Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Blind Hero Wins the Day in Mystery Series

Debut author risks writing a hero with a disability.

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A very unusual protagonist (he's gone suddenly blind) lights up an intelligent, risk-taking dark mystery, Dante's Wood, by ex-lawyer Lynne Raimondo. 

Psychiatrist Mark Angelotti, adapting to his blindness, takes on the case of a mentally handicapped teenager accused of murder, after the teen has already confessed to police. Using sophisticated psychological sleuthing skills and large dollops of compassion, Angelotti works through a batch of possible scenarios so that justice may eventually prevail.

Dante's Wood, A Mark Angelotti Novel is former lawyer Lynne Raimondo's debut effort, and it's a compelling one. Character and brains, as well as modern forensic science, win the day. Each time I thought I had guessed the culprit, I was wrong. Raimondo is currently working on the next Mark Angelotti novel.

The Lynne Raimondo Q & A:

Q: You had to know you were taking a chance having your main character be blind, considering how nervous many of us are around any kind of disability. You made him and his travails and adjustment seem quite realistic. Can you share what gave you that idea in the first place? And why you intend to donate a portion of your proceeds to the International Foundation for Optic Nerve Disease

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That’s a very perceptive question. Yes, I knew I was taking a chance, and I think several agents turned down the book because of that discomfort. Without giving too much away, I wanted my protagonist to have a physical problem that a mental health professional might reasonably believe was symptomatic of a conversion disorder. I settled on blindness partly because it’s so common in the literature, and partly because, after doing some research, I began to share the dismay many members of the blind community feel about how they are portrayed in popular culture. I hoped to blow up a few stereotypes and get readers to think a little differently about the next blind person they meet.

IFOND is an organization that sponsors research into optic nerve diseases, including Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), the disorder I saddled my character with. After exploiting LHON for my own purposes, I thought it only fair to support their efforts to find a cure for this sudden and life-altering disease.

Q: Why write about a psychiatrist/detective rather than a lawyer, for example?

As an aspiring author, you always hear the advice "write what you know" but for me the best part of writing is leaving my comfort zone and trying to get "inside" other people’s heads. I was also wary of putting too much of myself in the novel. I’ve always been fascinated with psychiatry and the way it intersects with our legal system, and thought it would be fun to write a mystery series from the perspective of someone with a different professional background, a newcomer to the system who undergoes a baptism by fire when he is called to testify in a high-stakes case and thereafter finds himself drawn to courtroom work.

Q: What was your creative process like for this first novel, and what, if anything, are you doing differently in the writing of the next one? Did it flow more then or now? How do you keep track of plot points?

It’s funny you should ask, because I’m in the middle of reading Dorothea Brande’s classic work, Becoming a Writer, which offers a lot of good advice on how to achieve a flow state and sustain it for the length of time it takes to complete a novel. Brande recommends writing first thing in the morning, but I usually need an hour or so of procrastination before I can get down to work. Most days, I take a walk or work out at the gym, and some of my best ideas have come out of that quiet time.

The novel I am writing now – the second in the Mark Angelotti series – was a slower start than the first. I had to get over some sophomore stage fright and resolve a plot point that was giving me trouble. I like to start a novel without too much planning, but midway through an outline becomes absolutely necessary to keep all the characters and developments straight.

Q: I've always admired the work of Prometheus Books, so I'm not surprised they are doing such a good job with their brand-new imprint Seventh Street Books. Did you or your agent have a number of rejections before the manuscript found this good home? How long was the process from first draft to final draft to acceptance by the publisher? 

Actually, the hardest part was finding an agent! I wrote the first draft of Dante’s Wood in about eight months, finishing it up just before the financial crisis hit in 2008. It didn’t seem like a good time to be contacting agents, so I took some time off. I started querying in earnest in 2009. It took almost another year to find an agent and a year after that for Seventh Street to pick it up. Of the publishers who rejected it, most cited market reasons or the absence of enough dead bodies!

Q: Did you ever have doubts about whether or not you should be tackling so many sensitive topics in your first book? Did you at any point revise some of the frankness out of the story?

I certainly did. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was another reason it took me so long to find an agent. But no, I didn’t hold anything back. People who know me well will tell you I don’t shy away from controversy. If anything, I go too far in the other direction. But I do think an author who writes about sensitive topics needs to avoid the appearance of bias, especially in fiction. People come from all different backgrounds and no one reading for purely for pleasure wants to be bashed over the head with an author’s politics. In Dante’s Wood I tried to keep the presentation neutral, though I may not have always succeeded.

Copyright (2013) by Susan K. Perry
Follow me on Twitter @bunnyape

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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