Tess Gerritsen: See Me has elements of suspense that seem a bit different from your previous books. What made you want to write a thriller? Do you read a lot of thrillers yourself?
Nicholas Sparks: I do read a lot of thrillers – in fact, I’ve read many Tess Gerritsen thrillers! It’s my favorite genre as a reader, but I find it incredibly difficult to write ones that I think will satisfy sophisticated thriller fans. The Guardian was the first book in which I experimented with elements of suspense, and wrote about the dangers of obsessive love. With Safe Haven, I went a little further down that path. In See Me, I wanted to create a threat that emerged as an outside, completely unknown force – all the more disconcerting because the source of the threat could be anyone. I’ll admit that I struggled mightily to get the suspense elements right while still delivering an original love story. I really admire you – and other writers of this genre – even more now!
Tess: One of the themes of See Me revolves around the price we pay when trying to escape our past. How does the past inform the decisions of many of the characters in See Me?
Nicholas: The past plays a very integral role in the decision-making process of the characters in See Me. Colin and Maria are both haunted by their pasts but they deal with it very differently. Colin uses his past as a daily reminder of how to better himself as an individual, while Maria has withdrawn into what feels like a safe, familiar environment, and does her best to repress all thoughts of what came before. Other characters are fueled by their personal histories to inflict pain on others.
Tess: Your books are often categorized as love stories, a genre that’s been traditionally dominated by female writers. ..and See Me, in particular, is written in part from Maria’s perspective. How do you write from a female perspective?
Nicholas: I’ve been lucky to have been shaped by many strong, interesting and emotionally complex women. Although she died when I was in my early 20’s, my mother was a hugely influential person in my life – she was a voracious reader, who imparted her love of reading to me. My sister Dana also died when she was a young woman, but we were very, very close (we shared a birthday too); her sweetness and simple joy remain an inspiration for me. And then there’s Cathy, with whom I shared a marriage of 25 years and who will always remain a good friend of mine; my longtime editor and longtime agent (both women whom I have worked with for 20 years); and dozens of other female colleagues and personal friends who have been my advisors and mentors over the years. Their perspectives and emotional lives have had an indelible impact on me, and consequently on my writing. You also write in a genre that’s traditionally dominated by the opposite sex. What challenges do you face?
Tess: Thrilling stories aren’t just about men chasing (or running from) bad guys. Spies and cops may also be women, and they must operate with a special set of challenges – and sometimes in high heels! I write with a woman’s perspective of danger: how vulnerable we feel in society, and how we have to use our wits and instincts because we don’t have the muscle power that men have. I also use my background in science, bringing in the medical details that I know as a former doctor. Scientific facts are gender neutral. You always write with such clear emotional understanding of your characters. Was it harder to bring that emotional acuity into a darker and more dangerous place?
Nicholas: Thank you. To be honest, following the thread of those darker and more dangerous emotions was not what I found most difficult about writing this book – I strive to cover a whole range of emotions, even in my more traditional love stories, so tragedy, fear, and horror don’t feel like foreign elements to me. The hardest part was trying to achieve the right pacing for a thriller while still giving the love story its due. The evolution of a deep personal relationship doesn’t have the same timetable as the rapid escalation we expect from a thriller, so that took some careful thought and calibration.
Tess: One of the pleasures of this novel is the portrait of the Sanchezes, the Mexican-American family at the center of See Me. What was your inspiration for all of these wonderful characters? Are they based on anyone you know?
Nicholas: Not directly – although their family dynamic and closeness is one that I’ve seen amongst many families that I know. The parents’ protectiveness and deep attachment to their children (and extended family) is pretty universal, but in this case the Sanchezes’ personal history of hard work and immigrant achievement only serves to bind them more tightly. I liked these characters so much, as they are a vibrant version of All-American success, reflecting our diverse, enterprising and uniquely pluralistic society.