By Leslie Lindsay
Dark tale about a woman and her younger, troubled days, a murdered psychologist, and a small town cop. Plus, Emily chats about characters flirting with madness, staying disciplined as a mom-writer, and the books that stay with her.
Dr. Mark Fabian is found murdered in his office. His patients are suspected: including former patient, Nadine Raines, and Johnny Streeter, now serving a life sentence for a mass shooting at a local retirement home. But Nadine and Johnny were patients over 20 years ago, in 1997…what could they possibly have to do with Dr. Fabian’s death? And why now?
THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2018) is an edgy small town whodunit with alternating POVs and time periods, mostly focused on Nadine and Henry, a police officer-newly-turned-detective. And of course, what happened to Dr. Fabian?
At once a psychological thriller, THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU is also a slight deviation from Arsenault’s previous works as this one is also part police procedural.
Emily Arsenault takes her readers into the dark folds of a disturbed young woman’s mind—obsession and secrets—with a great deal of small town edginess that will have you frantically flipping the pages.
Please join me in welcoming Emily to the author interview series:
Leslie Lindsay: Emily, welcome! I am curious what the instigating spark was for you with THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU? Was it a character, a situation, or something else you wanted to explore?
Emily Arsenault: Thank you, Leslie! It was primarily a character—my female narrator, Nadine. I started with her. I wanted to write about a woman who does something impulsive and violent as a teenager and then has to figure out how—and how long—to atone for it. I wanted to go deep into her psychology to explore her reasons for that one fateful act. I’ve always been interested in adolescent impulsivity and the way our choices or behavior at that age can affect the rest of our lives. This is a theme I’ve touched on in earlier books, but I think I wasn’t yet ready, in those books, to carry this theme to as dark a place as it goes in The Last Thing I Told You.
L.L.: And yet it’s a bit different from THE EVENING SPIDER, which was more literary and focused on motherhood and hauntings and was almost historical in nature.How did your process differ with THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU? Or, did it?
Emily Arsenault: The Evening Spider wasn’t necessarily a typical book for me, either. That was my fifth book and I had never done a historical novel before. In fact, the process for that and The Last Thing I Told You had some similarities despite content differences. Both have two narrations that I was constantly jumping back and forth between as I worked. Both have one seemingly steadier, more relatable narrator and one who might be flirting with madness. Thematically, I think there are similarities that might not be immediately obvious. Both feature female narrators who think in a dark and perhaps skewed sort of way, and whose peers view them with suspicion.
“Psychologically acute, beautifully written, full of twists and turns, The Last Thing I Told You is a complex, absorbing and satisfying read.”
– William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob
L.L.: I was intrigued with the therapy piece of this tale—I’m curious what research you did to make this realistic?
Emily Arsenault: I really loved writing Nadine’s therapy sessions. As far as research, I read a few books and articles on the subject of therapy, but the main thing I did was consult with a friend who has worked as a therapist. At first, we just chatted generally about the subject. Then, when I was further along, she read the therapy notes and files of my fictional therapist to help me keep them realistic and professional. When I was revising the draft, she read the whole manuscript. Something we talked about a great deal is that the experience of therapy can vary widely depending on the particular type of training the therapist receives, the accountability structure he or she is in (e.g. hospital setting, private practice, paid by insurance, paid privately), the therapist’s philosophy or approach, and the therapist’s level of competence. I thought it would be interesting for readers to assess for themselves, along the way, if Dr. Fabian is a good therapist—if he’s asking the right questions or calling Nadine out at the right moments. The reader is very much in Nadine’s head for the therapy scenes, but the presence of Dr. Fabian—in the actual therapy sessions and his files—potentially gives readers a different perspective on her.
L.L.: Can you share a bit about your writing routines and rituals:
Emily Arsenault: It really depends on where I am in a project. When I’m in the early drafting stage, I struggle to stay on task for two or three hours a day. When I’m finishing or revising a project, I tend to want to power through and write all day and night. When I’m in the middle of a tough part, I tend to reward myself with sugar for finishing a certain number of pages or scenes. A miniature can of Coke or a cookie. My process is still in flux. I was very disciplined while my daughter was a toddler and a preschooler because my daily writing time was really limited and I had to use it wisely. Since she went off to full-time kindergarten this past year, I’ve kind of become flaky and unfocused. I’m still working out what my work and writing balance should be as she continues through elementary school.
L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU?
Emily Arsenault: Primarily I’d like readers to keep turning pages and enjoy the read. But with Nadine, I’d hoped readers would experience a dark female character in a way they might not have expected. I don’t want to say much more than that, because I don’t want to prescribe to readers how they “should” feel about Nadine.
L.L.: What’s the last book you read—and which book do you keep thinking about?
L.L.: Emily, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
Emily Arsenault: No—but thanks for your insightful questions, and thanks for having me!
For more information, to connect with with author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Emily Arsenault is the critically acclaimed author of six mystery and psychological suspense novels, and one young adult psychological suspense novel, The Leaf Reader. Titles of her adult novels include: The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Crime Book in 2009, The Evening Spider, What Strange Creatures, In Search of Rose Notes, selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Best Mysteries of 2011, Miss Me When I’m Gone, and her latest book, The Last Thing I Told You, which released i n July 2018 and was one of PureWow’s Best Beach Reads of the summer. She lives with her husband and daughter in Shelburne Falls, MA.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow/HarperCollins and used with permission. Author credit: Ross Gram.]