JOANNA SCHAFFHAUSEN is a scientific editor who spends her days immersed in research on potential new therapies for cancer, addiction, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, she worked as an editorial producer for ABC News, where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America and 20/20.She holds a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain—how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. The Vanishing Season is her first novel.
Winner 2016, Mystery Writers of America/St. Martin’s Minotaur First Crime Novel Award
Anywhere and everywhere, but especially from true crime stories. I still go to sleep at night to the dulcet tones of Forensic Files, even though I’ve seen every episode a dozen times by now. I mine the stories for how investigators feel about their cases; how they talk and think. I also find it fascinating how initially there will be lots of avenues to follow, each with many clues, and the thrill of discovery is in learning which of these pieces of evidence turns out to be the key to solving the case.
Read widely and think about craft as you are doing so. Why has the author chosen to begin the story where she does? Why does he pick one particular point-of-view over another?
Write things! There is no substitute for practice. I sold a novel on my first try, but it was the twenty-third novel I wrote. That’s more than a million words that will never see print but which provided much practice in storytelling, flow, dialogue and novel structure.
Get feedback on your work. Join a writer’s group and seek out writers you think are better than you are. Ask readers who like to read the kind of stories you write if they would comment on your work. Listen and don’t argue. You don’t have to take up every piece of advice (in fact, you shouldn’t), but if multiple readers are flagging a particular issue, that’s a sign you may need to work on that aspect of your story.