By Josie Brown
In Kendra Elliot’s thriller, HIDDEN, heroine Lacey Campbell, the sole surviving victim of a serial killer’s rampage, is now a forensic odontologist. When the remains of another of the killer’s murdered victims is discovered–that of Lacey’s best friend–she must confront and overcome her grief in order to solve some new murders: those of the witnesses of the long-ago crime.
This book, the first in a series, showcases the role that dentistry plays in forensic investigations. And because author Kendra Elliot is a dental hygienist by profession, she certainly has an interesting perspective on it
In HIDDEN, the heroine, a forensic ondontologist is working on a serial murder case in which she was also a victim, but “the one who got away.” How did you arrive at this concept for a plot?
I remember having a vision stuck in my head of female remains discovered in the foundation of a house. And that the forensic specialist working the case found indicators that the remains were a very close friend from college who’d been abducted. From there my idea expanded to the two friends having both been attacked by the same man a decade ago, but the specialist fought him off, he subdued the friend, and then vanished with her. I felt there was a lot of “meat” in this concept to explore. Like the survivor’s guilt, the mystery of what the friend had experienced, and the killer’s view of events.
Campus homicides are more prevalent than student–or their parents–care to think about. What challenges did you have in regard to researching this aspect of your story?
When I was a college student, safety was pounded into our heads. Females were constantly warned to never walk the campus alone at night, how to carry keys between our fingers if needed as a defensive weapon, don’t let strangers in the dorms, and carry pepper spray. Long ago, I read Ann Rule’s book about Ted Bundy who liked to use colleges as a hunting ground. My daughter will go to college in a few years, and it’s my responsibility to prepare her to make smart decisions. I try not to think about the nutcases.
Would it be an easy career trajectory from dentist to forensic ondontologist? What personal traits would a dental professional need, for this type of job to be satisfying to her/him?
A forensic odontologist must be a dentist first, then do more studying, testing, and hands-on training to become board certified as an odontologist. I think a dental professional would need to be the type of person who likes to solve a puzzle, who is highly organized and detail oriented, and who has a strong stomach to be satisfied for this type of job.
>It’s definitely not for every dentist. During one of my hands-on forensics education courses, I was surprised when all the dentists held back when it was time to start matching the private dental films to the dental films from an airplane crash. Come on! That’s the fun part! I was only a hygienist, but I had to step up and organize the group and get them working as a team to identify the remains. Maybe they were just shy…<grin>
Does your writing process starts with the suspense, or the romance?
My writing process always starts with the suspense. Usually a sick or twisted idea enters my brain that refuses to leave. If I see the potential for a fascinating suspense angle, I scribble it down and the plot grows from there. The romance is usually organic to the story. If you have a man and a woman working together and developing respect for the other’s brain power, it will evolve into an attraction. Especially if they are both available. For me, physical attraction is too weak to develop a story line. My characters have to be smart and clever. That’s what makes their interest in the other person blossom. I like to write about men and women in positions that require lots of brain power.
In this book, character was the most fun to write, and why?
Hmmm. I found a secondary character, Michael Brody, easily flowed onto the page for me. He’s smart, scary-smart. And he has no fear, which can be a dangerous combination. He’s a cocky investigative reporter who dives head first into whatever fascinates him. I couldn’t get Michael out of my head after I finished HIDDEN. I’m currently writing Michael’s book, BURIED, which will come out in early 2013.
Thriller writers are unique beasts because of the facts and fancy they must delve into. How do you put in perspective the “real” evil you read and research about, as you move about your everyday life?
There are sick and scary people out there. I have bookshelves full of true-crime and textbooks of killers with stories that make me shake my head. I find it eerily fascinating and sad at the same time. Yet, I look at the people I interact with every day and don’t see the evil. My kids’ school teachers constantly show me that people are capable of good things. Unless they’re all just fooling me and leading sick private lives.
What is your next project?
The follow-up to HIDDEN is CHILLED, which will be out August 14, 2012. CHILLED is about the crash of a US Marshal transport plane during a blizzard in the Cascade Mountain range. Alex is a minor character from HIDDEN. He lies his way onto the search and rescue team, hoping to reach the crash to hunt a serial killer who’d murdered his brother. This book was a blast to write.
Kendra Elliot grew up in the lush Pacific Northwest and still lives there with her husband, three daughters, two cats, and a Pomeranian. In the real world, (non-writing world) she’s a dental hygienist who is fascinated with forensics, refuses to eat anything green, and loves a strong Mai Tai on the beach on Kauai. Kendra’s manuscripts have finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart Awards, the Daphne Du Maurier, and the Linda Howard Award of Excellence.
To learn more about Kendra, please visit her website.
You can hear a more extensive version of this interview on Josie Brown’s Author Provocateur podcast.