Award-winning author Rita Herron writes spine-tingling romantic suspense - dark, passionate, gritty stories filled with small town secrets, murder and mayhem. Fascinated with psychology and the darker side of the human mind she spins another chilling suspense in March with IN A HEARTBEAT.
Your latest romantic thrillers, A BREATH AWAY and IN A HEARTBEAT, are gritty romantic thrillers about serial murderers who take the lives of their victims in sadistic ways. Your bio says before you launched your author career, you were a kindergarten teacher. So how did you make the leap from nurturing children to writing about demented killers -- or what's a nice girl like you doing in a writing place like this?
Sometimes I ask myself that same question! Friends actually introduce me now by prefacing the intro with, "Seriously, she's really a nice, sweet person. She just has this dark side."
I believe people have more than one side/facet to their personalities - that's what makes them interesting. I did teach kindergarten and was a professional storyteller for children for ten years, and I tried my hand at writing children's books before I turned to romance. (I wrote nine books for Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley Kids series.)
But having my own three children underfoot at the time, I was entrenched in kids, carpools, the mini-van, etc, and had the urge for something more "adult" in my life. Writing romance filled that niche for me perfectly. And I do nurture my characters along . . .
As a child, I loved mysteries and actually handwrote one when I was twelve. As an adult, I loved reading romantic suspense, so it was a natural fit.
I have to admit, I've gotten darker and darker in my stories, and I'm not sure why - but that dark voice just screams to come out. Maybe because it's such a contrast to the really southern, hometown, family girl that I am. I've also always been fascinated with psychology and how the mind works (my sister is a counselor at a psychiatric hospital), so I enjoy delving into the psyches of the killers as well as the other characters.
Special Agent Brad Booker, your IN A HEARTBEAT hero, considers himself damaged goods, as a result of his heartless mother and the unfortunate roll of the dice in the foster care system. Did your career as a teacher provide insight into this kind of upbringing? When you write about people like Brad Booker, are you drawing from your well of teaching experience?
Yes, poor but sexy Brad does see himself as damaged, but I love the tortured, dark, brooding guy who is tough and brave on the outside but needy on the inside - what a hero! And yes, I draw on my teaching experience as well as other life experiences to build his character. With a degree in Early Childhood Education, I learned how early life experiences affect and shape a child's confidence, personality, behavior, etc., so I try to incorporate those elements into my stories.
It's also intriguing to me the way two different people react and are affected by the same kind of situation/upbringing/events. Tragedies and violent crimes can bring families closer together or tear them apart. Men and women really do think and act differently, which often causes tension and misunderstandings. That is the case with Lisa's father and his reaction to her attack. Both Lisa and her father have internalized their emotions and are looking at the situation from their own viewpoints, both hurting in their own way, both needing something from the other that they are not getting. This misunderstanding/lack of communication has caused a rift between them that adds another layer to the story, one that I felt needed to be worked out in the subplot so they could both heal and become a closer family.
You live in suburban Atlanta, right? How is it that you make small-town Georgia come alive on the page? Is small-town Ellijay, GA, where your IN A HEARTBEAT heroine, Lisa Langley, lives at the beginning of this story, a real place? What about Lake Lanier?
I actually live in the "burbs" of Atlanta but grew up in the country, years ago when the area was very rural and had a small town feel. My family was always close and raised with old-fashioned southern values - big family reunions, potluck dinners, Easter egg hunts on the farm, and we attended small country churches. So writing about small towns and families comes naturally.
Ellijay is a lovely little town in North Georgia. The apple houses are everywhere. My mother and her five sisters used to take my grandmother there every year to get apples. My sister lived on top of the mountain in the midst of an apple orchard. We also grew up making apple butter, and I can close my eyes and smell the homemade apple pies!
Lake Lanier is a real place, too, about thirty miles north of Atlanta. It's a popular summer spot and has a water park for families and a small beach as well.
I purposely chose Ellijay, a small town set in the beautiful mountains, because after Lisa's first encounter with the Grave Digger, she needed to heal and be surrounded by beauty. She's also a teacher, so that part came natural to me as well. And I wanted her to have moments/part of her life that was still innocent, not touched by violence - the small town and young children accentuated that innocence as well.
Although when the copycat Grave Digger appears, Lisa realizes that she hasn't really healed here, even amidst the beauty, that she's used the isolated town as a hiding spot, and that she's virtually created her own prison from her fear. She has to face her fears to really heal, so that means returning to the scene of the crime - and to the man who saw her at her most vulnerable. The man she's destined to fall in love with!
Ultimately, it becomes a "home is where the heart is" theme.
What kind of research did you do that enabled you to get into the demented mind of a serial killer?
Getting into the killer's head just came naturally - LOL!
Seriously, I read a lot of non-fiction books and articles on psychology. And I did pick my sister's brain, too, since she's the expert on psychiatric disorders. (Did I mention that we're identical twins?)
Similarly, what kind of research have you done that enables you to write in the viewpoint of a law enforcement officer, like Brad Booker?
I read non-fiction books on police work and cops. But the most valuable research I did was to take a course at our police department for citizens. That class was a wealth of information and provided me with contacts to answer questions. I also got to do a ride-along with an officer, which was really interesting. That allowed me to get into the cop's head, think about his point of view, what he looked for when cruising, what questions to answer when a call came in, the types of calls they receive and how they respond. The officers did exercises where we role played pulling a car over, having to walk up to the stranger's vehicle at night, not knowing if the person might pull a gun, etc. It was very eye-opening! And I got to shoot a gun at the target range for the first time!
Why do you think gritty romantic thrillers are so popular with readers these days, besides the fact that authors like you are skilled and deliver engrossing stories?
Readers want an adventure when they open a book. They want to delve into a fantasy place, live a life that is fiction, outside their realm, one that is more exciting/thrilling than their every day life. Danger heightens the senses, keeps the reader turning the pages, and elicits strong emotions. That danger and those emotions test the characters, force them to question their beliefs and goals and face their inner fears. Danger stirs more passionate responses than everyday life situations could. The reader wants to see those characters fall in love and overcome dire circumstances, even life-threatening ones, to be together. How romantic to know a man will put his life on the line for you, then make tender love to you when it's all over? Oooh, I get hot thinking about it . . .
You are a very prolific author, writing romantic comedies and category romantic suspense, as well as the big books like IN A HEARTBEAT. How do you manage to meet all these deadlines? How do you fill up your reservoir of creativity?
I treat writing as a job. If I don't work, I don't get paid! I give myself daily and weekly goals - usually ten pages a day is a good day for me. Between finishing books already contracted for, I keep notes on story ideas or interesting facts I read, and work on proposals for new stories. Time management is important, as I have to work ahead with new ideas, so my editor has time to approve them (or not), and so I don't have huge lag times between published novels.
To keep creative juices flowing?
I've found that the more I write, the more I write. Once you stimulate the creative process, it breeds itself. That said, I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, keep interesting magazine or newspaper articles in a file for reference, take mini-vacations, and reward myself with a day off or a shopping between projects. Usually I think of my next story while I'm finishing a book.
A beach trip or car trip also stimulates my imagination. I like to look at road signs, names of cafes, businesses, etc. and jot them down. Taking a road trip with other writers really starts the creative juices flowing. We brainstorm in the car. And attending writers' conferences, meeting and hearing from readers is inspiring
Give us a hint about the story in your August romantic thriller, LAST KISS GOODBYE. Is this a stand-alone, or are you revisiting characters from previous stories?
LAST KISS GOODBYE is another dark, passionate, gritty story filled with small town secrets, lies and a murder that occurred years before. The last thing Ivy Stanton remembers the night her parents were brutally slain was kissing her mother goodbye. Fifteen years later, plagued by panic attacks and guilt that the wrong man went to jail for the crimes, she returns to the town, seeking the truth, only to find that bad boy Matt Malone, the boy who saved her life and was falsely imprisoned for the murders, has returned, too.
Soon they are driven together by a killer who doesn't want the truth exposed . . . and passions explode between them.
LAST KISS GOODBYE is a stand alone story, but my following romantic thriller, SAY YOU LOVE ME, February 2007, begins a three-book mini-series about three sexy, Cajun brothers, all in law enforcement, set in steamy New Orleans! Look for more dark suspense, a super creepy killer, a hot read, and bayou folklore in this one!
What do you wish your readers knew about you?
That I'm actually shy, so if you see me, please come up and introduce yourself! I love to receive fan mail, too! Seriously, writing is a lonely job so it's great to get encouraging notes!
How can readers contact you?
Please write me through my website at RitaHerron.com.