BY AJ TRAGER
LANSING – Many writers struggle with protecting their protagonists too much, which leads to poor character development and a stifled plot. Jody Valley is not that writer. Valley’s sequel to “A Venomous Cocktail” — “Twisted Minds” — was released in February and has thriller readers completely enthralled as they race through the happenings of a murder mystery involving unhinged figures paired with Valley’s quick wit.
“Maybe it’s just my pathology?” Valley said. “I like to put people in bad situations and make things worse and finally let them get out of it. I find it challenging to put all the clues along the way — to stash them but not give it away. And try to figure out who says what, when and what’s going to come next. It’s like a puzzle to remember all those things and keep them in my head, and know when to introduce things at a specific time or not.”
“Twisted Minds” tells the story of Kera Van Brocklin, a private eye living in a fictitious town on the west side of Michigan called Lakeside City. Kera is a veteran dealing with PTSD from her time serving in the Iraq War, and her adventure turns even darker when she is hired by a lesbian teacher who has been accused of murdering her partner.
Lakeside City loosely resembles Holland, Michigan and has all the classic details of a lakeside village including a diverse yet conservative small-town atmosphere, a beautiful lighthouse, conflicting personalities and small town drama.
“My protagonist is very flawed which makes it difficult for her,” Valley told BTL.
Valley wanted to make some significant changes from her first book which featured the changing dynamic between Kera and her partner Mandy, how LGBT families cope with death in the family, and the intersection of LGBT activism and small town politics.
“In the first one you didn’t know until the very end who had done it, but in this one you don’t know who it is but you’re hearing from them. It’s a different way of putting the story together. I like figuring out different ways of doing things — it keeps me interested in what I’m working on,” Valley said.
Without giving too much away, the thriller starts with a murder, described in the perspective of the killer.
“In this one you start out hearing from the murderer. It starts right out and goes along hearing from this person and then what’s going on with Kera,” Valley described.
It’s a new technique that she’s trying out and said that the process of writing those scenes was quite dark. She had to get into the mind of a murderer in order for readers to truly suspend their disbelief. In Lakeside City, it’s not just the murderer who has temperament and violence problems — the dark energy has infected many within the town. Valley had to flirt with violence to create the formidable feel of the town and pulled from her 12 years of social work experience to create the havoc in Lakeside City.
“I think that when you listen to people all day long about what goes on in their lives and what they’re thinking and feeling, you have a lot of insight into why people do things and you understand where they’re coming from,” Valley said. “It gave me a good understanding of people.”
Valley harnessed more than just her social work experience to create the dismal feel of the town and pulled from the experiences she has had throughout her life living as an out lesbian facing direct and indirect instances of violence.
“I think the whole city is twisted. I think it’s rampant with twisted thoughts. I have lived the life of a lesbian woman for many years. I thought about how people see us — even today,” Valley said.
In a previous interview with BTL directly following the debut of her first book, Valley confessed that her sequel would be named “The Mark of Satan.” The title was changed to “Twisted Minds” after a suggestion by Valley’s wife.
“I thought that would give it the wrong idea of what the book is about,” Valley said. “People would see that as a different genre. It was my wife that came up with ‘Twisted Minds.’ She came up with the title and designed the cover, too. She’s a talented artist. It gives the flavor of a mind not doing well.”
To learn more about Valley or her protagonist Kera, visit her website at http://www.jodyvalley.com.