‘Darkness and Grace’ Q&A with Author Kathryn Schleich
Inspired by real-life events, Darkness and Grace is a compelling story of the Pierson family as they discover that neither their money nor their considerable influence can keep them safe from one woman’s malicious intent. It’s the classic struggle between good and evil, as well as the violent undercurrent running beneath the illusory serenity of a close-knit Midwestern family. Learn more about Darkness and Grace, in this Q&A with the author.
Where did the idea for Darkness and Grace come from?
Darkness and Grace was inspired by real-life events involving my family in the early 1990s. Each time I would discuss the true occurrences, people would comment, “This is a great story. You need to write a book.” After initial trepidation, I recognized this was not only a story worth telling, but it was one that comes to an author only once in a lifetime. It was originally published in 2007 under a pseudonym with the title Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. I worked with a new editing team to polish it up and take it to the next level. Darkness and Grace is still a work of fiction, and the characters are entirely fictional.
Since the book is based on real-life events, what were some of the challenges you faced writing it? How were you able to overcome them?
Writing about family, even as fiction, can be tricky business, as they may see themselves and not like how they are portrayed. There are elements of truth to the characters that are inspired by real people, but that is all. As far as the events depicted, some are expanded upon. In the author’s note, I acknowledge that the newspaper accounts are authentic. Names and physical characteristics of those depicted have been changed. Some incidents, however, were so outlandish I couldn’t make them up. I will also say this—the real story was even more convoluted. I had to tone some instances down for fear no one would believe they happened.
The genre for the book is domestic thriller—what makes it so? Are there other titles in that genre that have a similar vibe to Darkness and Grace?
Typically, a domestic thriller is defined as a subgenre of crime fiction that is best described as a psychological thriller that focuses on interpersonal relationships, often those between husbands and wives or parents and their children. What drives the story in a domestic thriller is the domestic disturbances, secrets, and tensions that exist. The main feeling, in my estimation, is the underlying dread and suspense that all is not what it seems on the surface and the realization that true evil exists in the Piersons’ world. Evil is a common denominator in other domestic thrillers such as Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
The setting for the story is the Twin Cities area of Minnesota—did the real-life events take place in Minnesota? What do you think Minnesotans will appreciate about it?
No, the real setting wasn’t Minnesota, but the events did take place in the Midwest. To write the narrative, I employed aspects of historical fiction, using authentic news accounts and world events in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and settings and descriptions of Minnesota cities and landmarks. I have lived in Minnesota for a total of 28 years, for eight years in the 1980s and permanently since 2002. Much of what is written is from my perspective as a transplant. I think Minnesotans will appreciate that I think this is the best place in the world to live. I consider it God’s country, if you will.
What was your process for researching the events of the period and the location?
The research was similar to the in-depth internet investigation I undertook for my crime novel, Salvation Station. In a way this book was easier because I have stacks of files on the real events and the period from the mid-1990s to the year 2000. Some proceedings I remember very clearly. But I also am fortunate to have an editor who is a native Minnesotan. She corrected information when it was wrong, for which I am grateful.
Tell us more about the main character, Kay Pierson-Scott—what do you hope readers will think and feel about her?
Kay certainly has her flaws, but I want readers to empathize with her and perhaps see some of themselves in her. She is happily married but also very independent and in no way helpless. She is smart, loving, and perfectly capable of holding her own. Like anyone, there are many dimensions to her.
Family is important to the Piersons—what do you hope readers will think and feel about the Pierson family and how they handle adversity?
My hope is that readers will recognize and appreciate that a strong, loving family is one of the most important gifts there is in life. Like the saying goes, you don’t get to choose your family. I acknowledge there are plenty of dysfunctional, toxic families, but I’m extremely fortunate to have a family that will drop whatever they are doing to offer support and encouragement to any one of us. Do we still annoy each other? Of course!
In terms of adversity, the Piersons try to take the high road and not act in a malicious manner. Part of their frustration (and this was true in the real story as well) is that just because you are determined to take the high road does not mean doing so is going to pay off. Sometimes you attempt to do everything that is good and right and continually get knocked down.
What’s the overall theme of the book?
There are two main themes. One, that when people are confronted by true evil, they are not prepared to handle it. No one ever thinks encountering evil will ever happen to them. The second theme is that anyone can be pushed by circumstances to take actions they would otherwise never consider. Both of these themes tie into the idea that no matter how close you are to someone, or how well you think you know them, familial relationships can prove to be far more dangerous than the world at large. We want to believe our flesh and blood are decent human beings who respect and love us. Domestic violence or child abuse are prime examples of when families are the most dangerous of places—and right in front of us.
If the book were a movie, what actor would you see as Kay? Who would you see playing Kay’s sister-in-law Pamela?
This is a very tough question, as the people I originally envisioned are too old now. When Sandra Bullock was in her thirties, I always saw her as Kay. As Pamela, I could imagine Margot Robbie. She’s beautiful, smart, but can be very calculating and dangerous.
Are you working on another book? What can you share about it?
I have two mysteries in progress. One I have set aside because, quite honestly, I’m stuck and need to rethink aspects. It considers a bully who is found murdered. The other is tentatively titled Missing Pieces based on my own experience with transient global amnesia. My personal episode ended well. But being a writer, I couldn’t let a story idea with the potential for drama, mystery, and suspense go untapped!
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