What is the story and theme behind writing A HEMORRHAGING OF SOULS?
My first murder mystery novel was a swinging whodunit called TEED OFF! It’s a cozy set during a women’s professional golf event, written in the first person, and involved a protagonist a bit like me. For my second mystery, I wanted to explore deeper, darker emotions and embrace multiple viewpoints. After much pondering, I settled on shame as an overarching theme. Being humiliated is such a vile experience, and the repugnant feeling lingers, often scarring the person for life.
What interested me is how people cope with shame, especially when the shaming incident wasn’t their fault, but I just couldn’t find the initial hook to drive the story. Then I heard about the suicide of a local young child. Shocked and horrified, I wondered what terrible experience drove her to such a tragic, premature end.
Suddenly, my mind raced with possibilities for a crime novel, set in a girls’ school, where the cause of death of a pupil may or may not be murder. I began to sketch out characters and story lines, wanting my shame theme to echo in multiple plots. After choosing a female character with a damaged past named Tempest Ivory, I added another dimension. She became a child psychologist, and a professional opera singer trying out for the lead in Rigoletto. Using quotes from this heart-rending opera as chapter headings added greater resonance, especially as Verdi’s classic story revolves around a curse and a secret. Tempest plays a key part in the criminal investigation, offering professional insight to my protagonist RCMP officer, and treatment to the remaining shocked children. Plus, she gets to blast around on a huge motorcycle.
Now, all I needed to really immerse myself into crafting the story was a title. As I played with characters and plot points, I spun around that problem for many weeks, until I landed upon a quote from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Satre. He said that shame was “a hemorrhage of the soul”. Spellbound by that phrase, I immediately knew it would be an arresting title. Only problem is, most folks can’t spell ‘hemorrhaging’!
What is unique about the setting? How does it enhance the story?
I’m very fortunate to live on southern
Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, the island is home to towering old growth
forests, a low population and spectacular ocean views. It’s a great
setting—really a character itself—just for its natural beauty, but it also
embodies two other appealing elements. The first is the feeling of isolation,
of being apart. Anyone who’s taken a BC ferry knows the challenges of living on
an island. With A HEMORRHAGING OF SOULS, I focused on exploring the pinched sensation
that can result from being in a remote, rural locale. Twisting this
claustrophobic atmosphere even tighter, I chose to place the story within the
protected, closeted environment of a private Catholic school for girls. This
resulted in a fast-paced, tightly woven intricate story. Vancouver
Island, British Columbia
The island’s climate, with the best gardening conditions in
, offered the second element.
I’m nuts about digging in the dirt. By bestowing my male protagonist, RCMP Constable
Patrick Painter, with a green thumb, I introduced into the storylines my love
of nature, of colour and of blossoms, which adds contrast and levity to the
How much research do you have to do for the genre in which you write?
Lots! For TEED OFF!, I needed expert info on golf and forensics, as the mystery plays out during a professional women’s golf event. I caddied for a Canadian female golfer during a couple of LPGA events, spent a week behind the scenes in
professional event, and even whacked a few balls myself. I interviewed medical
examiners and studied more forensics than is usually dished out in a season of
C.S.I. It was a lot of work, much of it enjoyable, but let me tell you, slip
sliding around while hauling a fifty-pound golf bag during a rain-soaked
weekend is no walk in the park! Michigan
For A HEMORRHAGING OF SOULS, in addition to spending time with local RCMP officers, I explored child psychology and suicide, and music therapy. Of course, studying about children who are in so much pain that they feel self-harm is their only option was difficult, but also captivating. I discovered suicide is a learned behaviour, that those contemplating it often distort its ramifications so that death becomes easy, acceptable and not final, and that if we suspect someone of contemplating self-harm, we should tackle the issue head on. My study of music therapy was incredibly fun, but humbling. As I attempted to sing opera, I had to finally admit not being able to carry a tune in a bucket, much less in a Verdi aria.
What character that you’ve created most resembles you?
That’s a cinch. It’s my golfing / coroner protagonist from TEED OFF!, Riley Quinn. When I penned the novel, we were both in our mid-thirties, very athletic, outspoken and addicted to chocolate. As someone very sports-minded, I grew up forever disheartened by the paucity of opportunities for female athletes and the dearth of media interest. So, I figured I'd give women’s sports my own little showcase.
Professional women’s golf, with its media circus, big money and bigger emotional stresses, proved to be a fabulous backdrop to murder, offering rounds of opportunity for character conflicts. My poor Riley. Struggling to accept the loss of her ability to play professional golf, she had to stomach caddying for her famous older sister, while investigating the suspicious death of her best friend. But don’t fear, I’m not without heart. There’s always a
’ chocolate or five at my gutsy gal’s
Who is the most fun character you ever created?
Another easy one. It’s Michael Lawless, a secondary character from my new women’s heart-warming series called the SISTERHOOD OF SHEPHERDS. In the first novel HEARTSONG, my protagonist Charly Shepherd begins to heed a calling beyond her family’s plant nursery business. The series tagline is ‘Experience friendship, family and forgiveness – Join the Sisterhood of Shepherds’, and the books explore this Oregon-based family’s efforts to help others make amends.
Mikey’s a recently retired chief of police and married to Charly’s older sister, Faith. The guy’s a riot, and so simple to write, because he’s based on my lovely but goofy brother-in-law. He refers to himself as ‘the man’, plays a mean piano, uses odd expressions, like ‘Don’t take any wooden nickels’, and is a hopeless but enthusiastic nurseryman. He’s a great foil to my down-to-earth gal Charly, and becomes her true friend when the young single mom tentatively explores a destiny beyond growing plants for hummingbirds and butterflies. Soon the whole Shepherd family chimes in, assisting patriarch Barry Shepherd to fulfill a long-standing secret promise.
When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
My next novel is HOMEFIRES, the second volume in the SISTERHOOD OF SHEPHERDS. This time, the family plans a charity Halloween event, while helping a family friend suffering from dementia find peace for a past wrong. As always, the Shepherds offer inspiration, treats galore and Mikey’s antics, all served up with a healthy side of laughter. HOMEFIRES will be published in 2015.
Back Cover Blurb
An intense, chilling and compelling twist-a-minute psychological thriller.
When a young girl dies by hanging, terror strikes the hearts of the students and staff of a
Vancouver Island school. Mourning the loss of his mother,
RCMP Inspector Patrick Painter must push aside his grief to investigate the
child's dreadful death, only to find he’s on a collision course, with the past
and present crashing into a deadly game of secrets, suicide and murder.
Do you believe in a Family Curse?
To purchase Nicola's book:
Nicola pens mystery and inspirational novels, creates interactive books for the iPad, podcasts about genre writing (The Novel Experience), and teaches electronic publishing, when she's not playing Old-Timer’s hockey, growing blossoms and bamboo or eating chocolate fudge.
Her first contemporary women's series, the Sisterhood of Shepherds, debuted with HEARTSONG in May 2014 (MantleRockPublishing). Nicola's swinging whodunit, TEED OFF! (republished in February 2014 by OakTreePress), features professional golfer and coroner Riley Quinn.
Her other novels include a psychological thriller (A HEMORRHAGING OF SOULS), six novels in The Church Choir Mysteries series and a multimedia online thriller, UNNATURALSTATES.
In addition, she has published three ebooks, YOUDUNIT WHODUNIT! HOW TO WRITE MYSTERIES, SELF-PUBLISH YOUR E-BOOK IN MINUTES! and TOP TEN GARDENING TIPS, as well as her first musical interactive children's book for the iPad, SAVING GRAPE-JELLY CHEEKS.
Nicola lives in a small seaside town on southern
Island, British Columbia
To connect with Nicola:
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Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart