My book, The Black Hour, is a dark—but what I hope is sometimes also funny—mystery about a school shooting.
Yep. That’s what I said.
The idea for The Black Hour landed out of the blue one morning while I was drying my hair. Science could probably tell us why we get our best ideas when we are distracted by some other project, at a moment when we have both hands full and are least likely to be able to jot down any notes—but that’s another post. I’m no scientist. In that moment, I was hardly coherent. All I could think was: WHOA.
Believe me when I say I don’t think school shootings are a subject to be taken lightly. For one thing, my day job is on a university campus. When something like this happens anywhere in the world, you can be assured that those of us who keep the lights on in campus buildings have trouble sleeping, both for the loss of life that has actually occurred, as well as for the possibilities of ever facing that danger ourselves.
But of course, things that keep you up at night make intriguing story ideas. They’re almost guaranteed to keep your readers up at night, too.
In The Black Hour, it’s really the aftermath of violence that interested me. As the novel starts, Chicagoland sociology professor Amelia Emmet returns from nearly a year’s recovery from being the only victim of a campus shooter. She didn’t know the student who did it, and he killed himself after attacking her. She’s left with the injuries he’s caused and the gossip the incident has incited—as well as a lot of lingering questions. Why her? When an earnest graduate student with his own agenda offers to help her look into it, they realize the trouble’s not over.
It was that first day back after a tragedy that led to my lightning bolt, eureka! moment. What, I wondered, would that first day back be like? I imagined that even good-hearted people would have some guesses as to why Amelia had been singled out, and that people who were less good-hearted would make their suspicions known. I also wanted to explore our complex relationship with things like class, disability, and how we survive the dark hours we all face.
That all sounds pretty heavy, right? But I also like to laugh. Some of my favorite books find a way to amuse and charm, even as they take on dark topics. I hope that’s the balance The Black Hour strikes.
I hope I haven’t scared you all off. Hellooo?
I wish I had something more witty, more intelligent to report about the moment I got the idea for my novel—but that would be fiction itself. WHOA. Hair dryer, off.
Of course this was all just the basic idea. I spent two years and change working through a number of problems, including how a character who has recently been through a lot of surgery might get around to gather clues, and how a shooting by a known—and dead—person might yet be a mystery. But those, too, are other posts.
The Black Hour will be released by Seventh Street Books on July 8, 2014—nearly five years from that WHOA moment. It’s been a long road, and publication is still a long way off as I write this. In the mean time, thanks for keeping me and my fellow Debs company here at the Debutante Ball. We’re excited to share our first books with all of you.
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