For the past few years, I’ve been writing books inspired by real events. I’ll hear something on the news and I’ll think - hm, what if...? That’s where Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared came from.
But my new book, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die was actually inspired by the lyrics to a song called Scared at Night by Kathleen Edwards:
As a young man you were shooting rats
By accident you hit the farmyard cat
He ran for the fields and came back the next day
You'd blown out his eye and you could see his brain
That's it boy, there is some things in life
You don't wanna do, but you know is right
So take him out back and finish him off
Got your gun off the shelf, it only took one shot
One day when I was running, I was listening to this on my iPod shuffle, and I thought, ooh - What if there was a girl? And she wakes up on the floor of a ransacked cabin with two men standing over her. And one of them says, “Take her out back and finish her off.”
And the more I ran, the more I thought about it, and the more I knew she had been tortured and the two men were mad because she wouldn’t - couldn’t - tell them something they really wanted to know.
For years, I’ve been collecting stories of people who experience fugue state amnesia. In 1985, a Tacoma reporter disappeared. A lot of people thought she had been murdered in connection with a story. She turned up 12 years later in Sitka, Alaska, with no memory of her past life. In 2009, a school teacher disappeared for three weeks in Manhattan. When authorities went back and looked at security cam footage, they would see her going into a store, for example, and looking confused, and then eventually leaving. When she was found, she had no memory of who she was.
People suffering from fugue state cannot recall their past. They don’t lose their memory of how to function in the world - they just lose their personal memories.
There’s a fascinating British documentary about a guy who walked into a hospital and said he had no idea who he was. In one amazing scene he goes to the beach. He’s standing on a rock next to the water and he says, “I don’t know if I know how to swim. I guess I’ll find out!” And then he jumps.
One thing people with fugue state seem to have in common is that have been under immense stress. One theory is that some brains, when subjected to a lot of stress, simply hit the reboot key. It’s a way for the person to run away from a bad situation.
And when my fictional girl wakes up in this trashed cabin she realizes someone has pulled out two of her fingernails. She figures that’s what caused her to lose her memory - but it’s actually something worse. Much worse.
Figuring out what came next
So now I had an idea I loved, but there was a lot more work I had to do.
Like say you were this girl waking up with no memory and two men are discussing killing you. What would you do next? Well, what I did was have my kajukenbo instructor drag me around the floor with his hands under my armpits and we figured out some ways the girl could fight back.
I’m now taking kung fu and both martial arts have really helped me construct fight scenes and understand the sheer physicality of violence. The only downside is that doctors often look at the fingerprint shaped bruises on my arms and ask if I’m safe at home.
Another thing I had to do was to figure out WHY the bad guys wanted to kill her. I had to figure out if she might possibly be crazy - and I definitely wanted her to look crazy.
And what were the answers? I used a mind-mapping program at bubbl.us to brainstorm. Where was her family? Were they dead? Being held captive? Had they fled to another country? And who was behind it? Was it the military? The government? And if it was the government, was it US or foreign? Was it a drug company? A chemical company?
I spent a lot of time researching bioweapons. It’s illegal to manufacture them - but it’s not illegal to research how to defend against one - which is a pretty big loop hole. I spent a lot of time stocking an imaginary lab, looking at online catalogs, debating the merits of special cages that can hold a thousand mice, figuring out how to grow a virus and make a vaccine. I spent so much time researching bioweapons it’s a wonder the FBI didn’t come knocking at my door. My fictional world was reviewed by a scientist who has a top-security clearance and has done bioweapons research. She said the idea was “very plausible - and evil.”