From an early age, Elizabeth Heiter always knew she wanted to write novels.
“I’ve always been drawn to fiction—I love it. I love getting lost in it and figuring out the mental puzzle of a mystery… I took as many creative writing classes in college as I could because I’ve always known I wanted to do this. I almost went to law school, but decided no—I wanted to write books more,” said Heiter, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who graduated from The University of Michigan in 2001 with her undergraduate degree in English literature.
Heiter has a slew of books coming out in the months ahead. The first of four books is Vanished, the second book in the Profiler series of mystery-thrillers, which will be released Dec. 30. After that, each book in The Lawmen trilogy—Disarming Detective, Seduced by the Sniper, S.W.A.T. Secret Admirer—will be released one after the other in February, March, and April, respectively.
Vanished, the sequel to Hunted—which debuted in late 2013—features FBI criminal profiler Evelyn Baine.
“I knew I wanted to write about a profiler,” recalled Heiter. “I started reading about profiling; it was really fascinating to me that you could have someone go to a crime scene where there weren’t any suspects because the victim didn’t really have any enemies and there wasn’t any good forensic evidence to use, but you could get someone to just look at a crime scene… (and say) what kind of person had done it. I thought that was so fascinating, so I knew I wanted to write a profiler.”
Heiter made it clear that Evelyn is not psychic. “I didn’t want Evelyn to be psychic in any way; I wanted her to do the work. I wanted her to understand it in a way so that when she profiles something, I would be doing it properly. So I took a lot of old cases and tried to profile them, then compare it to the outcome to see how I did. I could make up a crime scene, have her look at it and say, ‘Okay, this is the kind of person that I would suspect did it.’ I really wanted it to be accurate,” she explained.
Heiter conducted extensive research of profilers. She read dozens of old cases and even went to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where she interviewed various agents and even got to fire a shotgun on the shooting range—in a dress and high heels, no less.
“From that, the more research I did on profiling and digging into real cases over and over, it was so draining and gruesome. I thought what kind of person can do this day in and day out, so I decided Evelyn needed to have something tragic happen in her past that drove forward and kept her in the job because it’s a really hard job to do.”
That question is addressed in Vanished as Evelyn returns to her fictional hometown of Rose Bay, South Carolina to solve the disappearance of her best friend Cassie Byers, who disappeared 18 years ago. Cassie was one of three girls abducted by the Nursery Rhyme Killer, who’d leave notes at the crimes scenes that are macabre versions of nursery rhymes. No bodies were ever found. Nobody knows what happened to the three girls and to the Nursery Rhyme Killer.
Until another girl disappears after nearly 20 years and another note’s found at the crime scene. “She wants to figure out what happened to Cassie, which is why she’s in the FBI,” said Heiter. “This is finally her chance to figure it out.”
Talk about your inspiration for creating the Nursery Rhyme Killer. Guy sounds like a real charmer.
I knew that he was gonna be a cold case for a long time before Evelyn got the chance to reinvestigate. I had to think long and hard about why a killer would go dormant for 18 years and suddenly reappear again. Some of the psychology comes from that. Why did I decide to have him leave the nursery rhymes? I don’t know. I guess it’s just my love of reading over the years. I loved nursery rhymes. I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I read them in German and they’re very, very dark and disgusting—they’re not for kids.
Why make Evelyn biracial?
When I was imagining Evelyn… I imagined her as biracial. I’m like, “Okay, that’s how I’m gonna write her.” And as I started to develop her, I started thinking how that would impact her life just like how being a woman in a male-dominated field would impact her life… That’s just how I pictured her in my mind.
(In Vanished), Evelyn goes back to her hometown, which is fraught with memories, both good and bad for her. She was raised by her grandparents from the age of 10, so she’s got good memories of them. Her grandpa’s gone now and she looks after her grandma. When she first moved to the town, it was mostly segregated and everyone was white—even her grandparents, so she looked different from everyone there. It wasn’t entirely friendly towards her either, so she’s got mixed feelings about returning.
Name some of the influences on your work.
Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwall, R.L. Stine. I read (Stine’s Goose Bumps) growing up. He gave me a quote for Vanished, which is pretty exciting.
Talk about The Lawmen series.
My Profiler books are straight suspense, but my Lawmen books are romantic suspense. Since it’s romantic suspense, at the end of the book they get a happily-ever-after. (It’s a trilogy) and each one has its own main character… They’re all connected, though; it’s based on three best friends who grew up together: a brother and a sister and one of their other friends. All were intending to go into tame careers, but then one of them was abducted by a serial rapist. After that, all three of them made a pact to join the FBI and make a difference. Fast-forward 10 years later, in the first book, FBI profiler Isabella Cortez gets a case that could be connected to her friend’s rapist.
Both Evelyn in the Profiler series and Isabella in The Lawmen series are profilers. How are they different?
Personality-wise, Evelyn’s closed off; she’s socially awkward. She’s extremely good at her job, but not great at navigating her social life. She has a lot of tragedy from her childhood where she doesn’t want people to get too close to her. Ella, on the other hand, is really confident and outgoing. Her brother and her best friend joined the FBI with her and all three of them are still very close. She approaches cases differently than Evelyn, even though they’re both profilers… how they work and interact with the police department. She’s a pretty different kind of character.
Does doing another series like The Lawmen make the Profiler series fresher when you return to it and write the next novel?
It does. It keeps me fresh to go back and forth between them. I like that. I’ll write an Evelyn book—it’s darker and more intense and the plot is much bigger… Then I’ll switch over to The Lawmen books because they’re much lighter than the Evelyn books, there’s more romance, and you have the promise there’s a happily-ever-after. In the mystery genre, you don’t. At the end—what appeals to me about the mysteries—is there’s some kind of justice served at the end, something you don’t always get in real life. Evelyn’s novels don’t end with everything tied up because she has more books and her story continues, whereas these characters get one book and by the end, everything’ll be wrapped up.
You sold five books right out of the starting gate—that’s unheard of in this day and age. How did this come about?
It took me nine years to sell my first book. I turned some offers down along the way because they didn’t feel like they were where I wanted to go long-term with my career… A publisher expressed interest in (Hunted), but didn’t (publish) mysteries, just romantic suspense. It was a good opportunity and I considered it, but I loved Hunted and I didn’t want to cut 30,000 words off the top of the book and then cut more words in order to put in romance. It felt like it’d be a totally different book and I might as well write something totally different from scratch. I said to my agent, “If they’re really interested in Hunted, but they really want it to be something else, what if I just wrote them a proposal for something else and see if they’re interested in that?” She said, “Okay, let’s look into it.”
Meanwhile, MIRA offered to buy Hunted. (My agent) called me two weeks later: “They want to buy Hunted and they want to buy a sequel”—which I hadn’t written yet. Then she said they heard we have an offer pending on a romantic suspense trilogy. A week and a half later, they offered to buy the romantic suspense trilogy, so it was a combination of luck and perseverance and the willingness to just say “no” to publishers and turn it into something else. I wanted to find a way to make it work. And it turned into a bigger deal, which was amazing. I was pretty blown away that Harlequin wanted to buy so many books from me right off the bat without having an established sales track record first.
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. In 2014, her debut thriller HUNTED released, and 2015 will see two more releases in her Profiler series, and three in her romantic suspense series, The Lawmen.
To learn more about Elizabeth, please visit her website.