Get Lost in a Story is one of my favorite blogs, so I’m always excited when they let me visit. Donnell Bell interviewed me–and I think we both had fun with it!
DONNELL: Cathy, I’m so excited to have you here. Welcome back!
Now I have to share, Cathy was my roomie at Left Coast Crime, so I know she knows something about Greenville, SC. But she also lives in the Pacific Northwest. So, I’m going to put her on the spot—which place is your favorite?
CATHY: Oh that’s not fair Donnell – I love both places!
I grew up in the Greenville area and still have family there, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. Greenville sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and has thousands of trees and lush gardens that are very different from my current home. Although Seattle, aka Emerald City, is also known for its fantastic greenery, we’re in the process of building up in the Cascade Mountains, which has its own enormous evergreens and cottonwoods.
The biggest difference between the two areas is, of course, cultural. The South has managed to hang onto its outgoing charm, while Seattle-ites are more likely to wear earbuds and a hooded rain jacket and avoid eye-contact.
DONNELL: Cypher, it’s the name of a company. Tell us about it, and how it ties into the story, and why it should be the title.
CATHY: Cypher is the name of the Wainwright family business, a company her father built and devoted his life to nurturing. Cara, the heroine, at times refers to it as “the la-la land of Secret Military Stuff.”
Here’s a short description from her point of view:
Frontage Road paralleled the Interstate, providing access to the businesses lining the highway. Moments later, [Cara] turned at the discreet sign marking Cypher’s entrance. Densely planted arborvitaes hid the tall fence and razor wire surrounding the grounds, but she knew what the trees concealed.
A landscaped drive curved toward the main building. Up-lighting hidden amid the birches enhanced the white bark, converting the trees to sculptural elements. This was the part of Cypher people were supposed to notice. From this perspective, the company appeared tranquil and prosperous. Very few people knew the company made guidance components for missiles and military aircraft.
Cypher is at the center of the mystery, but its connections and secrets are as hidden as the buildings in the excerpt. The company provides a tangible symbol of the family relationships and dynamics, which are a key component in the story. Convinced her father knows more than he’s telling, Cara pushes from the inside—both within the family and the business—for answers. Stonewalled by both Cara’s father and other Cypher executives, Detective David Morris pulls on the external forensic evidence. Unsure whether they can trust each other, Cara and David have to join forces to get to the truth and stop the murders.
DONNELL: How is Cathy Perkins like Cara Wainwright, and in what way is she different?
CATHY: Cara and I are both Southern women, but over the course of the story, Cara becomes much more outspoken in confronting her father and determined to find the truth. I love seeing this resolute determination in today’s young women!
DONNELL: What’s the most attractive thing about David? What’s his major character flaw?
CATHY: The most attractive thing about David is his intelligence and refusal to take the easy way out, but he’s generally “gone along to get along.”
I think this short excerpt captures his character:
Morris understood pressure. His parents wanted him to live their dream and run the family business. As a detective, pressure came in all shapes and forms. But the force he felt working on him now surpassed anything he’d experienced before—massive demands grinding as inexorably as continental plates. That kind of pressure changed rocks, turned carbon into diamond.
In his mind, he saw Cara crossing the lobby of the sheriff’s department, with no idea she had the undivided attention of every male in the room, earnestly holding her list of names, trying to help. He saw the stubborn set of her jaw before she admitted talking to the investment guy. He felt her passionate response to his body during sex; heard her voice, warm and intimate, talking about her mother, confiding her fears. He remembered the expression on her face when she opened the lake house door—all lit up, excited to see him. Then the slow fade when she saw his anger. The final vision ground into him: Cara’s limp body in a pool of blood and glass.
Those images kept building up. He had to decide where to go with them—whether the pressure would crush him or turn him into a diamond.
He’d do his job for the other three victims.
For Cara, he’d push all the limits.
DONNELL: What would you label this story? Mystery or suspense? And what was the most interesting thing you learned while researching this story?
CATHY: I think everyone has their own definition of the two genres, but I see CYPHER as more suspense than mystery. While both genres draw on the characters as much as the plot, in a mystery, if the hero and heroine stop pushing, then the villain gets away and the action stops. With a suspense, even if the protagonist stops, the villain(s) will still keep coming after them. In CYPHER, Cara and David have to figure out the mystery surrounding the company and the family because the assassin isn’t going to stop if they give up.
On the research side, I learned a tremendous amount about Triads and Tongs, and even read the FBI white paper that Detective Morris reads in the story. The Asian organized crime is scary because they’re very smart and decentralized, making it even harder for law enforcement to infiltrate.
DONNELL: When you’re not writing, where will we find you?
CATHY: I’m still working at a financial day job but we’re also in the process of moving to our place in the mountains. I shared our latest challenge–moving a 100-year old barn—last week on our group blog, Not Your Usual Suspects.
DONNELL: What comes next for Cathy Perkins?
CATHY: I’m working on a lighter story right now, set in the Cascades instead of South Carolina. The starting point for it occurred while cutting up with a friend. We riffed off the opening line—there’s a body in the beaver pond. Oh, dam(n).
Note to readers: Cathy and I brainstormed a bit of the dam(n) story; you’re in for a real treat. Cathy, now it’s your turn. Time to ask the reader a question.
CATHY PERKINS WANTS TO KNOW: Have you ever found yourself thinking about a character – after the story is finished? What makes you think about them? The character themselves or the situation he or she was in?
Thanks for letting me visit today, Donnell. This has been a lot of fun.
Our pleasure. Good luck with Cypher!
Originally posted here