Dark Places started from a single image: a tiny Kansas farmhouse with a slaughtered family inside. Kansas is the country of Capote’s In Cold Blood; I grew up in Kansas, spent half my life driving through its vast, flat landscape, wheat and corn on all sides. Kansas can feel wholesome one moment and quite ominous, almost alien the next: To see for miles and yet not have the eye catch on anything. So I set the murders in a blizzard in the first days of 1985—the height of the Kansas farm bust, a devastating time in the American Midwest.

Then came the devil worship! Again, the reason is personal: I was a frizz-haired, heavy-metal-loving, cheap-beer-swilling teen. (Favorite song? Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills.” Or is it Slayer’s “Antichrist”? Let’s just say my iPod is not for everyone). I grew up in the ’80s at the height of the “Satanic Panic,” when anyone who listened to metal or played with a Ouija board was slightly suspect. That witch-hunt atmosphere has always haunted me—scores of people really did go to trial, guilty of little more than a fondness for scary music and some stray suspicions.

From there it came together: A Kansas farmhouse in which a mother and two children are massacred; the teenage son who gets blamed for the murders because he knows a few Slayer lyrics…and the youngest daughter who escapes, testifies against her brother, and grows up aimless and angry. I am ridiculously attached to Libby Day, my main character, who follows in my tradition of difficult, dark females. I always wanted to open a book with a woman who was troubled enough and brave enough to proclaim: “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” How can you not like someone that rotten?

Dark Places is published by Orion

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