All writing begins as a shadow, a faint image, a specter without substance. Then something steps out of the mist and engages a living mind. What is it? Who? Where? This process of discovery is called imagination, and it seeks a home in which to grow.
Evacuating from Hurricane Ivan, forecast to hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in September, 2004, I was dying of boredom during my more than nineteen hours behind the wheel. I thought of a detective, a crime, and a victim. What would their relationship be? If the victim is an American but the crime takes place in London, the setting as well as the violence would alienate her. How would an experienced detective bridge the gap?
Twenty-four hours later, Ivan skipped a little to the east, sparing my house. I headed home, but the gestation process continued, and my ideas developed into skeleton of a story, a police procedural in which the two cultures would be compared and contrasted.
Nearly a year later, Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury, and I feared for my safety. Evacuation was mandatory, but I had nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. When the winds and the waves come, I wondered, will I survive them?
I did survive, but my home was a victim of Katrina's cruel power. As the days passed and I tried to rebuild my life, I understood Shakespeare's lament: "O! that I were as great / As is my grief, or lesser than my name, / Or that I could forget what I have been, / Or not remember what I must be now." I understood what it meant to be a victim, how difficult recovery was, and how relentless trauma could be. My skeleton of a story now had a heart and soul.
When Red Smith wrote, "Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein," I believe he was referring to the power that comes from being on the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in. If you've felt fear, you know when a breath becomes a gasp. If you've suffered grief, you know that hearts can break and bleed. If trauma has changed your life, you know how it will change the lives of your characters and how difficult recovery will be for them. My experiences following Hurricane Katrina taught me how my characters would feel and what they would do.
I now had two of the three factors that every story requires: imagination and experience. For the story to capture others' attention, however, I needed to move beyond my own experience. Research added the ligaments, tendons, and muscles to my living skeleton, and The Witness, my storm child, was born.
Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sinclair, called to investigate the case of a brutally beaten young woman, finds the seventh victim of a serial killer. If she survives and identifies her attacker, he must convince her to testify against him. Jennifer Jeffries, however, doesn't want to be a witness. She wants to return to her Texas home, to "see London in her rear-view mirror."
During her stay in the hospital, a second attempt is made on her life. Sinclair now realizes that nothing less than witness protection will suffice, but his witness is too frightened to trust even the police. Without her cooperation and testimony, they have no case against the killer. How can Sinclair secure her willingness? "Fear may be what you are feeling," he tells her, "but courage is what you are doing."
"Into the valley of death rode the six hundred," she responds, using Tennyson's words to illustrate her fear of what she considers to be a suicide mission.
How long will it take for her to recover from her horrific injuries? Her emotional ones? Will living in a flat with police protection officers traumatize her further? One of the officers is an ex-special-forces sergeant with sufficient medical knowledge to treat her injuries but few social skills and no bedside manner. Sinclair knows that preparing the case for trial will take months, and she will be isolated from her family. Will Jenny be able to deal with her fears and face her attacker in court?
Those who have been affected by any kind of trauma will understand Jenny's struggles and find hope in her determination to triumph over her circumstances. Others will be engaged by an entertaining, well researched novel and characters that step off the page.
In The Witness, the reader will encounter the issues involved in fear and trauma; anger and violence; law and justice; trust and love; and the nature of freedom. Blogs on my website, http://www.naomikryske.com, expand on some of these topics. The Prologue and first chapter are also posted there. Visit my Pinterest page for visual scenes of the London landscape and background on the characters. The Witness is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and in both Nook and Kindle formats.