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Killer Knowledge: Marcia Clark on 'The Competition' (Q&A w/ event details)

Marcia Clark's 'The Competition' will be published by Mulholland Books on 7/8.

On Tuesday evening, July 8th, Hartford Books Examiner will be in conversation with Marcia Clark at the Darien Library to celebrate the publication of her fourth Rachel Knight novel, The Competition (Mulholland Books, $26.00). This event is free and open to the public. View details here:

Ms. Clark also has local events scheduled at Burgundy Books, the Fairfield Antique & Design Center, and Bank Square Books. (See details below.)


Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Marcia Clark.

Marcia Clark is the author of The Competition, out tomorrow from Mulholland Books. Her previous titles include the national bestseller and Nero (Wolfe) Award-nominated Guilt by Association (2011), Guilt by Degrees (2012), and Killer Ambition (2013). She joined the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in 1981 and spent ten years in the elite Special Trials Unit, winning convictions in nineteen of twenty homicide cases prior to leading the criminal prosecutions of O.J. Simpson. She resigned from the DA’s office in 1997 and published a memoir, Without a Doubt, which reached #1 on the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, and Publishers Weekly bestsellers lists. Ms. Clark serves as a legal analyst and expert commentator and continues to practices appellate law. She makes her home on the West Coast.

The Competition is the fourth novel to feature Special Trails Unit prosecutor Rachel Knight and her gal pal, Detective Bailey Keller. Booklist awarded the title a starred review, praising: “Clark handles sometimes painfully raw scenes with great sensitivity and skillfully works in material about what makes a mass murderer, as she ratchets up suspense to a deadly conclusion … another tour de force." Further, Publishers Weekly called the book “a ticking time bomb of a thriller” and noted, “The twisty plot and dynamic duo make for a suspenseful, if sobering, page-turner.”

From the publisher:

In Marcia Clark's most electrifying thriller yet, Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight investigates a horrifying high school massacre.

A Columbine-style shooting at a high school in the San Fernando Valley has left a community shaken to its core. Two students are identified as the killers. Both are dead, believed to have committed a mutual suicide.

In the aftermath of the shooting, LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight teams up with her best girlfriend, LAPD detective Bailey Keller. As Rachel and Bailey interview students at the high school, they realize that the facts don't add up. Could it be that the students suspected of being the shooters are actually victims? And if so, does that mean that the real killers are still on the loose?

A dramatic leap forward in Marcia Clark's highly acclaimed Rachel Knight series, The Competition is an unforgettable story that will stay with readers long after the last page has been turned.

Now, Marcia Clark offers readers an insightful and provocative look inside her new book …

1) THE COMPETITION deals with the subject matter of school shootings. What first drew you to this topic – and what was the impact of the Sandy Hook tragedy (which occurred after you had completed a draft of the novel)?

I began researching Columbine and the psychology of such criminals in preparation for writing THE COMPETITION long before Sandy Hook happened. In fact, I'd finished the first draft of the manuscript before the shooting at Sandy Hook. And when that shooting took place, I actually thought about dropping the book. But then I thought it might be even more important to share what I'd learned about that type of killer, the myths that were still prevalent about who they were and why they committed these horrific mass shootings. Contrary to popular belief, they're not necessarily bully victims - or at least no more bullied than many others who never hurt another human being. And while some may be reclusive, others are not. There is a great deal to know about what hallmarks one should look for, what matters, what doesn't.

It's fine to talk about security measures in the schools. We have to protect our children in every way possible. But I think one of the ways must be a focus on early detection; identifying the ones who are likely to act out in this manner. We all need to know what to look out for, when to sound the alarm, so the problem can be caught before someone dies.

2) You explore the psychology of school shooters in-depth. Tell us about the research process. Also, what did you want to convey about such crimes (and their perpetrators) to the general reading public – and how do you hope that the book might serve as an impetus for meaningful discussion?

I guess I jumped the gun and answered this already! I started studying psychopathy and sociopathy back in the 80's when I handled by first serial killer case as a prosecutor. The motive was so bizarre, the means so sadistic and yet so ritualized. It was a type of criminal that was very different from the vast majority we saw every day. So I wanted to understand who they were, where they came from, how they became that way. I had long believed that one or both of the Columbine killers was a psychopath. Then, a few years ago, I ran across an article about that subject and decided to look into it. I read books, articles and spoke extensively to mental health experts about school shooters, what they had in common, what had been written about them - and of the many things written about them, what was correct and what was not. I wanted to share that information with the reading public about who these killers are and why they commit these crimes. I think there's been a great deal of misinformation about them, especially after Columbine and I wanted people to know the truth.

It is my hope that THE COMPETITION will inspire some meaningful discussion about who these killers are, what we should watch out for and how we can protect ourselves and each other with that knowledge.

3) You create very sensitive portraits of victims and their families – including the parents of the shooter(s), who are often vilified when such events occur. What is the process of writing such scenes like, both emotionally and stylistically– and how can such depictions serve as a conduit for a more global understanding?

In all my writing, I have to put myself in the shoes of each character. That means first, figuring out who those characters are and then, based on that, figuring how that character would behave. In writing THE COMPETITION, I was particularly interested in showing the parents of the suspects, how they would feel when confronted with the possibility - and later the reality - that their children were murderers. Very often in real life, these parents are vilified for being clueless or in denial or neglectful. We think that surely there must have been signs that were missed. That may be true. There probably were signs. But those signs may be subtle, may be something any of us might miss. Because it's one thing for a parent to know their child is a loner, has few or no friends, but it's quite another to make the leap from "loner" to "mass murderer." And it's important to remember that these killers hide what they're thinking, what they're planning because they know it's wrong.

We do have to educate ourselves about what to look for, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that detecting such children is easy, that differentiating between children who are merely antisocial and those who are likely to act out is some simple one plus one equation.

4) How did you endeavor to balance reality with entertainment – and do you have concerns about reader response to this book in particular, given the gravity of its plot?

It's a very serious subject. But it's one that concerns us all, one that we already talk about and think about - as we should. Fiction often does play a role in discussing real life issues. In fact, fiction often centers around what scares us. And there's a reason for that, I think. It gives us the safe distance of "this isn't real" that makes it easier to study, analyze and hopefully understand what scares us. I think that was a big part of my motivation in writing THE COMPETITION: to try and understand something that scared me. In that respect, fiction can be useful in making a point about our real lives, provoke thought about a subject without preaching. As Jean Cocteau said, "Fiction is the lie that tells the truth." Writing this book helped me to understand a great deal more about these mass murderers so I hope it will be helpful to readers.

5) Though the central story stands alone, there are several overall story arcs (including the characters’ relationships, the saga of Rachel’s sister, etc.) that continue to develop with each subsequent entry. Do you have a vision of how things will culminate or is it a “wait and see” approach? Also, what have you found to be the greatest joys and challenges of writing a series for the first time?

Developing the characters in a series is an ongoing joy and albatross. It's great to be able to revisit my "family" of characters, but it requires a great deal of thought. People change, events have an impact on them. And who they were to begin with, their emotional scars, dictates the nature of that impact. At every step of a story, I think about how each character is affected by what's going on, how their relationships to one another would evolve, and what the events in the story and their relationships bring out about them.

In THE COMPETITION, for example, Rachel and Graden are finally working together because the case is so big, it requires a large team of detectives and officers to work it. Of necessity, that has an impact on their dynamic. I won't say what it is, because I'm not supposed to give spoilers. :-)

6) Leave us with a little teaser: What comes next for Rachel Knight and friends?

I can't tell you.

This might be because I don't know yet.

Or do I?



With thanks to Marcia Clark for continually indulging our curiosities.

The following are the author’s upcoming Connecticut events:

Tuesday, July 8thDarien Library, 7 PM – In conversation with Hartford Books Examiner. This event is free and open to the public. More information here. Location: 1441 Post Rd.

Wednesday, July 9thBurgundy Books, 7 PM – In conversation with owner Linda Williams. The cost of admission is $10, which can be applied to the purchase of a book. A reception and book signing will follow the program. Reservations are required and can be made by calling the store at 860-391-9525. Location: 1285 Boston Post Rd. in Westbrook.

Thursday, July 10th -- Fairfield Antique & Design Center, 6 to 8 PM – This is a launch party; lite bites and Spiked Seltzer will be served. Tickets are $25/person and can be purchased online; registration is free for Ladies Who Launch Platinum Members and Over 40 Females members. Copies of The Competition will be available for purchase/signing at the event. Location: 19 Willard Rd. in Norwalk.

Friday, July 11thBank Square Books – 12 to 1:30 PM – This is a luncheon event. The cost is $30 for lunch and a copy of The Competition, $10 for lunch only, and free for those who want to attend but do not want lunch or a copy of the book. Reservations are requested and can be made by calling the store at 860-536-3795. Location: 53 W. Main St. in Mystic.

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