Emily Ross is the author of HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH (Merit Press December 2015), a young adult psychological thriller for readers of all ages. When her beautiful older sister, Jess, disappears on a summer night in Tucson in 1965, fifteen-year-old Caroline feels like she might as well have disappeared too. The only person who pays attention to her is Tony, her sister’s older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline’s desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we’ll find Jess together in California, the land of endless summer, runaways, and flower children. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again.
HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH has been generating tons of buzz, including being selected as one of the 5 books to watch for in December by Book Riot! Emily is my Novel Incubator mentor and a wonderful friend. We are so delighted that she is a guest on The Debutante Ball!
What was the inspiration for your novel?
The word inspiration makes me think of a bolt out of the blue, but that’s not how it happened for me. I was struggling with plotting my novel, Half in Love with Death, when my sister suggested I turn to a true crime for inspiration, and not just any crime. She confided in me that when she was twelve she’d been obsessed with the disturbing case of, Charles Schmid, ‘the pied piper of Tucson.’ My sister’s interest in this crime I’d never heard of came as a complete surprise to me. But when she showed me an old but still chilling Life Magazine article about this case, I could see why it had transfixed her so many years ago.
In 1964, Schmid, killed Aileen Rowe, 15, and buried her in the desert. A year later he killed 17-year-old Gretchen Fritz (his girlfriend), and her sister Wendy, 13. He was handsome, popular, and he was a serial killer. My sister and I rarely talk about our difficult teen years, but as we discussed this case we remembered that there had in fact been a serial killer in our midst as well. He hung out in Provincetown with many of our friends in the sixties. He studied Buddhism and seemed like a cool dude, but he murdered several teen girls in 1969. My friends who knew him had no idea what he was capable of. No one did. I shivered to think how easy it would have been for something terrible to have happened to one of us. In light of this, my sister’s early preoccupation with Schmid seemed almost prescient.
As I read more about Schmid, I realized aspects of the crime aligned with themes I was already exploring in my novel. I also learned that he murdered the two sisters on August 16th—my birthday. I’m kind of superstitious so I took this as a sign that I should use this crime as inspiration for my book. Though I ended up writing a story that was quite different from ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson’, this case provided a much-needed framework for Half in Love with Death. I’m forever grateful to my sister for sharing her obsession with me.
When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But for a while, as a teen, I wanted to be a choreographer. I loved dance but I liked the idea of creating a dance better than the idea of performing (recitals made me throw up). Unfortunately I rarely practiced and when homework and friends got in the way, I stopped taking dance lessons. But I still held onto the idea that someday I wanted to create something. I thought about becoming a filmmaker or a songwriter, but there was a problem—I didn’t know anything about film, and I couldn’t carry a tune. I can see now that being a novelist is like being a choreographer, filmmaker, and songwriter all rolled into one. It’s perfect for me but it took a long time to figure that out.
Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?
While WUI (writing under the influence) of Raymond Chandler, I tried my hand at a detective novel. My detective was named Ray, of course. He was handsome though a little sloppy, liked donuts, was a womanizer, drank too much, and worked out of a dreary little office in Quincy. I really loved writing about Ray but my novel stalled when I got to the part where he needed to put down his drink and his donut, and actually solve a crime. Now that I know a little more about writing detective fiction, I’d love to go back to this book some day.
Do you have any phobias?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a white knuckle, cold sweat, racing-heart, fear of driving. I’d probably require drugs and alcohol not to feel this way, but that would be driving under the influence. I’ve been afraid of driving since I was a kid. I actually used to think I needed to become wealthy because I was going to have to hire a chauffeur when I grew up. But thanks to the encouragement of my husband I did learn to drive at the age of 30. Since then I’ve become comfortable driving around my hometown of Quincy, but driving to new places, even with a GPS, still fills me with fear. I actually have a recurrent nightmare of being lost on a giant highway interchange. I wish I could get over this phobia because it is very limiting. But at least I can travel to faraway places in my writing without getting behind the wheel.
What’s your next big thing?
I’m working on a novel about an aspiring teenage dancer who must prove that her Russian immigrant boyfriend and dance partner is not the mythical butterfly killer who murdered the captain of the high school dance team. I’m having fun setting it in my hometown of Quincy—a city that combines the charm of a small town with the gritty darkness of the inner city. It’s also fun going back to one of my first loves, dance, and drawing on memories of the years I spent taking my daughter to dance lessons and recitals.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon (EST) on Friday, December 25, to win a copy of HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH (U.S. only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Emily received a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist award in fiction for HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH. She is an editor and contributor at deaddarlings.com. She is a 2012 graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program and lives in Quincy Massachusetts with her husband and her elusive cat, Beau. For more information about Emily and her novel, please visit her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.