My inspiration for my new novel, 'The Follower'.
Writing for me always begins with a question I can’t get out of my head. I wrote my first book, THE NEVER LIST, because I wanted to know whether and how anyone could get over a traumatic abduction, which had been my greatest fear growing up. With THE FOLLOWER, I wanted to understand the disturbing phenomena of women accomplices to such horrible crimes. In many abduction cases, helpful and dutiful wives are at the heart of the tragic events: Wanda Barzee, Nancy Garrido, Rosemary West, Karla Homolka, Michelle Martin, the list goes on. Could it simply be that they were victims themselves, unable to act contrary to their husbands’ wishes? Or was their inaction another kind of guilt, a sinister betrayal of basic humanity? The answer is both. I found that while these women generally had been victimized at some point in their lives, they also had some form of power over their situation. In fact, often they were left alone in charge of the victims, when they could have alleviated their pain or even set them free. And yet they didn’t.
The very nature of captivity involves long-term exposure to a victim’s suffering but also, perversely, care of the victim, often provided by the wives themselves. Violence and horror punctuate the scenario, but also the soup is made and the laundry done and the floor swept. There is drudgery and boredom, and within those spaces the victims and wives must confront one another, acknowledging this strange reality and continuing to cope within it, often side by side.
I wanted to set a story within that strange dynamic, to help me understand the psychological warfare that must surely be waged between the wives and the abducted, and inside their own heads. I assumed the answers, if there were any, would not be neat and tidy, and I wanted the reader to experience all the complexity of the tragedy and the mounting emotional pressure set to explode.
In THE FOLLOWER, James, the abductor—as is often the case in real life—is not an all-powerful criminal mastermind. He’s a pathetic, failed cult leader who has nevertheless managed to develop an extraordinary hold over his wife, Cora. Cora, strong in her youth, has through her own strange story become twisted in ways that keep her standing beside James through even the most shocking circumstances. But it’s only when he’s gone that the relationship between Cora and Julie fully develops. And then we learn what Cora is truly capable of.
Click here to buy Koethi Zan’s new novel, ‘The Follower’, now on sale in e-book..
Image of Koethi Zan copyright Pieter M Van Hattem.