In You Will Know Me (Little, Brown, July), Abbott, author of seven previous novels including the 2008 Edgar Award–winner Queenpin, focuses on the hypercompetitive world of gymnastics.
Puberty plays a big role in many of your books. What is it about that time that makes it an ideal backdrop for psychological suspense?
It’s a moment of transformation for everybody. There’s something monstrous about puberty for boys and girls, and for parents of adolescents. Your child’s body changes. It’s almost like a horror movie. That’s a terrible analogy, but these changes happen quickly. And it’s the moment we build our identity, when we break off from our parents and we start to figure out who we are. So it feels like a roiling spot for trouble and mayhem, and general drama.
Your other contemporary thrillers focus on teenage protagonists. You Will Know Me focuses on the mother. Why did you make that decision?
I’m fascinated by parents of exceptional children. It was originally from seeing the Olympics and that viral footage of Aly Raisman’s parents watching her routine. They were so invested, and you felt their anxiety, and their obsession. I read Andrew Solomon’s book about exceptional children [Far from the Tree, Scribner, 2012]—children with disabilities, prodigies—and I became interested in what that does to power in the family.
Interesting that you bring up disabilities, since the gymnast in your novel has a mangled foot because of a lawn mower accident.
There was this big ice skater [Elaine Zayak] in the ’80s, and it happened to her foot when she was a kid. Her parents got her into ice skating because of that disability. I thought [an injury in You Will Know Me] would add a lot of tension and give the parents this guilt that would drive them—another reason to devote themselves so intently.
How do you keep the psychological and narrative puzzle pieces organized so you don’t write yourself into a hole?
That’s the hardest part for me. I don’t have a very logical brain. [Mystery] readers are more interested in psychology, so I start with character arcs. In this case, I knew the family arc’s beginning, middle, and end. I knew what I wanted the last scene to be. Luckily, when you have a crime novel, you have these procedural beats that need to happen. Those become a map, especially if you’re writing from the point of view of the people trying to hide the thing.
Do you write the end first?
I can’t start until I know how it’s going to end. Sometimes it’s very clear, like a scene. I know who did it, but not how it’s going to unfold. I’ve made changes occasionally. In Dare Me, I changed it drastically in the last third. I ended up liking a character I was going to kill, so I had to keep her alive. Sometimes characters assert themselves, and you can’t let them go.