Alexis Bass, author of An Education in Ruin, joins us today on the blog to talk about what inspired her to write her newest thriller!
By Alexis Bass
The inspiration behind An Education in Ruin can best be summed up in two words: identity crisis.
The setting came to me first, a boarding school near the ocean in Northern California, a place that still felt new and magical to me having moved to California from Seattle. I liked the isolation of the setting and that feeling of being removed from familiarities that comes with boarding school in general. But most of all, I was inspired by what the boarding school represented to the characters—what they thought it said about them that they’d been accepted; that they’d been chosen to attend an elite and exclusive private school.
I knew the students of Rutherford (the fictional boarding school in An Education in Ruin) had preconceived notions about themselves, and how the world would see them just for attending. It was a reputation that had its own set of rewards and pressures.
The cast of characters came together from this basis. At a pivotal time in their lives when they’re searching for not only their place in the world, but also turning over clues to discover who they really are, who they’re going to be, who they want to be.
The character of Rob James was a smaller part in this cast, but a shadow that hung over the characters not only for her part in the scandal of this story, but also for the way she wielded the great power that was supposed to come with attending Rutherford; how she had knocked expectations out of the park, and proved herself in new and rewarding ways. Rob James was loosely inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and the public’s fascination with the sheer number of people who invested in her that seemed to stem from a deep want to believe not only in her invention, but also in her and this path to success.
Rob James represented the ultimate achievement. But at what cost? What would you lie about to get this kind of glory? What would you risk? How far would you take it? These questions surrounded everyone at Rutherford.
The Mahoney brothers to be ruined in this plot suffered the same stigma. Who were they? Who did they want to be? Who did they claim to be? What wouldn’t they do to live up to this expectation that had been placed on them by both society and themselves?
My narrator, Collins Pruitt, whose task of uncovering the Mahoney brothers’ secrets means more to her than having leverage against them. If she can pull it off, it means she’s deserving. It means she’s the person she’s supposed to be; someone worthy of love. And her self-identity of being conniving and clever is shattered when she gets to Rutherford and realizes that maybe she is none of those things she thought she was meant to be; maybe she is someone else. And what does that look like? What will she do with it? Will she see the strengths that stemmed from her failures? Or will she ignore them to stay in line with what she thinks she should be doing?