Many of today’s top writers of thrillers have spent untold hours in the actual forensics and crime fields, and Australian doctor and bestselling author Kathryn Fox is one of them. Dr. Fox will be signing her new book, Skin and Bone, in tandem with the Vineyard’s own celebrated maestro of the legal and police procedural, Linda Fairstein for her latest, Killer Heat (see right), at Edgartown Books today, July 4, at 3 p.m.
Dr. Fox, in her family practice, treated not only victims of crime but, in her doctoring of prison road crews, the perpetrators themselves. A lifelong interest in writing propelled her to cut back on her medical hours and begin a novel. Malicious Intent won testimonials from, among many others, James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver and Linda Fairstein. Reviewers compared her to Patricia Cornwall and Kathy Reichs. A second book, Without Consent, garnered more kudos and another climb up the bestseller charts.
Now, with the incipient Vineyard book launch of Skin and Bone (Harper Mass Market, $7.99), the Gazette caught up with Dr. Fox down the phone from Sydney last week:
Gazette: Linda Fairstein was one of your first supporters in a line of famous authors. Will this signing in Edgartown be your first face to face meeting with her?
Kathryn Fox: Yes, but we’ve sent wonderful e-mails back and forth. Even across hemispheres, we have so much in common with our books. Linda approaches her stories from her expertise as a lawyer [with the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in New York], and I from my medical background. We’ve both written about sexual assault victims who survive.
Gazette: When you decided to reduce your doctor’s hours and learn how to write, what steps did you take to get started?
Fox: I enrolled in a writing course. The instructor suggested I send a particular essay to a magazine. The magazine turned me down but the editor asked me to write a regular doctor column. I found to my delight that I could actually get paid for this! From working as a medical journalist, I became an editor of one of the sections, and learned to edit other people’s work, which is a fantastic discipline for writing. I had to describe complicated medical treatments in language that translated to a non-medical reader. I learned to use words sparingly and to keep the interest of the reader even when bombarded by so much technical material.
Gazette: So how did you make the jump to writing a novel?
Fox: I took a course on world religions and, more specifically, cults, and studied how people’s behavior can be modified and manipulated. I made the connection that domestic abusers are good at modifying and manipulating too. In my family practice I sometimes found myself in the predicament of treating a battered wife and, separately, without revealing that I knew anything about the domestic dysfunction, her husband. All of this became grist for Malicious Intent.
Gazette: Reading Skin And Bone, life and murder and crime-solving in Australia feels very much like life and murder and crime-solving in America. Do you sense this familiarity when you’re in this country?
Fox: Oh yes, because the things I write about — manipulation and vulnerability and grief and loss and the ripple effect of crime — these stories resonate around the world. Some readers are upset with me because they want to learn more about Australia. They thought they were reading an American novel until page 300, but I feel driven to play up the universality of the stories.
Gazette: James Patterson and Jeffry Deaver have said you specialize in plot twists and turns. Do you work hard at this or does it just come naturally to you?
Fox: It comes from outlining. In this genre, the bar has been set so high. Crime readers today are so well educated and they read voraciously. You can’t bluff or con people. For a tight plot you need to outline meticulously. Then, of course, as you’re writing, other thoughts enter in. They come to you when you’re eating breakfast or having a shower. I try to write everything down but it’s difficult in traffic. I do my best thinking in the shower, however; a nice hot shower can solve any plot difficulty.
[At this point in the conversation, the interviewer mentioned to Dr. Fox a factoid she’d read that showers — or any locus where water strikes a hard surface — create the perfect composition of positive and negative ions, in turn boosting mood and creativity; it’s why, apparently, we sing in the shower. Dr. Fox was intrigued, and this reporter was elated to have a scientific tidbit to render the medical specialist; perhaps it will turn up in the next novel.]
Gazette: What kinds of books do you enjoy outside of the mystery genre?
Fox: I love what we call chick lit! Do you call it that too? I love biographies, and I’ll follow up virtually all recommendations from friends, local bookshop workers, and book reviewers. I’m a big fan of Edgar Alan Poe. I believe To Kill A Mockingbird is a terrific crime story, as was Lord of the Flies. In Cold Blood is a wonderful fictionalization of a crime story. I also believe that the movie, Sleepless in Seattle was a stalker story!
Gazette: Is there any way that people in this country can get involved in your Read For Life Program in Australia? [Dr. Fox founded a nonprofit group to provide books for Aboriginal mothers and children under the magnate that “for every year you increase a teenage mother’s reading age, it is possible to increase the life expectancy of her child by up to four years.”]
Fox: I believe any community can adopt this program and see immediate success. We’ve got parents and grandparents putting children on laps and reading. Literacy is so inextricably linked with health and longevity and personal empowerment. We’re dealing with areas and cultures that are totally without books. Families who’ve never had books are stunned that children will sit still and read, or that, if you put books on the floor, children will flock to them. We try to find books that pique the interest of children — Ripley’s Believe It or Not, extreme sports, movie tie-ins. When kids can recognize the characters, they’re engaged.
Following her book signing on Martha’s Vineyard, Dr. Fox will touch down in a couple of other American metropoli before heading back Down Under. In October she returns to this hemisphere for a five-city speaking tour.