Interview with Abigail Van Alyn

What's your book about?
This is a mystery, roughly in a category I'm calling "literary suspense." Two women, patients of a powerful psychiatrist, share a compulsion to uncover his dark past. It's a story about desire and loss. It's about identity, self-deception and self-discovery. It's about the slipperiness of labels: who is Predator and who is Prey, who's Good and who's Bad? And it's about the fatal attraction of the shadow, the return of the repressed. While “the other woman” often suggests a romantic triangle, here the triangle has a twist. The suspense is psychological, but that doesn’t mean macabre situations, psychos, or body parts in the trunk. It means the plot is driven by characters with tangled histories, deep wounds, and feverish desires.
Why did you choose to write about crime?
In writing about crime, I’m not so much interested in police procedurals or detection, although I enjoy those books and shows, and I'm crafting a series about a retired P.I. Overall, I’m interested in what you might call domestic crime, the kinds of crimes that people justify all the time, or take for granted; that spring from deeply held fears and beliefs and desires, and so can become societal norms. I’m especially interested when those are crimes against women, and when men in positions of power prey on the vulnerable.

This particular story, while it’s not autobiographical, originated in the experiences of a number of my women friends, and myself, and I’m confident that men will also find it compelling.
What's the story behind your book?
One side of the story originates in the experience of a friend, but has been transformed in everything but place. The other side of the story, the actions of a powerful man in a position of authority over women, comes from my own experiences and those of many women friends. The idea first took shape for me after reading two books by Jeffrey Masson: Against Therapy, and A Dark Science.
Your bio says you're an actor and playwright. How does that affect your fiction writing?
Acting is all about understanding the character's inner life as she chooses, moment by moment, a path through the play's shifting contexts. As a playwright, all I have, to create both inner world and context, is the spoken word. When I bring these skills to narrative fiction, my characters are complex and vivid, and each speaks and thinks in idiosyncratic ways. I have the joyful freedom of description, of people and places, but still maintain the discipline of the playwright.
Where are you from, and how has that influenced your writing?
I was born in New York, in Manhattan, and raised in my mother's home state, South Carolina. Our home was in the foothills, but I went to high school in Charleston, one of the most beautiful cities in the US. De facto segregation was still in place, so I grew up in that strange atmosphere: carefully preserved gentility, Southern (Irish) wit, dire poverty, deadly snakes and hanging moss, and in deep background the mysterious, forbidden richness of African culture. Then back to New York, with its cross-currents of language, religion, culture and crime. I'd say all of that tuned me in to the music of language, and made me a universalist. I'm ready and willing to write about anyone.
What do you love most about writing?
Those days when time opens up and everything flows. When even the weather cooperates. It's especially satisfying when I find the key to a character's hidden vault, and I can go deeper.
Who are your favorite authors?
In crime writing, my mentor (unbeknownst to her) is the British writer Ruth Rendell. I also like Kate Atkinson. In general I love the Brits and the Irish: Penelope Fitzgerald, Hillary Mantel, AS Byatt, Katzuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, William Trevor, John Banville, Edna O'Brien, Iris Murdoch. My favorite American writer is Marilyn Robinson, I love Toni Morrison, and currently I'm loving Elena Ferrante (along with the rest of the world). Then of course Anton Chekhov. So many more!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm a communications and life coach, both for businesses and individuals, so that keeps me busy. In the city (San Francisco), I absorb culture: fine art, music and of course theater. Otherwise, I live in the mountains of far northern California, and I love hiking and exploring, gardening and swimming in summer. Or, like a good ole gal from SC, sitting on the patio and watching the birds and the sky.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I've had this book out there, seeking an agent and publisher, for a few years. While I've gotten great agent feedback, and have come close to landing one, it's the same story Mark Coker tells so eloquently in his seminar. "This isn't the kind of…" "You're not a known…" "This is a one-off, we're not accepting…." As for choosing e-pub, after exploring the world of indie full-package services, I've decided that the cost just isn't worth it and can never be recovered through book sales. Of course e-pub isn't cost-free. There are costs and fees everywhere if you choose full marketing (professional copyedit, formatting, cover design, book/author web site, video trailer, Kirkus review) but it's still far less than most independent print publishers.
What do your fans mean to you?
I took a sudden interest in the origin of the word "fan." First used for baseball nuts, it's a shortening of "fanatic." You probably knew that. Fan's characteristic behavior: intense, uncritical devotion. I'm not sure I have or want any! But those people who have used the word "love" about my writing, and who have read and supported me in it for years, mean everything. In my case they're not just my literary family, but my theater colleagues, my writing groups, and the artful members of my San Francisco salon. I rely on them for guidance, critical response and the fuel to keep going.
Published 2016-05-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Other Woman
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 98,870. Language: English. Published: July 18, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Robert Buchanan is a powerful psychiatrist with a shadowy past; Anna Sheffield, a prominent sculptor whose life has been destroyed by a violent gang rape; and Michele Palmer, a pierced and tattooed exotic dancer, a young mother who was once Robert’s nightmare patient. In the deceptive quiet of Berkeley, California, these three form a deadly triangle.