When I was nine years old, I read a story in The Detroit News that terrified me. Richard and Shirley Robison and their four kids had been shot to death in their northern Michigan cottage. A few years later, my parents bought a cottage not far from the Robisons died. I would lie awake at night, waiting for a stranger to show up and kill us all. The Robison murders were the inspiration–if inspiration is the word–for this book. A certain diabolical character named Jubilee came from somewhere else inside me. More on that another time.
In a recent interview about their book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation, New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly alleged that the Supreme Court justice agreed to sit for an interview if they would assert in their book that he had not spoken with him. They declined.
I make no judgments about the book—which I have not read–the reporters, or Justice Kavanaugh. But I bring up the conundrum the reporters faced partly because it has come up repeatedly in my 40 years as a journalist, and partly because a similar dilemma provides a key plot twist in my forthcoming book, PURGATORY BAY.
Dealing with anonymous sources is a perilous business, one best avoided where one can. One of the tricks I saw employed by reporters—including me, I’m chagrined to admit, in my early years—was to interview a key source at length, use what she said in a story, and include a line saying she “declined to comment.” Which, of course, is bullshit, or to put a finer point on it, a lie to the readers. At The Wall Street Journal, if ethics czar Barney Calame caught you doing it, you were in big trouble. Still, reporters got away with it, rationalizing that what the source provided to readers was worth the minor dissembling of saying they didn’t “comment,” since, in fact, they had not commented publicly. Also bullshit.
In PURGATORY BAY, this sort of rationalization comes back to haunt former Detroit Times reporter Michaela “Mikey” Deming in a much more dangerous way than Barney Calame ever would have threatened. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the lure of a byline on a story that might win prizes, coupled with a bullying editor who also covets those prizes, leads Mikey astray. An award-winning novelist and journalist who read the book assessed Mikey’s situation this way in an email: “We’ve all been there, when you or the desk spins a story a certain way and you think, uh, correct but not true, or something of the sort. And then the agony, which you learn to ignore, about the effect your copy might have on people within, and how ignoring that makes you feel just a little less human.” My character, Mikey, stands to pay an actual physical and emotional price for her own such deal with the devil.
Twelve years ago, my agent called me in my Chicago WSJ office. She asked me about Rupert Murdoch’s pending purchase of the WSJ, a stressful matter at the time. She then asked if I’d feel better if she told me that she’d sold my debut novel, STARVATION LAKE, in a three-book deal.
Pretty good moment that was due entirely to Patricia Lande Grader, then an editor at Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint. Trish made the book better, primarily by asking for a new ending (no, I don’t remember the old one). Then she pushed the hell out of it. Sometime after it was published, she moved on. But I’ve never forgotten that she gave me my start in the novel publishing business, and I acknowledge her in my forthcoming, fifth novel, PURGATORY BAY.
Here’s a galley of PURGATORY BAY, my next novel, due out in January 2020.
It’s the story of Jubilee Rathman, 17-year-old honor student and star soccer goalie, bound for Princeton when her family is murdered in their northern Michigan cottage. Twelve years later, Jubilee carries out a diabolical plot for revenge on those she considers responsible from her fortress on lonely Purgatory Bay near Bleak Harbor.
Bleak Harbor Police Chief Katya Malone must decipher the cryptic clues Jubilee imparts as she leaves a trail of blood across the lower half of Michigan, moving toward Bleak Harbor. Malone is herself reeling from the losses of two young children–her own daughter and a boy who was kidnapped–when she must confront Jubilee’s attempt to abduct a woman and a girl.
When I was nine years old, I read a story in the Detroit News that terrified me. Richard and Shirley Robison and their four children had been shot to death in their northern Michigan cottage. A few years later, my parents bought a cottage up north not far from where the Robisons had died. I would lie awake at night, waiting for a stranger to sneak into our house and kill us all. Those murders were part of the inspiration—if inspiration is the word—for this book. Jubilee Rathman came from somewhere else inside me that I will leave to your imagination.
PURGATORY BAY is available for preorder now on Amazon.com. Thanks for your support!