At the heart of every crime there is a family . . . the fact driving Barbara Taylor Sissel’s fiction. Her novels are issue oriented, threaded with elements of suspense and defined by their particular emphasis on how crime affects families—the victim’s family and the perpetrator’s family. The focus of the stories is not crime per se, but how quickly and irrevocably lives can be altered in one single, shattering moment of misjudgment and how difficult it then is for family members to find their way back onto solid ground.
In SAFE KEEPING, Emily Lebay’s thirty-four-year-old son, Tucker is arrested for murder after yet another woman is found dead in the woods near the Lebay home. Neither Emily nor her daughter, Lissa, can reconcile their Tucker with these brutal crimes. Terrified and convinced there’s been a tragic mistake, Emily and Lissa set out to learn the truth about Tucker, once and for all. And while his life hangs in the balance, what they discover proves far more shocking than their darkest fears . . .
The book has garnered some wonderful reviews:
“Past secrets contribute to present-day angst in this solid suspense novel, and the even pacing keeps the reader’s interest until the captivating conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly
“…impressive writing and affecting subject matter.”—Kirkus Reviews
Reading a book by Barbara Taylor Sissel always begs certain questions. What is justice? Where is the line? What’s the nature of forgiveness? Why is it so hard? And in SAFE KEEPING, what would you do if your grown son was accused of a capital crime?
Recently, I was able to catch up with Sissel and ask her a few questions.
I read your bio and really enjoyed learning about when you knew you wanted to be a writer. In the bio you also said, “I can’t imagine a life in which I wouldn’t write any more than I can imagine a life where I wouldn’t read . . . . For me, a book is a miracle in the way that it can create such a magical connection between an author and a reader.” Tell us who most influenced your becoming a writer.
I think my answer would have to involve not only who but what. There were the people: my mother who read aloud to me and taught me the love of reading early, a couple of wonderful English teachers I was lucky to have in high school, and I’d have to also credit the authors of the books I’ve loved. But in addition, there was always a drive to write whenever I’ve needed to work out something, a knot in my life. It’s always been there or at least I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t.
Do you have any stories you can share about how your work connected with a reader or fan?
You know, when that connection happens, it’s the most gratifying thing. I haven’t had any readers speak of any personal experience so far. I think the most constant comment I’ve received is in regard to compassion and forgiveness. Readers seem to identify with the characters in my novels who struggle with these issues in the aftermath of betrayal or wrongdoing by someone they love.
Your bio also indicates that—before you started writing—you lived many years on a Kentucky prison. That experience permeates your work. What do you think affected you most, sparking you to visit and revisit themes of justice, injustice and inexplicable, unimaginable happenings?
What stays with me is the interaction I had with the inmates and their families. They confided a lot about themselves and their situations, I think because they felt vulnerable and uncertain. The inmates were young, mostly first offenders. The whole point of sending them to prison in such a remote location was to keep them segregated from the more hardened criminals in the hope of redirecting their lives. So it was often their first experience with the justice system, an experience many of them never imagined they’d have. Very often, they were just shell shocked and needed someone to listen.
Do you ever draw on true stories from those you met while you lived at the prison?
Not consciously, but I know that experience informs me on a deeper level and that bits and pieces of the true stories are reinvented and woven into the fabric of my novels.
Would you call your work dark or hopeful?
Hopeful. I put my characters into dark, heartrending situations, but I don’t leave them there. Things don’t necessarily tie up in a lovely bow, but what is clear is the indomitability of the human spirit, its will to survive, its capacity to forgive.
Is there something you hope your readers come away with after reading your books?
What I hope for with my books is to inspire empathy, a sense of compassion, along with the idea that no one is evil all the way through, or very few are. I would like to think my stories would inspire discussion, that readers would ask themselves: What would I do in this situation? Or if they’ve maybe suffered in a similar fashion, they would see through reading my books that there’s a way to survive, to even find joy in life again. I want people to see that a calamity, while it can be incredibly painful, it’s also cathartic. It can lead to unexpected growth and happiness, even peace. Often, reserves of strength are uncovered in the dark times that were unknown before.
Are you going to do any touring with SAFE KEEPING?
Unfortunately I’m not attending any events so far mainly because somehow the building of a new house and moving got tangled up with the release of SAFE KEEPING. And to top that off, I sold my house with the understanding that I could lease back until the new house was finished, but the new owner changed his mind so the house isn’t finished and I’m kind of living in a construction zone, which is not at all how I planned it!
So what can we look for next?
The novel I’m currently working on involves a young man’s mysterious disappearance and the frantic search for him that brings two families together who are virtually unknown to one another, but who will end up being connected through a web of lies and secrets in a way they never could have imagined.
Barbara Taylor Sissel is the author of five novels: SAFE KEEPING, EVIDENCE OF LIFE THE NINTH STEP, THE VOLUNTEER, and THE LAST INNOCENT HOUR. For more information on her books and upcoming events, please visit her website.
And, do yourselves a favor. Pick up your copy of SAFE KEEPING today. I promise, you won’t regret it!