In 2002, I’d sold a bunch of books, ranging from a ghost story (Darkscope, my first book) to suspense books to historical romance.
But I was starting to read the authors who did so much more with their books, and these books were in crime fiction and police procedural.
Their excellent work encouraged me to raise my game. I knew that I wanted to write books like that, and decided to write a police procedural. I called a friend of mine, former Tucson Police Department officer John Cheek—one of the smartest people I know. John introduced me to a friend of his who was on a TPD task force focused on Internet predators.
They sat me down and told me how important they thought it was that I could spread the word about the danger to kids on the Internet. I felt a bit queasy—it was not a subject I wanted to think about. Now this was 2002, and the Internet was very different thing from the way it is now. Now, it’s probably ten to fifteen times as dangerous for kids.
I thought about it. A story started to form. Maybe this would raise my game. They would give me all the help I’d need. It was important to them. And then it became important to me.
I started the book in one of my favorite places: Bisbee, Arizona. I looked and looked for a title and then one day I heard a passing reference to Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was the perfect title for this book.
And so I worked my way through it. I needed a detective, which was how I found my character Laura Cardinal. My friends suggested I put her not with the TPD, but make her a detective with the Arizona Department of Public Safety—the state police. One reason for this: she would have to deal with more adversity. The DPS can send their detectives anywhere in the state to “assist” local authorities who don’t have the resources themselves. And so Laura Cardinal hotfooted it down to Bisbee, Arizona.
A dead girl had been found propped up in the city park bandshell, dressed like a little girl instead of the teenager she was. And Laura had to find the killer before he killed again.
It was a hard book to write. I knew I had to walk a line. I had to stick to the truth and to the danger of these terrible things, but at the same time, I did not want to write such a horrible story people would be turned off—and rightfully so.
I think I was able to thread that needle. In 2004, Darkness on the Edge of Town was nominated for the Daphne Du Maurier Award.
That book changed a lot for me. I became a much better writer as I wrote it. Books are like children. You write them at a certain time in your life, and whatever is going on goes into the Salad Shooter that is a writer’s brain. You love all your children, but you relate to some more than others. I definitely played favorites. Darkness on the Edge of Town was my first big favorite. I believe it is because it moved me up as a writer. And because, despite the difficulties, it was a joy to write.