I want to believe that life is more than just what we live here on Earth, that our love
for one another never dies, even when the memory of our deep bond is dim.
Lisa Malice, Lest She Forget, Kindle Loc. 2883
It’s hard to define this book. It’s surely is a mystery, but then, we know the bad guy or at least one of them, so it’s also a suspense. There is also a romantic element—one sweet and one sour that comes into play. This is a hard plot to pin down—it keeps the reader wondering—and there’s a big twist. No spoilers here! So—Read this book, come back to WWK, and let us know what you think!
Welcome to the flip side of WWK, Lisa. E. B. Davis
Your education is in psychology. Did you ever practice and work with patients suffering from amnesia?
My area of specialty is organizational psychology, which applies the principles of psychology to the design and implementation of program and services that focus on the human factor as a key element of any organization—personnel selection, performance and training systems, team-building, and such. A Ph.D. in psychology requires a broad-base understanding of the field, so the task of researching amnesia, understanding its causes, behavioral and cognitive profile, and treatments was an easy task for me.
At the same time, I took a bit of liberty with the profile of a dissociative fugue sufferer. They usually recover their identity and past memories all at once with no memory of what happened during their fugue episode. This happens a lot in fictionalizing this form of amnesia. The Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum is a prime example of straying a bit from the actual profile of the disorder. The main character, a CIA assassin whose name is not Jason Bourne, is left dazed, confused, stumbling around and wandering from a traumatic experience—failing to kill a target because the man’s young children were nearby watching as “Jason” put a gun to their father’s head.
How did this story develop from its inception?
I was at the gym, watching TV while pumping away on the elliptical machine, when an ad appeared on the screen that sparked a series of “what-if” questions. Each answer led me to another question until I had the bones of a thriller in my head. As my first book, I followed a similar path in writing, one idea leading to another until I typed “The End.”
That first draft was a mess, and I spent the next few years editing until I thought the manuscript was ready for the big time. My queries received a lot of interest from agents and acquisitions editors, but the rejections told me I had more work to do.
One editor referred me to a wonderful developmental editor, Anne Brewer. I paid for a critique to start, then dug deep into my pockets for a full developmental edit. Anne, who had worked for St. Martin’s Press and Crooked Lane, was very happy and impressed with my revisions. It was fun and helped me be a better writer! (The first draft of my second novel, Rock-A-Bye Baby, is proof that going through the developmental edit process greatly improved my storytelling skills—it received finalist honors for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award in 2020, a competition for unpublished manuscripts.)
Within a few a few months, I had an agent. One acquisitions editor suggested I revised the first two chapters (see response to next question). Two offers came in after that revision. I signed with CamCat and started the final editing process with Helga Schier, CamCat’s fabulous editor-in-chief, tweaking the characters and the plot of Lest She Forget until the story was the best it could be.
When we first meet the main character (MC), readers don’t know who she is, but they do know she is feeling guilty for two deaths that she isn’t directly responsible for, but she thinks she might have prevented. She’s driving on the run, the reader presumes, from the killer. How did you decide on what pre-amnesia “facts” to give to the reader?
As a psychological thriller, this story needed to wow the reader from the start with suspense and thrills. My early drafts actually opened with Kay (the name on my MC’s medical chart that she doesn’t quite believe is hers) undergoing hypnosis to help her remember her name and past. But all she saw was a short vague scene that gave away little backstory to how she ended up in a rehab facility with no identity, a battered face, and no memory of her past.
Feedback from an editor my agent had queried suggested I actually open with this scene live, as Kay is living it. It allowed me to add in more psychological triggers to her thoughts and emotions—even wish she could forget everything—and ramp up the action and danger. It also offered me a way to introduce two key characters to the story without giving too much away about their identities and roles. The whole chapter oozed mystery, suspense and thrills, just as a psych thriller should. That revised opening chapter allowed me to write a second chapter with Kay waking up from her coma, which again, added more suspense to the story. These changes to my manuscript did the trick. After two years of querying, I received two publishing offers.
What compels the MC to research her case in rehab, the second facility since her accident, where she wakes up? I’d think most people would want to rest and convalesce after a car crash.
Kay’s physical injuries are minor, but her psychological ones are not. Her sleep is haunted by terrifying nightmares, her waking hours plagued with horrific flashbacks. Furthermore, Kay is restless from her diagnosis, one that leaves Kay attributing her amnesia to her own weaknesses and failures. For these reasons, Kay is eager to get to the truth of why she is running from herself and her past.
Why did you decide to show the reader the villain’s POV? Would the MC have looked paranoid without this evil POV?
I agree that Kay would come across as a bit off her rocker without Felix Jager’s POV, but his perspective is a key element to building mystery, thrills, and suspense throughout the book. We know he’s out there from the very first scene, and in his first POV chapter, we learn of his military background, how he approached that job, the skills he took with him after being drummed out of the service. The reader learns this hired killer is ruthless and intelligent, but not as smart as he thinks he is, and more importantly, not as smart as he thinks others are stupid. It’s a profile of a dangerous narcissist that makes this hitman formidable foe, though one with flaws that open him up to defeat by the heroine. Felix’s scenes give way to more action, more suspense, and more mystery to the ultimate villain—the man who gave our hitman that order to kill Kay at all costs.
Felix’s scenes also add suspense to Kay’s scenes, keeping us rooting for her to uncover the truth, as she continues to speculate erroneously on the horrors behind her nightmares, flashbacks, emerging memories, and the man shadowing her every move.
A voice inside the MC’s head keeps telling her to, “Keep hiding,” which she believes and abides by. Does she think that voice is her true self warning her?
Anyone in Kay’s position—no memory of herself, her past, no understanding of the visions and nightmares haunting her—might think she’d lost her mind and was hearing voices. But given her diagnosis, that she’s running and hiding from the traumas in her life, Kay suspects this message is her own buried voice, struggling to speak. Later in the book, when Kay experiences another vision, she is not so sure the message is her own that, perhaps, it’s a warning from someone who didn’t heed the words—a murdered woman with whom she had a close relationship.
The psychiatrist gives good advice, and yet, she thinks conventionally like the MC’s lockdown is due to an abusive partner. She’s helpful and yet she’s also ineffectual. What is psychogenic amnesia compared to other types? What is “lockdown?”
Dissociative fugue, as psychogenic amnesia is more formally known, is characterized by a complete mental break from one’s identity and past, often after experiencing prolonged PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome) or an episode of severe psychological trauma. The sufferer will wander away, dazed, and confused without any memories to ground him or her. In a very release sense, they have buried who they are and what they remember about themselves, locked down, so to speak, until suddenly, everything comes rushing back—their names and memories. When (and if) they pull out of it, these people will not have any recollection of what they did and who they met while in their fugue state.
The Grand Dame of Mystery, Agatha Christie, apparently suffered a dissociative fugue episode. Unable to cope with the death of her mother and her husband’s request for a divorce, the 32-year-old author left home, then abandoned her car some miles away. She was later seen wandering along a road, thinly dressed for the December night, looking dazed and confused. She was found safe two weeks later but could not recall how she ended up at a seaside hotel or what she had done during the two weeks she had gone missing.
The psychiatrist does tell her to explore how she feels about things, not just what she knows about things. Is that the information she uses to trust?
Dissociative fugue involves the inability to recall explicit long-term and episodic memories, including our name, autobiographical information, and the events of our past. What is generally not affected is our semantic memories (general and bits of information that we have absorbed over the years) and implicit long-term memories, those that we form unconsciously that affect the way we think and behave. Sensory memories from sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell may be included here. The doctor’s advice, then, is intended to help Kay learn about herself from noticing what she has NOT forgotten, as well as the emotions connected to those memories. These memories could serve as triggers for Kay to spontaneously recover identity and past, as is often the case with people experiencing a dissociative fugue episode.
Once the MC makes contact with representatives of the receiving hospital, the first facility she was in after the accident, she finds that at least one other person is making the same inquiries that she is. What did that tell her?
Kay is on the run from a traumatic event in her past, one she fears is linked to the murder of a young woman. Whether that scenario is her reality, or more closely tied to an abusive husband or partner (as her psychiatrist interprets Kay’s nightmares), Kay realizes she needs to be wary of anyone who may be trying to track her down. It puts the pressure on Kay to remember who she is and why she fled her life before her past—and this shadowy character, who she may be running from—catches up with her.
Is PTSD always associated with amnesia? What part does it play?
PTSD is a key element of dissociative fugue, as psychological trauma is the trigger for that form of retrograde amnesia (the inability to remember the past). However, there are other forms of amnesia that have no basis in psychological trauma. Both retrograde and anterograde amnesia (the latter involving the inability to form new memories) are more commonly caused by injury, disease, or substance abuse. Many a fictional amnesiac has trouble with recalling the past or making new memories owing to a severe blow to the head, a tumor in the brain, progressive dementia, or alcohol/drug-induced blackouts.
Nick Costa starts out as the MC’s roommate’s friend. His story doesn’t ring true, and he doesn’t act toward the MC as a stranger. She distrusts him and thinks he’s playing games with her. Then, she thinks he’s a journalist out for a story. Why doesn’t she have him blocked from the hospital?
From the moment Nick and Kay meet after she wakes from her coma, she feels a connection to him, one she does not fully understand. Part of her is attracted to the Nick, his friendly attentions, his caring nature, and of course, his rugged handsomeness. At the same time, she is wary of Nick and his efforts to coax her memory into the open. Is Nick someone from her past, or does he simply remind her of someone she has forgotten? Every time Kay starts to question Nick’s intentions, he finds some way to explain away her suspicions.
She finds out that she likes well-fitting designer clothing, that she is educated and trained in classical music, knows French, and her palate is sophisticated. But she also finds out that the police think that she might be one half of a crime partnership that was on the run. Why is their theory plausible but not believable to the MC?
There is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kay may be part of a criminal enterprise, perhaps one involving murder. Her nightmares, her flashbacks, even the police sergeant investigating her car accident all point in that direction. She has a hard time accepting this analysis of her life because she doesn’t want it to be true. Her analysis of every possible scenario surrounding this theory yields inconsistencies and flaws. For example, if Kay really was hardened criminal, perhaps even an accessory to murder, she wouldn’t be so horrified by her deadly nightmares.
What are you currently writing?
I have so many ideas percolating inside my brain. One is the story of a lymphoma patient, suffering from bizarre hallucinations from the tumor growing in her head, who believes she has witnessed the murder of another patient down the hall. Another story gnawing at me is about a young woman, a forensic psychology student at a small college town, who comes to fear her own father may be the serial strangler taking the lives of her classmates.
For now, I’m finishing up the story of a young woman (Evie), a resident of small town in northeastern Georgia, who arrives home late one night from a paralegal conference and discovers a dead woman in her office. The eerie resemblance between Evie and the apparent murder victim raises a frightening question: Who was the intended target, this unknown woman or Evie? As sirens wail in the distance, she is unsure who she can trust—the baseball cap found at the scene suggests the killer might be connected to the county sheriff’s office. The plot involves decades-old crimes centered on a local doctor and an under-the-radar illegal adoption ring.