By Virna DePaul
In THE PROFESSOR, someone is murdering women on South Carolina’s college campuses: three women, three different schools. The Governor’s order to State Law Enforcement Agent Mick O’Shaughnessy is simple: make it stop. More political maneuvering diverts Mick to nearby Douglass College. There, instead of another dead body, he finds Meg Connelly, grad student and faculty advisor for the latest victim.
Determined to finish her master’s degree, Meg doesn’t need anybody’s help – including her estranged family – to succeed. There’s something irresistible about Mick, but the last time she let someone get close to her, she lost everything except her self-respect.
As the investigation heats up, so does their relationship. But Mick’s interest in Meg doesn’t just endanger her heart—it puts her in the sights of the killer.
“This is a dark edgy murder-mystery/romance that will keep you spellbound page after page…a great debut novel.” -Night Owl Suspense
Recently, I interviewed debut author Cathy Perkins. Here’s what Ms. Perkins had to say about her writing journey and her upcoming release.
In your author bio, you indicate your “suspense writing lurks behind a financial geek day-job, where [you] learned firsthand the camouflage, hide in plain sight, skills employed by [your] villains.” Care to elaborate?
I thought that phrase might raise an eyebrow or two. For me, the best villains are the people you know—or think you know. Sociopaths learn how to blend in and manipulate; they can be extremely charismatic and peeling back those layers makes a story interesting.
Now I can’t tell tales here, but I suspect a few former clients will appear—suitably disguised—in my stories. Since I work with how – and how much – people are compensated, I see the good, the greedy and the down-right… well, maybe they aren’t true sociopaths, but definitely people whose primary interest is their own well being. I find both their ability to justify their actions and present a socially acceptable exterior fascinating.
One of the tools in a writer’s craft-set is not just people watching (although that’s fun, too) but also trying to figure out why these people act a certain way. For me, the villain’s actions need to be motivated, even if the rationale only makes sense to the villain.
Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel, THE PROFESSOR?
Set in South Carolina, stopping the serial killer who is terrorizing college campuses drives the plot of THE PROFESSOR. The tension and stakes build as the characters’ wants and needs drive them in a collision course: Charismatic State Agent Mick O’Shaughnessy wants more from life than work and a pretty face. Fiercely independent graduate student Meg Connelly always wanted a loving family and professional success, but has to learn to trust in order to get either. The Professor knows the only way to get what he wants is to take it—and taking Meg’s life will destroy Mick with the same stroke of his knife.
How long did you write before selling your first novel?
While I’ve read voraciously all my life, I didn’t start writing until recently. At first, I wrote for my own pleasure, but at the encouragement of writing friends, I entered THE PROFESSOR in several Romance Writers of America contests and to my surprise, the story placed first. I put the story aside for a couple of years, unsure it was ready for a broader audience and worked on a different project. Again at the urging of authors – who have to be the most amazing group of professionals – I submitted it for publication early in 2011 and decided to accept the offer from Carina Press.
How did you transition from your financial career to your writing one?
I’m still working the day job – one of the many authors who write before work and after the house has quieted for the evening. I’ve been known to scribble a scene on the back of a check stub while standing in the check-out lane.
THE PROFESSOR is set in South Carolina, with the murders taking place at local colleges. Did you pick this setting for a reason? Did it present any specific challenges for you?
As soon as I knew THE PROFESSOR’s villain was a college professor, I also knew I had to set it in South Carolina. I grew up in South Carolina and had friends who attended many of the small, in-state colleges. The intimate setting of these schools makes them a character in the story—hopefully places readers can see and feel, even if they’ve never been to South Carolina.
Since I was killing people at these schools, I didn’t want to use a “real” college (administrators tend to frown at that). Although several people have contacted me, guessing the identity of the actual college, the schools where the murders occur exist only in my overactive imagination.
Your protagonist, Mitch, is a State Law Enforcement Agent. Did you find writing from such a unique male POV difficult?
Maybe it’s because I grew up surrounded by men and worked in male dominated industries, but writing from the male POV never seemed that difficult. I know a number of law-enforcement officers both socially and through my volunteer work. They were terrific about providing insight into the law enforcement perspective as well as the actual procedural details. My wonderful husband patiently listens to sections of dialogue and occasionally tells me, “A guy would never say that.”
Is there a message in your novel/s you want readers to grasp?
While I didn’t set out to deliver a message, I think an author’s unique perspective shows in their voice. As I made editing passes on THE PROFESSOR, deepening layers, I realized my experience as a victim’s advocate—I volunteer with the Sexual Assault Center—gave me the ability to show the ripple effect of crime on the victim’s friends and family.
What are you reading now?
I read across the spectrum of mystery and thriller, but right now, I’m reading at the introspective end – Jonathon King, John Hart and pushing even further into women’s fiction, Mary Alice Monroe and Anne Rivers Siddons. But of course, I always have dozens of books on my e-reader.
How has your writing process changed as your career has developed?
My first writing class came after THE PROFESSOR was a finalist in the RWA Golden Heart contest, so any mistakes there are all my own. Once I decided to write for publication, I realized I had lots to learn about the craft of writing. While I’ve read craft books, I attend an annual, week-long, Masterclass. The in-depth sessions and nightly critique groups fit my hands-on learning style.
My overall process hasn’t changed, but I’m far more conscious of structure, drawing on a four act/eight sequence framework, and of what several instructors call “persistence of view” rather than just point of view. Of course, when I “run the movie in my head,” I’m aware of the visual storytelling and look for thematic elements and ways to incorporate the setting into the story—things I didn’t know existed when I started writing. While elements can always be added or deepened during editing passes, I’ll always be a plotter—I need to understand where my stories are headed.
What are your thoughts on marketing and the e-book revolution?
The e-book revolution is still in its infancy. Every aspect of publishing is changing, but what does the future hold? I wish my crystal ball wasn’t in the shop.
Although Carina Press, one of the fastest growing digital presses, is publishing THE PROFESSOR, the first thing that runs through my head when I hear “the e-book revolution” is self-publishing. I’ve read articulate discussions about why self-publishing is in an author’s best interest, but it’s another personal decision—not just what it means to be published, but also how and when to offer a novel for sale. For me, at this stage of my career, the benefits of a publishing house far out-weighed any potential incremental revenue.
That said, anyone who thinks digital won’t continue to expand is kidding themselves. Paper isn’t going to vanish overnight, but the self-publishing model is changing the way authors approach the business of publishing, offering new opportunities—and new challenges. One of those challenges is, of course, marketing. I think that’s one of the hardest things for new authors to tackle: building a platform, name recognition in the chaos of self-promotion without becoming an irritant. I appreciate groups like International Thriller Writers, which offer forums and programs specifically for debut authors, because I’m still on the steep part of the learning curve.
Can you tell us a little about the next writing project you’re working on?
I’m working on two very different manuscripts right now. One is dark and introspective, revolving around the theme of betrayal. The other is a light, amateur sleuth mystery about a CPA—houses, handbags or companies, she knows how to make a deal— who is dodging a vengeful detective while staying one step ahead of a murderer.
For more information, please visit Cathy’s website.
CATHY PERKINS’ suspense writing lurks behind a financial geek day-job, where she learned firsthand the camouflage, hide in plain sight, skills employed by her villains. Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for THE PROFESSOR, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her work-a-holic husband and a 75-pound Lab who thinks she’s still a lap-puppy.
For more information, go to www.virnadepaul.com