Debut Author Spotlight: Joanna Schaffhausen
Something about the cold winter months that makes us want to cuddle up with a thriller. Which is why were so excited to discover the amazing RT Top Pick! review for Joanna Schaffhausen's The Vanishing Season. It's the story of police officer Ellery Hathaway, who's convinced there's a serial killer on the loose in her small Boston town — and as the near victim of such a killer, she has first-hand experience. We wanted to know all about the book, and Joanna!
Name: Joanna Schaffhausen
Book: The Vanishing Season
Series: Ellery Hathaway mysteries
Current Home: Boston, MA
Author Idol: Fredrik Backman
Favorite Word: Vellichor—the strange wistfulness of used bookshops
Was this the first full-length novel you ever wrote?
Ha ha ha! No, it was my twenty-third. It was the first one I submitted for publication, however.
Tell us about your day job.
I edit scientific articles on potential new drugs for human diseases—everything from attention deficit disorder and Alzheimer’s disease to cancer and diabetes. Every day brings a different topic, and I get to interact with leading scientists in the field, including some Nobel Prize winners. I love that I learn something new from each manuscript.
In your opinion, what is the most interesting recent scientific discovery?
The CRISPR/Cas9 system for gene editing because it opens up an astounding range of possibilities. The technique takes advantage of a method that bacteria use to edit DNA. They have enzymes that will go slice DNA precisely, and what scientists have done is to tell the enzymes where to cut. Not only is CRISPR/Cas9 teaching us a ton about how genetics works, it raises the possibility of editing human genes to remove disease.
You also worked in TV news. Tell us your best anecdote!
Most of my work was in the area of science and medicine. We advised the programs on what to cover and how to make the stories accurate. Good Morning America ran a segment once about how heart attack symptoms in women differ from those in men, and a woman wrote us afterward to say she saw the program and realized she was having a heart attack! She sought medical attention right away and the timely segment may have saved her life.
How did you start writing?
In third grade we had a weekly creative writing assignment in which the teacher would give us the first sentence and we had to make up the rest of the story. Most kids wrote a paragraph or two; I think my record was twenty pages. I fell in love with storytelling and have not stopped scribbling since.
What was it like when you got "The Call"?
I was fortunate enough to win the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel contest — but I certainly did not expect to! I had a whole future planned out for what happened when the deadline passed with no telephone call from NYC. Then one day I was home sick with a high fever when my cell phone buzzed from my nightstand. I almost didn’t answer but then I saw the 212 area code. Publishing Director Kelley Ragland kindly let me know that I had won, I’m fairly sure that I spent the rest of the afternoon flailing around under the covers in glee. It has been like hitting the literary lottery.
Were you inspired by any real-life cases when writing The Vanishing Season?
I take inspiration from many true-crime stories, but this particular tale was inspired by books I read on Ted Bundy. It’s not so much Ted himself or the details of his case that moved me (although they are completely compelling) but the idea of all the ordinary men and women who had their lives utterly altered by this one man. Bundy is dead but he’s left behind surviving victims, investigators, friends and family—all of whom have to carry on under his far-reaching shadow. I began musing on what it would be like to have your life hijacked by someone else’s infamous story.
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