Leslie Kain - Sympathetic and Terrifying Psychological Thriller

Leslie Kain - Sympathetic and Terrifying Psychological Thriller

Leslie Kain was always writing something when she was a kid, but in her careers (psychology, Government Intelligence, nonprofits), her writing was limited to nonfiction. Once she began dabbling in fiction, her short stories found their way into literary journals and anthologies. She developed personal relationships with her characters, who nagged her into longer stories. Her second novel, ‘Secrets In The Mirror’ is the first to be published, by Atmosphere press. Kain earned degrees in psychology from Wellesley College and an MBA from Boston University, and leverages her education, training and experience in psychology to write stories of inner conflict and emotional transformation. Originally from “all over” the U.S. (although a piece of her heart remains in Boston), she now resides in Mexico with her husband and 16-year-old cat Sheba. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Secrets in the Mirror.

Please give us a short introduction to what Secrets in the Mirror is about.

Secrets In The Mirror is psychological fiction. A dysfunctional family saga of one family’s journey to rise above the toxicity of multigenerational domestic abuse, mental illness (specifically Narcissistic Personality Disorder), substance abuse and crime. But the family bonds challenge the imperative to save others versus the struggle to save oneself.

What inspired you to write about someone who has to save the same people who destroyed his self-esteem?

With my background in psychology, I am fascinated by the rise of domestic abuse, substance use and mental illness in society today. But when that occurs within families, it can destroy the self-worth, identity, and the agency of family members because the abuse persists throughout children’s formative years, and it’s hard to break away from family bonds. More difficult if siblings are purposely pitted against each other by one or both parents – and even more so if it occurs between identical mirror twins.

How does your experience in psychology influence your writing?

It is ever present in my writing. It is why I dig deeper into my characters’ psychological makeup – their past experience, emotions, behavior, fears, motivation, and their yearning. I become totally immersed in my characters, and they in me. They let me know when I’m not getting the story right and tell me what should be happening.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I once was an interior designer. I’ve always cut all my kids’ and husbands’ hair, and my own as well. I used to make all my kids’ clothes, and mine, and even made suits for my first husband. My sewing now is limited to making decorative cushions, duvet covers and drapes. I’m a big art collector. I own and have used the entire gamut of power tools for making bookshelves, toy boxes, cabinets, bunk beds, etc. I’m pretty good at cooking and gardening. There’s one secret skill exercised in my youth that will have to remain a secret.

This is your second novel. What has the experience been like so far?

I learned a lot during the process of writing my first novel, which currently sits on the shelf awaiting serious revision. This novel reflects a lot of learning, but I can nevertheless see things I would change. You never stop learning, growing, improving. I’ve enjoyed the process. As with all authors, I don’t really love the marketing & promotion but it’s a “necessary evil”.

Family is a central theme in the story. Why did you take this approach?

I had a dysfunctional, tragic, abusive and traumatic childhood, so I’m often inclined to exploit my knowledge of the worst kind of families and people. I apply my professional understanding of what causes such dysfunction when I create characters in fiction.

Tell us more about Gavin. What makes him tick?

All his life he has been told – by his father and his twin brother – that he is a loser, and that his primary purpose in life is to save his brother & keep him out of trouble. That is the only thing that defines his very limited worth. He accepts all that, and even extends his burden to being responsible for keeping his mother safe. His narcissistic twin has gaslighted him for years, which is a form of abuse that robs the victim of believing his own reality and having his own “agency” – the ability and right to make his own decisions. So Gavin has difficulty loving & believing in himself, and must flee in order to establish his own self-worth. But as we will see in the sequel, all that has created a type of PTSD in Gavin that will take years to overcome.

Gavin has an identical twin. In which way does this complicate things for him?

The narcissism of his twin is determined to control, dominate, and OWN Gavin. But they are mirror twins, especially inside. Where Gavin is good and generous, Devon is devious and dangerous. So Gavin’s efforts to break away from his abusive twin is more difficult due not only to their brotherly bond, but also because of Devon’s narcissistic control.

In which way is this a coming-of-age story?

The story spans eleven years, from the twins’ 16th birthday to their 27th birthday. It follows their development into maturity against formidable odds.

Did you plot out the entire book before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?

I ascribe to something Jane Friedman said: “Characters drive plot, not the other way around.” I begin with a very sparse rough outline of plot, but because I spend a great deal of time “interviewing” my characters they become very fully-formed people, and they often take over and re-direct what happens in the story. Especially the ending. Gavin has dictated almost the entire plot of the sequel. He came to me in a dream and told me I was naïve to think there wouldn’t be a sequel, then proceeded to tell me most of the elements that needed to be in it, and why. And what the impact on him would be.

When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?

Research, research, research. Which also occurs during the writing when unanticipated plot points emerge for which I need additional research.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

There is no “average writing day” for me. One fairly consistent thing is that I sit in an overstuffed easy chair, feet up on an ottoman, laptop on lap, with our now-16-year-old cat sharing the seat with me (I’m not very wide), often plopping her arm (not just the paw) on my keyboard, creating a new use for Ctrl-Z. Sometimes when I get “on a roll” I’ll keep writing till 2 or 3 in the morning. Which concerns my husband.

What are you working on right now?

Marketing & promotion for ‘Secrets’ (including guesting on podcasts). Selecting a narrator for the audio version and “annotating” the manuscript (pronunciation of names, indication of age, accent & attitude of each character speaking, mood & tempo within scenes, etc.). Writing the Sequel. Beta-reading & editing other writers’ work. I just finished writing a 6.3k-word story for an anthology. Because I live in Mexico, I miss the opportunity to present & read at local bookstores & bookclubs (there is one bookclub where I live; they all bought ‘Secrets’ and we had a great discussion).

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

Please follow me on my website https://lesliekain-psychfiction.com/ where you can read some of my short stories, get my (very occasional) newsletters & blog posts, and get updates on my sequel. You can also follow me on my social media: Instagram leslie.kain ,Twitter LeslieKainAuth1, Facebook leslie.kain.3 and/or Facebook Author Page https://www.facebook.com/Psychological.Fiction/