A Talk with Heather Chavez, Author of No Bad Deed
Welcome to debut thriller author, Heather Chavez!
Heather is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley’s English literature program and has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and contributor to mystery and television blogs. Currently, she’s employed in public affairs for a major health care organization where she writes human interest stories. She lives with her family in Santa Rosa, California, and is at work on her second novel.
Publisher's site and buy link: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/no-bad-deed-heather-chavez?variant=32126586945570
What would you say are your strengths as an author?
I love reading and writing stories that focus on strong female characters, and I hope one of my strengths is bringing these women to life. As a former newspaper editor, I also learned to sacrifice words for the sake of the story. I learned the importance of revision. I would hope that this has made me better at creating tension, portraying action, and establishing pace. That’s always been my goal as a writer: to create a story that will keep readers turning pages.
How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
I wish I had a strict routine! Life has a way of thwarting any attempts I’ve made at establishing one. That’s why it’s so important for me to steal the moments I can to write, whether that be on a break from the day job or that hour at night when everyone else is already in bed. I try to write each day, but I also cut myself slack on the days when I just don’t have the energy. By writing as often as I can, even if it’s just a few hundred words, the story remains in my head, and the words come more quickly.
Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
In five years, I would love to be writing full-time. But even if I can’t reach that goal, I intend to keep writing a book each year, because writing is what gets me out of bed each morning. Standalone thrillers and domestic suspense are my passion and likely what I’ll be writing five years from now, though I’ve also considered series and suspense with science fiction or supernatural elements. Whatever I’m writing, it will be dark, twisty and fast-paced.
If you could offer once piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, and respect your writing time. It’s so easy to dismiss writing as a hobby, especially pre-publication, or to sacrifice writing time if there are dishes in the sink or a TV show you’ve been wanting to stream. Even now as a published author, when people ask what I do, I find myself reluctant to answer, “Author.” Give yourself permission to call yourself a writer and to find a quiet corner—whether that be in your car or at your kitchen table—and write as often as you can. Celebrate those days when you fill pages, but also those days you write only a paragraph—because you wrote. Then edit mercilessly. Also, be kind to yourself on the days you don’t meet your goals, because sometimes you really do need to wash those dishes or get some sleep.
What would you consider to be the best compliment a reader could give your book?
I’ve had readers mention nearly falling off their treadmill or needing an extra cup of coffee the next morning. That’s the ultimate compliment: that a reader was fully immersed in the story and couldn’t stop reading.
What are you working on now?
My next book is currently in edits. It’s another standalone thriller. Briefly: Cleaning up after her wayward sister, Izzy, has long been Frankie Barrera’s job. When Frankie learns her truck was spotted at a missing girl’s house, she fears Izzy might be involved—especially since it’s not the first time Izzy has been linked to a missing persons case.
And now for some bonus questions Heather sent!!
Is it true you had the idea for this book while in an elementary school parking lot?
It is. Years ago, I was picking up my daughter from afterschool care when we noticed this boy around 14 years old walking alone. Suddenly, two other boys rushed him and attacked. The fight ended as quickly as it had started, the boys scattering before I could react. Still, the rest of the day, I kept asking myself questions: What had motivated the fight? What should I have done? Should I have called 911? Would my reaction have been different if the attack had happened at night? And what if my daughter hadn’t been with me? That inspired the first sentence, and ultimately the plot, of No Bad Deed.
You got your first novel published at the age of 50. What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
Spend at least as much time editing as you do writing, and be ruthless with your revisions. Before No Bad Deed, I wrote a few “practice” novels. It wasn’t until much later that I realized those early manuscripts weren’t working because they were essentially first drafts. In contrast, No Bad Deed started in third-person with multiple points of view, but after drafting, I cut about two-thirds of the words and switched to first-person. It was painful, but it was the right decision for the story.
You have two kids. How did you balance parenting and writing?
When my children were younger, they didn’t even respect a closed bathroom door. How could I expect them to respect a closed office door? By the time I got the book deal, though, my youngest was a teenager, so that part at least became easier. Of course, I still had to contend with family demands and a full-time job. But we all have lives and distractions. For me, I find balance by writing when and where I can, whether that is at the dining room table while dinner’s cooking or in the car on my lunch break. If I waited for a block of uninterrupted time and a quiet house, I would never write.
The hardcover of your book came out right as Covid hit. How has the virus impacted its promotion?
I was fortunate to have a bookstore event—and then everything shut down. In those early months, it seemed like everyone was still trying to figure it all out, so the events that were canceled weren’t rescheduled as virtual. They just didn’t happen. Now, thankfully, the support for virtual events is more robust. I just presented to a writers club I might not have been able to otherwise visit, and soon I’ll be on a panel with a group of talented authors from all over the world. And I’ve managed to connect with readers on social media.
Your main character, Cassie Larkin, stops her minivan a mile from her house on a rainy night, to help a stranger who is being attacked by a man named Carver Sweet. How does that one incident change the course of her life?
In that opening scene, Carver warns Cassie: Let his victim die, and he’ll let Cassie live. Cassie’s not about to go along with that. But just because you do the right thing, it doesn’t mean the universe is going to reward you. Sometimes, stepping in can ruin your life, which Cassie learns. The next night, her husband disappears, and her life begins unraveling. The main part of Cassie’s journey is trying to figure out if that incident helping a stranger is really connected to everything else that’s going wrong. And if so, how?
Your book is classified as a thriller. For those of us who don’t know the category well, what are its basic tenets and what draws you to it?
Thrillers are known for being fast-paced and action-driven. I enjoy putting ordinary characters in danger and then making them work hard to get out of it. I also love asking the questions: What would happen if…? and Why would someone do such an unspeakable thing? It’s probably the former journalist in me. Over the years, I’ve heard so many stories about people hurting the ones they’re supposed to love. A mom abuses her children. A man kills his wife. What prompted them to do something so horrible? And what are the consequences of that act, both in that moment and many years in the future?
Your book takes place in California’s Sonoma County. Why did you choose that as your setting?
Having lived in Sonoma County since I was 18 years old, the roads Cassie drives and the places she visits are the same ones I have. As a writer, I’m inspired by being able to smell and see and taste the same things as my characters. Wine Country is also such an interesting place. Within a short drive, you’ve got redwoods, the coast, wineries, mountains, San Francisco. A lot of beautiful places for really ugly things to happen.
I assume the title of your book is a play on the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished.” At first I thought the bad deed was a reference to Sweet’s attack and subsequent stalking of Cassie. Am I right that the bad deed in question—and even its perpetrator—becomes murkier as the book goes along?
The concept of right versus wrong definitely becomes murkier as the novel progresses. I liked that idea for the title since a theme in No Bad Deed is the duality of human nature—good people do bad things, and vice versa, and sometimes the “bad” choice is the right one for that particular situation. Still, what one person believes is a good deed can be perceived as a very bad one by someone else, and circumstances might compel someone to commit an act they previously believed unthinkable. How far would you go to protect someone you love? Where is that line, and what would it take for you to cross it?
After the attack, when Cassie’s husband disappears, we’re not sure what happened to him and neither is she. What’s on her shortlist?
When Sam goes missing, he’s trick-or-treating with their 6-year-old daughter. So when Cassie finds their daughter but no Sam, her first thought is that something terrible has happened to him. She’s confident she knows her husband and, at first, that’s the option that makes the most sense. After all, Sam is the parent who is usually home with the kids each night, while she’s working late at the veterinary clinic. He’s the one who makes the kids dinner. Coordinates their schedules. So Cassie believes that even if he would leave her, he wouldn’t leave the children, especially in such an abrupt and perilous way. But then she gets a text from her husband: I’m sorry. As she digs deeper into what happened that night, she learns her husband may have been keeping some pretty disturbing secrets.
As a writer, what’s harder—starting a book or ending it?
I’m a plotter, so starting a book is more intense. I put so much pressure on that first scene, and that first sentence. With No Bad Deed, for example, that first sentence is probably the only one I didn’t touch during my many revisions. That said, I think ending a book is harder. By that point in the process, I’ve invested so much in the characters, and readers will have invested so much in the story that I want to do right by them, and myself. The beginning of a book is full of possibilities but, by the end, those possibilities have narrowed significantly. It’s much easier to scrap a first chapter than a climax.
NO GOOD DEED
Now a mom, Cassie Larkin has long since outgrown the anger and recklessness of her own childhood – or so she believes until the night she witnesses a brutal attack.
Driving home on a remote Northern California road, Cassie spots a man and woman arguing. The fight escalates. After calling 911, Cassie does the one thing the dispatcher warns her against: She gets out of the car. The ensuing violence leaves her with a few bruises and the fleeing attacker’s threat: He’ll let Cassie live if she lets his victim die.
A veterinarian trained to heal, Cassie isn’t about to let the woman die. But while she’s examining the unconscious victim, the attacker steals her car. Now he has her name. Her address. And he knows about her children. Though they warn her to be careful, the police assure her that the perpetrator—a criminal named Carver Sweet—won’t get near her. Cassie isn’t so sure.
The next day—Halloween—her husband disappears while trick-or-treating with their six-year-old daughter. Is Cassie’s confrontation with the road-side attacker connected to her husband’s disappearance? Her husband has been growing distant—is it possible he’s become involved with another woman? Or, worse, one of his students?
As she desperately searches for answers, Cassie discovers that nothing is as random as it seems, and that she is more than willing to fight—to go to the most terrifying extremes— to save her family.
What Others Are Saying:
“A sensational debut – compelling, hypnotic, full of suspense and quiet menace. Don’t miss it!”- Lee Child
“The kind of twisty, jet-fueled thriller that explodes on page one and has you happily abandoning work, sleep, and life as you race to the stunning end. Don’t miss it!”- Lisa Gardner
“An extraordinary thriller… that may well become the book everyone is talking about…In a mesmerizing first-person narrative, [Cassie’s] fear is palpable, then vanquished by an astonishing ferocity she finds within herself. Where does that come from? Wait until you find out. This one glows in dark.”- Booklist (starred review)
“[A] propulsive debut… Chavez peoples her tale with credible, flawed individuals, presenting even the multiple antagonists with harrowing backstories and convincing psychological motives… Chavez is in full command of plot and pacing… Domestic thriller fans will be well satisfied.”- Publishers Weekly
“Chavez’s breathless page-turner will have every aspiring Good Samaritan thinking maybe they should let the NEXT guy help.”- Linwood Barclay, author of The Noise Downstairs and No Time for Goodbye
“Heather Chavez’s debut novel starts at a sprint and never lets up, twisting its way to an exhilarating, you’ll-never-guess-it ending.”- Peter Swanson, author of Before She Knew Him