Colby Marshall is a ballroom dancer, choreographer and novelist. She is actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer and occasionally indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress. Her debut thriller is Chain of Command. Colby met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about secrets and assassinations.
How do you coordinate choreography with writing?
Coordinating choreography with writing is much like mixing sugar and potassium chlorate: when I’m doing both jobs at once, shit goes everywhere. Luckily, being the master of chaos that I am, I find I can keep the smoldering debris to a minimum as long as the fire doesn’t reach my wall full of post-it notes, which, if burned, would mean the end of any semblance of organization.
Do you think secrets shape our characters?
All of my characters have secrets. Some are bigger than others, of course, but I do think secrets shape characters through the actions and reactions they cause. In the publishing and writing worlds, it seems there are so many debates about what’s better: character driven or plot driven. In the thriller genre, so much of the story is wrapped up in the plot, but to me, plot driven and character driven stories aren’t mutually exclusive. I think plotlines–like secrets–catapult characters into different directions within the plot just like plotlines develop the characters. You cannot have one without the other. Well, then again, I suppose you can, but the story would be very short and dull.
Who are your literary influences?
The earliest influence on my writing came from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, which steered my love of reading toward the scary and made me think hey, I want to write things like this one day. Another favorite was the Nancy Drew series–in particular, the Nancy Drew Files in which Nancy Drew progressed from being a young sleuth to being a young sleuth surrounded by dead people. From there I devoured Mary Higgins Clark tales, which were a gateway drug to Lisa Gardner, Thomas Harris, and James Patterson. Lisa Gardner’s work inspired me to research my novels to the point of migraine to make sure every detail was perfect. Thomas Harris is responsible for my love of demented plot twists, and James Patterson’s short, clipped, action-packed chapters are to blame for the waste of ink caused by having to print that triple digit on the chapter numbers.
Tell us about Chain Of Command.
Chain of Command is a thriller about a reporter who discovers that the simultaneous assassinations of the president and vice president may have been a conspiracy to rocket the very first woman–the Speaker of the House–into the presidency. I started writing it years ago when the country last had a female Speaker of the House of Representatives. I realized it was the closest a female had come to the position of Commander in Chief in our country. Many other countries have had female leaders, which got me to wondering in a fictional world, what would happen if someone wanted us to catch up with those other nations so badly they were willing to kill for it. That’s where Chain of Command began.
What frightens you?
Dentists. Surgical procedures, I can handle. I’ve actually gone under the knife more than once for various health reasons, such as needing to have my appendix removed, but I’d rather have my appendix taken out four more times than go to the dentist for anything. This is a totally irrational fear to most people, as I’ve never had a bad or painful experience with a dentist. That said, I despise the taste of metal to the point that I dislike even touching metal since I tend to taste that flavor upon feeling the texture (yeah, I know. I’m odd). Therefore, the thought of someone intentionally jabbing metal instruments into my mouth makes me twitch.
Grahame Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
I wish I had a little more ice in my heart. Writing is an emotional business, and you can’t help but get hurt and rejected at some point in your career. Maybe if I was a little icier, I wouldn’t take it to heart when that happens. Then again, I’ve developed a much thicker skin over the years, so perhaps I’m like the Grinch and my heart is shrinking down sizes after all!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently editing the next book in the McKenzie McClendon series, which is about a surgeon providing infants for the black market baby trade. McKenzie needs an angle on this story to keep her job—and her home. When her high school sweet heart tips her off that his wife may have been one of the victims, she launches a frantic search to find the killer and her ex’s son. I’m also working on a new series about a forensic psychiatrist with grapheme-color synesthesia—a form of synesthesia in which an individual’s perception of numbers and letters is associated with the experience of colors. One half of a vicious team of killers is caught, and she uses her unique gift to hunt down the mastermind still at large.
Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
I can genuinely say I have one huge “yes” answer to this question, and that event is that I knew a sociopath in real life. At the time I met this person, of course, I didn’t know that this was what they were, but over time and after I’d become involved personally in a friendship with this person, I learned that virtually everything I knew about them was untrue. I found out along with others about this person’s deception, manipulation, and lack of conscience. I tried with all my might to find another explanation for the behaviours that would’ve been easier for me to reconcile, like mental illness, but I was finally forced to come to terms with the fact that this person wasn’t the person I thought I knew. Rather, this person was a chameleon well-versed in worming their way into others’ lives in order to con and deceive financially and emotionally without remorse. While being involved with such an individual certainly wasn’t the highlight of my life, I can say it provided me with an interesting “character study” that would forever shape how I would be able to write villains. Having personal insight into how psychopaths operate on a day to day basis is a disturbing but valuable knowledge in the thriller-writing business.
What do you make of the E book revolution?
I have mixed feelings about e-books. On the one hand, I think I will always love to read in printed format, personally. It’s either because I’m an evil scoundrel who likes to hear trees scream as they suffer a painful death, or it’s because I don’t have the attention span to read something on a device with the capability of accessing a dozen social media sites with only a click or two. As for e-books for others, I think they can be a great thing, but I don’t want to see them take over at the detriment of the printed book. I personally think it would be awesome for a free e-book to come with every hard copy of a book sold in order to keep print in vogue, but then again, I’m no expert on the economics of mass media distribution. For all I know, that would cause the universe to implode.
What advice would you give yourself as a younger woman?
My advice to myself as a younger woman would be not to plan so much, because plans can always go awry. If you’re open to anything, anything is open to come your way. I’ve found throughout my life so far that every time I try to plan big events like career and family, the event furthest from what is on my agenda will be the soonest to occur. When I gave up on figuring everything out was when I actually started to. I still don’t have life streamlined by any means, but I’m definitely on a better path toward it now.
For all things Colby Marshall, visit her website
And look for Colby’s newest novel, The Trade, due to be released 11 June, 2013. Read the synopsis and an excerpt here.