Monday, September 29, 2008

Chelsea Cain's "Sweetheart"

Chelsea Cain's first novel featuring Detective Archie Sheridan and killer Gretchen Lowell, Heartsick, was a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of Confessions of a Teenage Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, several nonfiction titles, and a weekly column in The Oregonian.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new novel, Sweetheart, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Sweetheart, Det. Archie Sheridan’s partner has just told Archie that he is having the serial killer Gretchen Lowell transferred and that Archie will not be allowed to visit her in prison anymore. Archie is the former head of the Beauty Killer Task Force and hunted Gretchen for ten years before she kidnapped him, tortured him, and then let him go and turned herself in. They have – how to say this? – a deeply fucked up relationship, twisted and sexual and obsessive. Archie visits Gretchen every week in prison under the pretense of getting her to tell him where her victims are buried – but he is really just so addicted to her that he can’t stay away. Henry has picked up on this and decided to put an end to it. Archie is distraught. It’s funny reading the page as somehow representational of the book, because it’s not, really, in terms of style. It’s a crucial scene that I think sort of loses its power out of context. The characters actions don’t have the weight they should because we don’t know where they’re coming from – how long this has been coming. Also, the prose style is choppy – lots of sentence fragments (“He hated how he sounded. Desperate. Frantic.”) – my attempt to communicate Archie’s dislocation and escalating panic – and short sentences (“The pills burned. Archie coughed. The TV droned on.”) – also an effort to show Archie’s state-of-mind. He’s high on painkillers and I think that being high on opiates creates this weird rhythm to perceptions, like everything is suddenly echoing your pulse. But it doesn’t really sound like the rest of the book. Plus, and this is petty, I have “Debbie” and “Buddy” both on this page, and I don’t really like how those names look together – the two double “b’s,” followed by the “e” sound. I generally try not to have those kinds of pairings because I think it’s subliminally irritating to the reader. On a positive note, there are way more embarrassing scenes we could have stumbled into. Though I guess that opening the book to page 99 and finding hot cop on serial killer sex might make someone more likely to buy the book. (Oh, you know you like it.)
Read an excerpt from Sweetheart, and learn more about the author and her work at Chelsea Cain's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue