I remember all too well how I met the villain of Dark Lie. He found me at a singles dance, after my divorce, when I was fifty. He was much younger. Psychosis only knows why he chose to seize my arms and propel me onto the dance floor. He could have done better; he was almost as handsome as he thought he was. With studly stance and intense eye contact he told me, “You are going home with me tonight and we are going to make love until the sun comes up.” At which point I should have screamed for security, but I am a writer, curious about bizarre phenomena, or perhaps it is the other way around; perhaps being curious made me a writer. In any event, I let The Bizarre Phenomenon dance with me, then lead me downstairs to the karaoke bar where he sang almost as well as he thought he did, but I turned down his offer to buy me a drink. At closing time he said “My car’s this way,” at which point I said, “Well, mine’s over there. See ya.” Then he became quite upset; how could I fail to appreciate his plans for me? Demanding capitulation, he followed me to my car, clutched my butt and jammed his tongue into my face, challenging, “Just try to tell me you didn’t like that.” I didn’t like it, not one bit, but this guy was quite strong and I was becoming just a teensy bit scared by him. So rather than argue, I told him an inspired lie, that I felt freaked out because I was old enough to be his mother and I had a son his age, invoking the incest taboo by proxy. Then I had to apologize for not saying this before, and by the time he finally let me go, I knew first-hand what it was like to deal with a totally self-entitled narcissistic psycho. The next day I bought pepper spray.
Not that this creepy encounter inspired me to write Dark Lie. I was already thinking about that. I had been on a panel with the topic of “Heroism” at some science fiction convention, and when we had tentatively defined a hero as someone who saves lives, I had suggested that most mothers qualified, as they saved lives on a daily basis. A fellow panelist had responded with sarcasm: “Right, you sniff the meat.” And what about mothers worldwide who put themselves between their children and gunfire? Well, they were just being moms. “Just” being moms? Hmm.
So I had already conceptualized the hero of my next big book: a mom just being a mom. And then, as I have mentioned, I met the perfect villain. But I think buying the pepper spray pushed me over a tipping point into writing Dark Lie: I had to admit I was spooked. I had to acknowledge the effect of predation on the freedom, physical and emotional, of girls and women. I sensed how I had been locked by gender into a prison without walls; le vilain loup sans merci me had in thrall. The big bad wolf.
A theme, a villain, a hero; what more did I need? Well, words, lots more of them than I was used to, and insights that led me through the teeth of the wolf into its dark, dark maw. As I wrote, Dark Lie turned out to be much more book than I’d bargained for. There’s a big difference between writing suspense for young adults and writing psychological suspense for the mass market. Rather than focusing on a single viewpoint, I found myself dealing with character after character clamoring for voice. Then their interrelationships, and the nature of their secrets, became so complex that I myself did not find out everything I needed to know until, sometimes, it was almost too late. Creating suspense, I myself was kept in suspense while I wrote. I got lost in the strange terrain of the human psyche and had to go places I really didn’t want to. Sometimes I got scared.
I thought I knew what the “dark lie” was all along, but I was only partly right. Dorrie White, middle-aged mom and main character, had more to hide than I realized. I myself did not find out all the implications and repercussions of her secret until I finished writing the first draft.
I mean this admission to demonstrate that Dark Lie is an unpredictable book, full of twists and turns, surprises and, dare I say it, shocks. But perhaps it shows only that I am a Bizarre Phenomenon as a writer.
Nancy Springer has written fifty novels for adults, young adults and children, in genres that include mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, horror, and mystery — although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. Dark Lie is her first venture into adult suspense.