The Bookshelf: A Sexual Assault Survivor Learns to Thrive in Lisa Gardner's New Novel | New Hampshire Public Radio

The Bookshelf: A Sexual Assault Survivor Learns to Thrive in Lisa Gardner's New Novel

Jan 31, 2020

Novelist Lisa Gardner with her dog at her home in Jackson, N.H.

One day, while hiking in the Georgia mountains, a couple finds the bones of a human body buried many years ago. The discovery prompts a search for answers: why was this person killed? Who did it? And how many more bodies are hidden in these hills?

These questions are at the heart of New Hampshire author Lisa Gardner's new thriller, When You See Me. 

We've spoken with Lisa Gardner before, often about the characters we get to know as they reappear in her books....Sergeant D.D. Warren and FBI Agent Kimberly Quincy. In this book, the character Flora Dane comes back.  In a previous novel, she endured kidnapping for more than a year.

NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with her at her home in Jackson. 
 

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Find Lisa Gardner's top five reading recommendations here.

This book was a fun continuation of the characters we've seen in previous books. There's D.D. Warren, there's Kimberly Quincy, there's Flora Dane. My focus was on Flora because she had experienced trauma in previous books and she's been slowly recovering from it. It seems as though she's made some big strides here, but you tell me. How do you see Flora's evolution happening in When You See Me?

Each book is meant to be a stand-alone, but there's no doubt I wrote this book with Flora in mind. I've been a thriller writer for thirty years now, and this book has one of my all-time favorite writing scenes. I think readers will recognize it immediately when they get there and cheer for Flora as much as I did. I did want to see her grow.

Can you talk a little bit about that scene?

Sure. When we first meet Flora back in Find Her, she's a survivor. She was kidnapped and held for 472 days by this awful guy, Jacob Ness. One of the things we see with Flora is how broken she is, but how aware she is also of her brokenness. She wants to get to the other side. She's aware of other survivors getting married, having kids, finding their rhythm. She hasn't been able to. And then she meets Keith and she's never sure if he's the best thing that's ever happened to her or a serial killer. And that dichotomy is fun. But in the course of this book she finally starts to trust and connect as she and Keith finally have that moment we have all been waiting for and it leads to a fun morning after, too. [Laughs]

Have survivors reached out to you about your previous books and made comments to you about Flora Dane? And if so, what have they said?

I just got an email the other day. A woman said she had been reading the Flora Dane books. She herself was a survivor of sexual abuse. She'd never talked about it. She'd never sought help. And after following this journey, it was giving her the strength to realize that maybe people would understand her and maybe she, too, could grow.

I've worked with some survivors' groups, trying to tell Flora's story, and one of the expressions you hear is "Going from surviving to thriving." I think that's a positive message and that's, you know, what Flora is coming to represent. She's working very, very hard. She doesn't just want to be a survivor. She wants to be thriving. And in When You See Me, we see her take that next big step forward.

Is there ever going to be a point where she's okay 100%. Is that realistic? I wonder because, as a reader so far, I've been attached to her.

From what I get talking to others, you have to view it as a journey. At a certain point, you have to accept all of us are on a journey and there are bumps along the way. Survivors have a more serious departure from the path they thought they were going to walk. But I think one of the things Flora is getting better at recognizing all the time is you're not trying to get back to normal, because you can never go backwards. That's just the truth for all of us. You're trying to find that new normal. When you get to the place where you feel your life is working for who you are now, how you are living now, that's success by anyone's definition.

Does anyone ever question why you continue to explore who Jacob Ness was? Does anyone ever take the position: He's a monster, he's awful, he did some awful things. Why are you asking us to empathize with him even a little bit?

I will say, when I first started researching Flora's story, that was kind of one of the stances I had. You never want to give too much press or publicity to the monster. But it was interesting, and some of the research I did, and particularly some of the books I read (biographies of some of the long-term kidnapping survivors) one of teh things they mentioned was, their monsters weren't horrible all the time, and these long-term scenarios where you're almost living like a family, you are living like a family, you find this weird pretend normal and you find these moments.

For Flora, it's Jacob buying her her favorite DVDs to watch. Games they played to pass the time in the big rig. That makes that person real to them and it's much harder then to pigeon-hole them and put them in a box. I felt for you to understand Flora's trauma, you had to also understand the ways she can't just write Jacob off. She does see him as human. She is involved in this case because she is literally the foremost expert on Jacob Ness because she's one of the only people who survived him. And that gives them this intimate bond that she will probably deal with for the rest of her life.

On the book tour for When You See Me, you're going to be raising money for nonprofits. Which nonprofit are you raising money for in New Hampshire, and why did you choose this one?

The organization we'll be supporting with the first book tour start is Starting Point, which in the Mt. Washington Valley is the leading supporter of survivors of domestic assault, sexual abuse. It's great to write a book that highlights issues, but it's even better if a percentage of the sales can go to supporting the actual organizations that are the first responders to survivors everywhere.