September 8, 2015
TRADE PAPERBACK - 1455583774 / 9781455583775
ELECTRONIC BOOK - 1455583766 / 9781455583768
In what passes for an ordinary day in a psych ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is stumped when a highly unusual case arrives. A young African American girl, found wandering the streets of Buffalo in a catatonic state, is brought in by police. No one has come forward to claim her, and all leads have been exhausted, so Zoe's treatment is the last hope to discover the girl's identity.
When drugs prove ineffective and medical science seems to be failing, Zoe takes matters into her own hands to track down Jane Doe's family and piece together their checkered history. As she unearths their secrets, she finds that monsters hide where they are least expected. And now she must solve the mystery before it is too late. Because someone wants to make sure this young girl never remembers.
CONVERSATION WITH SANDRA BLOCK
author of THE GIRL WITHOUT A NAME
(Grand Central Publishing; September 8, 2015)
1. The Girl Without a Name touches on alcoholism, drug abuse, anorexia and mental illness. Do you deal with these tough issues in your practice as a neurologist?
I'm a neurologist, not a psychiatrist, so I don't directly treat problems like depression or drug abuse. But, I do deal with these issues on a daily basis. Patients may have seizures every time they quit drinking, or neuropathy (peripheral nerve damage) or ataxia (unsteadiness) from years of alcohol abuse. Depression and anxiety also play a huge role in insomnia - on of my specialties as a sleep doctor. Most doctors, in every field, work with mental illness on some level.
2. What scares you as a writer, and why?
Reviews always fill me with a certain dread, and yet it's so hard not to read them. Nowadays, I'm kinder to myself though. I used to read bad reviews as a sort of tough love, but I'm not so masochistic anymore. It just isn't helpful in a field already sewn with self-doubt. I've come to accept that not everyone will love my books, and everyone has a right to an opinion. I try to focus on the positive reviews and emails I've received. If reading my book has given someone, somewhere, a sense of wonder, escape, or even joy for a few hours, then I've done my job.
3. What inspired your new character, Jane Doe?
The character came to me as first line, while I was on vacation. I had just finished Little Black Lies (the first Zoe Goldman novel) and scored an agent, so I was on a bit of a high. The line goes: "We call her Jane, because she can't tell us her name." Then Jane showed up in the hospital bed. I really couldn't shake the vision of the character, so I wrote her.
4. We have grown to know and love Dr. Zoe Goldman! What’s next for our favorite doctor?
Zoe is taking a bit of a break at the moment, getting ready for her Forensic Psychiatry fellowship. She does make a cameo in the Detective Adams novel I'm working on right now though. I also have a great case lined up for her next novel, but I'm afraid you'll just have to wait and see on that one...
5. You incorporate a lot of medical and criminal elements into your work. Do you research a topic before you write a plot or do you start writing your plotline and research as the story progresses?
I don't have to do much medical research, because I live it. But any research I carry out occurs in the midst of writing. I'm too impatient to take the time out beforehand. I like to launch right in. And I know that Google is only a click away.
6. When you hit a writing road block how do you force yourself to break through it?
I keep writing. That's the best answer. If you stop, you take the risk that your fear (which represents writing block to me) will become insurmountable. I also give myself a break. Taking a walk or a long shower often leads to a plot solution. I try to have faith that this will happen. And it usually does.
7. All of your secondary characters (Dr. Berringer, Jason, Zoe’s patients Zoe) are well developed. Is your process of creating them different from how you create a main character like Zoe?
Zoe is a voice more than anything. She has a body of course, but I can't visualize her very well. I hear her, more than see her. Side characters are more corporeal to me. I can see their clothes, their hair, the way they walk. That helps me make them real.
8. Which books have you re-read throughout your life?
I don't tend to re-read books. Maybe that sounds odd, but I truly value the act, the contemporaneous experience of reading a book, and re-reading it would break that spell somehow. Some of my favorite, most soul-enriching books over the years have been "For Love" by Sue Miller, "The Sportwriter" by Richard Ford, and "Ladder of Years" by Ann Tyler, "Amy and Isabel" by Elizabeth Strout, and "The Keep" by Jennifer Egan. That's just the tip of the iceberg of course.
9. The intersection of literature and neurology has given us so many great novels. Do you think the study of neurology lends itself to more in-depth characters and plot?
I think it helps plotting, especially mysteries. So much of neurology is solving puzzles. You backtrack from the symptoms through the history to the diagnosis. It's artful logic. Plotting a mystery is much the same.
10. What question do you wish people would ask about your work?
Would you do it over again? And the answer is: I don't know. The road to medicine was a long one. I am happy where I am now, but I honestly don't know if I could do it all over again.
11. What advice would you have for aspiring writers who are already established in another field?
Two things: read books on writing, and write. A good writing book can save you from heaps of beginner's mistakes. Writing is a passion, but it's also a trade. The more you read and write, the better you get.
12. There is quite a time jump from Little Black Lies to The Girl Without A Name. Did you have a reason for planning the timeline this way?
I envisioned it as about a year. I wanted to start after her mother's death, and after Zoe had experienced some failures, so she was a bit down and not at the top of her game. I also wanted there to have been forward progress already, so we end up in media res (as they say) of her life.
13. Identity plays a big part in both Little Black Lies and The Girl Without A Name, will that be a recurring theme in Zoe’s ongoing story?
Yes. I can't help it. Identity will always be there on some level. I am fascinated by self-identity. That's one thing about Zoe's ADHD. Her internal chatter distracts her, but also defines her in a way. Our identify is ever-evolving, and dependent just as much on how others see us, as how we see ourselves.
14. What is stranger--things you see in your day job or what happens in your novels?
Definitely my novels, I should hope! Though I do take everyday occurrences from my job and amplify them for my books. I'm not talking about main characters, but side patients are usually at least loosely based on cases I've seen.
15. How do you juggle being a doctor, writing, and having a family?
To me, writing is a passion and a hobby. Whereas, my job is my job. So, it's sort of like asking someone: how do you juggle knitting with everything else you do? I do it because I love it! Having said that, it does take time. I usually take 45 minutes in the morning before anyone is up to write, then steal time during the day (at a child's piano lesson, for instance.) Also, my husband "leans in," and helps greatly with childcare to allow me to be a writer and a doctor.
16. I noticed that Judaism plays a larger role in this book. Why do you think that is?
It's important to me that Zoe Goldman is Jewish. There aren't a whole lot of Reform Jewish mystery protagonists out there. There are other Jewish stories of course - those of immigrants, World War II, orthodox memoirs, for instance. They are all an important part of the Jewish literary canon. But, I wanted to show the world a character where Judaism is a strong part of her identity, but not the central theme.
In The Girl Without a Name, Zoe no longer has her mother to define Judaism for her and has to find that meaning for herself now. The Jewish theme of "tikun olam" or fixing the world, also has great significance in the novel. Zoe tries to fix the world by helping her patients, but she also has to learn to fix herself.