Heaberlin’s crime novel We Are All the Same in the Dark (Ballantine, Aug.) features a young female deputy who has lost a leg and a teenage girl who’s missing an eye.
What inspired this novel?
I begin each novel the same, with a small, persistent visual in my head. I was haunted by a young girl, mute, one eye missing, blowing dandelions on the side of a Texas road. Always the journalist, I needed to research. Later, I sat across from a beautiful Instagram model in an Austin restaurant. She had lost her eye in a fireworks accident at age nine. Her prosthetic eye is a perfect match to the other. She’s kept it secret from most people in her life for a reason. She chooses not to be defined by it. She told me about the moment in the hospital right after the accident when she saw two things in a mirror. A black hole where her eye used to be, and a nurse whose face indicated she was the most horrible thing the nurse had ever seen. Even at age nine, she wondered, “What am I now?” I think the book began in earnest when she said those four words to me.
Neither of your main characters consider themselves to be disabled.
Most people who wear prosthetics don’t think of themselves as disabled or handicapped. They’re often stronger and in better shape than many of us who have all of our limbs. Every heroine I create has missing pieces, and these two women are no different, it’s just that some of their missing pieces are physical. They aren’t defined by this fact—it’s simply one aspect of their characters.
How does Texas inform your novels?
I can both love and hate Texas, depending on the heat of the sun and the nature of the insanity. It’s a moody main character in each of my novels, and a perfect setting for a thriller. I grew up in a small Texas town with a spooky mansion looming over it. I’ve explored many of the state’s darkest corners. Its landscape and people are beautiful, intelligent, political, diverse, crazy, ominous, big in every way. I try to widen the worldview of it, to expose its flaws and to defend its virtues. The inspiration for characters is infinite.
Your two leads are both survivors and victims. Why?
I’m bothered by books, movies, and TV shows that use female victims as props—sexually, violently, graphically. The killer is secondary in my books, sometimes invisible until the end because he doesn’t deserve more space. I set the stage for women who are both the victims and heroes of their own stories. They’re flawed and struggling, but always badass and seeking a redemptive goal the reader can get behind.