I’m from New York, and some people from New York are a bit rough around the edges, but what’s wrong with that? Since I’ve now lived on the left coast more than half my life, I have a blended personality that’s sometimes at odds with itself. So I’m a little schizophrenic. I talk to myself. Argue with myself.
But here’s where it can be a plus: I’ve channeled my New York persona into my main character, Karen Vail, the first female FBI profiler. Vail had an explosive debut, bursting onto the literary scene in the national bestseller, The 7th Victim—and has been the featured protagonist in the follow-ups Crush, Velocity, and, now, Inmate 1577. These novels are set in exotic locales, from Napa Valley and Las Vegas to San Diego and Washington DC. Problem is, wherever Vail goes, serial killers tend to follow. So if she visits your town…lock the doors and bolt the windows.
But lots of authors write about serial killers and FBI profilers, right? What gives me the creds to join that list? After all, the basic tenet of writing ingrained in all writers is to “write what you know.” And therein lies the difference. Eighteen years ago when I started writing full time, I knew nothing about profiling. Zip. But as fate would have it, while researching False Accusations at the Department of Justice’s crime lab, I met FBI agent Mark Safarik, who was awaiting promotion to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). We hit it off, stayed in touch, and a short time later Agent Safarik invited me out to Quantico to tour the FBI Academy and profiling unit—and thus began my immersion in the world of serial killers, rapists, bombers and arsonists.
Seven years later, after multiple trips to the BAU and countless hours of conversations with Agent Safarik and his profiler partner, Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole, after I’d edited four published FBI research papers on serial offenders and attended numerous FBI training courses, worked with the head firearms instructor at the Academy, and parsed interviews with serial killers with Agent Safarik—I finally felt that I owned the material enough to write The 7th Victim.
Karen Vail burst from the pages with a vibrant personality, a woman bucking the odds in a unit geared toward men, someone who always means well but, like you and me, is fallible. She makes mistakes, she has fears and loves, vulnerabilities—and despite being very, very good at what she does—suffers perpetual unease about the decisions she makes. Because lives are on the line, and she has to live with the errors she makes.
In short, Vail has resonated with hundreds of thousands of readers because she’s real and she suffers from the failings we all struggle with. But at the end of the day—and sometimes in the middle—Karen Vail is a cop you’d “go through a door with.” That phrase is one that law enforcement officers of all stripes use to describe a colleague you’d entrust your life to when the bullets are flying. I know, because that’s how the head of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers association described Karen Vail. And that made me feel pretty damn good.
In addition to my years of research and training with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, I’ve worked with members of the DEA, US Marshals Service, SWAT and local law enforcement’s bomb squads and investigative details. These relationships have influenced me both personally and professionally. More importantly, these experiences have helped shape the stories I tell and the diverse characters that populate my novels.
So sit back, crack the spine, and enjoy. Or…in today’s digital world, click that button and immerse yourself in the gripping world of Karen Vail.
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