A good cop faces criminal charges for a fatal shooting in John Hart’s Redemption Road.

What inspired your plot?

It began as a modern take on The Count of Monte Cristo and slowly morphed into something else. A secondary character caught my eye, and her story was more compelling than the exploration of a good man wrongly imprisoned. She started small in my mind, but grew into this character that was complex and wounded and utterly self-aware. Those are fundamental ingredients for a compelling protagonist, and so the story became hers.

What did you learn from scrapping the first draft and starting over?

Every other novel began with a clear picture of my protagonist, and from that simple beginning came the plot. I wrote the first word of Redemption Road without that fundamental understanding and continued on until I had 300 pages of what became a failed novel. Only then did I realize the true significance of character versus plot. For me, it must begin with the people—with what drives them, what they value, and how far they’ll go to protect it. Writing a novel without that foundation is like building a house on quicksand. I chose the wrong person’s story to tell. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the significance of the mistake until I’d spent a year trying to make the novel work. The harder I pushed, though, the more it fought me. The story lacked resonance. It felt familiar, tired. Throwing out 300 pages to start over was equal parts agony and release.

What was writing a female protagonist like?

I was terrified, and I loved every minute of it. She’s damaged and dark and, in the end, believable. To me, that’s the most important thing. Detective Elizabeth Black suffered young, and carried the scars into adulthood. I have no experience with the type of trauma she endured, and can only speculate as to the psychological damage it caused. Add in family dysfunction, abandoned religion, and a failed suicide attempt, and the risks of getting it wrong only multiply. This woman is driven and empathetic, yet capable of hurt and self-delusion and exceptional violence. That’s a lot of conflict for a woman who still carries, at her core, the fragilities of childhood. I wanted to get it just right.

Do your books share any themes?

If there’s a common thread to my books, it’s the search for light in dark places, the discovery through hardship of those qualities that make human beings exceptional, things like selflessness and hope, courage and love and family, even if that, too, is broken. I’ve been accused of writing dark stories, but that’s an unfair assessment. I put people through hell so they might find a bright, warm spark in all that blackness.