Heather Chavez is thriller writer from Santa Rosa, California, whose novel, NO BAD DEED, has been called “compelling, hypnotic, full of suspense and quiet menace.” She graduated from the English literature program at University of California at Berkeley and has not only worked as a newspaper journalist, but also editor and contributor to mystery and television blogs. Heather has been kind enough to answer a few questions.
MB: Let’s start by talking about your debut novel. NO BAD DEED has been called a “breathless page turner” and “twisty, timely and absolutely terrifying.” That’s high praise for a debut novel that had its origins in the most innocuous of places: an elementary school parking lot. Talk for a moment about the inspiration behind your new book.
HC: I was picking my daughter up from after school care. We saw a boy, probably about 14 years old, walking nearby. Suddenly, these two other teen boys rushed him and started attacking him. Immediately, my adrenalin started going, but before I could make a decision about what to do, the attack ended in seconds, as quickly as it had started. But the incident stayed with me, and the rest of the day, I was preoccupied with questions… Should I have called 911? Gotten out of the car? What if it had been night? And what if my daughter hadn’t been with me? Those questions inspired the book.
MB: Give us a little “inside” scoop on NO BAD DEED. Without giving any spoilers tell us something about the book that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?
HC: NO BAD DEED actually started as a story told in third person from three POVs: Cassie, the Good Samaritan; Brooklyn, the victim; and Carver, the attacker. After reading the first draft and getting some early feedback, I realized it was Cassie’s story but the other two POV characters were telling the good parts. So I changed it. There was also a prologue that hinted at the backstory. The actual first line I wrote came from that abandoned prologue: Natalie blamed her first contraction on the chili cheese fries she’d eaten for breakfast.
MB: In NO BAD DEED, was there a scene that you found particularly difficult to write?
HC: From a technical standpoint, the climax is always the most challenging. By then, I’ve invested so much time in the characters (and readers have too) that I’m compelled to find that one inevitable way to end the story. But from an emotional standpoint, I struggle with any scenes where the people my protagonist loves are imperiled. It’s a challenge not only because I care about the characters and want them to be okay, too, but also because I need to get the protagonist’s heightened emotions exactly right. That means going to the dark places in my own head.
MB: Many writers talk about how long it took to write their debut novel. How long did it take you to write NO BAD DEED? What did you learn from writing this novel that you feel will help you moving forward with your career?
HC: I wrote 3½ “practice” books before writing NO BAD DEED. While I started without an outline for my first book, which I wrote in my early 20s, I’ve realized that I really need that outline. I still deviate from it sometimes. For instance, the secondary character of Darrell was originally supposed to appear in a single scene. But with a thorough roadmap, it’s more like I end up a few blocks off course as opposed to in a whole different state.
MB: Let's chat about writing for a moment. Every writer has their own specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have a special place set aside for writing. Some outline their plot, while others "fly by the seat of their pants." Tell us about your writing process.
HC: My outline for NO BAD DEED included most of the key scenes, but there were a couple of gaps. With the book I’m currently working on, however, every scene is outlined. There are colored index cards on the corkboard and everything. Thinking and planning is just as important to me as the act of actually getting words on the page, so I try to give myself space to do that. But when I’m actually writing that first draft, I try to write everyday, even if it’s 100 words typed into my phone right before I go to sleep. That keeps the story percolating in my brain and, paired with the outline, helps me make the most use of those precious blocks of writing time.
MB: How has your past work as a newspaper journalist impacted your fictional writing?
HC: When I was a journalist, I came across so many news stories about people doing horrible things to one another, which definitely fed my natural curiosity. For instance, why would someone commit a crime against someone they professed to care about? Working under deadline also helped me develop discipline. But I think learning how to edit provided the biggest boost to my writing. Those first practice novels before I worked as an editor never got past first draft. Even though I worked on the grammar, word choice, and mechanics, I never did a true structural edit. Eventually, through my work in journalism, I learned how to sacrifice that sentence—even whole chapters—for the sake of the story.
MB: Many writers say that reading is just as important as writing. What authors do you favor when looking for something to read? What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
HC: There are too many authors to list, but some of the ones whose books I always preorder: Lisa Gardner, Harlan Coben, JP Delaney, Linwood Barclay, Riley Sager, and Dean Koontz. This year, I added Wendy Walker and Shari Lapena to that list. I also love Lee Child, Liv Constantine, Karin Slaughter, Greg Iles, Alison Gaylin and Peter Swanson. But my absolute favorite part about being a debut is discovering new thriller authors to fall in love with, like Megan Collins, Elle Marr, and Samantha Bailey, and discovering books outside my genre, like THE GERMAN HEIRESS by Anika Scott. Before this year, I’d rarely read historical fiction, but I adored that book!
MB: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
HC: My next book should be coming out in early 2022. It’s another standalone thriller. The plot in a nutshell: Cleaning up after her wayward sister, Izzy, has long been Frankie Barrera’s job. When Frankie learns her truck was spotted at a missing girl’s house, she fears Izzy might be involved—especially since it’s not the first time Izzy has been linked to a missing persons case.
Thank you for taking time to talk with me. Good luck with NO BAD DEED.
To learn more about Heather and her book, you can visit her website at heatherchavez.com. You can also follow Heather on Facebook at facebook.com/heatherchavezauthor, on Twitter at twitter.com/iamHRChavez, and on Instagram at instagram.com/iamhrchavez.
You can purchase NO BAD DEED at these retailers.