Behind the Book
Tom Clancy told me that an author’s second book is the hardest he or she will ever write. What he didn’t tell me was that it would be the worst year of my life. Suddenly, it’s not for fun anymore. You have publishers spending enormous amounts of money, agents strategizing, and reviewers wondering if you’re a one-book wonder. At the center of it all, there you are, devoid of ideas and feeling like a complete impostor. My blood pressure got so bad, I had to get a machine to monitor it. I wish that was a joke, but I’m serious. I was barely thirty years old.
My agent hated every idea I threw at him and with every shake of his head, my confidence plummeted still further. In all honesty, the idea to write a book about an enormously powerful and seemingly mainstream cult was his idea. I liked it (I would have written about anything at that point) and got to work.
Things didn’t get better. He hated every plot concept I came up with, as did my editor, though there was no agreement between them as to why. Eventually, I got so tied in knots, I quit. One night at about ten o’clock I faxed a letter to my agent saying that writing was killing me and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had a two book deal, so I’d agree to write a book around a terrorism concept I had if Harper wanted it, otherwise, I’d just like to get out of my contract and get my old job back. The next morning, he called and said that if I would agree to write the cult book, no one would contact me again until it was finished.
They kept their word and I managed to finish the book without having a stroke. I’m still not sure how it happened, but the final product exceeded even my wildest expectation. While it didn’t have as strong a central concept as Rising Phoenix, I think the writing is much better.
Storming went on to be my first New York Times bestseller, which for some inexplicable reason is the be-all-and-end-all of the publishing industry. It really has a lot less to do with sales than who happens to be on the list at the time your book is released, but in the end publishers are driven much more by emotion than numbers. My status skyrocketed.
She froze at the sound of her father’s strangled voice. The rhythm and force of her heartbeat increased until she could almost hear it in the silence following her father’s shout.
She took the last step into the house hesitantly and edged up to the washing machine so she could see into the kitchen. “Dad?”
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the glare of the bare bulbs in the garage to the gloom of the kitchen, but the moonlight streaming though the windows above the sink created enough colorless contrast to see what was happening.
A man in a dark suit and tie was dragging her mother toward the living room. His hand was clamped over her mouth and his thumb and index finger pinched her nose shut.
Jennifer resisted the urge to run to her mother and pry the man’s hands from her face. Instead, she retreated, almost falling backward down the steps. When she reached out to steady herself, her eyes finally found her father. He was pinned against the kitchen counter by a similarly dressed man. The combination of a thick forearm pressed against his throat and a gun pushed into his cheek had silenced him.
Everything in her told her to stay and fight, but she knew that would be stupid. There was nothing she could do. She had to go for help.
She spun around and cleared the stairs leading into the garage in one jump. The keys were still in the car.
She didn’t see the hand as it reached out from behind her father’s tool bench and grabbed her by the back of her sweatshirt, but felt the shirt go tight across her chest and her feet skid out from under her. She would have fallen on her back, except a powerful arm had snaked around her waist. An instant later, the hand that had been wrapped in her sweatshirt moved to her face and clamped over her mouth and nose.
She thrashed wildly when her air was cut off, surprising her captor with her strength and throwing them both against the wall. She grabbed at his arm, finally getting her fingers behind something that felt like a thick black iron bracelet.
It was hopeless. Panic and lack of air were making her groggy and she felt herself weakening as she fought back the blank white encroaching on her peripheral vision. It took only a moment for the man to regain his balance and lift her off her feet, robbing her of what little leverage she had.
Making one last effort, she grabbed for the doorjamb as she was carried into the house. Her strength had left her, though, and her sweaty fingers slid ineffectually across the wall.
Jennifer heard the shout—a woman’s voice—but had no idea where it came from. The fingers around her nose loosened and she felt her feet connect with the ground, though the man’s arm remained tight around her waist and his hand was still clamped onto her mouth. She took in a deep breath through her nose and felt the oxygenated blood begin to clear her head.
A woman stepped out from behind the shadow of the refrigerator, prompting the man holding her to loosen his grip a bit more and allow her to take another deep breath as she watched the woman approach.
She was probably two inches shorter than Jennifer’s five-nine, with a boyish haircut—short and parted on the side. Her skin must have been very pale, because it just glowed the color of the moonlight bathing the room.
The woman stopped about a foot away and reached out. Jennifer jerked her head back but it just bounced off the chest of the man holding her.
“You must be very still and very quiet,” the woman said, running a hand through Jennifer’s hair.
Jennifer let out a quiet squeal, muffled by the hand still clamped over mouth. She tried to look into the woman’s eyes to see if there was anything there that could tell her what was happening, but they just looked black.
The woman moved to her right slightly, letting the moonlight hit her fully in the face. “Look at me Jennifer. You will be quiet won’t you?”
Her voice was smooth and soft, but her newly illuminated eyes burned with cruelty. Jennifer wanted to scream when the man’s hand slid from her mouth, but she found herself transfixed by the woman’s stare.
“That’s better,” the woman said, sliding her fingers from Jennifer’s hair, down her arm and finally closing them tightly around Jennifer’s wrist. “Come with me. There’s something I want you to see.”
She pulled Jennifer from the arms holding her and toward the living room. Jennifer wanted to break away, to run for help, but she was afraid. Not of the man who had captured her or the ones who had subdued her parents, but of this small, pale woman and what her eyes told Jennifer she was capable of.
She allowed herself to be led to a small love seat situated on the far wall of the living room. The light was better there, thanks to two skylights and the large windows that surrounded the room.
Jennifer sat down on the sofa that she had spent so many nights on—watching TV, doing homework, talking on the phone. But now her eyes were locked on her parents and the men holding them at gunpoint on the other end of the room. The woman’s hand slid from her wrist and Jennifer watched her walk through the moonlight to her parents and began speaking quietly to them. Jennifer leaned forward to try and hear what was being said, but a strong hand grasped her shoulder and pulled her back.
She watched them for what seemed like forever. The shadows made it difficult to read their expressions, but she could see the tension slowly falling from her parents’ bodies. Her father was the first to peel his back off the wall, followed closely by her mother who stepped forward, put her arms around the small woman, and began to sob. The muffled sound coming from her mother’s throat was a strange combination of deep sorrow and joy that Jennifer had only heard once before— when a close family friend had died after a long and painful bout with bone cancer.
Jennifer relaxed slightly. The cruelty she had seen in the woman and that had caused a nauseous feeling of hopelessness to form in the pit of her stomach must have been a trick of light and darkness. Her parents recognized her. Maybe they’d known her for years. Perhaps the woman was afraid too. Perhaps she was here because she needed their help.
When the man standing next to her father reached out and offered him his gun, Jennifer let out a deep sigh of relief. Certainly killers and rapists weren’t in the habit of arming their victims. Maybe she and her family were in some kind of danger and these people were here to protect them?
Her father wiped at his eyes with his sleeve as he took the gun. Jennifer watched as he weighed it uncomfortably, then pointed it at the back of her mother’s head and pulled the trigger.
For a moment she felt like she was sitting in a dark theater watching a movie. The crack of the pistol, her mother’s body jerking forward, the black fluid momentarily backlit and then silently painting the wall.
Jennifer threw herself forward; trying to escape the sofa, but the man behind her had anticipated this and jerked her back again. The room started to spin and she felt her stomach tighten into a sickening knot as she struggled against the hands that held her in place.
“Daddy!” she screamed, as her father tucked the gun under his chin.
It seemed to pull him from his trance for a moment and he hesitated. “I know this is hard, honey. But you don’t belong just to us. You never belonged just to us.”
The gun sounded again and the window behind her father cracked from top to bottom, leaving a spider web prism as he collapsed to the ground.
She felt all the strength go out of her. She slumped forward and turned away from the scene in front of her. For a moment, it felt as though she had forgotten how to breathe. Her mind seemed to shut down everything as it tried to process what had just happened.
Her parents had both been only children and her grandparents had been dead for years. In an instant she had gone from being one third of a happy family to being completely alone. It must be a dream. A nightmare. It must be.
She didn’t see the woman approach, and barely noticed when she knelt in front of her. She saw the dull flash of the syringe in her hand and felt herself being pushed face down into the soft cushions. The woman’s hands slid beneath her stomach, unbuttoned her shorts and pulled them and her underwear down. There was the sharp jab of the needle and an unnatural heat flooding her body. Then there was nothing.