I’ve never lived on an island, but I live only a few miles from the ocean and have spent a lot of time visiting friends who do. Years ago, I was struck by a remark that one friend made. She said that every few years “a witch hunt” erupts on the island closest to where I live, fueled by isolation and suspicion, and usually centered on a person “from away.” We have similar incidents here on the mainland, but island life can act as a pressure cooker situation that eventually explodes.
Another friend of mine owns an island Down East — that’s the more remote part of the coast, near the Canadian border. The first time I visited, about fifteen years ago, I was floored by how beautiful it was, and also by how sinister it felt. There’s no town on that island — the only people are my friend and the artists and writers who stay — but on that first trip I started thinking about what would happen if I were to transpose a very small town I know well to an island setting. It was so creepy and strange and eerie.
Around the same time I made that first trip to my friend’s island, a young man who lived in my tiny village disappeared. He lived just down the road from me, across from the town general store. I knew him by sight, a nice kid of about nineteen. I heard he’d run afoul of Bad People — drug dealers, probably — and the circumstances under which he disappeared were extremely ominous. For years I was haunted by the flyers posted around town with his face and name. To this day, he’s never been found.
I’d long wanted to write a book that featured a serial killer: I felt that between the remote island and the missing kid, I had the makings of a good story. When I’m writing, I usually start with the setting — I’m very drawn to landscapes, especially bleak ones. So now I had a great, dark landscape as my stage set. All I needed was a central character to occupy it.
Most of my work features women protagonists who are in some way flawed, yet still sympathetic. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, and I thought, "What if I were to make my protagonist a woman who’s essentially a sociopath, like Tom Ripley, but lacks Ripley’s charm?" Someone who’s massively screwed up and unlikeable, yet still can somehow generate enough charisma that readers (and other characters in the book) find her sort of irresistible.
I knew it would be tough, but I liked the challenge: how do I make readers want to follow Cass wherever she goes, knowing that she’s always going to do the wrong thing?
Like Cass, I came of age on the downtown NYC and DC punk scenes in the early 1970s, and, like her, I experienced a violent sexual assault when I was twenty one, and afterwards spiraled into some pretty dark stuff. Unlike Cass, I came back from it within a few years.
Cass is my shadow self — she acts on all her worst impulses, and a lot of readers, especially women, really relate to that. She does all the stuff we’re not supposed to do — get drunk, get stoned, sleep around, and basically stir up shit everywhere she goes.
But she’s got a brilliant eye for photography — she’s drawn to great art like a moth to a bonfire — and she loves rock and roll like St. John loved the Lord, as someone once said of Elvis Presley.
And she has genuine empathy for damaged people, because she’s one herself. In the immortal words of the Shangri-Las, “She’s good bad, but she ain’t evil.” I love writing her.
Bestsellerförfattaren Elizabeth Hand har förutom serien om Cass Neary skrivit de prisbelönta romanerna Winterlong, Waking the moon, Glimmering och Mortal love. Hennes romaner har belönats med alltifrån Nebula och World Fantasy till International Horror Guild Awards. Hand bor i Maine och London med sin familj. Läs mer om författaren på hennes hemsida.
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