Our interview today is with Mary Maddox the author of Talion which is rated 4.7 stars on 18 reviews. Before we get to the interview a brief book description: Two victims. One sociopath. Lots of terror. Fifteen-year-old Lisa Duncan has attracted the interest of serial killer Conrad (Rad) Sanders. At an isolated resort in Utah, he watches as vivacious Lisa begins an unlikely friendship with another teenager, Lu Jakes, the strange and introverted daughter of employees at the resort. Lu enters Rad’s fantasies as well. He learns Lu is being abused by her stepmother and toys with the notion of freeing her from her sad life and keeping her awhile as his captive. Lu seems like an easy conquest who could be persuaded to act out his fantasy by killing her new friend.
But Lu has an ally with powers beyond Rad’s imagination.
Interview with Mary Maddox
Begin by telling readers a little about Talion.
Talion is a thriller with paranormal elements. Rad Sanders, a sexual sadist and serial killer, stalks two fifteen-year-old girls at a mountain resort in Utah. The girls have formed an unlikely friendship. Lisa is middle-class and outgoing while Lu belongs to the underclass and has an abusive, alcoholic stepmother. Rad fantasizes keeping Lu awhile as a captive – after forcing her to participate in torturing and killing Lisa.
Lu sees luminous beings invisible to others. Their leader is Talion. Beautiful and otherworldly, Talion offers her comfort and inspires her to stand up to the girls who are bullying her at school. But his nature is ambiguous, and he also leads Lu to the brink of committing murder.
As Rad closes in, it become less and less clear whether Talion is Lu’s friend or the killer’s ally.
What was unique about the setting of Talion and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
The main action in Talion unfolds in the mountains of northern Utah where I grew up – landscapes of overwhelming beauty that demand description even as they defy it. But the action can’t pause for much description, or the thriller becomes a travelogue. Since Talion is a novel with multiple points of view, setting is filtered through the perceptions of the characters. Often it reveals their state of mind. For instance, the mountains exhilarate Rad, the serial killer who comes there from the Midwest. Their vastness gives scope to his monstrous desires.
I drew upon my childhood experience to create Deliverance, the town near the resort where Rad stalks his victims. I was an outsider growing up in a town like that, as are Hank and Debbie Darlington, the owners of the resort.
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
Talionhas a complex history. It began as the story of a friendship between two girls, Lu and Lisa, teenagers from different backgrounds who seem to have nothing in common. They sunbathe together at near an old dam in the mountains, a place based on my childhood. The resulting novella was a character study in which nothing much happened, so I invented a dangerous stalker, an outside force to act as a catalyst. This character, Rad, became more important than I intended. His darkness and intensity threatened to swallow the story. As a counter force, I introduced Talion, a demonic entity with ambiguous motives who aids Lu.
Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I depend on inspiration for the spark. An idea comes to me in a flash. I see the character and the arc of his or her journey and feel the emotion that gives them meaning. Then I construct the story that recreates the arc. What I write seldom matches my first inspiration – though it did happen once. I wrote a short story called “Mandarian Training School” based on my experience in a college summer program for high-school students gifted in math. After finishing it I went for a long run, buoyed by this wonderful euphoria. I kept thinking, “Yes, it’s right!” At one point I was crying, and the wind tried my tears. It was like being in a corny movie about a writer. But I planned “Mandarian Training School” with a complete outline before writing the first draft.
When I understood Talion going to be a thriller, I made a complete outline. I had to weave backstory into the main action, and unless it’s carefully done, the flashbacks can weigh the story down. Nothing should be unnecessary. I cut passages of which I was proud – maybe too proud – because they slowed the pace.
It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?
No matter how different a character is from me, I have to provide the core – the thing that motivates him or her. Rad is nothing like me. He’s a sadist. I despise people who deliberately inflict suffering on other beings. The essential part of me despises Rad. To create his character, I had to research the psychology and behavior of sexual sadists then find within myself the emotions that drive him. Rage. The desperate need for control. Rad hates the schoolmates who bullied him and against whom he was defenseless. He hates his mother, who leaned on him emotionally throughout his childhood. Though she never touched him in a sexual way, Rad is intelligent enough to understand the incestuous subtext of her behavior.
How do the characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
Well, Rad doesn’t change. He remains Rad right to the end. But Lu and Lisa are changed by their encounters with him. Both, in different ways, lose their innocence. And the crisis leads Hank and Debbie to view themselves and their marriage more honestly.
Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
I found Rad’s character difficult. Once I got inside his head, he got inside mine. Something happened while I was writing the first draft that shook me. During one of my workouts at the gym, a young woman was sitting on a weight-lifting bench I wanted to use. She wasn’t using the equipment; she was busy flirting with a hunky guy who worked at the gym. Ordinarily I might have felt a twinge of irritation. This time I felt a spike of rage and imagined hurting her, just like Rad would. It was a spooky moment.
I found more darkness in myself than I cared to acknowledge. In at least one scene, while he describes to a victim what he intends to do to her and grows more excited with each detail, I realized I was sharing his excitement.
What is your favorite part of this book?
I loved developing the relationship between Lu and Talion. Lu’s mother died when she was five, and she spent several hours alone with the body. Now her stepmother abuses her physically and emotionally. Lu ought to be a basket case. But her center is intact. She has a sense of selfhood and the determination to survive. I hope readers will see Lu’s strength and know that Talion and his cohorts must be real entities – not the hallucinations of some mentally ill teenage. But Talion’s nature and motives are ambiguous. He helps Lu but could also harm her. Especially since she loves him. The erotic current between them is pretty obvious, and I enjoyed writing those passages.
Will there be a sequel to Talion?
I’m in the middle of writing the sequel now. Lu is ten years older when Talion comes back into her life. Now she has the experience to see him more clearly and understand what he is. He is also more forthcoming about what he wants from her.
About the author:
Mary Maddox began life in Soldier Summit, Utah, a town of a few dozen people high in the mountains. Her father owned a cafe, a gas station, and a combination grocery-bar – literally half the businesses in town. Even a minnow can be a big fish if the pond is small enough. Though she has lived in the Midwest for most of her adult life, she misses the mountains and dreams of living there again someday.
She graduated from Knox College and the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. She lives in Charleston with my husband, Joe, and their bird, Westie. When not writing, she spends her time reading, playing Scrabble at the local club, and riding her horse, Tucker.
Find Talion on Amazon.