I Am Watching
Early in I Am Watching, you write about Isla sitting with psychopath Heath Mcgowan and eerily experiencing the notion that he had supplanted her thoughts with his own. How did you develop such keen understanding into the human personification of evil?
I am fascinated by the minds of psychopaths. Their interactions with the world are so alien to most people we meet on a daily basis. I met a man once, in the course of my military psychology work, who likely would have met the criteria of a successful psychopath. He was charming, cold, egoistic, and manipulative. Having a conversation with him was a little like being drunk—it felt like you were being played, and although you knew you were being played, you still found yourself helpless to stop it. Psychopaths do not just exist in prisons.
What is it about the suspense and multi-layered complexity of a good thriller that so interests you as a writer?
I often think of my job as constructing a novel rather than writing one. So much of creating a compelling thriller is about not just telling a story, but about creating layers of characterization, of viewpoint, and allowing reveals to emerge at the opportune time. Thriller writing is so much fun to me because it is so challenging. It’s the creation of a problem that you as an author have to solve.
Your day job studying human performance in extreme situations no doubt factors into how you handle scenes involving fear and violence. What’s the key to portraying characters who are terrified?
In an average situation, people rely heavily on their frontal cortex—the part of the brain involved in sophisticated problem solving, creativity, logic, and all that very human kind of thinking. When people are afraid, the blood flow to the frontal cortex shows a dramatic reduction and instead they rely on older, more instinctive parts of the brain.
Fear takes us back to a more animalistic version of ourselves. When we are afraid, we react based on instinct, or based on memories that are so well rehearsed as to become almost like instinct. When a character is terrified, it is important that their interpretation of the things around them comes from this more animalistic level.