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Wendy Walker Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Wendy Walker
Photo: Bill Miles

Wendy Walker

An interview with Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker discusses her first psychological thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, which tells the story of a teenage girl who is brutally attacked at a party--and then receives a cutting-edge therapy to make her forget the attack.

Wendy Walker is a former commercial litigator who now works as a consulting lawyer in Connecticut. She previously wrote Four Wives and Social Lives, and edited several volumes of the Chicken Soup series. Her first psychological thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, tells the story of a teenage girl who is brutally attacked at a party - and then receives a cutting-edge therapy to make her forget the attack.

On its surface, All is Not Forgotten is a thriller about a girl who is violently assaulted in a small town--but there is so much more to it than that. How would you explain the book?

In my mind, what it's really about is the incredible new technology and science that we now have around memory and memory reconsolidation and all the things that can be done to manipulate memory.

I didn't come up with the concept of having a teenage girl violently assaulted and then build the plot around that. It started with these new discoveries in memory science, which I had read an article about a while back. They'd just had this amazing discovery about where memories are stored, and the article that I read was really about their belief that they could use that discovery to treat PTSD.

Jenny has this memory treatment in the book, allowing her to forget her attack in the woods. But your author note mentions that such treatment is not yet developed.

One of the things that was so fascinating in the article I read was their mention of how they could expand the use of this to victims of civilian crimes. I just thought that would make an incredible plot. Can you imagine if you had to choose between seeking justice and forgetting?

The other question that's raised in the book around this science is what happens when you disconnect an emotional reaction from a factual memory, which is a lot of what this therapy is trying to do. There are many therapists who believe that the emotional memory doesn't go away; there's a visceral response that lives within you, disengaged from a factual memory, floating around and looking for a home.

There's a lot of psychiatry packed in this book, especially in parsing the effects of this therapy on Jenny. Did you study psychology or psychiatry?

I never studied psychology or anything like that, but I am a big believer in psychotherapy and understanding people's actions on a more scientific basis and addressing them from that perspective. People have different levels of comfort and faith in psychotherapy, but I have found it tremendously useful in parenting, and in my work as an attorney.

When I went back to practicing law about five years ago, I went into family law, and there's a lot of psychology involved in that. You're dealing with kids, divorce, difficult subjects. It's very emotional, and people are not always motivated by the normal things you see in a lawsuit (like money or control). A lot of times the motivations are more emotional. So the training and experience from that definitely gave me a lot of useful material for the book--especially in the marriage of Jenny's parents, Tom and Charlotte.

At one point, the narrator claims that no one is ever 100% honest with other people.

Throughout the book, I try to be very honest about relationships and people and the ghosts of our past that haunt all of us. So for Tom and Charlotte, for example, these issues are really part of the dynamic of why they found each other. She is this strong person and he has an anemic ego. Their relationship brings to light the fact that everyone has these issues. And we're not always honest with ourselves or with each other about them.

Do you expect readers to take sides in the story? With one character or another, or one understanding of the situation versus another?

I have found that a lot of readers do. It has been really interesting to see the reactions that people have to all of the characters, including the narrator. Some people love Charlotte, some people really hate Charlotte. It's fascinating to me how people have such strong reactions to the same character. We all bring our personal experiences to each book that we read.

This was your first thriller, but not your first novel. What was different about writing in this genre?

I had always wanted to write suspense, and I actually thought that I would when I first started thinking about writing. But I had this one women's fiction story in my head that I wrote and got published, so I became a women's fiction author. Then my agent really encouraged me to switch fully to this genre and focus on psychological thrillers, because my other two books were very heavy on psychological drama, sort of a hybrid between women's fiction and suspense.

By writing a first person narrator in All is Not Forgotten, I could tell the story in a nonlinear way. The structure of the book reads like sitting down and having a really long conversation with someone that you haven't seen for a while. The digressions in time give context to new stories. So the characters' backstories are told in pieces as they become thematically relevant to the current story. It's not a straightforward linear progression of the plot. Being able to write that way was really, really fun.

The scenes in which Jenny is attacked are stark and violent. Were those as hard to write as they were to read?

I've had a few readers say that those scenes were hard to read. When I was writing them, I was very much in the head of the narrator, who is trying to be detached and factual in telling you this information. So when I was writing it, I focused on what words I thought the narrator would choose to relay the events that occurred, so that the voice would remain authentic. I tried not to be influenced by anything else.

Some readers will cringe and have a tough time with those scenes, and others will not, and I hoped to strike that balance. That's the case for any medium dealing with a violent crime, whether it is a book, a movie or a TV show; you're trying to create a balance, but you will inevitably have people who will struggle with it and those who can view it without being too affected.

What's it like to know your book is in production with Reese Witherspoon?

This whole experience, including that piece of it, is very surreal to me. My everyday life is so unchanged. My kids are of course excited about the movie, but then the next sentence out of their mouths is "What's for dinner?" or "Where are my socks?" It's surreal. It's thrilling.

I have such profound respect for Reese and her production partner Bruna Papandrea. They are amazing women. They're very smart about what they do, looking for stories about real women. So to say that it was satisfying for them to get Charlotte the way I wrote her? That was one of the most satisfying professional moments I've had as a writer. So yes, it is completely surreal and wonderful to me that something I wrote in my pajamas in a cluttered office that I share with my son is in such incredibly talented hands.

This interview first ran in Shelf Awareness and is reproduced with the permission of the publisher and Shelf Awareness.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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