Up Close: Rachel Caine

Living in the Wake of a Serial Killer

By K. L. Romo

How can a wife not know her husband is a serial killer?

In bestselling author Rachel Caine’s newest thriller, WOLFHUNTER RIVER (book three of the Stillhouse Lake series) that’s what the public still wants to understand. How could Gwen Proctor, formerly Gina Royal—the wife of serial killer Melvin Royal—not have known she slept next to a murderer every night? Gwen still asks herself this question every day. But until she’d stumbled upon his last murder—and also came close to dying by his hand—she’d had no idea.

The public won’t let her or her children forget the ordeal. Internet trolls—the Sicko Patrol—relentlessly pursue Gwen and her family. And now, Miranda Tidewell, the outspoken wealthy mother of one of Melvin’s victims, is filming a documentary about her belief that Gwen was not only aware of the killings, but helped to plan them. Gwen and Sam Cade, the brother of one victim and now Gwen’s partner, try to stay one step ahead of the public’s outrage and keep their kids safe. Easier said than done.

To further complicate matters, Gwen can’t escape the phone calls from other women who suspect someone they know might be a murderer. The latest comes from a woman named Marlene in Wolfhunter River. Although disturbed, Gwen isn’t convinced she should get involved—but when Marlene’s 15-year-old daughter calls, terrified she’ll be the next to die, Gwen has no choice but to investigate.

Something terrifying is happening in Wolfhunter River, and now Gwen’s family is in even more danger. Will Gwen be able to protect herself and her children from everyone who wants them dead?

“The basic idea was sparked by the true crime story of Jerome Brudos, which detailed how he kept his killing room in his own garage, locked away from his wife and children,” Caine says. “And [there are] lots of other examples of serial killers with wives and kids.”

Caine’s thinking went one step further: What happens to the murderer’s family?

Rachel Caine on book tour in France.

“In these true-crime accounts, the family was only mentioned in passing and then dismissed; there was nothing else written about them. I was interested in the story of ‘life after monsters,’” she says. “I [had] met someone who’d been targeted in coordinated attacks by online trolls. While those threats originated in social media, they rapidly spread with dangerous effects in the real world. She received photos of her family at home, out shopping, kids walking to school, and explicit threats of death and sexual assault for herself and her kids. It was horrifying, and it lasted for a long, long time. And the only thing that sparked the campaign of terror was a minor online disagreement.”

After the first novel in the series—Stillhouse Lake—was published, Caine was shocked to get emails from women who’d had similar experiences, women who’d been victimized by their husbands’ secret crimes.

“I got two significant emails from women who’d been through similar events when their husbands’ crimes became national news. They both told me they’d been through the same emotions and terrors and had to change their names and locations,” she says. “I was surprised and saddened, but also shocked to learn that in the midst of the harassment, they’d both gotten calls from other women in difficult circumstances. It’s such a unique and extreme position to be in that it draws pleas from others for advice. That kicked off WOLFHUNTER RIVER’s premise.”

The main message Caine would like readers to take away from the series is one of empowerment.

Caine and her husband on book tour in England.

“I’d like readers to feel Gwen’s escape from the nightmare of her past, finding her own way into the world. She’s fought for herself and her kids for so long it’s logical she would fight for others too if they were in need. She takes real control of her own life for the better.”

Caine has written more than 50 books, writing at the incredible pace of about four a year.

“I try very hard not to write more than one at a time, but there are caveats to that,” she says. “I typically write between 3,000 and 5,000 words a day, so writing four books a year is comfortable for me most of the time. But what gets tricky is that just turning in a book isn’t the end of the process. Generally, each book has one or two editorial drafts, then a copy-edits draft, then a proof-check before the book is published. It’s inevitable that things overlap. I am currently drafting the next Stillhouse Lake book while also rewriting two different young adult books.”

Until 2017, Caine was best known for her sci-fi and paranormal novels. So what caused her to delve into the world of thrillers?

“I’ve always loved thrillers and yearned to write one. The idea and timing came together for me though I had no idea if anyone would be interested in publishing the book,” she says. “I love writing the Stillhouse Lake series; as far as my creative process goes, it’s a very different experience and counterpoint from my other books. I’m lucky that my agent saw the potential in the story, and that Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer saw it as well and gave me such wonderful support.”

That support was particularly welcome at a difficult time in Caine’s personal life.

“I’m going to talk about this because I think it’s important on two fronts,” she says. “First, because I want to encourage women (especially) to get tested, and second, because I want people to understand that it’s okay to restructure your life when things get … interesting.

“About a year and a half ago, I had some odd health issues. As someone who’d already been through breast cancer, I worried that something was wrong. It was non-specific, but I followed through with a variety of tests. Most were negative, but one came back with odd results. I had a genetic mutation: BRCA-2. As I spoke with my father’s side of the family, I learned that every woman on his side also had it. Most had suffered from cancer already.

Rachel Caine

“So, I decided—based on age, risk factors, and the already suspicious test results—to have the recommended procedures of hysterectomy, oophorectomy, and a double mastectomy, which lowered my risk from something like 75 percent down to just 15 percent.

“After four surgeries in 2018, I’m finally back to good health, active, and about 100 percent happier and more positive than I was in mid-2017. And yes, it greatly impacted my writing process! I struggled a lot with exhaustion and lack of focus. Deadlines had to wait, and my publishers were incredibly helpful in rescheduling releases. Keeping commitments was difficult for me the whole year.

“I know there are women out there struggling with decisions about whether it’s better to face it head-on or wait and see what happens. I want to tell them it’s okay to be afraid and uncertain. If they have questions about the procedures or recoveries, I would be very happy to be a resource and can be reached through the contact form on my website.

“For me, knowing is always better than not knowing, and taking preventive action was far better than waiting. I can give feedback on what happens during the entire process so people can be fully informed.

“And on a lighter note: my favorite color (today!) is purple, and my favorite coffee is caramel mocha. But not salted caramel mocha. That stuff’s not right.”

Let’s get this woman a venti caramel mocha ASAP!

 

K. L. Romo

K. L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Visit her website or @klromo.
K. L. Romo

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