MP: Five books and Hunger Moon is still as fresh and interesting as Huntress Moon was when it first came out. Did you want and expect it to be this long? And what keeps your interest up?
AS: Thank you! I knew from the moment I had the idea for Huntress Moon that it would be a series, that there was more than enough material for a series. But I had never written a series, as a novelist or as a screenwriter – I’d only done standalones. So I didn’t have any idea how long it could be. What I did know is that Cara couldn’t live for very long, doing what she does, and especially not with Roarke now tracking her. That just wouldn’t be realistic. And it’s the tragedy of the series, and of their love story.
After the election, though, it would have been just too dark to let her die in Hunger Moon, although before the election that had been my intention. After the election, I couldn’t do that to my readers. So on to Book 6!
It’s easy to stay interested in these characters and the story. There is no end of evil in the world for them to combat. And writing a TV series around the books is bringing out all kinds of new levels in the characters and story.
MP: Hunger Moon is still the story of Cara and Roarke, but there are many exceptional supporting characters whose roles have expanded; was that planned, or did they kind of surprise you?
AS: Thanks again! Some of the supporting characters were planned, with extensive back stories (Agents Epps and Singh, Lam and Stotlemyre, Rachel Elliott. But others just walked into the story, as characters tend to do. Jade was based on a street kid who walked into a restaurant and zeroed in on me, just as Jade does in Blood Moon. Mills is based on a real police detective I came across during my research. Ivy came out of a real-life crime that has always haunted me. Mother Doctor… I suppose comes from a lot of women I know. But you have that initial seed and then the characters really do take on their own lives.
MP: I was particularly impressed with the arc of Singh’s story, as we see a character who was always cool and composed become very personally involved because the corrosive effects of institutional sexism affect her in a very personal way. Could you expand on the roots of her story?
AS: The development of Singh was a combination of factors. First, there was a passionate reader response to the character, which meant I spent more time thinking about her and her impact on the page. Second, some characters just tend to push forward and demand that you write about them, and any writer would be a fool not to go with that.
I’d always had a back story for Singh that she grew up in India in Andhra Pradesh, in an educated family; that she’d been born Hindu and had become a Sikh for some time, which gives her an interesting spiritual perspective; that she had a tech background, studied at Cambridge and worked in Hyderabad in the tech industry; and that she left India for the US in part because she found the rape culture in her native country overwhelming and oppressive.
But a lot of Singh’s development came out of my work adapting the books for television and writing the pilot for Huntress Moon. In the books, there is an intense focus on Roarke’s and Cara’s thoughts and experiences – it’s a very subjective, close dual point of view. Other characters somewhat fade into the background because you don’t have that subjective point of view for them. But on screen, any character who appears will draw the audience’s interest and curiosity, and you have to service that. Also, in a television procedural, the active work of the team becomes much more important to show. And in terms of that procedural action, in order to condense the action of the books to screen time, Singh had to have her own line of investigation from the very start. So my work on the TV adaptation started to inform and influence the books.
MP: Every book in this series stands on its own, but each is also very much an extension of the previous works. The story of Cara’s youth in Bitter Moon seems to flow seamlessly into Hunger Moon’s indictment of rape culture. Is that a difficult effect to achieve?
AS: As you well know, the events of the books are continuous, with each book taking place over about a month’s time and climaxing at the full moon of each month. I was writing the fifth book in late 2016, when the election results came in. Which has disrupted the whole world order. There was no way NOT to deal with that cataclysm.
And it was an interesting thing that the events of Book 4, Bitter Moon, take place in January, and in that book, in January, both Roarke and Cara are in retreat from the world. What that meant for the timeline of the story is that Cara and Roarke were off in the wilderness during the inauguration, and both come back to the new political reality in February, the time period of Hunger Moon.
I suppose I could have ignored that political reality, but the books are all based on real-life crimes, real-life perpetrators, real-life laws, and real-life policies. I wouldn’t have been true to the story or characters if I were not dealing with the reality that there is now a sexual predator in the highest office of the land, making national policy, appointing cabinet members and judges.
And the timeline made it impossible to ignore. So I wrote it in. To very polarized results.
MP: You have spoken about how important research is in your work, and how much you do; considering the kind of research you have to do for the Huntress series, is it difficult to deal with such distressing subjects?
AS: My distress has always come from feeling helpless about distressing realities. The books allow me to advocate for survivors and explore and propose actual solutions to the atrocities of rape culture and child abuse. So yes, it’s difficult to deal with distressing subjects, but I would feel much worse if I were NOT dealing with them.
MP: There has always been a strong political and cultural subtext in these books, but in Hunger Moon, that subtext comes to the fore in a very clear way. In the afterword of this book you write about how novelists are often warned not to write about politics. You disagreed with that statement, and I concur completely. Can you elaborate on your opinion a bit?
AS: Some of the authors I most admire are those who write from passionate political views and a mission to address and change social ills. John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Victor Hugo, Madeleine L’Engle and Charles Dickens come instantly to mind. I think it’s an absolute crock to tell writers not to write about politics. Its attempted censorship and repression. If you don’t want to read a book, don’t read it. There’s plenty of meaningless fluff out there to read if all you want is entertainment and an escape. But you don’t tell authors what not to write in a democratic society. That’s fascism.
MP: Trump is obviously a misogynist and a sexual predator, and as bad as that would be if he was just another private citizen he is now, I am loath to say, the President. I know that this is a big question, but can you speak a bit about how having a man of such low moral character in a position of power can change our society?
AS: Oh my God. Where do I start? All you have to do is look at the violence, racism and bullying that he incites at his rallies. And those rallies themselves – why is he still doing them except for his own insatiable narcissism? The Presidency is supposed to reflect the highest ideals of our society. What we have instead is a reality show host who is a sexual predator, a racist, a bully, a con man. He’s a dangerously unstable individual, as even Republican senators are FINALLY starting to admit and speak out about. Thank God they are, because that unstable narcissist has the nuclear codes. And if that doesn’t scare you, you’re not paying attention.
MP: As reprehensible as Trump is as a human being, isn’t the real danger to our country the changes that his administration can make to our political, judicial and criminal justice systems?
AS: Yes, besides that little threat of nuclear annihilation, there’s the daily damage this man is doing to our government. He’s making national policy. He’s appointing judges and cabinet members. Let’s consider: What kind of judge is a sexual predator inclined to appoint? One who gives stiff sentences to convicted rapists? Or one more like Judge Persky, who sentenced Stanford Rapist Brock Turner to just 6 months, of which he served just 3? Or Judge Becker, who set aside the rape charges against David Becker so that he could enjoy “a college experience?
Another example: Trump appointed the grossly unqualified billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of State. This is a devastating thing not just for anyone who cares about American children’s right to free public education, and the thousands of students who have been defrauded by fake for profit “universities” - fake schools that DeVos is now protecting - but also for hundreds of young rape survivors on high school and college campuses who have been working diligently to bring lawsuits against their attackers.
If you are not aware of the fight that these young women have been waging against their attackers and the system that protects those attackers, the documentary The Hunting Ground is a great place to start.
But also, just on a daily level – how do we teach our boys to be good men when there is such a vile man in high office, who has been so rewarded for such reprehensible behavior? And how do we even look our girls in the eye? How can we tell them that they are loved, that they are equal to anyone, that they are worthy - given the vile things that this atrocious man has done and said to women, to teenage girls, to his own daughter?
This is a dark, dark moment in history. I pray every day that we can muster the collective light to overcome it.
MP: To end on a positive note you recently married Craig Robertson, who is, not surprisingly, a suspense novelist. Congratulations! How does it feel to be married?
AS: Yes, we’re married! We did a beautiful, very theatrical and filmic wedding in Los Angeles, and next year we’ll be doing a Scottish one, for our friends and family on that side of the world. Cake and champagne for everyone!
It’s a transcendent thing - but we felt married before all the official celebration and paperwork. Love is love is love is love is love.