Cate Holahan is the author of the new thriller Dark Turns. A journalist and former television producer, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including BusinessWeek and The Boston Globe. She lives in New Jersey.
Q: How did you come up with your main character, Nia, and why did you decide to have her be a dancer?
A: I started to think about the book when my daughter was 3 and was taking ballet. They had her up against a cement wall [so the kids] could do a full straddle split….Suddenly her small face started crying.
I thought, What does that do to kids who start competing at a young age, and push past the pain before they have the tools to deal with that type of competition?
After that, the idea for the book started generating. I wanted Nia to be a dancer and the characters to be young women who had to dedicate themselves [to this type of competition].
Q: Are you a dancer?
A: I had never done it! I took dance for a year while I was writing the book, and for a year while it was going through the editing process. Hopefully it comes across as true to that world…
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes as you went along?
A: I always know. I have themes I want to deal with, and I sense how it will end…I’m a plot-driven author.
Q: Why did you set the novel at a prep school?
A: I wanted a closed universe that could limit the characters and have it be believable—it intensifies the competition. Family is grounding for kids, and [the boarding school setting] takes away the support system. You can imagine things happening that wouldn’t happen [otherwise].
Q: Do you think you’ll write another novel about Nia?
A: Not about Nia, but my second novel will be out in August. It’s called The Widower’s Wife. It deals with an insurance investigator looking into a woman who fell off a cruise ship. Hopefully that will be the first of a series…
Q: Which authors have influenced you?
A: I love Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter--I don’t do as much blood as she does, but I enjoy her books. I love Stephen King. Mr. Mercedes was great, the way he gets you into the characters.
What they all have in common is that they can create characters who are villains but not just a sociopath…I appreciate it when bad guys have a lot of layers and I feel I can believe this.
Q: So are you working on the sequel to The Widower’s Wife?
A: It’s outlined and I have a summary and a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. And I’m also working on another stand-alone. I’m playing around with the movie The Swimming Pool—The Swimming Pool meets Gone Girl…It’s a way to do an unreliable narrator.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: One thing that’s overlooked with thrillers, because they’re so plot-driven, [people] assume the authors don’t have a moral, but a lot do.
For me, it’s what we focus on when we decide who we admire. [The character] Aubrey is a good-looking girl; she’s very successful--but there’s an emotional chip missing. But everyone excuses it [because of her success].
As a society we put a lot of pressure on kids, to have things on their resume…but “are you being a good person” is lacking. Having children of my own, what kind of parent are you supposed to be? Push the ballet? But she’s crying. Parents have our internal struggles.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb