By Karen Harper
It was a long time coming, but this January a debut author who is receiving a lot of buzz releases the first of five novels that sold to Mira and Harlequin Intrigue. In HUNTED, Heiter introduces FBI profiler Evelyn Baine who gives Clarice Starling a run for her money as one of the most interesting new heroines on the block.
Heiter was kind enough recently to answer some of my questions.
What is your book about?
HUNTED is about an FBI profiler who discovers just how deadly it can be to get inside the head of a killer.
My heroine, FBI agent Evelyn Baine, gets assigned to profile the “Bakersville Burier,” a killer who abducts and murders young women, leaving them buried up to their heads deep in the woods. He’s savvy, and Evelyn knows he’s killed before. She also knows that unless she can help the police find him, he’ll strike again. But as she digs deeper into the case, the Bakersville Burier begins to track her too. Suddenly, she’s the one being hunted!
Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, and Macavity winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan said about HUNTED: “Relentless suspense, non-stop surprises, and a twist around every corner. So taut, so tense…I dare you to put this down! I could not turn the pages fast enough.”
Since you are a debut author, can you share a bit about your path to publication? Finding the right home for a book, especially a series, can be daunting.
My path to publication took nine years, six completed manuscripts, and many more partially finished manuscripts, as well as several opportunities that I didn’t take, until I found the right home for HUNTED. I actually pitched the book to my editor at MIRA while at an RWA Conference, and a year later, I got the call that she was interested. A year and a half after that, the book will be out in stores! But the best advice I ever received while pursuing this dream was to keep at it. I’m stubborn, and I love to write way too much, so I did!
Why did you decide to write series rather than stand alones?
I love series because you don’t have to say goodbye to a character after only one book. I’ve written two types of series—HUNTED, the first book in my Profiler series, follows one lead character, and my Lawmen series for Harlequin Intrigue, which comes out in 2015, follows connected characters who take turns being the lead. Either way, I like the chance to keep visiting the characters, and watching them grow and change. In VANISHED, the sequel to HUNTED which is scheduled for release in January 2015, I give Evelyn a chance to tackle the case that made her join the FBI in the first place—the unsolved disappearance of her best friend eighteen years earlier. I knew that’s where I wanted to take her, so in HUNTED, she starts learning things about that case she’d never known. It was fun to set up some of the pieces that will come back in the next book.
You have sold books to both Mira and Harlequin Intrigue. How do you view these two outlets for your writing as similar or different?
Both the MIRA books (the Profiler series, which are straight psychological suspense) and the Harlequin Intrigue books (the Lawmen series, which are romantic suspense) feature FBI agents. They’re both heavy on the suspense, and set in similar worlds.
But I enjoy the differences as much as the similarities. The Profiler books are darker, with more room to get into the psychological side—like what motivates the serial killer and how my profiler gets into his head). The Lawmen books aren’t quite as heavy, and since the characters each only get the lead once (because they only get one “happily ever after!”), their story arc begins and ends in one book. I really enjoy switching back and forth when writing them, because they let me explore different things, and each one refreshes me for the other.
Can you explain what the sub-genre of a psychological thriller (which HUNTED is) offers that other thrillers might not? What attracted you to a protagonist who is a profiler—or does the psychological aspect come from your serial killer’s mental make up?
I think of a psychological thriller as being a mental puzzle as much as an adrenaline rush. I think a typical thriller gets the suspense from wondering what might happen next, and from the fast-paced action. A psychological thriller adds that extra element: figuring out not just the when and how and who, but also the real nitty-gritty of why.
I decided to write an FBI profiler because I was fascinated by the idea of someone who could look at a crime that was tagged “unsolvable” and figure out not only what kind of person had done it, but also how to catch that person. I loved the idea of throwing a character into an investigation with no logical suspects, no useful forensic evidence, no witnesses, and no hope of closing the case, and giving her the ability to think like the killer to track him down. For me, the psychological details come from both the serial killer’s mental makeup and my profiler’s talent for understanding what seems incomprehensible to most people, law enforcement included.
On your excellent website you pose a fascinating question: “What kind of person can do that [profiler] job?” How did you answer that for yourself as you created your series heroine Evelyn?
I’ve always enjoyed torturing my characters—I like protagonists who aren’t perfect, characters who have a lot to overcome. With Evelyn, I knew I wanted to give her a particular incident in her past that brought her to profiling. So, I imagined her losing one parent very young and having the other parent be unfit. Just when things got really bad, I sent her to live with grandparents who finally brought her some normalcy, and gave her a best friend who impacted her life hugely. Then, I had that friend get abducted. She was never found, but an FBI profiler showed up during the investigation, and from that day forward, Evelyn knew what she wanted to do with her life.
As I was doing the research into profiling, it struck me just how difficult it would be to see these kinds of cases—serial killers, terrorists, child abductors, serial arsonists—day after day. And I knew I needed a character with a real personal investment, someone who’d been on the other side of that kind of case and knew just how much difference closure would make to the families of the victims—the kind of closure she’d never had for herself. That’s how I developed Evelyn. Both her greatest strengths and her greatest flaws come from that personal investment.
How are you balancing the demands of “real life” with the pressure of selling five novels and beginning a long-term writing career?
It has been the best kind of challenge! I’ve always loved to write—I co-wrote my first novel in high school and I’ve never stopped. Since selling, the pace of my writing (and the promotional aspects that go with publication) have increased, but if I hadn’t sold, I would still be writing. These days, “real life” gets put on hold a little more often, and I’m still searching for that perfect way to balance, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! And besides, I like a challenge.
Elizabeth Heiter likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.
Elizabeth graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. Her manuscripts have been finalists in the Golden Heart®, Marlene, Daphne Du Maurier, and Golden Gateway contests and she won Suzanne Brockmann’s 2010 Haiku Contest. In 2012, Elizabeth fulfilled a lifelong goal when she sold her first five novels.