Half in Love with Death is a young adult thriller for all ages, inspired by a true crime. It takes place in Tucson in 1965, the time of peace and love, but nothing is peaceful in fifteen-year-old Caroline's life. Since her beautiful older sister Jess disappeared, Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She's invisible to her parents, who can't stop blaming each other. The police assume Jess is a runaway and aren’t trying very hard to find her. The only person who pays any attention to her is Jess’s boyfriend Tony. Every time she turns around, he’s looking at her with magical blue eyes, telling her how they can find Jess together, how anything is possible if you believe it. Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess's disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the runaways and flower children. Heis so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and by the time she learns the difference between truth and illusion, it may be too late.
What inspired you to write it?
Half in Love with Death was inspired by the case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson.’Schmid was a charismatic young man who murdered three teenage girls, and buried them in the desert.Two of his victims were sisters. I was intrigued by the tragic story of the sisters and by Schmid. He was a handsome guy, who didn’t look like a murderer. In fact he didn’t look all that different from kids I’d known in high school. Researching this case got me thinking about how little I understood about my own friends as a teen, and how blindly I’d counted on love to solve everything.Slowly a story emerged about secrets, lies, love, and deception.
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
My publisher came up with the cover and I really love it. The gold tone gives it a soft dreamy quality but at the same time reflects the fact that the desert is very important in my novel. I like the ambiguity as to whether the girl on the cover is sleeping, dreaming, or dead. That really reflects the central mystery of my novel.
If it was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?
I’d choose Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper from Mad Men) as Caroline, my 15-year-old protagonist. Like Caroline, Shipka has a quiet loveliness and changes from child to sophisticate in an instant.
ZacEfron would be my choice for Tony, the charismatic boyfriend of Caroline’s missing sister Jess. With his pale blue eyes and pretty-boy good looks, Efronis Tony!
Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?
It is a stand-alone.
Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
The novel is set in Tucson where the true crime that inspired it took place, but that’s not the only reason I set it there. The photos ofTucson from1965 intrigued me, and the idea of writing about a place far from homefelt liberating. Also the vast expanses of desert that bordered many of the suburban housing developments in Tucson sparked my imagination. I wondered what it would feel like for a teen to have such a mysterious, alluring, and frightening place so close to home. The desert ended up being a significant element in my novel.
What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?
I really like writing about teens because adolescence is such an intense life-changing time, full of feelings you never forget. And I love the strong narrative voice in many YA novels, and how creative the stories are. I also love crime fiction, especially psychological thrillers, and I think my novel crosses over into that genre as well. I’m drawn to dark stories that have some sort of mystery at the heart of them and that’s why crime fiction appeals to me so much.
What made you want to become an author?
Early on I discovered that writing absorbs and excites me more than anything else I do. It feels like something is missing when I’m not writing. I get bored easily and novel writing, in particular, is the only thing that fully engages both the creative and analytic sides of my brain. I also love the music and magic of language, and exploring the mysterious nature of existence with words and stories.
How do you come up with character names?
I go with my instincts to find the name that ‘feels’ right, and will often Google lists of best baby names etc. to get ideas. SometimesI discover I’ve randomly picked a bunch of names that all sound alike or begin with the same first letter, and then I have to fix that.
Do you struggle to come up with book titles? Do they come before, during or after you've written your book?
I do struggle and thankfully have gotten a lot of help from other people with my titles.Before it was finished, my book was called The Way She Left Us. I got that title from someone in my writing group. Then my agent changed the title to Death and the Buttercup. I loved that title because it is the title of a poem Caroline writes in the book. But after I did a significant revision I felt the book was so changed it needed a new title. When my sister suggested Half in Love with Death, I knew that was the one I wanted to use. Luckily my agent and publisher felt the same way.
Name one of your all-time favorite books?
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This is one of the first books I read in which the language utterly captivated me. The prose is gorgeous and captures the exotic setting perfectly. Roy plays with words in magical ways. She also tells a compelling story. It’s both political and a family drama soaked in mystery, and it takes place in India, a country that never ceases to fascinate me. I haven’t read a book quite like this since. I wish Roy would write another novel!
Who, or what, inspires you?
I’m inspired by other writers. Reading a book that excites me gets me to write. Movies also inspire me. They often give me ideas for stories, feelings I’d like to invoke, and images that lead me down imaginative rabbit holes. I also look to true crimes for inspiration. People do far weirder things in real life than I could ever imagine, and I’m always on the look out for true crimes that might make good fiction.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I write in the room my son had before he moved out. It is the sunniest and warmest room in our drafty Victorian and has a bay window with a beautiful view of the city of Quincy. I’m also pretty fond of my son’s shot glass collection displayed on the desk, his soccer trophies, and the posters of Bob Marley and Tupac on the wall!
What is your favorite movie that was based on a book?
There are so many good movies made from books, but I’d have to say Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite. Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of a bipolar young man in this movie made me cry. It’s an amazing movie about an important topic, and the book is as good as the movie.
Name two of your favorite authors.
Daphne Du Maurier and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I was featured in aLookMagazinearticle, called “Emily in Wonderland”, when I was four.The theme of the article was city girl goes to the country, but actually I already lived in the country. I was, however, truly terrified of the cows on the farm where they took the photos. I guess that was my fifteen minutes of fame.
Who would play you in the movie about your life?
Ugh, do I really have to answer this? I really can’t imagine myself on the big screen (I’m pretty camera shy). But if I had to pick someone I guess I’d say Aubrey Plaza. I really like her deadpan style and how delightfully negative she was in Parks and Recreation.
Tell us an interesting fact about where you live.
Quincy MA is not only the birthplace of two presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, it is also the home of the first Dunkin Donuts. No more presidents reside here but there is a Dunkin Donutson practically every block.
What are your (writing) plans for the future?
I’m working on a YA contemporary novel that involves dance teams, creepy butterflies, and murder. My working title is The Black Sea and it takes place in my gritty, beloved hometown of Quincy.
Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
I would like to go to Hawaii and soak up the sun on abeach with a pina colada and a good book.
Favorite myth / fairytale?
Orpheus and Eurydice. Girl falls for a musician and ends up dead, and he follows her into the underworld in order to save her—what’s not to love? I have a soft spot for romance with rock stars, but seriously this myth is just so mysterious. I’ve read it over and over and I still don’t really understand the ending.
Who/What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a ballerina or a pathologist. Neither of those dreams worked out.