Nina Atwood - A Cleverly Constructed “Whodunnit"
Nina Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and award-winning executive coach. The author of multiple self-help books, Nina now writes fiction. The Expert Witness is her fourth novel and the first in the Jill Rhodes Mystery/Thriller series. Her previous novels are Unlikely Return, Free Fall, and About Roxanne. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their adorable rescue cats. As our Author of the Day, she tells us about The Expert Witness.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Expert Witness is about.
Dr. Jill Rhodes, a psychologist, is asked to work on the case of a murdered teenage girl. She finds herself working alongside a Dallas homicide detective who she convinces that the accused may not be the real killer.
What inspired you to write about a special needs teen who is accused of a gruesome murder?
As a psychotherapist myself, I’m aware that often special needs people are misunderstood. Because of that, if they happen to be associated with a crime, they can be presumed guilty because of their limited ability to respond as most people do. ASD kids, in particular, can appear sociopathic when nothing could be further from the truth.
Tell us more about Dr. Jill Rhodes. Why pick a psychologist to unravel the whodunnit rather than a hard-boiled private detective?
My background is psychology and I’ve been an avid reader of mysteries for decades. I love the genre, so I thought, why not write what I know in a genre I love? Also, looking around, I don’t see very many crime-solving heroes or heroines who are psychologists, so I believe it’s a unique niche.
Readers say this book had unexpected twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
Most of it was planned, but along the way, some of my plans didn’t make sense, so I altered the plot to achieve a better flow of the story. It’s much harder to write in this genre because there’s so much advance planning, followed by the realization that it has to be changed. But I enjoy it!
Your scenes are very detailed, with the reader feeling the environment and the tension. How did you pull this off?
The best I can do to explain how is that I try to put myself mentally and emotionally into the scene before I write it. I try to stand in the character’s shoes and imagine how it feels, imagine what kinds of reactions might happen, given that character’s personality and circumstances. This is one of the more enjoyable tasks of writing!
What intrigues you about murder mysteries?
The reality is that most murders are not at all mysterious—typically, they are crimes of passion with witnesses. The ones that become mysteries do so because the killer is smart enough to cover their tracks. Or smart enough to plan it carefully. It intrigues me to imagine the mindset of someone who does that, and also, how detectives and other crime-solvers must work to unravel the mystery and get the killer.
Your characters are very believable, evoking all kinds of emotions from readers. Are they inspired by people you know?
Not completely. But pieces of the characters are aspects of people I know or have met along the way. My husband says I’m Jill Rhodes, but I don’t see that at all! LOL.
What was your greatest challenge when writing The Expert Witness?
As an independent writer, I work in isolation a tremendous amount of the time, so the challenge is that I question whether or not I’m on track with the plot and character development. Not until I turn it over to my editor do I get any feedback at all. The challenge is that I have to trust my voice and instincts as a writer and just keep going!
The Expert Witness forms part of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Yes, it can be read as a standalone. My fervent wish is for readers to like it enough to move to the next book, which is launching this week at a special discount, The Deep End, Jill Rhodes Mystery/Thriller Series Book Two.
Do your books sometimes end differently than you initially planned it to be?
To some extent. I typically have the global ending in mind, but the details will change as I go.
Tell us more about the cover. Why did you pick a girl in the woods as your subject?
Not to give too much away, but the victim is in the woods when she is killed.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Not really… but I try to start by clearing my head with meditation, followed by writing by hand in a tablet or on paper to get the creative juices flowing. Then, I open the Word doc and look at what I wrote before and move on. Coffee is an imperative!
What are you working on right now?
Book three in the Jill Rhodes series! It’s going to be even more exciting than the first two.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Readers can get a FREE novella from me by going to my website. When they do, they’ll get a welcome email with contact information. I love hearing from readers! Here is the link to The Woman in the Diner: https://www.ninaatwoodauthor.com/freenovella/.
She’s a psychologist. He’s a cop. Together, they must uncover the electrifying truth behind the murder of beautiful, popular teen Katie. Did Shaun, a special needs teen, murder his best friend? Dr. Jill Rhodes must utilize all of her insight, along with Detective Nick Webb’s crime-solving skills, to stay ahead of a killer. Before someone else dies.