I’m sitting in the living room of a log cabin in northern Maine watching the flames dance in the granite fireplace, about to interview Diane Hester, about her book Run to Me. It’s Autumn here – Fall, as the locals say – and the forest is aflame with leaves of ochre and gold. Stunning. But I wouldn’t want to live here alone, in the dark, at the end of that long, lonely track. *shiver* Glad I have some company.
RH: Welcome Diane, thanks for letting me visit you at Shyler’s cabin. I’ve brought a picnic basket with me, so what would you like?
DH: Seeing as Thanksgiving is just around the corner I’ll have a little of that apple cider, please. Maybe with just a pinch of cinnamon.
RH: Good idea. *rummaging in the wicker basket* I think I’ll join you.
DH: Yum. Thanks.
RH: Your debut novel, Run to Me, has had some great reviews here in Australia, and it will be released in the US and Canada on 1 April 2014. Congratulations. Tell us a little about how you’re feeling right now.
DH: Excited and thrilled! It’s the market I was really hoping to reach seeing as the story is set in America. Plus all my family lives in the States and they’ve been waiting for the book to come out there.
RH: Run to Me is a thrilling read and you kept me on the edge of my seat the entire way. You certainly give your characters Shyler, Zack and Dr Chase Hadley plenty to deal with. First, I’d like to ask about the setting – the wilds of northern Maine. You don’t just paint a wonderfully vivid picture of this setting, you also allow it to provide some of the challenges for your characters. Tell us a little about why you chose that setting and what it means to you?
DH: I grew up in the suburbs of New York city but every year my Dad took us to New England for vacation. He liked to go in fall when the leaves were changing and I soon grew to share his love of those dark, brilliantly-coloured forests. Years later as a uni student I spent a summer in Orono, Maine and went camping in Baxter State park. It was my first taste of a wilderness experience and I never forgot it. In choosing a setting for Run to Me I wanted a place my heroine had nostalgic connections to, yet one that was remote and wild. I felt such a setting would highlight Shyler’s emotional isolation as well as adding to the suspense. Northern Maine seemed the perfect choice – not least because it was I place I wanted to revisit myself.
RH: Yes, there is certainly lots of suspense and as a reader I got a great sense of her isolation. We meet Shyler in very harrowing circumstances. Tell us a little about why you decided to give her such a traumatic past and how you came up with that first scene.
DH: I felt giving Shyler the earlier experience of losing her son made the challenges she faced later in the story more compelling. In trying to save another child, even though it wasn’t her own, she’s forced to relive her earlier trauma and must deal not only with four armed killers but her feelings of failure and crippling guilt.
RH: Your other major character is Zack, a tough talking, soft-hearted foster kid (who thinks of his darker side as Bad Boy Ballinger). Where did that character come from and how did you manage to get so far inside the head of a confused, street-smart ten-year-old?
DH: My list of favourite books and movies includes (among others) Grisham’s The Client, Tess Gerritsen’s Harvest, and the movie Aliens. A common thread in all those stories is adults befriending children in danger so I guess that’s a resonant theme for me. I just love smart courageous kids who outwit bad guys. As for getting into Zack’s head . . . I was a bit of a pain as a kid – ADHA and always in trouble. It wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to imagine myself as a ten-year-old boy with New York attitude.
RH: He’s got plenty of attitude yet he’s so vulnerable I just wanted to give him a big hug. One of the key tensions that runs through the story is whether Shyler is Zack’s potential saviour or his greatest threat – even Shyler isn’t sure – and she increasingly suffers slips when she isn’t certain of reality. What sort of research did you do to give such an eloquent portrait of a woman suffering post-traumatic stress?
DH: Yes, I did do a fair bit of research on that. I studied a number of psychology texts and on-line sources in trying to get a handle on Shyler’s thought processes. But in an unconscious way I think I may have also drawn on what I witnessed following the devastating Port Lincoln bush fires. I saw how such traumatic events can still affect people years later, and how those feelings can lie dormant for many months and then suddenly resurface when something triggers them. Beyond that, it was simply a matter of putting myself in Shyler’s place. As a mother I could easily understand how I would feel if I’d failed to protect my own child and what that guilt might do to me over time.
RH: And motherhood is a strong theme in Run to Me – three motherless boys, a mother who thinks she has failed, a woman who pretends to nurture but doesn’t care. How much of that was a conscious choice for this novel?
DH: I consciously used this dynamic to add emotional depth to the story – a mother who’d lost her child and a boy who’d lost his mother thrown together in imminent danger. I created the hope that Shyler and Zack could each be what the other one needed, and then overshadowed that hope with doubt: Forced to relive her earlier trauma, Shyler is pushed by her demons to the brink of madness and becomes convinced Zack is her lost son, Jesse. The conflict this creates for Zack – desperately wanting Shyler’s love, yet knowing it isn’t really for him – I found tremendously powerful.
RH: Okay, let’s get to your bad guys. Nolan and the others are heartless and self-serving, but Tragg seems to be pure evil. Even his team are afraid of him. Yet he shows a grudging respect for Zack’s smart mouth and determination to survive. Do you think Tragg sees something of himself in Bad Boy Ballinger?
DH: Yes, definitely. I wanted Tragg to admire Zack’s courage. It’s how I felt about Zack myself. I guess authors live through all their characters to some degree and Zack shows all the courage and resourcefulness I would hope to have in his situation. The fact such a powerful predator as Tragg could admire a ten-year-old boy makes Zack seem even stronger to me. I thought it also added some depth to Tragg that he could feel such a connection with Zack.
RH: This is Zack’s story as much as Shyler’s. How did you make the choice to share the ‘limelight’ between a child and a woman? In a taut, adult thriller like this, did you ever feel that Zack’s role should be minimised to fit the genre?
DH: Actually I had to adjust the balance a few times before I was happy with it. In the first draft Zack was a far more prominent character and the story ended up reading like a young adult novel. To fix that I had to revise a few times, toning Zack down a little and developing Shyler’s character more. Beyond that it’s just personal tastes. As a former teacher I’ve always loved kids, especially feisty ones who question authority.
DH: Movie: Extreme Measures with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman. (Close second: Manchurian Candidate, both versions. The female antagonist is this story is the creepiest, most powerful I’ve ever seen and is played brilliantly by both Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep) Oops. Sorry, you said fast … Book: Watchers by Dean Koontz
RH: What are you reading now?
DH: The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey
RH: What is your favourite word?
DH: Dodecahedron (don’t laugh!) Not for its meaning but for its sound. That word has such an incredible rhythm.
RH: You can take the girl out of the music…*wink* What is your worst writing habit?
DH: Continually editing while I write.
RH: What is the best bit of advice you ever got (about writing or life in general)?
DH: Write through everything. No matter what you’re feeling, just keep writing. It’s the only way to keep life from blowing you away. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
RH: Words to live by. Thanks for joining us today Diane. Where can we find Run to Me?
In Australia, Run To Me is available at Dymocks, Big W and most other book retailers (If it’s not on the shelves, ask and they’ll order it). It’s also available for Kindle from AmazonIn the U.S. and Canada the print book will be available from bricks and mortar book stores as well as Amazon as of 1 April 2014.