Eileen Dreyer's Back With A Vengeance e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (March, 2004)
Eileen Dreyer has written such edge-of-your-seat thrillers as If Looks Could Kill, Bad Medicine, A Man to Die For, and Nothing Personal. Under the pseudonym of Kathleen Korbel she's chalked up an impressive list of well-received category romances and accolades, including five RITA awards from the Romance Writers of America. A long time ER/trauma nurse, Eileen brings those experiences and insights into her stories, along with a one-of-a-kind style and a host of dynamic characters that leap off the page - real human emotion is what it's all about in her writing.
After a four-year hiatus where Eileen says she 'took a little time off to play with my kids ... and then just to play', she's back With A Vengeance (her latest paperback release). This novel introduces kick butt Maggie O'Brien, who takes no prisoners when on the job, but whose personal life is in the toilet -- just the type of character readers have come to expect from Eileen!
Q: You did some real hands-on information gathering for With A Vengeance by attending a weeklong training session at a Tactical EMS school. Tell us a little about how that all came about -- why you decided you needed to participate in this more adventurous and obviously, very challenging type of research?
A: Yes, for With A Vengeance, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate as a full class member in the Tactical EMS School at Camp Ripley, Minnesota (pictures are on my web page). I stumbled across the idea when I was at a conference of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, of which I'm the unofficial mascot. One of the guys had just finished the training and was talking about its implications and practical applications. I knew I had to find out more. And oh, did I!
Q: Did you have to pass any kind of tests before you were accepted into the class? What was the best part of the training? The worst, or, the hardest aspect?
A: I had to be able to do 20 sit-ups, 10 push ups, 3 pull-ups and ... run an 8-minute mile. I had to call the head of the school and inform him that the only time I'd ever run was out of a burning building. He just said to do my best. I have to say that I have run a mile. I did it five days in a row. Unless I'm in a burning building, it will never happen again. So the physical aspect was difficult, not just running and climbing and hefting quite a bit of weight in summer heat wearing about 50 pounds of equipment, but the stress of the situations. They would set up SWAT situations with noise, lights, small arms fire, and we had to try and do (simulate) rescues that sometimes involved tracheotomies or other invasive procedures. The most important lesson I learned was what a person is capable of so that she won't let her team down.
Q: Was your team ever called out on an actual real life crisis while you were training? Have you actually ever gone along on a call with police or a tactical Team as part of your ongoing research?
A: No. I've gone out on training alone. I have a friend on local SWAT who's promised, but we can never seem to coordinate. And when he gets a call, he's in such a hurry, he often forgets to call.
Q: What do you think it says about our society where it's become more and more the norm to call in specially trained tactical Teams or Units to intervene in violent domestic incidents such as the fictional ones you presented in With A Vengeance?
A: I think it says a lot for police that they are trying to gain a greater amount of control over potentially violent situations. The great thing about a good SWAT or ERU team is that they truly do maintain a greater amount of control over the situation. In cities with good teams, deaths as a result of hostage situations go down, rather than up, as is popularly imagined.
Q: Do you believe some sort of gun reform or control might alleviate more of these incidents, or does the problem go beyond that?
A: Oh my, I have to admit that I do believe in gun control. It's because I'm a trauma nurse and I've only seen the worst of guns. As a matter of fact, that went into Maggie O'Brien's character. She's kind of the McGyver of the team, because she won't use a weapon. But that's because she's afraid of them. A person who is uncertain about using a weapon should never go near one. And that's certainly my situation.
Q: Maggie O'Brien is a crack shot yet refuses to carry a gun while on the job with her tactical Team because of various issues with her abusive cop father, Tommy. This particular debate is a long-standing and very loaded issue between the two of them. Why did you choose that particular bone, one that sends the very volatile Tommy O'Brien over the edge?
A: With Tommy, it's all a matter of control. Maggie is the most important person in his life and yet she's the only person he can't seem to have complete control over. The deadly game Tommy plays with his wives is an actual contest frequently seen in abusive relationships. I just took it a step farther. That's what I like to do in my books. Take familiar situations and spin them out to their logical conclusions.
Q: Will Maggie and Sean be back in a sequel?
A: It's funny. A lot of people asked for a sequel and I said, "No. I'm really finished with these people." I tend not to write sequels simply because I tend to put my characters through a lot in a book, and I feel that if I do it too much, it's like kicking puppies. But there I was, sitting in the mountains sipping Grand Marnier and listening to a creek and it suddenly came to me, that most deadly question any author finds herself asking. "What if ...?" And I knew I wasn't finished after all. I will start Maggie's next book this spring. It involves Sean's past, the past of both of their parents, and a grisly murder that happened twenty years ago. I can't wait to get started.
Q: What’s the next medical thriller readers can expect? Can you tell us a bit about the story and when it'll be on bookshelves?
A: Head Games, my hardback that's out right now, is a sequel to Bad Medicine. In it Molly Burke, my 50-something trauma nurse, death investigator, and Vietnam vet, finds herself caught between a serial killer who seems to have appeared from her past, and her 16 year old nephew, who's here to torment her present. All of Molly's secrets eventually come out as she finds out that serial killers aren't the monster under the bed. Every serial killer is someone's child.
Q: You were a trauma nurse for many years. In comparison, and after working with a tactical Team, which job would you say is tougher? More stressful?
A: I think it's almost a toss-up. I also think that that's why so many trauma nurses and cops pair up. Because we both have to spend all our time facing the very worst, and sometimes the very best in people. But mostly, sad to say, the worst. The difference is that the situations are always anticipated to be explosive with SWAT. In the ED, we'd often get no warning. And we had no weapons. It's amazing how fast you can learn to dance like Ali just to save yourself. As a matter of fact, one of the reviewers on Head Games said that the opening scene in the ED was outlandish, I think. I laughed. It might have been if I hadn't been the nurse on that floor. The more outrageous the episode in my books, the more likely it's taken from reality.
Q: How does sitting down and writing best selling fiction compare to the non-stop action of being an ER nurse or even a member of a tactical Team?
A: I burned out from nursing, like many of my friends before me. It wasn't just the stress of a big ER, but the problems of the profession itself. I loved what I did but the longer I worked the more the bean counters and insurance wonks got in between me and my patient care. If we could have been left alone to do what we did best, many of us might have survived. As for writing, I do love the control I get on the page. I love working for myself. I love having my weekends and holidays as my own. I do admit to losing concentration if I hear a siren go by. I'm still an old fire horse. But the best part of my job now is that, in the end, I can make everything all right. I couldn't say that about my other career.
Q: You've tackled some timely and intense subjects in your category romances: illiteracy (Jake's Way), Down's Syndrome (A Rose for Maggie), a suicidal cop (Simple Gifts), and post traumatic stress disorder (A Soldier's Heart). Is there a need inside you to explore these kinds of issues?
A: Especially in my romances I love to write about situations that carry a big emotional wallop. This last summer I published Some Men's Dreams, the continuation of the Kendall series (Jake's Way, Simple Gifts). And do you think I made it easy for Gen Kendall? Heavens, no. I took on anorexia and survivor guilt. I'm very, very proud of Some Men's Dreams. It was named Best Intimate Moments by RT, one of the top ten romances of 2003 by Booklist, and one of the top romances by AAR. The long and short of it is that I've always loved to tell stories. But I really found my heroes the day I walked into an ER for the first time. I'd been raised in this wonderful, supportive, close family. What did I know about abuse, suicide, homicide, and violence? What I learned, very quickly, was that the real heroes in life are the people who are burdened with unimaginable weights, and yet, manage to live their lives with grace and beauty. That's what I like to investigate in my writing. I also guess I like to make people cry.
Q: Will there be any more stories in the Kendall series?
A: I'm writing Zeke's book (Song of the Wise Women) for the simple pleasure of writing the scene where Zeke has to try and explain to his brother Jake how Irish fairies kidnapped him. The story loosely follows the old Tamlyn tale of how a human escapes the world of fairy by the love of a true woman. Although this woman is fairy. But, of course, Zeke has abandonment issues from the early deaths of his parents, but hey, he can still have fun, can't he?
Q: You've also written some more light-hearted tales in the DESIRE line: Isn't It Romantic, A Fine Madness, A Prince of a Guy and The Princess and the Pea. Why write these? Which category do you prefer?
A: And now for something completely different ... After you've written four tough books in a row it's really, really hard to get characters to so much as argue over a dinner tip. I just want people to be happy. These are my own comic relief. As a matter of fact I'm hoping that my final Kendall book, which I plan to write in Ireland this spring (can I say that again? in Ireland this spring ... sigh), Song of the Wise Women, I'm really hoping it's finally the funny Kendall book. I actually tried to make Jake's Way funny. Then Rock walked in the door, and I knew it just wasn't going to happen.
Q: All of your books present very memorable characters; they seem to have an extra spark of humanity that makes them so identifiable and sympathetic. Where do your characters come from and what's the process involved in bringing them to life?
A: The world I've seen in my work and study is not black and white, but gray. And I think it's the fact that we acknowledge that gray area that makes the good parts of us better. I think that vulnerabilities in any character make them more accessible. I really like it when somebody reacts to my villains as real people because that's as important as making the heroes real people. I'm not invested in James Bond making it through a movie because there's nothing to hang onto. I'd much rather root for a more recognizable person. I may start with one character issue, for instance, the fact that Molly Burke is a Vietnam vet, or that Maggie O'Brien is the only child of the most notorious cop in St. Louis history, or I might find my character in something or someone around me. Allison Henley from A Rose for Maggie began with my dear friend Lee Freeman, who did have her own little boy with Down Syndrome. For the suspense I'm working on now, Obituary Cocktail, which will be out in 2005, Chastity Byrnes came from the forensic research I'd done on survivors of abuse. Once I have a spark, then I begin to play that dreaded game, "What if ...?"
Q: Is Silhouette planning on re-issuing any of your past categories in either line for those completeists out there who can't seem to get their greedy hands on all of your titles?
A: Right now, I don't know. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though.
Q: Besides traveling, what do you enjoy doing during your downtime?
A: Traveling. Oh, and gardening, watching St. Louis Cardinal baseball (spring training has started!!), music, theater, film (I plan to catch up on all the Oscar nominees that didn't involve the word "epic" -- (I've seen ROTK 4 times already) -- right after deadline.Find out more about Eileen Dreyer, her forensic thrillers and her romantic suspense novels at eileendreyer.com.
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