M.M. Chouinard - Gripping Thriller Packed With Suspense
M.M. Chouinard writes crime fiction (including suspense, procedurals, and cozies), and women's fiction. M.M. Chouinard's first fiction story was published in her local paper when she was eight, and she fell in love with Agatha Christie novels not long after. While pursuing a Ph.D in psychology and helping to found the first U.S. research university of the new millenium, the stories kept rattling around inside her skull, demanding to come out. For sanity's sake, she released them. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Vacation.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Vacation is about.
In The Vacation, three couples go away to Jamaica for what they hope will be a relaxing vacation to catch up, since one of the couples has been living in Jamaica. However, each of the six adults has secrets they’ve been trying to hide, and those secrets collide over the course of the trip, and culminate in the kidnapping of one of their children.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I’ve seen true-crime stories about families who have had their loved ones go missing on international vacations and cruise ships, and I’ve always found that terrifying—it’s horrible enough to deal with a missing loved one, especially when it’s a child, but to do it in a place where you don’t know how the police or the laws work, when you’re so far from home and everything you know? That’s next-level nightmare. I considered setting the book on a cruise ship because it’s nearly impossible to pin down jurisdiction when something happens on a cruise ship, and that causes all sorts of problems for families looking for their loved one—but that didn’t end up quite right for this book. Maybe I’ll use it in the future.
Why did you pick a Thanksgiving retreat as the backdrop for your story?
The main character, Rose, is hesitant to go to Jamaica, but her husband wants to see his sister over the holidays, and also wants to escape the Massachusetts winter. He pressures her for those reasons, and she goes despite her fear.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
The killer was the most challenging in this one—it was a fine line to walk.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can recreate famous works of art on my fingernails (in nail polish), I’m pretty good at Texas Hold ‘Em (got to the final table in a tournament once), and I have zombie apocalypse survival skills like the ability to opens cans of food without can openers.
This book brings every parent's worst nightmare to life. Was it hard for you to write at times?
It was. When I write, I channel my characters; in essence I put myself into their heads and try to feel what they’re feeling. That can be emotionally difficult, especially when they’re handling situations I’m not sure I myself could handle in real life.
Readers say The Vacation had them at the edge of their seats throughout - how did you pull this off?
I’m not sure I know, I’m just glad what I did worked! I do my best to try to build tension by always having a set of questions in the reader’s mind that they want to know the answers to—my hope is that will keep them wanting to turn the pages.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
I can’t really speak to that—my publisher makes all of those decisions! All I know is I love what they did.
The book contains quite a couple of twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
I knew the vast majority of it before I started writing, although some of it did happen along the way. For this book, part of what I figured out along the way was the timing of everything, and when to best reveal each of the twists.
Does The Vacation contain a hidden message? What do you hope your readers will take away from this?
One of the main themes I hope readers take away from the book is the danger of judging what someone else is going through based on your own experiences and perceptions. Another is that negativity, trauma, and secrets can and will eat away at you from the inside unless you find a healthy way to deal with them. I also wanted to explore the role that the press, especially internet-based media organizations, plays in crime investigations. Sometimes the press helps and sometimes it does harm—where’s the line?
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
Open up a new file and jot down all the thoughts that have been running through my head about characters, setting, and plot.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Probably not very interesting! I usually have a goal set for myself each day, either a certain number of words to write or scenes to revise, and I write until I reach that goal. If the writing comes particularly easy that day, I’ll use the rest of my work hours that day to either catch up on other things (email, promotion, social media), or to get a head start on the next day’s work. I try very hard to write every day, because that keeps my brain working on my project in the background even when I stop for the day.
What are you working on right now?
I’ll be able to announce that on July 9th…so come check it out my social media to find out!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website has more information about my books, and even has some extra goodies locked away in the vault section: www.mmchouinard.com, and there’s also a contact form there people can use to email me. They can also interact with me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/m_m_chouinard