By Leslie Lindsay
Portrait of modern Texas, in which tradition, family, secrets, and redemption run wild, this is a slow-burn mystery rooted in gorgeous writing.
It’s been a decade since Trumanell Branson vanished from her family farm, leaving only a bloody handprint behind. She was the town’s beauty queen, beloved daughter, but now she’s gone. Was it a serial killer? Her brother? Her disappearance and murder haunts the town.
Now, in WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK (Ballantine/PRH, August 11 2020), another girl has turned up. She’s not dead, but badly injured. She’s missing an eye, she’s mute. Odette Tucker, the town’s youngest cop (and hiding a perceived disability herself) is the one to find this injured girl amidst a field of dandelions. She believes the two instances may somehow be linked.
The writing in WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is delicately charged and searing, exploding with atmosphere. But it is a slow-burning literary thriller told from the POV of several traumatized characters carrying plenty of their own baggage. WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is darkly subtle exploration of loss and search for truth, structured in a bifurcated narrative. Ultimately, this is a tale seeking redemption and justice, while exploring themes of loss and grief.
Set in rural Texas, this story is hugely immersive and atmospheric. You can hear the chorus of cicadas, feel the dome of humidity, the dust will get stuck in your teeth.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Julia Heaberlin to the author interview series:
Julia! Welcome. WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK quickly got under my skin. It’s gritty, it’s atmospheric, it’s unsettling. Can you talk a little about your inspiration behind this title? Also, gorgeous cover!!
Thank you! I’d like to say I thought up the title for this book. Not that I didn’t try. The Dandelion Grave. The Wishing Field. And a hundred more ideas. But it is a creative young woman named Jennifer Breslin on the marketing team in the UK (where my disturbing Texas tales are inexplicably most popular right now) who pulled a concept from the novel and dreamed up the final title, which I love. It certainly applies to the times we live in. It is about how in the dark, we are able to see nothing but each other’s souls, without our prejudices in the way. It is about two fierce women in this book who refuse to be labeled or defined by missing physical pieces—an eye, a leg—and are, I hope, a meditation on physical beauty and strength. If there’s anything I learned while researching this book, it’s that the word disabled should be eliminated from our vocabulary.
(And there are TWO glorious covers for this book, from the UK and US, with very different interpretations. The books will release in August a week apart.)
One theme I noticed with all of your books—but particularly WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK and BLACK-EYED SUSANS is the overarching themes of bones and blooms. Dandelions here, daisies there. Both in Texas. Also, missing people. As a writer, I’m the same way: we have things we’re inherently obsessed with. Can you expand a little on this, please?
I’ve always had a fascination with the exquisite mysteries of nature, maybe because my mother maintained such a wild and beautiful flower garden. She would carry spiders out of our house on a newspaper and set them free on the leaves. Nature was good and evil, full of personality, and she let all of it co-exist. Hundreds of monarch butterflies would light in a stunning sight on her sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans during their migration to Mexico. Tarantulas crawled out of dark holes. Dandelions would litter our yard to be blown to bits and make more dandelions. My mother was always digging up something ancient on our property with her spade—bottles, fossils, odd pieces of metal, all of which she put in a box labeled, “Things nobody cares about but me,” so we would immediately know to toss it when she is dead. Which at 90, she isn’t, and that box will be the thing my brother and I fight over.
The fascination with the myth and mystery of missing people also goes back to my childhood. I distinctly remember when body parts of a woman were found in plastic bags tossed out a car window not that many miles from the small Texas town where I lived. Evil passing through—it leaves a mark on a young mind. So I believe that our obsessions start early and linger long. I can point to an obvious progression from editing true crime as a newspaper editor to writing fictional stories of badass women and redemption, where the victim and hero are the same person. As a journalist, I was always especially interested in stories that examined victims’ lives long after the trauma occurred. I particularly remember a case where a father hunted his kids with a shotgun in their own home, and twenty years later, wheelchair bound in prison, he wanted the ones he didn’t kill to visit him so he could apologize.
“We Are All the Same in the Dark is a gripping, richly layered exploration of haunted souls in a haunted place. Julia Heaberlin’s complex and memorable characters propel a story that keeps you guessing at every turn.”
—Lou Berney, author of November Road
I love that your characters are each missing a vital piece of themselves, as is true for anyone—we all have flaws. Here, we’re lacking vision, voice, and some physical abilities to out-maneuver one’s present (and maybe, past). Can you talk about how these particular flaws befell Odette and Angel? And what kind of research did do to make these pieces believable?
Researching this book turned into a profound experience for me. It changed my perception of what tough or pretty is. Asking “the experts” has been critical to all my books in developing characters, ideas, and the deeper layer beyond the plot itself. In the case of WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, the world of prosthetics. This book started the way all my books do, with a visual in my mind that wouldn’t go away. A girl with one eye was stuck in my head, blowing dandelions, making wishes. But I quickly realized this wasn’t a character I could grasp without knowing her vulnerabilities. Instead, I was hit with her strengths. I tracked down a world-renowned ocularist, the Picasso of prosthetic eyes, located near where I live in Dallas. He led me to three Texas women and a girl who shared their stories and secrets with me. Their prosthetic eyes are a twin to the eyes they were born with, so perfect that most of them keep it a secret, even the one who is an Instagram model.
I later toured the prosthetics lab at UT Southwestern in Dallas where I learned that, in a fight to the death, you’d single-mindedly protect your good leg, not your prosthesis. I got a new slant on the Oscar Pistorius case (the first double amputee to run on blades in the Olympic Games, who shot and killed his girlfriend after he claimed he heard an intruder while he lay in bed at night without his prosthetic legs).
After I got to know a SWAT team trainer with an amputated leg, he told me to ask him anything, and I asked: “How do you get to the bathroom at night with your leg off?” Crutches? Crawling? Hopping? These tiny details are important. I don’t get everything right in my books, but I try. I heard a famous thriller writer once say that any time you aren’t writing is wasted time and that included research. I never read another one of his books again.
Can you talk about what a perfect writing day looks like to you? What do you do to keep the saw sharp?
Does such a thing as a perfect writing day exist? I want that! A good writing day for me might represent one excellent paragraph. It might be a scene I conjure unexpectedly in the shower. It might be cutting a twenty-page chapter in half after my editor tells me to, watching all that effort bleed away, only to realize how much sharper and scarier it is. It could be an interview with a brilliant DNA specialist about bones that leads me to my best twist. Some writers say they can’t read at all while they are writing. I find that reading other books helps. When my words are flat, I read poetry so my mind will open up again to all the lyrical possibilities of description. When my pacing feels sluggish, I will read the best (and sometimes trashiest) of page-turners to get my blood going. Ideally, my books would be a combination of both things: good writing and tense, compulsive storytelling.
Julia, thank you so very much for chatting with us. What should I have asked about, but may have forgotten? What you’re reading…obsessing over…what you’re writing next…how COVID/quarantine is treating you…funny pet antics??
I’ll tackle all of those!
My next thriller could involve a conspiracy theorist hanging out in my head.
During these COVID times, my husband has put a sign facing out on his makeshift-work-from-home desk that says, “I’m pretty sure I have no idea,” and I’m pretty sure that sign is for me, his only on-site “co-worker.” I put up a sign that says “Women Only” on the downstairs bathroom.
My fat cat Carlos will make a special trip to the window to chomp down a snake in front of me.
And I have plenty of dandelions in my yard and black-eyed Susans under my bedroom window. What’s buried under them, nobody knows.
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1
For more information, to connect with Julia Heaberlin via social media, or to purchase a copy of WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, please see:
WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is a bifurcated narrative, told from the POV of several characters , and could probably be classified as a Gothic mystery akin to the work of Hester Young (THE GATES OF EVANGELINE) meets the work of Laura McHugh (nearly all of her books, but especially THE WOLF WANTS IN). I also found some similarities between WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK and Gillian Flynn’s earlier work, especially SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES . In terms of prosthetics and maybe overall style, I might compare WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK to Lori Rader-Day’s THE BLACK HOUR. Finally, those who enjoyed Karin Slaughter’s THE GOOD DAUGHTER will find many points resonating with this story as well–small town, farmhouse, murder, etc. Other authors came to mind, too because of some thematic elements. Elizabeth Brundage for farmhouses and Rene Denfeld for homelessness, missing children, traumatic experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
JULIA HEABERLIN is the author of the critically acclaimed We Are All the Same In the Dark and Black-Eyed Susans, a USA Today and Times (U.K.) bestseller. Her psychological thrillers, including Paper Ghosts (finalist for the ITW Thriller Award), Playing Dead, and Lie Still, have been sold in more than twenty countries. Heaberlin is an award-winning journalist who has worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Detroit News, and The Dallas Morning News. She grew up in Texas and lives with her family near Dallas/Fort Worth.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
~Updated, 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA coming this fall from Woodbine House. Querying MODEL HOME: A Daughter’s Memoir of Motherhood & Madness~
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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 8.11.20. Special thanks to DeweyDecimalMedia. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1.]