“Erin Blake” is a name that conjures up lurid stories of a brutal crime: a toddler left for three days next to the body of her murdered mother. Now a teenager, Erin seeks to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder in Sheryl Scarborough’s thrilling debut. We caught up with the author to talk about forensics, writing challenges, and the inspiration behind To Catch A Killer. Get a preview of the first chapter here!
Will you tell us a little about To Catch a Killer and what inspired you to write it?
In To Catch a Killer, my character, Erin, is driven to find the answers to three questions. 1. Who killed her mother. 2. The identity of her father. 3. She wants to know that it wasn’t her father who killed her mother and left her baby self alone in the house.
Only a DNA test and/or DNA database can provide these answers.
As to the inspiration for this story, there’s a simple answer and a more complex one. Here’s the complex answer:
While the forensic activity in the book is Erin’s special quirk, the quieter, background search for her identity is the driving force of her story and it pretty much came from my subconscious. I didn’t realize until I was well into this story—and mid-way through my MFA program—how much of myself was irrevocably woven into this tapestry of words.
My parents divorced when I was an infant and I didn’t meet (or have any contact) with my father, or his family, until I was 17. I knew his name and there were a few photos, but nothing else. Not having a father was a staple of my childhood.
Now, here’s the creepy part. Before transitioning to publishing, I wrote hundreds of episodes for children’s television. I also wrote some screenplays, which were never produced. I have gone back over my favorite episodes and every single one deals with identity and family. Something I never realized until it came to this book. Not all of Erin’s questions will be answered in book one. But if you’re looking for a clue–and hey, you’re a mystery lover so why wouldn’t you be—in my opinion, it’s not DNA that makes you a family, all you need is fierce, fierce love.
What did you enjoy most about writing it, and what was most challenging?
I loved writing Erin and her friends Spam and Lysa. The three girl setup is a bit of a trope, but it’s so much fun to create a team and then use their strengths, weaknesses and flaws to craft your story. I get to be each one of these characters for a time and I truly love getting into each of their characters.
The most challenging part of writing this book was the verisimilitude—keeping it real, so to speak. The fact that I’ve written for children (young adults) for such a long time allows me to believe that kids, like evolution, will always find a way to get what they want. Still, as an author you don’t want readers to constantly be questioning would kids really do this? It’s a tough line to walk and hopefully, I did it successfully.
What’s the most bizarre thing you learned while researching To Catch a Killer?
Well, if you’ve watched any episodes of Bones or even the CSI series, you know that forensic factoids are definitely stranger than fiction. You just can’t make some of this stuff up. What I do love to find, however, is how girly things play in this world. For example, there was a news story that a dab of glitter nail polish is a better protective device against computer tampering than security products especially designed for this purpose.
Here’s a link to a video describing how it works and why.
But I just love that it’s glitter nail polish. My main character began her foray into forensics by using a blush brush, eye shadow and teeth whitening strips as her first fingerprint kit. So yeah, glitter nail polish as a security device is really my jam.
Where do you like to write?
I almost exclusively write at my desk in my luxurious, basement office, which inexplicably contains my husband’s pool table and two televisions which are never turned on during writing hours. I have two cats, but only one comes to work with me every morning. It’s his job. And if I’m late or slack off, he’s expresses his extreme displeasure.
What’s your favorite word?
I overuse the word actually. Then, before I send my manuscript to my editor I search and destroy as many as I actually can.
Which books are currently in your to-read pile?
I’ve been gathering and reading ARCs. I just finished Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin. Next up is Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane. Also on the stack is Ibi Zobol’s American Street, and The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lillam Rivera. Plus something to satisfy my mystery thriller cravings, A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl.
What’s the first book you remember reading?
The first book that got me hooked was The Island Stallion series by Walter Farley. My fourth grade teacher would read a chapter to us when we came in from recess and I couldn’t wait for the next day installments so I convinced my grandmother to buy me the books and I would read ahead. Then I would enjoy being the little know-it-all at school the next day. That series might have fed some obnoxious behavior, but it made me a reader and ultimately a writer.
Who are your literary heroes?
Oh…this could be a long answer as I have so many and I’d probably leave someone out. The first two names that came to mind were Tim Wynne-Jones and Rita Williams-Garcia, both authors I worked with at Vermont College of Fine Arts. But there are more…so so so many more.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Surfing the net. It often starts out as a quick research mission and then…hours later…after I’ve link-hopped and read all the things I sheepishly remember I had a deadline or at least daily writing goals I wanted to achieve.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Just one; sit down at desk, place fingers on keyboard, do not get up.
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(This is a rerun of a post that originally ran on the Tor/Forge Blog)