New interview with thriller writer Sarah K. Stephens

Today’s guest, Sarah K. Stephens visited back in April
to talk about short stories and I promised to have her back when her debut
novel released. Today is the new interview about that book, a psychological thriller
titled
A Flash of Red.    
Bio:
Sarah
K. Stephens earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology and teaches a
variety of human development courses as a lecturer at Penn State University.
Her courses examine a variety of topics, including the processes of risk and
resilience in childhood, the influence of online media on social and behavioral
development, and evidence-based interventions for individuals on the autism
spectrum. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a
writer year-round.
Her short
stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, The Voices Project, The Indianola
Review, (parenthetical), eFiction, and the Manawaker
Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. She is also a regular contributor to the
Mindsoak Project. Her debut novel, A
Flash of Red
, released earlier this month by Pandamoon Publishing.
Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Sarah.
Please tell us about your newest release.
A Flash of Red begins with psychology professor Anna Kline and her architect husband,
Sean, each examining their fractured marriage. Both share a mutual obsession
with Sean’s failings as a man and Anna’s “specialness”. Although Sean seeks
solace from his perfect wife in the cold intimacy of the online world, Anna copes
by offering her own oppressive version of devotion. Becoming an ever-more
tangible presence in their weakening marriage is the question of Anna’s mental
state and whether she will follow the same path of her now institutionalized
mother.
When Bard, a student of
Anna’s with a family history of schizophrenia, discovers Sean’s addiction,
Bard’s platonic admiration for Anna morphs into a delusion of special intimacy.
Guilt-ridden with his own past failure to protect his older sister, Bard’s
skewed mind begins to see Anna as another woman in need of rescue.
After Sean receives an
anonymous e-mail at work one day threatening to expose his online activities,
he immediately assumes his wife is behind the email, leading Sean to vacillate
between playing the role of the perfect husband in front of Anna and covertly
struggling with how to counter his wife’s hostility. Meanwhile, disturbing
events begin to plague Anna. Ominous messages are left on her doorstep, reveal
themselves on her walk home from work, and invade even her most private
moments.
As Sean and Anna’s marriage
becomes a battleground of manipulation, Bard privately crafts a strategy to
save Anna from her husband. When Bard’s plan forces the three characters to
meet, the ensuing chaos leaves none of them unharmed. . .or unaccountable.
What inspired you to write this book?
The
initial idea came from preparatory reading I was doing for a new course focusing
on the intersection between childhood and the internet. In a world where
high-speed internet is so accessible, and where so many families do not use
internet filters for their children’s devices, pornography exposure is
incredibly common in even young children (keeping in mind that a big chunk of
early porn exposure is unintentional as children search the Web). When that is
mixed with a lack of open discussion about sexual intimacy in children’s other
developmental relationships (which is still the norm in much of American
culture), children and adolescents develop very skewed views of what physical
intimacy should look like.
As
I read through this literature, it occurred to me that our culture might be
facing an upcoming generation where the very definition of intimacy has
shifted. And then I began to wonder what a marriage might look like if one
partner was deeply emotionally dependent on pornography—how would that attack
the foundation of their union? From there, the story began to take on a life of
its own.
What’s the next writing project?
My next novel is entitled Dear Heart—it’s a psychological thriller
with a stronger familial focus. The main characters are a Russian Orthodox
family who adopt an older child from abroad. Whereas A Flash of Red explores small deaths that can kill a relationship, Dear Heart details how the poison of
secrecy can seep into family life. It will be published by Pandamoon Publishing
sometime in 2017.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new
book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The biggest challenge for
me is setting aside time each day to be quiet, still, and write out the ideas
I’ve developed in my head. I’m a very active and energetic person, so sitting
down to write the words out remains a difficult task for me. Luckily, though, I
just installed a standing desk, which makes the process that much easier.
If your novels require research – please talk about
the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing,
after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
Given A Flash of Red’s
focus on mental illness, I certainly read a lot of case studies focusing on
both Schizophrenia and the more specific De Clerambault Syndrome (otherwise known
as Erotomania). I also found memoirs of individuals who have coped with mental
illness themselves or whose family members suffered from psychosis to be
incredibly helpful. Reading such personal reflections on the effects of
becoming disconnected from reality enhanced my understanding of the very
private experiences that occur in the presence of mental illness. For example,
Elyn Saks’ excellent memoir, The Center
Cannot Hold
, provides detailed insights into the life of a person
suffering, seeking treatment, and ultimately living successfully with
schizophrenia.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a
particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about
it.
Currently I write at my
standing desk in our home’s living room. I don’t like being sequestered off
from my family while I write—I prefer to be in the thick of our home’s active
(some might say chaotic) energy. It feeds my thoughts and, somewhat
surprisingly, helps me to focus. My desk is also next to a large window, where
I can view our neighborhood songbirds as they eat the berries off our bushes.
Whenever I get stuck for a word or phrase, I watch the birds swoop and sing,
and it always serves to set my mind to work again.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside
of your genre?
My current favorites are:
A.X. Ahmad, Jessica Francis Kane, and Tana French. I have a longtime love for
P.D. James’ work and was very excited to see her book of short stories released
posthumously this Winter.
Anything additional you want to share with the
readers today?
I hope they enjoy A Flash of Red. If they are able, I’d
ask them to please post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. In today’s writing
world, reviews make a significant difference in authors being able to connect with
their readership.
Links:
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thank you for having me!

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