Tag Archives: kidnapping

Write On, Wednesday: Helen Klein Ross on her astonishing debut, WHAT WAS MINE, motherhood, poetry, China, & so much more

Standard

By Leslie Lindsay 

Absolutely mesmerizing, astonishing, and emotionally riveting. I couldn’t put WHAT WAS MINE down. Cover Image - WHAT WAS MINE

It’s one of those horrific ‘daydreams’ all parents have, they turn their back for just one second and—poof—their precious child (or baby) is missing. In that sense, it’s a harrowing story and so I struggle saying WHAT WAS MINE was an ‘amazing’ book about infant abduction? But it is.

The chapters are short, filled with complex emotion and gentle prose. It’s women’s fiction meets psych suspense meets thriller…and one of my favorite styles of books, hands down.

Join me and author Helen Klein Ross as we chat about her debut fiction.

Leslie Lindsay: Helen, it’s such a joy having you here. Thank you! I have to admit that I picked up WHAT WAS MINE because I am working on a similar theme in one of my works-in-progress. That was my reading motivation, but what was your writing inspiration, what was haunting you enough to bring you to the page?

 Helen Klein Ross: Thanks for inviting me, Leslie. And thanks for reading and recommending the book. As you know from your research, there are plenty of real life stories about kidnappings. As I was writing this book, I sometimes got links from people who assumed I was writing a “true tale.”  But the novel came out of my own deep-seated fear of having my own babies kidnapped. I raised two girls in New York City and being with them on a crowded bus or busy sidewalk, I’d think how easy it would be for someone to make off with them. I was always kidnapping my kids in my mind, neurotically anticipating how it might be done and by doing so, hoping to prevent it. It worked, ha! My daughters are safely in their late twenties now. Clearly, I was writing this novel decades before I sat down at the keyboard.

L.L.: I understand the impetus to WHAT WAS MINE began as a short-story. What was it like in short-story form and what changes did you have to make to turn it into a full-blown  novel? 

Helen Klein Ross: What Was Mine started out as a story I sent to Atlantic Monthly in 2005. Michael Curtis, who was then fiction editor, responded with a note I still have (this was when mail required actual stamps) saying that the piece seemed to him “a gravely compressed novel rather than a short story.” I wasn’t happy when I got his letter, of course, but I’m grateful to him now. It got me thinking: how could I expand the story into a novel? In my story, the protagonist doesn’t keep the baby for more than a few hours. She takes her to a park, then leaves her in a picnic area crowded with mothers and children, where she knows the baby will be immediately found. But, what if she kept her? How would that work? How could a normal person get away with something like that? And, how was it the baby was alone in the cart in the first place? And what about the birth parents? How would they go on after such trauma? More and more questions produced more and more pages and soon I had a huge, rambling world too big to be contained in a story. The one thing I kept from the story was its title “Baby Drive,” the title of the fictional book that plays a role in the plot.

L.L.: The idea of a female abductress—is that even a word?—is a bit unusual. We’re usually talking about men who abduct children and hold them hostage I their basements. But this story is anything but. Lucy Wakefield is an educated, successful woman working for an NYC ad agency. Her daughter isn’t starved of food and water in a cellar, but sent to private school. What, in your opinion is the difference between your character and the seedy folks we hear about in the media?

Helen Klein Ross: Ha, I resist abductress for the same reason I dislike poetess. Lucy is an abductor. She never thinks of herself as one, though, despite the fact that she took someone else’s child. Her motivations aren’t ones that cause men to take children. That she is, like them, a criminal doesn’t even occur to her until she sees a television reporter announce a search for the kidnapper. She thinks of herself as having “taken” a baby, not “kidnapped” one, which is, in part, how she lives with herself after committing such a monstrous act. To me, it’s an example of how we humans rationalize things: using language to detoxify horrendous situations. It’s something I learned about, working in advertising. In a pitch meeting for a company that made weapons, among other things, I first heard the term: collateral damage. I was appalled to find out what that actually meant.

 L.L.: You have this wonderful foray to China in your story. A Chinese nanny helps care for little Mia and then later, we pack our virtual bags and head overseas with your characters. Do you have any connection to China yourself?

Helen Klein Ross: My husband and I were lucky enough to visit China in 1982, just after it opened to individual tourists. We spent six weeks traveling around, despite not being able to speak a word of Chinese, and were amazed by the place: its natural wonders, its ancient architecture, the kindness of strangers who welcomed us. Many things in China were different then than they are now. In 1982, China was a poor country, just coming out of the Cultural Revolution. We–and the things that we carried: our backpacks, our clothes, our shoes, even our brand of soap and toothpaste–were objects of fascination. Crowds gathered around us wherever we went; some had never seen blue eyes before. China had been closed to the West for many years. People were eager to know how we lived. We’ve had the fortune to return to China many times since then and I marvel how, in a mere thirty years, the country has catapulted so far ahead. I used to feel, travelling to China, like I was stepping back in time. Now, each time I go, I feel as if I am stepping into the future. Cell service on subways! Wifi booths!  Clean and free public loos everywhere. Why can’t we figure out how to have these things? Now, visiting China, I sometimes feel like an emigrant from the Olde World, constantly astonished by new sights. And yet, much of Old China still remains. Ancient temples abut glassy skycrapers. The juxtaposition is often breathtaking. 

L.L.: WHAT WAS MINE is told by alternating POVs (12 to be exact), and while that sounds like a lot, it is so well done. How did you make this structural decision? Do you every have characters ‘talk’ to you, demanding to be put into the story?

 Helen Klein Ross: Fifteen, actually, but who’s counting, ha. It took me a long time to figure out structure. This story couldn’t be told by one character because no one character could know the whole story. I first tried a collage approach, assembling emails and newspaper reports, trying my hand at an epistolary approach. But, fun as that was to do, the narrative felt flat. I decided to simply start telling the story from the points of view of those affected by it. I saw that multiple first persons made the pages read urgently, as if people were pulling you aside at a party and saying, Look there’s something I’ve got to tell you!

“Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, and always riveting, What Was Mine masterfully makes you question where your sympathy should lie at every turn.   I couldn’t put down this fast-paced, fascinating psychological study of motherhood.”  —Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

L.L.: Ultimately, this is a story about motherhood. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Helen Klein Ross: I’m interested in all the ways there are to be a mother these days. I hope I have written something that conveys what my own motherhood has taught me: there’s no one right way to be a mother. A good mother is one who acts out of love for her child.  Of course, the part of the sentence most salient to this book is the modifier: “her child.”

I also hope the book helps energize discussions about what it means to be a mother, and also employed. One of my first readers was a father who said it opened his eyes to how many decisions mothers in the workforce have to make, decisions he himself never had to consider.

L.L.: I’m so curious about your previous career in advertising. You’ve also written a book about it. Can you speak to that, please?

Helen Klein Ross: Yes, I worked as a creative director at several ad agencies in New York, and that experience really helped in writing a book from multiple points of view. To channel many voices, I felt trained by the years I spent as a copywriter learning how to write convincingly in the voices of multiple brands. My years of exposure to focus groups for products as diverse and dogfood and fashion and pharmaceuticals really helped teach me how to speak in the voice of various characters.

The protagonist in What Was Mine works in an ad agency and the book provides glimpses of making_it1what that is like, but my first novel, Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue totally immerses the reader in the wild, wacky, wonderful world of advertising, thirty years after Mad Men. That novel is full of stories about what it was like to work in Adland at the end of the 90s, before the business went digital: crazy shoots, unlimited budgets, glam award shows. I think the business was more fun in those days. Survivors still in it seem to agree.

L.L.:  As a writer, I love to read. Good reading will often get my fingers itching for their next session at the keyboard. What inspires you?

Helen Klein Ross: Like you, Leslie, reading good books makes me itchy to write. I just finished Bettyville by George Hodgeman, a sad, funny, beautiful (true) story about a man going home to care for his mother at the end of her life. It makes me want to write memoir. I also audio-read Janice YK Lee’s Expatriates, a riveting story that coincidentally revolves around a kidnapping. Last night, I sadly came to the end of Anne Enright’s The Green Road, a gorgeous, ranging portrait of a big Irish family and that is leading me to reread Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster– dysfunction in families can be a great topic to explore and they do it masterfully.

L.L.: What can we expect next from you?

Helen Klein Ross: I’m very excited about a book I have coming out in September, an anthology of poems with telegrams as titles. It was inspired by a tweet I saw a couple of years ago, linking to a compendium published in 1853 called The Traveler’s Vade Mecum. It was written by a man who wanted to save people time and expense in sending telegrams. He compiled a book of 8466 sentences, anything anyone might want to say in a telegram, and numbered them, so all you’d have to send is a number. The sentences are a wonderful insight into 19th century life, such as Do you know of a person going west soon, who would take a lady under his protection? or I am aboard a steamer ship bound for Paris. I approached poets and asked them to write a poem with a title consisting of a sentence I’d chosen for them. The resulting book of the same name (The Traveler’s Vade Mecum) will be published by Red Hen Press in the Fall.

I’m also at work on my next novel, of course. Like What Was Mine, it will involve a crime committed by someone who doesn’t consider herself a criminal. And–perhaps inspired by Enright and Toibin–it’s a story that will span several generations of a family.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Helen Klein Ross: A lot of people ask me which mother I side with. I don’t have a preconception of how readers should react to the characters. My intention was to create a story that is morally ambiguous and in which the reader might justifiably side with any of the characters. This isn’t a morality tale. I didn’t want to make Lucy out to be purely evil, even though she commits a monstrous deed. Some readers have compared this book to Gone Girl but I see it more as that book in reverse–in Gillian Flynn’s story, a normal woman turns out to be crazy. In What Was Mine, someone we assume is crazy because of what she did, turns out to be normal, or as close to normal, as any of us come.

L.L.: Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. It was just lovely!

Helen Klein Ross: Thanks so much for great questions and the opportunity to share thoughts with your your readers, Leslie. I know you’re working on a novel that also involves
kidnapping. I look forward to reading it!Helen Klein Ross author pic (standing) credit to John Gruen

For more information, or to follow on social media, please see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Helen Klein Ross is a poet and novelist whose work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times, and in The Iowa Review where it won the 2014 Iowa Review award in poetry. She graduated from Cornell University and received an MFA from The New School. Helen lives with her husband in New York City and Salisbury, CT.  To read more, visit http://www.helenkleinross.com.

[Special thanks to M. Harris at Simon & Shuster/Gallery Books. Cover and author images used with permission. Cover of Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue retrieved from author’s website 3.23.16] 

Write On, Wednesday: Gilly Macmillan talks about her smashing psychological debut WHAT SHE KNEW, the role social media plays to our insecurities, obsessing over the third book, CALL THE MIDWIFE, writing ‘the end,’ & so much more

Standard

By Leslie Lindsay WHAT SHE KNEW

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: in a blink of an eye, their child goes missing. Gone. Without a trace. What could have happened? How could a parent have been so careless as to misplace her child?

What unspools in a frantic search for missing 8-year old Ben, Rachel Jenner loses herself, casts blame on others, has the reader doubting just what is real. To make matters worse, the public turns on this distraught mother following a single,   momentary mistake.  [What She Knew is the US edition of Burnt Paper Sky, published Dec 1 2015.]

WHAT SHE KNEW is an amazing debut by a highly talented writer, an emotional and enthralling tautly-paced and plotted ride to its chilling conclusion.

I’m so honored to have Gilly Macmillan with us to chat about her psychological thriller debut.

Leslie Lindsay: Gilly, thanks for taking the time to pop over the blog couch with us today. I read WHAT SHE KNEW in a breathless two days. I really wanted to know what happened that fateful afternoon in which your character, Rachel Jenner, lets her 8-year old son run ahead on their walk in the woods. Was this your intention when you set out to write WHAT SHE KNEW? What ultimately inspired you?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you very much for inviting me Leslie!  I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the book.  When I set out to write WHAT SHE KNEW my overall goal was to write a page-turner, because I really love to read them myself.  However, I was also very keen to try to make it a powerful and personal and relevant story also, so WHAT SHE KNEW is my attempt to bring all of those things together in one novel.

L.L.: I understand, like Rachel, you are also a photographer and mother. Can you share a bit about balancing your desire to write, as well as also carry on with your other work?

Gilly Macmillan:  Well I must admit that having written the bulk of the first draft of WHAT SHE KNEW in my spare time, with no clue as to whether it would be published, as soon as I got an agent I decided I should probably prioritize writing, as I needed to do a lot of work to get the book finished to a good enough standard for submission to publishers.  I was very aware that this was probably my one shot at getting a novel into print.  Once I’d made that decision, it was soon apparent that producing a finished novel is such an all-consuming activity (even when I’m not at the computer typing, I’m thinking about the book all the time), that it’s as much as I can manage to keep my household running and get my kids fed and out of the door to school on time!  Juggling everything can certainly feel like a challenge at times.  However, I do feel that I’m very lucky to be able to work at home, and to enjoy the flexibility of fitting work around my family when I need to, and I make sure I pack my cameras whenever we get a chance to go away for a break, so the photography is not forgotten. 

Indie Next Pick for December 2015
Target Book Club Pick for December 2015
Romantic Times Top Pick for December 2015
Shortlisted for RT Reviewers Choice Award (First Mystery)
Featured Pick for Book-of-the-Month Club December 2015

L.L.: I’m amazed at the amount of research you did to make WHAT SHE KNEW such a compelling—and honest—exploration of a child gone missing. Kudos!  Still, it’s an emotionally visceral read. Can you to speak to that, please?

Gilly Macmillan: Thanks Leslie!  I love to research, partly because I’m naturally very curious but also because I think that it can lend an element of truthfulness to a novel, in as much as that can be achieved in fiction.  Having said that, I should admit that I wrote the first draft of WHAT SHE KNEW without doing any research at all.  I wrote it entirely from Rachel’s point of view, and just tried to imagine myself into her situation and record her journey and her feelings, however raw or challenging, as honestly as I could.  It was when I came to do the second draft that I began to look into the more concrete detail of the story, researching child abduction and speaking to retired police officers to make sure the procedural element was correct.  As I redrafted I built my research into the story, and introduced the detective character to act as a foil to Rachel’s narrative.  The difficulty at that point was to be careful not to lose the emotion of Rachel’s narrative so I’m delighted (and relieved!) to hear that you feel that both elements are there in the book.  I wanted very much to incorporate emotional truthfulness as well as factual truthfulness in the novel.

L.L.: Including social media into the novel is just brilliant! It seems like we spend so much time in front of our screens that we forget to look at the world around us. Is that what prompted your interest in adding social media to WHAT SHE KNEW? Did you have other motivations or inspiration?

Gilly Macmillan: Well, the irony is that until WHAT SHE KNEW was accepted for publication I wasn’t a user of social media at all!  Now I can definitely spend hours online if I’m not strict with myself, but at the time of writing the book it was my research into child abduction cases that led me to understand that so much of what people experience when they read about these cases comes through traditional media first of all, but then gets appropriated by social media, where it takes on a life of its own.  It’s can be a circular, self-generating thing too, as very often traditional media then reports on social media reaction, which stokes up online reaction further.  I watched one particular real-life case here in the UK unfold via social media as it was happening, and I was amazed at how personal people’s responses were and how emotionally close some of them seemed to feel (in both sympathetic and very unsympathetic and judgmental ways) to something that, while truly dreadful, was in reality removed from their own lives.  It was then that I felt that I should treat social media almost as a character in its own right in the novel, partly so that readers could experience my fictional case in the same way that they might experience a real life case, but also because I wanted to explore how the influence of social media can swell, and as this happens in WHAT SHE KNEW it affects the characters and the case profoundly.

[Click here to read an excerpt of WHAT SHE KNEW via Gilly’s FB page.]

L.L.: I kept wondering, like the title, what does she know? It seems there are many different ways the novel could have ended, how on earth did you decide on this ending? [without giving too much away, of course!]

Gilly Macmillan:  I wrote three different endings before the book was published because it was so hard to get it right!  I was always sure of one element of the ending, but as for the rest many conversations were had with my family, my editor and agent along the way to try to work out what would be best.  In the end I hope I’ve created an ending that feels truthful as possible, to the story and the characters. It’s been fascinating to have feedback from readers about the ending, and I’m always interested to hear what people think because it was such a difficult thing to do.

L.L.: I read somewhere that your son is a regular on the cast of CALL THE MIDWIFE. Oh, how I love that show! Can you share a bit about what character your son plays? How does the storytelling of television mirror that of novels?

Call_the_Midwife_titlecardGilly Macmillan:  My son Max plays Timothy Turner, the son of Dr Patrick Turner, and he’s just finished filming Season 5 so we’re all getting excited about that being on air in 2016.  Timothy has grown up on screen and we’ve been very privileged to read many of the show’s wonderfully written scripts over the years that Max has been involved, and watch his own storyline develop as well as the characters around him.  I definitely think we can draw comparisons between storytelling in television drama and novels, because it’s the job of both to bring us stories – either fresh ones or old tales – in intelligent, but also absorbing and entertaining ways.  Although they’re different mediums, the ways in which novels and TV drama achieve this are similar: both rely on the absolutely core ingredients of convincing characterization, careful pacing, and strong, believable stories.  When these elements work well together, both mediums can achieve a powerful integrity in their storytelling, and I think viewers and readers respond favorably to that.  It’s certainly something I look for when I watch drama or read a novel.  If a book or a TV show achieve that sort of integrity, it allows you to believe in the world and the characters you’re reading about, or watching, and then you care about what happens to them.  That’s what makes you turn pages in a book or watch every episode in a series.  It’s a challenge for every writer, producer or director.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Gilly Macmillan: I’ve just finished my second book, which is also a psychological thriller.  It has a complex plot and a cast of characters who both thrilled and unnerved me as I was writing. The action takes place over a short time scale and is intense and claustrophobic.   The main cover_bitdcharacter is Zoe Maisey – a child genius and musical sensation – who, several years earlier, caused the death of three teenagers.  She served her time, and now she’s free.  The story begins with her giving the performance of her life, but by midnight, her mother is dead.  The book is an exploration into the mind of a teenager burdened by brilliance, and it’s also a story about the wrongs in our past not letting go.

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now and why?

Gilly Macmillan:  My third book is obsessing me!  All of the time!  I’ve just begun it and for this one I’m returning to Jim Clemo, the detective character from WHAT SHE KNEW.  He’s going to have some involvement in a new case, which is a tough one.  I’m currently working out what’s going to happen to him personally and professionally and I’m developing the characters that will populate the rest of the story.  One in particular already makes my heart race when I write her sections of the story.

L.L.: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask but forgot that you’d like to share?

Gilly Macmillan: I would like to share how delighted I am to be published in the US!  My family is from the UK but we lived in Northern California for a few years when I was a teenager, and I have very fond memories of that time, so it’s a real privilege, and probably a dream come true, for me to think of WHAT SHE KNEW being available to American readers.

L.L.: Gilly, thanks so much for spending some quality book time with us today, it was a pleasure!

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, and it’s been an absolute pleasure answering your questions.

gillyGilly Macmillan grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in California in her late teens. She studied History of Art at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and worked at the Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecture in A Level photography. Gilly lives in Bristol with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

[Special thanks to L. Truskowski at William Morrow/HarperCollins. Cover image and author image courtesy of William Morrow Publishing. Butterfly in the Dark cover image retrieved from the author’s website on 12.3.15. Call the Midwife screen shot retrieved from Wikipedia on 12.3.15] 

 

 

Write On, Wednesday: Alexandra Burt talks about her psychological thriller REMEMBER MIA, kidnapping stats, too many stories in her head, & so much more

Standard

By Leslie Lindsay 

In this riveting psychological suspense debut, a young mother’s worst nightmare becomes shockingly real. I plowed through REMEMBER MIA, astounded with the gripping story, the horrendous acts and thoughts that filtered through the mother’s head, and knew I had to contact Alexandra Burt for an interview. At once hopeful and harrowing, this is a story that will have you reading well past your bedtime.REMEMBERING MIA

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Ms. Burt to the blog couch. Pull up your favorite beverage and settle in. This is one you won’t want to miss.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for being with us today, Alexandra! I so loved REMEMBER MIA. I’m always interested in what strikes an author when she sets pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), what was it about Estelle’s story that captivated you, propelling your novel?

Alexandra Burt: I’m delighted to be here and thank you so much for reading REMEMBER MIA.

Estelle’s story stewed in my head for many years before I actually put words on paper. I worked as a freelance translator after my daughter was born and when my dream of literary translations didn’t pan out, I decided to tell my own stories. I enrolled in writing classes but concentrated mainly on short stories. Eventually I signed up for a novel writing class and on the first day of class I was asked to post twenty-five pages. Needless to say, I hadn’t written a single word. So later that night, a sentence popped into my head; “Tell me about your daughter.” I imagined a woman, ravaged by postpartum depression, being confronted by a psychiatrist to unravel the ball of yarn that is the disappearance of her infant daughter.

I personally was very close to the story; I had a rocky start with motherhood myself. I experienced nine months of nausea and a potentially life-threatening complication after childbirth. After that I just didn’t bounce back. I never thought it to be anything else than a personal failure. Once you’re enveloped in such a state of mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘think’ your way out of it. It took me an entire year to feel remotely normal.

L.L.: The story deals with the dark underbelly of new motherhood: the fact that infants are highly dependent on us for everything. Yet, fathers don’t exactly suffer from postpartum psychosis, it’s more of a female/mother thing (and rare at that)—the intricate high-jacking of hormones, and a variety of other factors. What, in your opinion is the most challenging aspect of being a new mother?

Alexandra Burt: Motherhood comes easy to many women, yet many new moms struggle. There’s of course societal pressure to be a perfect mother and the assumption that women are biologically destined to fulfill that role. But is that really the case?  The answer seems to be yes or our species would have ceased to exist long time ago but reality is much more sobering; women struggle with motherhood and when given a choice, they are giving more thought to having children and become mothers later in life than ever before, if at all, and more and more women have just one child. The lines are blurry, at best.

The most challenging aspect of being a new mother is an amalgamation of changes; there’s not just the baby and the feeding and the constant attention, but motherhood goes hand in hand with other life changes; quitting a job to stay home full-time, financial struggles, switching to part-time positions, or just adding another huge responsibility to an already full plate that we all deal with on a day to day basis. There’s no other time quite like giving birth; we must completely step outside ourselves and care for a newborn entirely dependent on us. The role of a mother is something picture-perfect we have to live up to yet we constantly question it as if we don’t trust ourselves. It’s a hard spot to be in, for sure. Alice in Wonderland Quote

L.L.: Estelle eventually sees a psychiatrist to help retrieve her memory, and work through her psychosis. What services are you aware of that exist for new mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis? And how is it different from “the baby blues?”

Alexandra Burt: Baby blues is a biological response to rapidly changing hormone levels during a highly vulnerable period; there are lots of tears, irritability, impatience, restlessness, and anxiety. Add to that the constant feedings and diaper changes, the crying and spitting up, first fevers and many sleepless nights in a row. All those feelings are common during that period and are rather short lived. The baby blues affects up to 75% of new mothers but sometimes this emotional state lasts beyond a few weeks and can turn into a postpartum mood disorder. There’s postpartum panic/anxiety, postpartum obsessive/compulsive syndrome, and in the worst case, postpartum psychosis. 

Once you add the constant self-doubt and interrupted sleep turning into insomnia, and the baby blues can become a clinically depressed state. The switch can happen at any time; within days, over months, or even a year. Postpartum mood disorders are almost like baby blues kicked up a notch; mood swings, anxiety, sleep disturbances, feeling overall disconnected from the baby, a fear of losing control, and even suicidal thoughts.

Some communities have local support groups and there are 800-numbers and online support groups available via the internet. There are hundreds of support coordinators who can put new mothers in contact with the help they need. Family support is crucial during this very fragile state, and of course mothers should seek medical help immediately if any postpartum mood disorder develops.

L.L.: Kidnapping is a real fear and horrific crime, one I couldn’t even imagine as a mother. We see it in the media with girls gone missing for years, living out lives under the rule of a sadistic person, sometimes even having their children. How common is the crime? Can you put my mind at ease…I’m a mom, too.

Alexandra Burt:  Statistically I can put your mind at ease. According to the FBI, abductions of newborns/infants from birth to six months by strangers are really rare. From 1983 to present 300 infants were abducted. 12 are still missing.

Once you look at cases of older children, the numbers gets fuzzy. Even though the official number of abductions is 800,000 per year, it includes family abductions, runaways, and abandoned children. Out of this staggering number only 115 were stereotypical stranger kidnappings.

On one hand the number of abduction is overstated, on the other hand some police departments don’t always file reports for older children missing, considering them runaways.

Since the 70s and 80s, there have been many advancements; Congress passed legislation that resulted in the creation of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children database and we are all familiar with Amber Alerts popping up on cell phones and signs on highways.

We shouldn’t worry about a potential abduction when it comes to our children but when the headlines pop up on TV, we all think this could be me. This could be my child.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit…what kind of writer are you—do you follow the pen, carefully outline and plot, or somewhere in the middle?plotting_dry_erase_board-r33a17d0c27944b4ca2594ce32aaac0d6_fumj8_8byvr_512

Alexandra Burt: I plot and outline on a large dry erase board. I’m a visual person; there are colors and arrows and numbers but don’t let that apparent order of things fool you; there’s also a mountain of random notes on my desk, a file on my phone of bits of conversations that I overheard at the market, in the gym, in random conversations. I think more in visual scenes and atmosphere than in words and plot elements. I don’t fight it, I nurture it. So as much as I try to be organized and outline and plot, a story usually takes on a life of its own. As it should be.

L.L.: I understand you are a voracious reader. What are some of your favorite books and authors? C.S. Lewis’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND play a role in REMEMBERING MIA. Can you speak to that, please?

Alexandra Burt: Within the crime genre, there are the classics I love; Patricia Highsmith comes to mind, and Ruth Rendell. Contemporary crime fiction; Gillian Flynn and Tana French are always a sure bet. I also adore Jennifer McMahon and Erin Kelly.  Outside the crime genre, Ursula Hegi and Louise Erdrich. Specific favorite books are Laird Koenig’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and John Hart’s The Last Child. David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.

As to Alice in Wonderland, the choice was serendipitous. The quotes in the book speak to Estelle’s emotional state and the proverbial rabbit hole started it off, no doubt. People say all the time “I’m not going down that rabbit hole with you,” but what if people don’t have a choice? It is definitely Estelle’s state of mind in Remember Mia, as everybody else’s in the novel; her husband, her psychiatrist, and even the media.

Apart from the quotes and references in the book, similarities with Alice in Wonderland were completely unintentional yet here they are: There’s a pool of tears (just imagine not knowing where your child is); Alice running in circles (Estelle not being able to remember); the crowd hurling pebbles at Alice (the media judging her). Alice admitting to her identity crisis and her inability remembering a poem (amnesia); a tea party during which Alice becomes tired of being bombarded with riddles (therapy); and Alice arguing with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue (she won’t stop looking for the truth). It’s quite uncanny but I guess stranger things have happened, right? alice03a

L.L. REMEMBERING MIA has a lot to do with obsession. Estelle just can’t rest till she finds her child. Totally understandable. I’d be a mess! What are you obsessing on these days?

Alexandra Burt: Obsessions are a double-edged sword. Whatever I do, I do with an obsessive tendency so I have to force myself to take a step back and take a break. I read and write obsessively and it’s hard to escape. I therefore struggle to find balance in my life and I’m very conscious of achieving a well-adjusted state of being these days. As much as I want to get up every morning and write, I force myself to go to the gym or go for a hike. Meet friends for lunch or coffee. Most days I lose the battle but I don’t dwell on it. After all that’s how books get written.

L.L.: Can I ask what you’re working on next? Will we see any more psychological fiction from you in the future? I hope!

Alexandra Burt: My next novel is psychological suspense, for sure. The Killing Jar takes place in a fictional Texas town. It’s a story about a woman who comes across a barely alive Jane Doe in the woods, prompting her to develop a fixation on missing women. Local cases fuel her obsession but in the end there’s only one case left; a woman who went missing fifteen years ago. There’s no photograph of her, just a hasty composite tucked away in a dusty file. In pursuing questions about the mystery woman, the character exposes her very own obscure past.

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but forgot?

Alexandra Burt: It’s a question I ask every writer I meet to satisfy my own curiosity; hindsight, were there early signs that you were destined to become a writer? Every single day I have new insights and aha-moments that point towards this career; my obsession with reading (see, here we go again with the obsession), my fascination with crimes (I remember two crimes in my hometown as a child growing up; two girls disappeared, the crimes remain unsolved to this day), asking too many questions, watching people (“will you stop starring already”), and picking up on details that go unnoticed. Just to mention a few. It’s my only regret in life—not having written novels earlier, at a younger age. I wish I’d have more time to grow and develop as a writer. There are just so many stories in my head.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Alexandra! It was quite illuminating.

Alexandra Burt: Thank you for having me, Leslie. It was a pleasure answering your questions.

For more information, to follow, or read, please see:

Alexandra BurtAlexandra Burt was born in a baroque town in the East Hesse Highlands of Germany. Wanderlust got the better of her and days after her college graduation she boarded a plane to the U.S.  Eventually ending up in Texas, she married and pursued freelance translations. Determined to acknowledge the voice in the back of her head prompting her to break into literary translations, the union never panned out and she decided to tell her own stories.

She is an outspoken animal welfare supporter and her dream is to live in the countryside again, in a farmhouse offering rescue dogs a sanctuary to live out their lives on a comfy couch.

Alexandra is a proud member of Sisters In Crime, a nationwide network of women crime writers.

She still lives in Central Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Chocolate Labrador Retrievers. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in various online magazines and literary reviews.

Remember Mia is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.

[Author and cover image courtsey of Alexandra Burt. “I’m not quiet, I’m plotting” retrieved from on 9.08.15. Alice in Wonderland image(s) retrieved from on 9.08.15, Alice quote from