For Vanishing Acts, I spent time in a hardcore Arizona jail and met with both detention officers and inmates (learning, among other things, how to make my own zip gun and the recipe for crystal meth), and I went to the Hopi reservation to attend their private katsina dances. For The Tenth Circle, I trekked to the Alaskan tundra to visit a remote Eskimo village and to follow a dogsled race on a snowmobile, in January when it was -38 degrees Fahrenheit.
For my upcoming novel, Lone Wolf, I spent time with a man who lived in the wild with a wolf pack for a year, and I met other wolves he had in captivity.
You must have done a ton of research for Change of Heart.
I’ve been to Death Row in Arizona twice now. It’s a very strange place. In all the years I’ve been doing research, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a cloud of secrecy like the one I found there. I was literally on a plane when my visit was being nearly cancelled — I had to arrive at the facility and talk my way into it, because they decided if I was a writer, I must be “media.”
I was able to charm the authorities into giving me a tour of their death row, which is more serene than you’d think, because the inmates are locked into their individual cells 23 hours a day. Then I begged to be taken to the execution chamber — the Death House, as it used to be called in Arizona. It was while I was examining their gas chamber (Arizona uses both gas and lethal injection) that the warden approached me to ask me again who I was and why I was writing a book about this. She definitely had her guard up and wasn’t budging an inch. We started talking about the last execution in Arizona; and at some point she mentioned she was a practicing Catholic. “If you’re Catholic,” I said, “do you think the death penalty is a good thing?” She stared at me for a long moment and then said, “I used to.” From that moment on, the wall between us came down, and she was willing to tell me everything I wanted and needed to know. She gave me a backstage look at how an execution happens.
The most jarring moments in my research trip? Speaking to a condemned man who was convicted of murdering someone by shooting battery acid into his veins — yet who also called me ma’am and cried when he started to talk about his late grandfather. And while talking to the warden in the death house, I was having trouble juggling notebooks and papers, so I leaned against the
closest surface to take notes more easily … only to realize I was sprawled across the lethal injection gurney. The counterpart of the research I’ve done on death row involves holing up in my office wading through the gospels for research, not just the ones that made it into the Bible, but the ones that didn’t, like the Gospel of Thomas - a gospel found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Like the other 51 texts found at Nag Hammadi, they contain a lot of sayings you can find in the Bible and a lot you won’t. These are referred to as the Gnostic gospels — part and parcel of a religious movement that was denounced as heresy by Orthodox Christianity in the middle of the 2nd
Above all else, the Gnostics said, ask questions. Don’t believe everything you’re told; don’t assume that just because someone says, “This is the way it should be done” that he or she is right. There are a lot of political and religious reasons why Orthodox Christianity rejected the Gnostic movement. But something else was lost along with those gospels — the belief that people might reach spiritual enlightenment in a variety in ways, rather than one “right” way.
“If you bring forth what is within you,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Thomas, “what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Sounds like a riddle, right? But it’s actually pretty simple: The potential to free yourself — or ruin yourself — is entirely up to you, which gets pretty interesting when you’re talking about a condemned man who happens to think that donating his heart to the sister of his victim is the way to save himself.
I read your latest in 24 hours. What’s next?
Zoe Baxter has spent 10 years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare, one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for and breaks apart her marriage to Max. In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist. When Vanessa, a guidance counselor, asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love.
When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max. Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a