NS: AND NOW SHE’S GONE is a fast-paced psychological suspense that has unexpected twists down to the very end. What motivated you to use the cat-and-mouse approach in this novel?
RHH: I wanted to show the push and pull overall of a woman’s constant battle with herself, with her identity, the Madonna and the whore. Sometimes our internal battles aren’t life and death—matte lipstick or lip gloss or tennis shoes or loafers. But then, those battles can turn into life and death—should I stay in this abusive relationship, what if he/she changes, do I really think I can do better? In ANSG, both Gray and Isabel have these internal battles as well as Gray searching for Isabel and Isabel trying not to be caught. More than that, Gray plays cat-and-mouse with Natalie Dixon, too – who am I, who do I need to become, how do I become her in order to stay alive.
NS: This novel tackles incredibly difficult topics like spousal abuse but it’s ultimately a story about overcoming adversity and finding your inner strength. Though this juxtaposition makes for a phenomenal read, I imagine it was difficult to write at times. How do you stay motivated when writing particularly emotional scenes?
RHH: It was difficult because these situations are real-world—I know women who’ve been in abusive relationships. Strong, smart women who, for valid reasons, thought that they were either overreacting, or deserved the abuse, or they just don’t feel as though they deserve love and respect. That makes me sad and thinking about their lives—and knowing a few of those women are still trapped in those relationships, I’m filled with dread. But I want to always write the truth and if that means showing Gray in a motel room suffering, I’ll tap into my own reserves, my own health challenges, my bank of sadness and fear to make her feel real. I’m motivated to do this because I know there are readers who are going through something similar and may gain some kind of insight or feel encouraged by one of my characters’ journeys.
NS: AND NOW SHE’S GONE uses parallels to connect the missing woman Isabel Lincoln to Grayson Skies, the private investigator searching for her. Can you describe your process writing to two characters who are so different yet share similar pasts?
RHH: Thank you! I do a Briggs-Myers personality chart for each of my major characters. I also look at the people around me and pluck characteristics that I find fascinating. And of course, I turn inward and examine myself. In some ways, Isabel and Gray are similar—both women are trying to escape something. Of course, they have different reasons, but each woman is committed to surviving. I also did good old internet research, reading about grifters and identity thieves, and women on the run.
NS: A lot of your other novels feature female detectives. What are some tips to writing a realistic, kickass female protagonist?
RHH: Again: looking at the amazing and contradictory women around you. Like I said up top, I collect characteristics, mannerisms, ticks, imperfections and successes of the women around me. Keep a journal of those characteristics and pull them out when it’s time to create your protagonist. Also, read, read, read and also look to the silver screen, big and small. I love Clarice Starling, Ellen Ripley, Sofia from The Color Purple, Olivia Pope from Scandal, Clair Huxtable…
NS: You have also led some writing classes and are currently a PitchWars mention, what is the best piece of advice you can offer to someone looking to write diverse perspectives in a genre that isn’t exactly known for its inclusivity?
RHH: Read diverse perspectives written by diverse writers, the people who are actually living that experience. Be committed to rounding out that character by asking people questions of what their life is like. Go beyond the surface explanation. Find out why, for example, you shouldn’t touch a Black woman’s hair.
NS: What are you currently reading or watching?
RHH: I’m reading Malorie by Josh Malerman and I was watching Lovecraft Country. We’re family watching 90 Day Fiancé… which is a fascinating look into character.
For four years, she lived in the forest at UC Santa Cruz. There, she received a degree in English and American Literature, and helped to charter the Pi Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Incorporated.
She left Santa Cruz in 1992 and returned to Los Angeles. Since then, she has worked a variety of jobs, including for incredible organizations like PEN Center USA West, American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, City of Hope and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Isabel Lincoln is gone.
But is she missing?
It’s up to Grayson Sykes to find her. Although she is reluctant to track down a woman who may not want to be found, Gray’s search for Isabel Lincoln becomes more complicated and dangerous with every new revelation about the woman’s secrets and the truth she’s hidden from her friends and family.
Featuring two complicated women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, Rachel Howzell Hall's And Now She’s Gone explores the nature of secrets — and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything in order to survive.