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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Through the victim's eyes

As authors we have to use our imaginations—goes without saying, really. As romantic suspense authors, our imaginations often take us to some pretty dark places. And we live there for as long as it takes to feel the chill down our spines or the outright terror clawing at our guts and get it down on paper. We go back there, over and over, to those black corners, cobwebbed hidey-holes and damaged psyches, smoothing the contours, adding that final layer, the slightest hint of light or deepening darkness.

Most of the time I can find that frightening place in my own evil little mind (mwah ha ha) but when the dark place is a physical location—well, there's nothing like the real thing to get you in the zone.

I was inspired to write Betrayed by Trust by a terrible crime committed right here in the nation's capital. A young government intern disappeared amidst rumors (true, as it turned out) of her involvement with a congressman. Her body was found a year later in heavily wooded Rock Creek Park. Several years later we learned that her killer was an illegal immigrant who had attacked other women in the park.

In Betrayed by Trust, a beautiful young Capitol Hill aide named Blair disappears and her body is found several months later on Roosevelt Island, a tiny wooded island in the Potomac River with a giant statue of Teddy Roosevelt and trails that wind through marsh and swamp. I've been on the island many times with my husband and dogs and kids, finding a bit of nature in view of the Lincoln memorial and the famous Key Bridge.  In my book, the police have a suspect—a foreigner with alleged terrorist ties. But alas, it's not that simple…

 My story takes place in late June and July, so on the 4th of July I had the brilliant idea to watch the fireworks from Roosevelt Island. My husband suggested we stand on the bridge leading onto the island, but, like Blair's sister, my heroine in the story, I wanted to experience the woods at night at the spot where Blair had tumbled off the path and landed in her swampy grave.


It was very, very dark as we walked the trail in the woods that night. We had expected to have lots of
company, but apparently no one else was dumb enough to try to see the fireworks from the island. The air was thick with humidity and hordes of mosquitoes were out for blood. I began to have second thoughts. Then it started to rain.

My husband lugged his camera and tripod off the path, through thick, prickly bushes onto a tiny spot of muddy ground where he could see the sky through the trees. By this time I was practically hyperventilating. I don't like the woods at night. I'm not brave. And I hate mosquitoes. I wanted to get off that island in the worse way. But it was a couple of miles back to the bridge and the most stubborn man on the planet (who had forgotten the flashlight) informed me that he was not budging until he had some shots of the fireworks.

I lasted about five minutes.

I knew the way back, and I could still see the path even though it was super dark under the canopy of trees. I walked for about the first thirty seconds…and then I ran. Ran like I was being chased. And as I ran, I became Blair, fleeing from a villain she thought she could trust, slipping on the muddy trail, muscles aching, heart pounding, shadows turning sinister, breath coming in shallow, hysterical gasps…

After an endless amount of time I could make out the bridge ahead and the lights of Georgetown twinkling, and I slowed my pace. I closed my eyes and took a deep, grateful breath. For the duration of that two-mile run I had lived inside my story, and experienced some of the terror Blair had felt in the final moments of her life. 

I wouldn't want to go there again.

-Ana Barrons

Betrayed by Trust will be released on July 8th by Carina Press.


Maureen A. Miller said...

That's a scary situation, Ana. It is far better to write fiction than to live it. Anything can jump out at you in that sort of environment. Of course, the thought of the bugs bothers me the most! :)

Betrayed By Trust looks awesome, by the way!

Ana Barrons said...

Thanks, Maureen. It's a book that's close to my heart. And writing about a murder committed in a place where I've spent so much time has been very eye opening! When I go to Roosevelt Island now I have to admit I see it differently. I feel more intimately connected to it, mosquitoes notwithstanding..

Anne Marie Becker said...

Ack, mosquitoes! Hate them. That alone gives me a creepy, crawly feeling...but experiencing the island through all your senses is a brilliant idea. I love that your husband came along! :)

Ana Barrons said...

It would have been even better if he'd brought the flashlight... ;)

Toni Anderson said...

Sounds fabulous, Ana! Great experience to use. Sounds like a wonderful location--minus the bugs (I hate bugs!).

Ana Barrons said...

Especially when they fly into your eyes and nose...ugh! But it was a great experience, particularly in retrospect.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Quite the experience, Ana. And may I add that I would never, ever have left behind the strong male to run through the woods alone at night. You are much more dedicated to your art than I am.

Rita said...

Wow! Brilliant post.There are many places that once was enough for me to visit.
Bugs aren't so bad for me. I live in Florida were mosquitoes and roaches fly and carry sidearms.
Wishing you mant sales on your new release.

Ana Barrons said...

Thank you, Marcelle and Rita! So, mosquitoes and roaches that fly and carry sidearms... I think I'll pass on Florida! As for the strong male, I waited for him on the mainland until the fireworks were over and got soaked -- but his camera had a "raincoat" and HE got some nice shots, which was all that mattered to him. Men...

Cathy Perkins said...

Wonderful story, Ana - and yikes! super scary run in through the dark.

But ah, the things we do for the book.

Ana Barrons said...

When I think back on that night, and knowing what a little scaredy cat I am, it's hard to believe I actually did it. It's sort of funny -- my heroine in the book that's being released next week, Son of the Enemy, lives in a small cottage in the woods and is terrified of walking home in the dark, but she does it anyway to face her fears... Jeez, I'm starting to feel like a head case!

Shirley Wells said...

Ooh, scary. It sounds a really beautiful place though. Even better without the bugs. :)

Shelley Munro said...

Wow, that sounds creepy. My mind and imagination always jumps into hyperdrive at times like this.

Jean Harrington said...

Ana, See nothing's ever wasted to a writer. Terror, heat, bugs, you turn them into exciting pages.

I had fun writing a buggy, mosquito riddled, jungly ending to The Monet Murders. It remains one of my favorite passages, you know one of them you secretly reread from time to time. Good post, I enjoyed it.

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