By E. M. Powell
Of course I love thrillers (don’t we all?!), but I especially love a thriller that brings something new and different to the table. In DOUBLE VISION, Colby Marshall does just that. Her heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, is an FBI forensic psychiatrist whose brain is wired very differently to most of us. Jenna also comes to this book, the second in the series, with a heck of a backstory that I’m sure will bring new readers rushing to catch up on the first one too. DOUBLE VISION is a fast-moving, intriguing read that grabs the reader from the off and refuses to let go.
Marshall is a multi-talented creative: writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, and acting on stage when she has a spare moment. She lives in Georgia with her family and a collection of furry friends.
Exclusive to The Big Thrill, I caught up with Colby to find out more about her latest release.
This is the second outing for your heroine, Dr. Jenna Ramey, who debuted in the first book of the series, Color Blind. For readers coming new to her, there’s something that marks her out as very different: synesthesia. Can you explain what that is?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. In the case of grapheme-color synesthesia, the hardest aspect to describe is how the associations a synesthete makes are the same as those anyone makes in the way that they manifest. If a person hears the word “cake,” the image of a cake might flash in their mind. The difference is, their word/image reference was learned. Somewhere along the way, someone or something taught that person what cake is, showed him or her what it looks like, and so the association of the picture and word developed. Color associations are not limited to known things. Often a synesthete will lay eyes on something for the very first time, and immediately have a color association for it—that’s actually why it’s so useful to Jenna when she analyzes a crime scene.
A grapheme synesthete like me, or my character Jenna, might imagine a piece of cake upon hearing the word too, but the word might also trigger a color we automatically associate with it. The source of that color is completely internal (and can vary amongst synesthetes.) Cake’s association, for instance, would not be pink simply because the first time the synesthete had cake happened to be at a Barbie-themed birthday party. The specific color they associate is usually random, without rhyme or reason behind it, even to the synesthete. However random though, the associations of all synesthetes tend to be consistent and reliable. If a synesthete associates Thursdays with the color green (I do), Thursday is always going to be that exact shade of green.
In reality, most synesthetes don’t pay attention to their synesthesia on a day-to-day basis unless the connections it brings about are somehow unpleasant (like how I taste copper when I touch velvet—yuck!) It’s just a part of their normal involuntary thought process.
What gave you the inspiration to use this rare condition in your novels? Is it something you or someone close to you has encountered in real life?
I’m have grapheme synesthesia as well as a few other synesthesia subtypes.
I thought that might have been the case as I was reading—Jenna’s experiences felt absolutely real and credible! Also in DOUBLE VISION, you have a gripping storyline about the use, significance and mythology around numbers. You’ve obviously had to do a great deal of research on this, but never overload the reader with research dumps. Did you come across anything while doing that research that you would have loved to include but just couldn’t find a place in the storyline?
Oh, gosh! Tons of things. I have always loved mythology, and so writing a book with it interwoven into the plot is something I very much enjoyed. I actually opened up my Facebook fan page to fans while writing DOUBLE VISION and asked for facts about certain numbers with the promise I’d name them in the acknowledgements if I used their facts. I did use two readers’ number facts, so that was a lot of fun. I would’ve loved to be able to use many more of the mythology and numbers facts I learned, particularly some of the research surrounding the Fates. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that. I also learned some about a personality typing system called the Enneagram that is based on numbers, and I think it would be fun at some point to get to include that.
You have a complex plot that’s full of twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Is that type of storytelling reflected in the types of novels you like to read?
Definitely. I have always loved mysteries and thrillers, but as I got older and read more, I found I was able to figure out the whodunit of most novels pretty easily. The novels I loved the most—and the writers who became my favorites—were those who could keep me guessing until the very end. Those sorts of books that can keep me guessing tend to be able to do so because they are plots with layers of depth as well as well-laid surprises.
There’s a lot of angst shared amongst writers about the difficulties of writing a sequel. How challenging did you find it? What’s the one piece of advice you’d share with others who are thinking of writing a sequel?
This is my second series, and in both, I’ve actually found sequels (and subsequent series stories) both difficult and yet easier at the same time. The difficulty in the Jenna series was that in many ways, Color Blind was a golden child as far as how the plot came together with ease and with no outline whatsoever. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to recreate something like that for Jenna. However, when I got started on DOUBLE VISION, it turned out lots of new characters and angles for her story seemed to just form in my mind, and like the sequel to my other series, the McKenzie McClendon thrillers, the easier part of the story was in already knowing the characters, their stories, their strengths, weaknesses, and voices so well. It’s always so much fun to get to delve more into known characters’ stories, and I try hard to give readers more of what they’ve enjoyed and want to know more about.
You left us with a bit (oh, such a bit!) of a cliff hanger. Will there be a book three for Jenna?
Jenna definitely has more adventures in store, and yes, there’s quite an issue still left to be resolved! The next Jenna story starts with a band of ruthless assassins converging on a bank in Washington, D.C. They slaughter everyone inside and escape—every one—without stealing a dime and leaving only a message for police warning another attack is coming. The attackers responsible for the massacre are more than willing to communicate who they are and what they want. The problem is, they only do so through cryptic messages hidden in a labyrinth of classic literature references.
With the clock ticking down the hours and minutes until another bloodbath, Jenna and the rest of the BAU team have a challenge profiling not one or two, but a dozen individual killers… but even if Jenna is able to save the day, two enemies from her past are lurking in the shadows right in her blind spot.
My plan is to answer any questions DOUBLE VISION *may* (cough, cough) have left in readers’ heads over the course of the next two Jenna stories (yes, a number four is planned as well!) I can promise the next chapter in Jenna’s story will be one leading up to a confrontation I think every Dr. Jenna Ramey reader is probably waiting for. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that confrontation is coming, and I’m hoping to give those readers some next steps in that impending storm that they won’t be sorry they waited for!
And also without revealing any spoilers, I will bet right now that the storm will be awesome! You and Jenna are a winning combination and thanks so much for your fascinating insights into both your worlds.
Colby Marshall is especially qualified to write about grapheme-color synesthesia as she has this rare condition. She is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and is a contributing columnist for M Food and Culture, a local Georgia magazine.
To learn more about Colby, please visit her website.