whom I have a writing podcast called The Lively Grind Cafe. She's an aspiring author who writes mostly fantasy but was inspired by attending Thrillerfest to come up with an idea for a thriller. We work well together--our joke is that we only have one brain between us--and I let her use it 95% of the time. I believe our collaboration will happen, but it'll have to wait until she's done with grad school. She starts at Harvard Law School next month. (Yes, really.)
What’s your favorite line from a book, movie or television show that you wish you’d written?
I have so many. In our family, we quote movies, books, and music constantly. But below are a few favorites.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Descriptions of Things and Atmospheres," The Crack Up
The epic first line from the long-winded and clunky Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: "Who is John Galt?"
(As an aside, Anthem is the better book and makes the same points in a more succinct fashion.)
The first line of Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins: "The beet is the most intense of vegetables."
From movies :
"I'm going to check out of this bourgeois motel, push myself from the dinner table and say, 'No more Jell-o for me, Mom!'" Michael Fitzsimmons, Peggy Sue Got Married
"We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster." The Shoveler, Mystery Men
"On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero." Narrator, Fight Club
The zombie apocalypse has happened (as we all knew it would one day). What movie or tv characters do you want on your team? (No superheros, that would be cheating)
Ripley from the Alien franchise, Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction, Jayne from Firefly, Raylan Givens from Justified, Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, and last but not least, Woody Harrelson's character Tallahassee from Zombieland because he already has zombie-fighting experience, he wields a deadly banjo, and he shares my affinity for Twinkies.