Debut mystery novelist Joanna Schaffhausen has quickly become part of our New England crime fiction family. Already Facebook friends, we got to do an event together at the lovely New England Mobile Book Fair this summer, and I invited Joanna to chat on my blog.
How does a book start for you?
Usually with the hook or premise. For example: A woman carrying a briefcase and a shopping bag is attacked and nearly killed. When she wakes up in the hospital, she finds the cops are baffled and the case grows quickly cold. The cops return her property to her from the night in the attack, but she discovers something that does not belong–an item that belongs to her would-be killer. She uses it to track him down.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
Hmm. No Mercy unfolded mostly as I’d envisioned. My heroine, Ellery Hathaway, has been sentenced to group therapy for victims of violent crime. She survived one serial killer only to have another one pop out of the woodwork on her, plus she recently shot a murderer. One of the other group members is a woman who killed her violently abusive husband. Unlike Ellery, she is not feted in the media as a hero. Instead, she goes to prison. She doesn’t like Ellery much, which surprised me at first but makes sense for her character and situation. I think it’s useful to have characters who don’t like your heroes for legitimate reasons. Keeps ’em real.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
No Mercy is set in Boston. Ellery has fled to the bigger city in hopes of regaining some anonymity after the events of The Vanishing Season. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work. I love Boston and it was fun using a bunch of its famous and not-so-famous landmarks in the story. In particular, I included a fascinating 7-Eleven in Cambridge that sits at the border of the super rich biotech companies and the low-income housing. It’s patronized by everyone from millionare CEOs to sex workers. You never know who you are going to meet when you step inside!
What are you working on now?
A story of an amateur sleuth who was on the trail of a cold-case serial killer, only she ends up murdered in the same fashion as his original victims of twenty years ago. Did she bring him out of the woodwork by uncovering new clues, or did someone else in her life use her weird hobby to snuff her out?
What didn’t I ask you that I should have?
A number of readers have asked me if the serial killer in my book, Francis Coben, was named after bestselling thriller writer Harlan Coben. The answer is yes! Although not in the way most people surmise, as some sort of tribute. I hate inventing character names and will often use whatever’s handy, including books on my nightstand. Back when I wrote the original draft of The Vanishing Season, several decades ago, I had one of Coben’s early novels nearby when I had to name my villain, so I borrowed his last name. Since that time, Harlan Coben’s work has exploded in popularity (deservedly so!) but I kept the name anyway because now it makes me smile.