Julia Heaberlin is the author of Playing Dead, Lie Still and Sunday Times best-selling Black-Eyed Susans. Her latest novel, Paper Ghosts is published by Michael Joseph on 19 April 2018.
Julia kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Paper Ghosts.
I like to call it a spooky slow dance between a possible serial killer who claims dementia and a young woman desperate to know if he killed her sister. I wanted to put these two characters on stage in an intense and intimate way, like in a play. The young woman, who is the voice of the novel, has obsessively researched her sister’s disappearance since childhood. She decides Carl is the killer. At 24, she draws three red dots on a Texas map like drops of blood, springs him from a halfway house, and takes him across the state to examine a series of cold cases that his own photographs connect him to.
2. What inspired the book?
I sit down to begin a book with just a fragment of a thought. In Black-Eyed Susans, it was a bird’s-eye view of girl lying in a field of black and yellow flowers. In Paper Ghosts, it was the idea of a creepy road trip across Texas with a mysterious young woman and an old man who is possibly quite evil. I wanted to keep the reader constantly off balance, wondering: Who is the crazy one? Who should I be rooting for? Where the hell are they really going?
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m definitely the latter. I didn’t write a book for years because I thought I needed be an outliner. I wish I’d read Stephen King’s On Writing much earlier and cleared that up. That said, I do an intense amount of research, both in the early stages of writing and whenever I get writer’s block. Writer’s block for me is not creative stagnation—it’s when I don’t have enough information about what I’m talking about. I like to layer an issue in my books beyond the plot. Date rape, the Texas death penalty, and the use of mitochondrial DNA in bone identification have been subjects in my past thrillers. In Paper Ghosts, I explore the mystery of dementia and the illusion of photography. I turn to experts all the time.
4. Having been through the publishing process a number of times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprises you?
It never becomes easier. Each book is a different challenge. The ever-changing publishing industry is a challenge. To co-opt a line: You must persist.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love blue space. Oceans. Rivers. Lakes. Big Texas sky. I’d be curious how other writers answer this question; the truth is, I find it hard to completely relax and separate from my writing. It hammers away at me in the shower, in my dreams, while I’m reading other people’s work, while I’m staring at the water or up at the stars. Sometimes, I wish I were a welder. But usually not.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
This would be my living nightmare. I love diversity of style, opinion, creativity, and the fact that I will never be able to get to every great book in this lifetime because people are constantly producing them. I rarely read a book more than once. I’ve considered reading only dead writers for a whole year. I’ve considered reading War And Peace for a whole year. Do not put me on an island with one book.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Hmmm. Maybe, what has been your scariest moment in real life? You’d think someone would have asked that. And now that I’m asking myself, I realize I don’t want to answer.
About the book
Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer.
That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted.
Before his admission to a care home for dementia.
Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip.
Only she’s not his daughter and, if she has her way, he’s not coming back . . .
Because Carl’s past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he’s killed other young women. Including her sister Rachel.
Now they’re following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel.
Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he’s guilty of nothing and she’s the liar.
Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she’s taking a terrible risk.
For if Carl really is a serial killer, she’s alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .
Read more on the Penguin website.
About the author
Julia Heaberlin is an award-winning journalist. She has also edited numerous real-life thriller stories, including a series on the perplexing and tragic murders of girls buried in the Mexican desert and another on domestic violence. She lives with her husband and son in Texas.
Black-Eyed Susans was a Sunday Times Top Five bestseller.