By Leslie Lindsay
I’ll admit to being a voracious reader. But I have one guilty pleasure: my couch, a bowl of ice cream, and an episode of “Criminal Minds.” Since today happens to be Wednesday, debut psychological crime writer Elizabeth Heiter (HUNTED, Mira, 2013) is here with us to talk about her fascination with crimial profiling, getting that first book out, what’s obsessing her and more! Oh, and she’s generously offered a signed copy of HUNTED to one lucky reader (see end of post for details).
L.L.: Many thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Elizabeth! A writer myself, I know there’s always a kernel of truth to every story, and a deeper reason for the drive to write. Can you give us a glimpse into your early days as a writer?
EH: Thank you so much for inviting me to visit! I think it’s true that many writers have a “need” to write, plus a desire to entertain, to inform, and to explore themes and ideas.
From the time I was very, very young, I loved stories – both listening to them and creating them. I started writing fiction back in elementary school and I co-wrote my first completed novel-length manuscript (with a friend who is still my critique partner to this day!) in high school. Writing has always been a passion for me, and I always knew I wanted to write suspense in particular.
L.L.: I’m currently in the last half of HUNTED, and must say I’m dying (okay, bad pun) to know how it ends. I know you won’t give away the ending, but tell us a little about how you got interested in such gritty crimes?
EH: Thanks, Leslie! I’m so happy you’re engrossed in the story! You know, one of the things that has always drawn me to suspense is that at the end of the story, you get some kind of closure, some kind of justice. And that’s something that doesn’t always happen in real life.
As for the gritty, dark crime scenes I write about, what originally interested me in telling this story was the profiling side of it. Often, when a profiler is needed, the crime is not only particularly difficult to solve, but also particularly horrible. Something that I noticed when doing the research was the number of this type of crime (serial murder) where the victims were women and the perpetrators were men. Sexualized violence and violence against women, as well as the prevalence of that kind of crime in our society, is something that I wanted to talk about – especially from the perspective of a female Special Agent in a male-dominated profession (the FBI is 80% men).
L.L.: You must have had to do a lot of research? So much of HUNTED reads as if it’s taken straight from a “Criminal Minds” episode or “CSI.”
EH: I did a ton of research. What fascinates me about profiling is the idea that someone can look at a crime scene without the typical means for solving it and still tell investigators what kind of person committed the crime – and how to find him. The type of cases that tend to get profilers are those where there’s no obvious motive, no clear suspects, and no helpful forensic evidence. Oftentimes, the perpetrator doesn’t even know the victims, so looking at the usual suspects – people who knew the victim or people who held some sort of grudge – isn’t going to solve the case.
I knew I wanted to write about someone who could see beyond the typical – who could look at a crime scene and see things like what sort of job the perpetrator probably held, whether he was married, why he was killing. To do that, I had to understand it myself. So, I spent many, many, many hours studying real cases, actual profiles, and abnormal psychology. After I did that, I started testing myself – I’d pick a solved case and go through only the information about the crime known to the investigators, then try to write a profile and see how close I came to describing the person who had ultimately been convicted for the crime. Once I felt confident with that, I began creating the Bakersville Burier for HUNTED.
L.L.: In perusing your website, I see HUNTED is the first in a series. How did you ever get so lucky? In fact, I counted five total (upcoming) books with your name on the cover! Can you share a bit about your success?
EH: Thank you so much! Believe me, I was definitely pinching myself when those two calls came, letting me know I’d sold two suspense books (HUNTED, and the sequel, VANISHED) and three romantic suspense (in my Lawmen Series, out next year). It was a long journey to get to that point. I submitted to agents and editors for nine years before I received those calls, and was rejected more than a hundred times over six or so manuscripts first. But I love writing novels too much to give up, so I kept going, and those rejections started turning into interest, and then the “close calls” began happening. Those years of trying weren’t wasted – I can see my progress over the course of those completed and partial manuscripts I wrote. And I hope that journey and progress never stops!
L.L.: What advice would you give to writers slogging away on that first manuscript?
EH: My advice would be to keep working, keep learning, and get involved with other writers – if you have a local writing organization you can join, it makes a nice difference. Not only can they offer great insight on craft and the business, but it’s nice to talk to other writers facing the same challenges. I also think it’s important to celebrate the successes. This is a difficult business, and sometimes we get so focused on getting to the next step that we forget to celebrate our accomplishments.
My critique partner and I used to have a system where we’d give ourselves a writing goal each week, and award ourselves a point for each goal achieved. Then, when we made ten points, we’d go out and reward ourselves. Having that accountability to someone else increased the likelihood of making the individual goals. I also think it helped keep us from getting burned out or discouraged because we were reaching smaller goals along the way to the ultimate goal of publication.
My last piece of advice is something that Suzanne Brockmann said to me many, many years ago: to paraphrase, she told me that the difference between an unpublished writer and a published author is perseverance. That really stuck with me – in fact, I wrote it down and put it on an “inspiration” corkboard by my desk.
L.L.: How about agents? How long did it take to find yours? Advice, tips? Favorite websites?
EH: I submitted for five years before I signed with an agent. I did have an offer of representation before that, but after a lot of thought, I turned it down because it didn’t feel right to me. Ultimately, another author who heard me read part of a manuscript recommended me to her agent, and I ended up signing with her. (This is another benefit of writer’s organizations, by the way – this author heard me read at a local chapter critique night, and that networking led to me submitting to the agent who’s now represented me for almost six years.)
My advice for anyone agent hunting is first and foremost, to do your homework. Before you submit, make sure you’re targeting the right agent inside that agency, and make sure the agency is reputable. Websites I’d recommend for that would be Predators and Editors, Association of Authors Representatives, and Absolute Write Water Cooler. When you do have an offer, read the contract carefully, and have a discussion with the agent about all the things that are important to you, including the vision you have for your writing career and how the agent plans to help you reach it.
L.L.: What is obsessing you right now?
EH: I’m in desperately-want-to-read mode right now (probably because I’m on deadline and don’t have time to pleasure read much at all!). What that means is that I keep perusing bookstores and picking up new authors I haven’t read, and adding them to my TBR pile. I absolutely love that feeling when you discover a brand-new author you’ve never read and as soon as you finish the first book, you go out and immediately get every other book they’ve written. I’m in the mood for that kind of binge read, and I’m going to get back to the search as soon as I finish writing my next book!
L.L. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
EH: Spending time with family and friends is at the top of that list. My niece and nephews are at such fun ages right now, I’m trying to see them as much as possible. I also recently got back into downhill skiing after a long break from it, and had a great time. I’m not quite back to the jumps and backward skiing I used to be able to do, but I’m determined to get there!
L.L.: What are you currently reading?
EH: I’ve started Suzanne Brockmann’s DO OR DIE, but I haven’t gotten far because of that deadline I’m on. Once I finish that book, I’ll be digging into one of the new authors I picked up recently. I read really fast, so once I get a little stretch of reading time, I tend to race through books, meaning I like to have a few lined up!
L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Elizabeth!
EH: Thank you for having me here! I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!
And now for the GIVE-A-WAY!! Elizabeth has generously offered a give-a-way of her new release, HUNTED (Mira, December 2013). All YOU have to do is (choose one) 1) tell me your favorite character on “Criminal Minds,” OR 2) Share a link of this interview via Facebook, email, Twitter, Pinterest, GoodReads, other. You can do this by leaving a comment on the blog! “I shared, please enter me in the contest.” Good luck!!*
ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.
Elizabeth graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. Fresh Fiction called her debut suspense, HUNTED, “a roller coaster ride that will twist, turn and spin you around until the very last page!”
For more about Elizabeth, her books, and appearances:
*Give-a-way Fine Print: Open to U.S. residents only. One entry per person please. Must let us know you shared by contributing a comment on the blog (otherwise, we don’t know you shared the interview). Comments open Wednesday, March 12th thru Saturday March 15th. You will be contacted via email if you are the winner. Please respond promoptly with your mailing address. Check your spam/junk folders. Books will be mailed from Michigan by the author when the contest closes. Please allow ample time for the book to reach you.
[phone image retrieved from http://cornerkick.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html on 3.5.14, "Crimimal Minds: logo from Wikipedia on 3.5.12, author image and cover image courtesy of Elizabeth Heiter]