Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


There was a beautiful girl on my bus today. She was quite young, probably only sixteen or seventeen–eighteen at the most. She certainly made a statement, in spite of being a tiny little thing. Her waist-long black hair was streaked with crimson, and she wore a rocker tank with the skinniest of skinny jeans and a studded belt. She had great style. Both arms were mostly concealed by a rainbow of thin rubber bracelets in every conceivable color. I smiled when I saw the bracelets, because they reminded me of my own childhood, when Madonna was just beginning to make her mark on the music scene and everyone wanted to emulate her style. (Wonder if this is how my parents felt when they saw all the kids wearing bell bottoms and tunics again?) My smile vanished when the bracelets slid down her arms to reveal dozens and dozens of scars. Some were faded into a falsely innocent white, others newly red and inflamed, but I recognized them all for what they were: the telltale signs of a cutter.

Cutters, or self-mutilators, are people who slice through their own skin deliberately, repeatedly. It’s commonly regarded in the therapy world as a cry for help. Cutters are thought to ease intense emotional pain by inflicting physical pain on themselves–it’s as if taking a razor blade to their own skin takes them away from what’s going on inside. It also declares to the rest of the world, “hey, something’s wrong here! I’m not fine, even if I look like I am!”

I once wrote a feature story about self-abuse for a local paper. I interviewed women who still harmed themselves and who didn’t feel like they’d ever be able to stop–they were literally addicted to the pain–as well as women who had found a way to heal and move on. There was one striking similarity shared by all the people I spoke to, besides the obvious: a complete and utter lack of self-worth. I’m not talking about having ugly days, or fat days, or being too hard on yourself. These women believed they were absolutely no good to anyone, including themselves–that the world would be a better place if they just gave up and died.

Someone could easily have seen my Bus Girl and gotten the wrong impression. She was so beautiful and had such great style. She seemed like the kind of person who would be a lot of fun, probably has a ton of friends. So she smiles and she laughs and then she goes home at night and takes a razor to her skin, slicing open wounds that will always leave their mark. I wanted to give her a hug. Like Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty, “I wanted to tell her things would get better, but I didn’t want to lie to her.”

I’ve had a really tough week. Lately I’ve felt that life is kicking my ass. But then I see Bus Girl, who reminds me that I have no clue what that kind of pain really feels like…at least, not anymore. So I resolve to pick myself up, dust myself off, and remind myself of all the reasons that life is still worth living.

Making the Cut, Day Ten: I’m not going to lie–stress got the best of me, so I dangled one foot off the wagon. Last night, I ate a small bag of microwave popcorn, an apricot, and some of my dad’s dry garlic ribs. Today I skipped the workout and ate a bowl of popcorn. I’ll get back on track tomorrow, and will also extend the plan by a week, since I’m taking my birthday weekend off.
To bed at: Fell asleep on couch. Woke up at 3:25 a.m. and staggered to bed.
Awake at: 7:30 a.m.
Novel pages written: Three and a quarter. Starting to get excited about the story again, finally!

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