Thriller looks at what happens after murder
By Deirdre Parker Smith
“The Killer’s Wife” is just the thing to give you bad dreams.
First-time novelist Bill Floyd has done a lot of things right. He creates a sympathetic character with a vulnerable child. His killer is both sympathetic and chillingly disgusting. The action, with no subplots, moves quickly and creates a page-turner.
I’ve been more creeped out, enjoyed a more complex plot, but “The Killer’s Wife” is good, clean thriller fun. Perfect for the beach, a rainy day, a shot of adrenaline.
Floyd will sign his novel on Friday, from 7-9 p.m. at Literary Bookpost, 119 S. Main St.
Now living in Morrisville, Floyd spoke by phone about his thriller set in North Carolina.
His first-person narrator is Nina Mosley/Leigh Wren, the ex-wife of a sadistic serial killer. She has moved across the country with their young son, Hayden, and changed her name, hoping to move beyond the horrible past.It’s unusual for a male writer to take on the female voice.
“A writer’s challenge is to write outside their own gender, race, orientation. … You hear ‘write what you know,’ but I wanted to step out.”
Reactions from friends and reviewers have been mixed. “Some think I did OK; one lady said I didn’t know anything about women.”
But Nina/Leigh is likable and it’s no great stretch to understand why she does what she does. Maybe she’s not as fierce as some mothers, but she’s brave and determined.
“It was written to be commercial,” Floyd says, almost sheepishly. He’s written a couple of other thrillers, in what’s called a literary style, and all he got was rejection letters. He wanted to sell something, get started, at least.
He wrote short stories in high school and has an English degree from Appalachian State University. But he works for an insurance company.
“I’m pretty much self-taught. It’s my passion.” He writes every afternoon after work.
He finished his first novel at 28 and collected 30 or so rejections. But he kept going. He got an agent, got a book deal, then the publisher was bought out. “I kept writing more. The agent shopped it around. I just kept going.” The earlier efforts are still in a drawer. “Maybe they’ll come out if I’m successful.”
He tried self-publishing, but was not happy with the results.
“I would love to get an audience so I could call my own shots, to have an audience to appreciate me so I can do more of what I want to do.”
He grew up reading horror, thrillers, sci-fi. Now he reads George Pelecanos, James Ellroy, Carl Hiassen.
He thinks the “split created between literary and genre fiction is damaging in a lot of ways. It becomes so hard to do something literary.”
And he didn’t want to be too graphic, either. “I didn’t want to do one of those torture things, like all these movies that are coming out now.”
The novel came about because of the BTK killer, Dennis Rader. BTK stands for bind, torture, kill. Rader had been married for 26 years, had grown children and was active at church.Floyd wondered how Rader’s wife and family have dealt with a man who killed at least 10 people over almost 20 year.
When Floyd first wrote “The Killer’s Wife” it was “a bleak character study, so I put it in a much more commercial narrative frame.”
When he first wrote the book, he ended it at an execution, where Nina/Leigh is able to connect with some of her ex-husband’s victims. The publisher suggested something different, so he wrote a short epilogue that takes the story a little further.
“I love a resolution that is satisfying. That poor kid (Hayden) has a lot to deal with. … He was guiltless and found out too much.”
Floyd said he “kind of fell back on convention” with a confrontation between his heroine and a killer. “She really suffers” Floyd said, and realizes that although she’d always thought of herself as a victim, she isn’t.
“She learned a lesson. She’s not hiding any longer, she’s trying to build a relationship again.”
Floyd didn’t dive into much serial killer research. He had already read a lot of true crime books. “I got kind of bored. … The serial killer always seemed the same, the mother was mean to him; it seemed sort of misogynistic.”
He wanted to put more emphasis on what happens afterward, in this case, “Nina’s feeling of culpability ó either (she’s) dumb or (she) knew something was up and didn’t face up to it.
“I don’t like to face up to stuff, either. That’s one thing that’s damaging us as a society.”
Randy, the serial killer, is a guy we’ve known, the one we say, “I can’t believe he did that.” He’s so different from the person we know. “We pretend perception is reality,” Floyd said. “We sort of teach that now.
“The serial killer wants to be recognized; he wants people to be impressed.”
“The Killer’s Wife” has already been translated into seven or eight languages and published in Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Japan, to name a few. Floyd’s dream is to take a year off and write. He’s hoping the book will sell enough to let him do that. He already has a second project in the works.
His book tour is mostly local ó new authors rarely get national tours. The exception would be Salisbury’s John Hart, also published by St. Martin’s. He provided a blurb for Floyd’s book.
Floyd was invited to do a week-long author’s blog on www.momentsincrime.com, part of the St. Martin’s Minotaur site.
But the best thing so far: “There was a woman who wrote to the blog site … She said she was 70, and had been in a bad marriage with someone with psychological problems. She said it (“The Killer’s Wife”) made a difference to her. That made it worthwhile to me. It made every minute worth it for me.”
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at 704-797-4252 or dp1@salisbury post.com.