AN INTERVIEW WITH NORA GASKIN, AUTHOR OF THE WORST THING
Do you feel like women, working as models and actresses, invite stalking and/or
harassment by being so alluring—like Angel, in your novel The Worst Thing?
Simple answer: no, they don’t invite it. But it’s a complex question because it is one women
have had to deal with since Adam blamed Eve. I would hope young girls could skip the princess stage and go right to the astronaut, athlete, writer, entrepreneur stage.
Then again, I worry that STEM (education based on science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics) leaves out some important stuff, too. STEAM, with the A for Arts, is better.
I admire creative women, women who are successful in business, and women who take control of their own destinies writ large or small.
The problem is, not everyone can distinguish between the costume and the person who wears it. Sometimes, the person in the costume loses her grip on that distinction, too. In The Worst Thing, Angie loved her life of make-believe, as she worked as a model. Her maturation was interrupted by a traumatic event, so we don’t know who she may have become. Another character, Dorrie, fought back.
I hope my characters stand on their own as individuals who make choices, even as they are
influenced by the choices others make, as we all do.
Do you follow real-life crime stories?
Lots. I miss the old days of Court TV. I could get home from work in time to see half a day’s
testimony from California during the O.J. Simpson trial and the Menendez Brothers’ trial, then the networks would replay it all. I DO still watch crime shows on TV, both fiction and factual.
And I published a non-fiction book, Time of Death, about a devastating crime in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, my hometown, that influenced me as a child, and continues to fascinate me. I think of the hows and whys of the crime, the way it was investigated, and the resulting false conviction. It still has impact on me and also on my community.
I’m drawn to stories about justice gone wrong, especially wrongful convictions. I want to see justice done, but that means justice for the accused as well as for the victim.
What draws you to reading and writing about crime?
Why are crime stories compelling?
The writer and the reader work together to try and understand where evil comes from and
how it works. And usually, the stories end with order restored. The bad actor is caught and gets his due, society is safe again. Or at least, we can hope.
Tell us about the title of the book you just published: The Worst Thing
The title came to me early in the process. It was inspired by Kate Atkinson’s title, When Will There Be Good News? The answer is, pretty much never. In that book, things go from bad to worse to worse to worse.
Early in The Worst Thing, we learn that our young protagonist, Kellah, believes the deaths of her parents in a freak accident is the worst thing that will ever happen to her. That belief gives her a fearlessness that borders on recklessness. Then she finds out the accident is just the worst thing so far. That is what happens in life. We can’t know what will come tomorrow, or five years from now.
Yet we survive and continue to live in a world in which terrible things happen. Kellah must dig deeper than she ever thought she would to move forward.
Tell us about the character, Kellah, who starts out believing the worst thing for her
has already happened?
In May or June 2014, I had just reread Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I wondered, what is it like to write a character like Ripley, a pure sociopath. Then I wondered, what would it be like to write a female character like Ripley. Kellah sprang to life. Kellah turned out not to be the sociopath that Ripley is, not to be as amoral, but she is outside of some cultural norms. Her fearlessness, amounting to recklessness, sets her apart. She doesn’t behave as other people do. She’s small, pretty, bookish—not the woman you expect to take on evil. But she doesn’t give it second thought. Kellah is still my female version of Tom Ripley.
What did you come to learn when writing about the stalker, Albert?
You seem to show fully the mindset of the criminal.
Albert is trying to do the right thing. He is proof that we all want the same things in life, to love and to be loved. But he got it twisted and turned inside out. His is a life wasted.
How did your editing the anthology of Carolina Crimes: 21 Tales of Need, Greed and
Dirty Deeds, introduced by Jeffrey Deaver as “some of the finest crime writers ever to set ink to paper and pixels to disk,” influence your writing of The Worst Thing?
I was well into The Worst Thing when the offer to edit the second anthology in the Carolina Crimes series came along. Having the opportunity to edit 21 stories and work with 21 writers certainly added to my understanding of how crime fiction works. Some of the stories are darkly funny. Some are purely creepy. Most hold up a mirror to world, reflecting the same issues that lead me to read and write suspense.
What are you working on now?
Years ago, a man who was clearly guilty of murder chose to plead guilty. As a person living the community in which his crime happened, I felt cheated. Since there was no trial, a lot of questions went unanswered. I felt that he was truly remorseful and even though there is no doubt about his guilt, I felt there was more to his story than ever came out. I want to explore a character with a conscience, who has a hard time living with what he’d done. I’m eager to see where that takes me. I’m sure it’ll be to unexpected places.