Interview With Elizabeth Heiter
Eighteen years before VANISHED starts, FBI profiler Evelyn Baine’s best friend, Cassie Byers, disappeared from her bed one night. In her place, a macabre nursery rhyme was left behind, the calling card of the Nursery Rhyme Killer. Cassie was never found, and now another girl has gone missing in Evelyn’s hometown of Rose Bay, South Carolina, and the Nursery Rhyme Killer is taking credit.
It’s the case Evelyn has wanted to solve since she was twelve years old – the case that drove her to join the FBI in the first place. Returning to Rose Bay means facing her hometown, where old prejudices simmer into violence when yet another girl goes missing. The deeper Evelyn digs, the more she discovers that almost everyone in Rose Bay has something to hide. This time, Evelyn may finally get the chance to discover what happened to her best friend – or she may be the next to vanish forever.
2) Give us an insight into your main character FBI profiler Evelyn Baine?
Evelyn is a rising star in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, a standout profiler in her professional life, but socially awkward and shy in her personal life. She’s a small, biracial woman in a male-dominated profession, and she’s still trying to find her place in the unit.
Much of her life has been shaped by her experiences in Rose Bay. She went to live there when she was ten years old, when her grandparents took her away from an alcoholic, neglectful mother. The day she moved in, next door neighbor Cassie Byers came over and announced they were going to be best friends. Her disappearance two years later – and Evelyn’s discovery that the note left behind also mentioned her – has haunted Evelyn ever since.
3) Is this book a part of a series, or is it a standalone? How will the books be connected?
VANISHED is the second book in The Profiler series. In the first Profiler book, HUNTED, Evelyn had to profile a serial killer called the Bakersville Burier, who left his victims deep in the woods, buried up to their necks. Her determination to catch him brings her to his attention and soon, she becomes the hunted.
The books are all connected through the protagonist, Evelyn, and her colleagues in the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group. The third book in the series, SEIZED, is set to release toward the end of 2015, and in it, Evelyn finds herself on the wrong side of a hostage situation – and in the middle of an emerging terrorist threat.
4) What kind of research do you do when writing a novel? Do any of the characters in your books come from real life inspiration? If so, which ones?
I do a lot of research for every book. When I first became intrigued with the idea of a heroine who was an FBI profiler, I read a lot about what the job entailed and how to write a criminal personality profile. I also studied real life cases to create my own profiles, then compared them to the actual perpetrator. Once I felt like I had a handle on creating accurate profiles, I started developing my own for HUNTED. I also talked to many current and former FBI Special Agents and visited the FBI Academy at Quantico for a first-hand look at the process of becoming an agent, because I really wanted to get the details right.
Some of my characters have a bits and pieces of real people in them, but I don’t usually write a character directly inspired from one person. However, Evelyn’s mentor in VANISHED is a nod to a friend of mine who really does work for the FBI, and who answers my bizarre research questions!
Every book brings unique challenges. I think one of the hardest parts about writing VANISHED was balancing the need to show the seriousness of this kind of crime with making sure nothing was too graphic. I think it’s an important line for me as a crime writer, because part of why I’m drawn to talking about a particular type of crime is that I want to bring attention to something. At the same time, I think it’s essential never to be exploitative or stray so far into the message that the enjoyment of the story is lost. Ultimately, I want people to love the reading experience, and the process of unravelling the puzzle of whodunit.
6) When did you decide to become a writer?
All my life, whenever someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was “author.” Since I knew it was a difficult career to break into, I got my English Literature degree and went as far as holding a spot in law school before I ultimately decided to pursue writing as hard as I could. Fast-forward nine years, and I sold my first five novels!
7) Do you write under any pseudonyms or do you write other genres?
I don’t use any pseudonyms, but I do also write romantic suspense. Along with The Profiler books, I’ll have three connected romantic suspense novels out this year in The Lawmen series. They follow three best friends who made a pact to join the FBI a decade ago and what happens when the case that brought them there returns.
8) Who are some of your favorite mystery writers?
This is a tough one! I read a lot, and there are so many wonderful writers in this genre. Some of my auto-buy authors whom I’ve been reading for years include Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, David Baldacci, and Lee Child. I could go on for a while…
9) Do you have any advice for upcoming writers?
One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I was trying to sell my first novel was that “the difference between an unpublished writer and a published author is perseverance.” Obviously, it’s very important to hone your craft, but I think it’s too easy to get discouraged after the first – or hundredth – rejection. There are a lot of famous authors out there who got turned down over and over before they succeeded.
Beyond that, I think joining a solid writer’s organization and finding a critique group or partner are two things that can make a huge difference in how fast you progress as a writer. The organizations give you access to industry information and a good critique partner will point out things you’re too close to see.
10) What’s next for you? Where can readers discover more about you and your work?
After VANISHED, I’ll have three releases in my Lawmen series back to back to back. Then, the third book in The Profiler series, SEIZED, releases toward the end of the year. In 2016, Evelyn will be back again, and I’m about to begin writing that book now!
Readers can learn more at www.ElizabethHeiter.com.