In Blood on the Beach, eight teens are dropped off on a remote west-coast island for a week-long treatment program called INTRO (Into Nature to Renew Ourselves). The story is told by two of them: Alice, whose police-officer mother believes Alice might have a substance-abuse problem, and Caleb, who assaulted his abusive stepfather. They are joined by six other miscreants and three staff: a psychologist, a social worker and an ex-cop. On the first night, one of the girls disappears from her cabin. There is a panicked search of the island, but she is nowhere to be found. The adults seem oddly ineffectual in dealing with the crisis—and then the ex-cop gets sick and dies. The radio has been sabotaged, and there is no way to call for help. When the social worker also becomes ill, the kids decide to take matters into their own hands and track down the killer.
What was the hardest scene to write in your new book?
Probably the scenes that involved police… because I realized that, despite having worked with police many times in my social work career, I knew next to nothing about police procedure in investigating the kinds of events that took place in this book!
What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
Nearly always characters…but for this book, the reverse was true. Because it is a mystery, and because I was co-writing it with Sarah, we worked out a fairly detailed plot outline before we began.
What part of a book is your favorite to write?
Usually the beginning, when everything is still possible, and I haven’t yet committed myself to a particular set of choices (or written myself into a corner!). I love seeing the characters develop and come to life as the first draft of the story unfolds. And I love revising once the first draft is complete.
Which author, living or dead, would you want to have coffee with?
Ursula LeGuin, perhaps. I have tremendous respect for her. But I could list dozens of authors I’d love to meet!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled for book research?
Oh, so many. How fast does a body decay? How fast would you die of dehydration in a desert? What happens if you shoot someone with a flare gun? How can you get piercings if you are underage? The thought of someone looking at my search history frightens me a little.
What’s the most unusual job you’ve had (besides writing)?
I worked in an animal research lab one summer, back when I thought I wanted to study veterinary medicine. I was mostly just cleaning empty rat cages, but I found it very distressing and ended up quitting–and taking a dog home with me.
How do you select character names?
Many characters seem to arrive in my imagination with names already attached. When they don’t, I use baby name websites for ideas. I find it hard to change a character’s name once I am used to it–but I did once hastily rename someone when a friend gave her new baby the same name I had given him–because the fellow in my book was rather an unpleasant character!