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Blogs, Interviews and Reviews

Blog: Birth of a Story - Prologue in The Ripper Gene

(as originally appeared Sept 10, 2015 on TheLiteratiPress.WordPress.Com)

I heard in a class recently (Writing Great Fiction from The Great Courses) that the entire inspiration for The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner was the image of a little girl in dirty underpants sitting on the limb of a pear tree, peering into a house window while her brothers waited eagerly at the base of a tree… or something to that effect. I’ve since confirmed through my own research that this admission came from an interview Faulkner gave to a school newspaper at one point.

It’s hard to imagine that a work of that magnitude and impact started out as a simple image in Faulkner’s mind, but according to the author, that’s exactly how it came to be.

I’m from Mississippi so I’m thrilled to not only relay a story about one of my own idols William Faulkner, but to feel as though we share at least one tiny similarity…in acknowledging that my novel The Ripper Gene, also set in Mississippi several decades later, began as a single image as well. It’s not on par with a literary classic like The Sound and The Fury…but it occupies its own tiny place in the Library of Congress, a commercial mystery/thriller that was just released last month by Macmillan’s Tor-Forge books.

The image that set The Ripper Gene in motion was my brief memory of a childhood experience. I was in middle school and my mother and another lady were driving some of us children around trick or treating in the backroads of rural Mississippi. We took various labyrinthine gravel roads between farms and houses before we’d get to each church member’s house in turn. We’d pile out of the car, run through the dark yards and up to the porch with the single light shining from it. We’d hear our feet scramble across the creaking, weathered gray boards, and we’d wait in the locust-buzzing night for the front door behind the screen door to open… until one of the church members would appear in regular work clothes (rather than fancy clothes for church), and open the screen with a big bowl of candy and lower it for us to explore. Then we’d pile into the car with fresh candy in our knapsacks or pillowcases, and cover the next mile or two through the pitch-black, night-time countryside to the next nearest neighbor’s house or farm, and do it all over again.

Except on this particular Halloween night, my mother pulled to an untimely stop in the very middle of the gravel road. And that’s when I saw it. The image that would haunt me for many years to come, until I finally exorcised it by putting it down on paper and allowing it to become the “genuinely creepy and moving” (Publisher’s Weekly) beginning of my debut novel.

Two teenage boys were illuminated by our car’s headlights there in the inky black darkness of the forest and night surrounding us on all sides. They wore T-shirts and jeans, but their white T-shirts were stained with a deep red— as if gallons of blood had been spilled upon them. They held out their hands like eerie, slow motion zombies and stumbled about on the road before us, their long, greasy unkempt hair dangling down in front of their faces…just stumbling about, waiting for us to appoach.

And that’s it. That’s the only memory I have. Because my mother, wise woman that she was, pressed the accelerator to the floor and drove around them at full speed, possibly pinging them with gravel as we sped past.

Much UNLIKE the protagonist’s mother in The Ripper Gene, a kindly nurse who’s also a preacher’s wife, who reassures young Lucas Madden that everything will be okay that night, who gets out of the car and tells her adult companion to drive the children to the next house… and who then proceeds to walk into the woods with the bloodied boys and, with a last glance meant to reassure Lucas that everything will be alright… is never seen again.

So that’s how the prologue for The Ripper Gene, and the backstory for my main character the FBI profiler Dr. Lucas Madden, all began…a fleeting but haunting memory of bloodied boys on a gravel road in the dark Mississippi night several decades ago.

If it sounds like the kind of FBI thriller that contains the sort of cold-case backstory that you’d like to read, please give it a try! It would be cruel of me as an author to allude to such a tragic incident without at least resolving it by novel’s end…so no worries, all is revealed by page 304 of The Ripper Gene.

Happy reading!
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