Please welcome our guest today, Simon Wood, whose new book THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, is certainly one I couldn't have written, but one I'm looking forward to reading.
Understanding a Damaged Hero
The most difficult thing about writing THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY was understanding the motivations of the heroine, Zoë Sutton, who was afflicted with survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. I kind of set myself up for this headache as I wanted to write a story about survivor guilt. I do this time and time again with my books. I am drawn to write about topics I have only a vague understanding of, which means I have to do research.I like to research by conducting first hand interviews. Zoë is a victim of violence. She's abducted along with her friend Holli. Zoë’s guilt is derived by her escape at Holli’s expense. I approached a number of support groups for victims of violence for interviews, but sadly none would talk to me. I respect their reasons but I would have liked the opportunity to have discussed their experiences. I know I am writing fiction but I do like to accurate and informational too.
After a lot of referrals, I ended up at the door of the Veteran’s Administration. As a psychologist I was talking to said, “If you want to understand PTSD, then go to the VA.” I was introduced to a psychologist who counseled veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan and all the way back to Vietnam. We met several times and talked for hours about what I was trying to depict and achieve with the book as well as the clinical side of PTSD. As with all my research trips, my understanding of the topic was shattered in a few minutes and my education began.Here are just some of many character traits of someone suffering with PTSD:
- ‘Magical thinking’ – think Monday morning quarterbacking. The person mentally rewrites history to prove they had the power to change events but didn’t.
- Risk taking behavior
- Shame based arrogance – i.e.: “you weren’t there so how can you have any idea what I went through?”
- Rigid thinking – people clinging to their personal dogma
- Sleep and sobriety problems
- Living in the past and fearing the future
- Bullying behavior
All this information was great. These were all things I was totally unaware of, much like potential readers. And that was where the problem lay for me. These traits don’t make for a sympathetic character, because the character’s behavior is so closed down and shut off. Not sure why I have a yen to write about troubled protagonists. I really do make a rod for my own back. I didn’t want to sugarcoat or dumb down the issues in order to make her more likeable. I don’t expect everyone to like Zoë, especially at the beginning, but I hope people can understand what someone like Zoë is going through and sympathize from a distance. The best way for me to endear her to the reader was to let the reader see her change. One thing I learned about PTSD was that people want a second chance at that past event, a chance to face the situation again and this time, change the outcome. For Zoë, she gets to face her abductor again and that is a situation I think the reader can get behind.
I hope I’ve done just justice to Zoë and the issue of PTSD, as it’s something many people suffer from and we still don’t truly understand. If you read the book, please let me know what you think.
Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He's a former competitive racecar driver, a licensed pilot, an endurance cyclist and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and four cats. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper, Terminated, Asking For Trouble, We All Fall Down and the Aidy Westlake series. His latest thriller is THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY due out March '15. He also writes horror under the pen name of Simon Janus. Curious people can learn more at http://www.simonwood.net.