Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker is a psychological thriller about two sisters. This dysfunctional family adds a whole new meaning to this word.
Judy Martin always used her beauty and charm to manipulate her family, requiring her daughters to flatter her to win her affection. Threatening her fragile ego are her daughters’ looks. Now the family’s life has been in limbo since the two daughters have been missing for three years. Cass, then 15, and her 17-year-old sister Emma disappeared in the night. Only one sister resurfaces randomly, with an outlandish story and a plea to help find her sister. According to Cass a couple took them from a Connecticut beach on Long Island Sound to a remote island off the coast of Maine. The couple kept the sisters’ captive and after finding out Emma was pregnant, took the baby away from her. Assigned to investigate the disappearance three years ago are FBI forensic psychologist Abby Winter, who also grew up with a narcissistic mother, and her partner Agent Leo Strauss. Upon Cass’ return, Winter and Strauss must try to coax out of her details necessary to find Emma. Abby Winter and her male partner are desperate to find out what happened and to find Emma before it’s too late.
This narcissistic personality disorder, the kinds of chronic behaviors exhibited by Judy (who Cass, tellingly, thinks of only as Mrs. Martin) damage relationships, pit sisters against one another, and result in nearly unimaginable levels of family dysfunction and betrayal.
By exploring narcissism Wendy Walker delved into the intricacies of family and community and the secrets and lies that surround it. There are many twists and surprises, especially the ending that will spin readers’ head.
Elise Cooper: How did you come up with the idea?
Wendy Walker: I initially came up with the concept, thinking what it would be like for someone who disappears and then returns. I came up with the ending first, and decided to write the whole book around the ending. I knew I had to have two sisters with an urgency regarding what they have gone through.
EC: Why the narcissism?
WW: I had in the beginning of the book, a description of the Greek myth about Narcissus, a hunter who was exceptionally beautiful and proud. He was so proud that he rejected anyone who tried to love him. This eventually killed him after he fell madly in love with himself and stared at his reflection until he died. I then thought how narcissistic mothers build the façade of protection to protect themselves emotionally. I wanted to show how they lack empathy of others. They don’t care about meeting their child’s needs. It is only about what they want to project to the outside world. They give their children inconsistent messaging. The mother in this story did not have a moral conscience, but lies and manipulates.
EC: Can you explain this book quote, “The truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions in our hungry hearts”?
WW: We all reconstruct memories to fit into how we can handle emotional needs and we become convinced of it, believing it is a reality. It is my heads up to the reader to pay attention and buckle up.
EC: How was Emma effected by her mother?
WW: Cass sees bits of pieces of her mother in Emma. Emma deviated from being vulnerable and ruthless, to desperate and tortured. A narcissistic parent usually chooses one sibling as the target, withdrawing of affection from the other child. The other siblings must deal with neglect parenting. In fact, Cass relied on Emma for parenting, looking up to her and hiding behind her.
EC: Cass had a rude awakening?
WW: Yes, regarding her sister, mother, father, and those who kidnapped her. She had to grow up pretty fast. I would classify her as a survivor. I wrote her as flat, having feelings but unable to express them. This story shows what huge influences parents have on their children.
EC: Parents can have an effect on children?
WW: The first three years of brain development is incredibly important. This is when the core of self-esteem and empathy is developed. The brain is hungry for one thing and one thing only, which is to learn how to influence and interact with other human beings in their first few years. Young children wonder what they have to do to be fed, cuddled, and receive love. Through these human interactions the brain learns what must be done for survival.
EC: Dr. Abby Winter seems to have a public persona different from her private persona?
WW: She is vulnerable, dependent, insecure, with a troubled backstory. When she is questioning Cass, she must act professionally and is able to keep herself together. Abby had a parallel experience with the girls.
EC: Why the book, the French Lt.’s Woman?
WW: I remember reading this in high school. It is about a small town and appearances. Everybody has this misperception of this woman. Everyone thought the character in this novel was a mistress, but actually she was a virgin. I think it played nicely with the themes of the book, a small town, and preconceived notions about a situation that was wrong.
EC: Why the Peter Pan like necklace?
WW: I wanted to come up with something that is meaningful to a little girl. It meant something to her because of the Peter Pan book that maybe her father read to her.
EC: How has your professional experience helped in your writing?
WW: I started twenty years ago, trying to write on the side. Eventually going back to practice law. I took fourteen years off to raise my children then started back writing. My great agent told me to write in the psychological thriller genre. As a practiced family law attorney for five years I got my training in psychology. I know enough about all the disorders and which ones are interesting. I was given access to experts. This genre is all about relationships and the character motivations. They are driven by some psychological defects, which I learned from practicing family law. I was also an editor for “Chicken Soup For The Soul” that allowed me to learn how to structure a story. I had taken 1000s of stories reshaping them.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
WW: I am writing two stand-alones. Maybe down the line I can write Dr. Abby Winter as a character of a series since I have great affection for her. The next book is out in May. It is not as dark as this one and has forward action. It is about a twenty-eight-year-old woman who goes out on an Internet date and does not come home. Everything that happens on the date is really suspenseful. Her backstory involves a history of violence.
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Emma in the Night
by Wendy Walker (Goodreads Author)
One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.