Annie Ward is the author of the new novel Beautiful Bad. She also has written the novel The Making of June. She spent five years living and working in Bulgaria, and now lives in Kansas City, Kansas.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Beautiful Bad, and for your characters Madeline and Ian?
A: It was a long process, sometimes painful. I didn’t come up with the idea for Beautiful Bad--in the form in which it exists today—-until I’d completed several drafts of a very different book.
The original manuscript that I set out to write was a memoir called The British Bodyguard. It was heavily focused on my husband’s experiences working in close protection in the British army. Spending 16 years in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, and Iraq can take quite a toll on a person and I didn’t shy away from depicting the difficulties that came along with being married to a former soldier.
It was pretty raw and candid. My agent suggested I fictionalize it. I didn’t like that idea at the time. I was very personally invested in the memoir. It was heart-breaking but I abandoned the project.
It wasn’t until a few years later that my husband and I were talking about it and he joked, “The problem with the memoir was that everyone was waiting to see which of one of us was going to kill the other first.” It was at that moment that I finally had the idea to turn Beautiful Bad into the dark, domestic drama that eventually hit the shelves.
Maddie and Ian evolved out of characters that were based on me and my husband. I threw in a lot of lies, deceit, and madness and the result was a psychological thriller with characters that were somewhat unique to the genre.
Q: The book takes place in various locations around the world, including Bulgaria and Kansas. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is VERY important to me in general, but in the case of this book it was crucial.
At the time the book is set, Eastern Europe was fairly dangerous, rife with escalating ethnic conflict. I lived there for five years and the Westerners I met were, by and large, either obvious risk takers, escapees from their lives, artistic outliers living on the cheap, government employees or genuinely dedicated humanitarians. (Or criminals!) I found them fascinating.
Beautiful Bad is a story about reckless and damaged souls. It was crucial to this plot that the main characters were the type to take risks and I felt that such people should meet in an exceptional and dangerous location. The geographical origin of their relationship was part of character development.
Kansas was equally important. It’s where I grew up and it’s where Ian finds a degree of peace. I needed to present Kansas as a foil to the many terrifying war-torn places around the globe where Ian had lived. I also needed the return to Kansas to be the basis of a serious rift between the husband and wife. The boredom of Kansas is a comfort to Ian, but Maddie is slowly but surely going out of her mind.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: The original memoir ended truthfully with a man and woman who are working hard to salvage true love that has taken a beating from PTSD. It wasn’t a fairy-tale happy ending, but it was hopeful.
When I decided to fictionalize it, I thought to myself, “Okay. If I get to make up the end, I’m going to go out with a bang.” I always knew the book was going to end in a murder. I suspected it might possibly end in two murders.
I finished a draft that contained one corpse. I celebrated with a glass of wine and then a walk with the dogs, which is when I have my best ideas. When I came home, I went into my office and spent a few hours in there. Later that night I gave my husband a new draft of the last chapter.
When he’d read it, he looked up at me like he was in shock. He just stared at me and said, “No.” It was a last-minute decision and a lot changed in that final chapter over the next couple of days when I tried to get it right.
Q: PTSD plays a big role in the book. Why did you decide to include that as one of the book's themes?
A: I decided to include PTSD as a theme in my book when I realized that I was head over heels in love with a man who had it, badly. It wasn’t until after I’d read back over the finished manuscript that I thought, “Wow, Maddie is suffering from PTSD too.”
Only then, ironically, did I see that writing this book, which included a harrowing description of the boating accident I had as a child, had actually been “writing therapy” for me, just like Maddie’s therapy. I suddenly understood that while I’d produced a twisty-turny psychological thriller, I’d also written an honest, tragic romance about two people who truly loved one another but had been broken by trauma.
It was important to me that their characters had problems they were fighting to solve because that’s closer to the reality of my life. Illustrating the way that trauma untreated can have terrible consequences was cathartic and meaningful for me.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My new book is the story of Natalie, an awkward and lonely young woman who puts her life on hold in order to look after her brother while he recovers from a mountain biking accident. She finds herself in Blackswift, a scenic but remote Colorado town. It’s refreshingly quaint and privileged; the kind of place Natalie would like to stay.
When not caring for her brother she hikes, goes to the gym, tries to make friends and enjoys looking at the gorgeous houses that are for sale. It’s a wonderful, relaxing break from real life--until a local girl goes missing and Natalie admits she was the last to see her, in a bedroom in an open house.
Natalie’s story is odd, and she quickly fall under suspicion. As she learns more about the loyal, insular and tribal community of Blackswift, she realizes she is a disposable outsider and a pawn in a much larger game. She can’t trust anyone, not even her own brother.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Sure, lots! The movie rights to Beautiful Bad have been optioned by Warner Brothers with Sue Kroll at the help of the production. She made the recent Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper version of A Star is Born so I trust that she knows how to deal with tragic romance.
Beautiful Bad just made CrimeReads’ 25 best crime novels of the year (so far) list and it’s up for the Strand Critics Best Debut Mystery Novel of the Year award.
I have two kids, two dogs, and just like in the book, my husband succeeded in getting me to move back to Kansas. My husband is managing his PTSD far more nicely than I handle my boredom.
If you like the book, please don’t forget to rate it or (even better) review it on Amazon or Goodreads. It means more to us authors, both personally and commercially, than you can possibly imagine. Thank you!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb