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The very first story that I remember writing was grandly called "To the Outhouse." I was in third grade. My story was about a little pioneer girl who must pee in the night, and she has to go to the outhouse in the wilderness, where there are wolves all around. She gets devoured by the wolves. It was not exactly Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I'm a true-crime addict. I read In Cold Blood at way too young an age. We'd be in some used bookstore, and I'd grab Helter Skelter and read 100 pages in the corner while my parents shopped. I'm fascinated not with the murders themselves, but with what happens to the survivors.
I was a Brothers Grimm addict as a child, too. If you read the uncensored Brothers Grimm, half of them end up with incredibly gruesome murders. I never understood why the other little girls wanted to play princess, because the witch is where it's at.
I write dark psychological thrillers. Sharp Objects is about a Chicago crime reporter who, fresh out of getting out of a mental hospital, is sent back to her hometown to cover a series of child murders. Dark Places is about a young girl whose family is murdered. She escapes and blames her brother for the murders, and 25 years later begins to have doubts about who did it.
You can say over and over again how different a character is from you, but people always assume there's some sort of connection. In Sharp Objects, the narrator is battling an addiction to self-cutting. Anytime someone who's read the book is chatting with me, you can see them kind of scanning my arms to see if I have any marks on me.
If I've been writing a particularly dark scene, it's hard for me to shake it off. I never realized that till I got married and my husband said, "You were writing something awful today, weren't you?" The quick fix is to turn on a good musical for five minutes. I've had moments where I've been so bummed that I'll put in Singin' in the Rain.
I went away to a friend's lake house to finish writing the last chapter of Dark Places, in which this family ends up murdered. I was going to be done with the book, and I had bought myself a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Instead, I spent two days writing the scene killing them all off, and by the end, I was walking around the house bawling.
To me, the scariest thing is a corner of the house where I can't get out easily. As a kid, I didn't want to be inside the house if my parents were out. I would literally go sit on the front step where I could see everything till they got back. Now, if I'm home by myself at night, I look under beds, and I open closet doors.