I never intended to write what I consider a thriller, but the idea pushed itself into my mind…with the question, How would I have done that story? The story in question was Cape Fear. I’d seen the 1962 version, interested in it, not only because parts were filmed in Savannah, but because of the harrowing episodes in which the villain chases the lawyer’s wife. It gave me chills and I wondered how I would’ve reacted if I’d been in her place. Then, in 1991, the story was re-filmed, again partly in Savannah, and unlike some remakes, it was just as frightening, perhaps even more so because this time, the teenaged daughter was also one of those threatened. I kept replaying in my mind the scene where her lawyer father asks her about the man she’s seeing and the girl simpers and refuses to answer him, not realizing her new “friend” is the convicted rapist her father put away fourteen years before and he’s now back for revenge, with her as his target…I was already re-writing the story, looking at it not from the lawyer’s point of view, but from the victim’s. In my version, there's only one victim, still very much alive, and but this time, she’s prepared to fight back.
Even a decade later, with absolutely no synopsis and no further idea of the story except that it would involve an island off the coast of Georgia, a vengeful rapist and his victim and the man she loves, I found the story remarkably easy to write; it was the research giving me problems, for the real-life setting had changed quite a bit since my original inception. I had to find out what color Georgia State Patrol cars were; how far my imaginary island was from the cities of Savannah and Brunswick; if there were any rest areas now in Georgia other than the single one in North Georgia which had existed when I left the state in 1975, what state highway ran through my mythical town of Stella. What is the actual title of the Savannah Police Department? What is the main newspaper in that city? I also had to know about agoraphobia, which the heroine develops after her ordeal, and--this is a mouthful--eratomanic compulsive-obsessive-dissociative-disorder.
My villain, Ben Reed, suffers from Erotomania. This condition has been around for quite some time and is well-recognized in literary--and how we writers have milked it for all it's worth!--as well as medical circles. We should be grateful for this mental aberration; it's given us some really chilling tales. On the Wikipedia site, I discovered it's the mistaken belief one person has that another person is in love with him, often as a “secret admirer.” Sometimes called de Clérambault's syndrome, after a nineteenth-century psychiatrist, it was mentioned in writings as far back as Hippocrates but was first cited in a treatise in 1623. Then, it was also called “old maid’s psychosis,” the main symptom of the disease being a fixation in which the afflicted convinces himself the subject of his interest is madly in love with him. The least similarity in interests…words, gestures, even liking the same foods or books, is seen as an unspoken invitation to a love affair, and the victim—if that was the right word—searches for these likenesses, to further feed his delusion. Think back...how many movies or TV episodes have you seen with that theme? Or in real life for that matter: John Hinckley Junior had convinced himself that killing President Reagan would make actress Jodie Foster love him, and television star David Letterman and others had been stalked by erotomaniacs, often with tragic results. The condition has been used in songs, literature, and television shows, most recently in an episode of “Criminal Minds”. Often, erotomania combined with schizophrenia or some other derangement.
Connell Ambers, my heroine, develops Agoraphobia. This is basically a panic disorder affecting someone who felt he was in a situation he couldn’t get out of without another’s help. It didn’t necessarily involve a panic attack though it might follow one. Generally, victims avoided wide, open spaces and stayed inside their homes where they felt safe. It could be the result of a severe trauma. That definitely fits Connell. Some doctors feel agoraphobia was caused by something called “attachment deficit” which simply meant losing the ability to be away from an environment offering safety. Treatment ranged from prescribing antidepressants to group support, relaxation techniques, something called EDMR (eye movement desensitization and reprogramming) and exposure techniques. More famous celebrities actually suffer from this condition and considering they are always in the spotlight, it's surprising they're actually able to perform as well as they do.
With knowledge of these two emotional/mental conditions, I was able to give my story the authentic ring it needed.
Blood Bay is my version of Cape Fear. Set in the Golden Isles off the coast of Georgia, a young woman, agoraphobic after an assault ten years before, is brought out of her shell by a young man determined to show her that love is neither demented nor violent. Their budding affair is interrupted by the escape from prison of the man who assaulted her and left her for dead, and he’s heading to the island, to finish what he started ten years before. That’s the premise of Blood Bay, told from the viewpoint of Connell Ambers, the victim, Tucker MacKenzie, her would-be lover, and Benjamin Reed, the escaped rapist. It’s a thriller, like nothing I’d ever written before, and very graphic, and after I finished, I wondered if it was too different for me to submit anywhere.
Finally, after much consideration, I submitted both books to Class Act Books; Blood Bay was be released November 15.