A.F. Brady Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

A.F. Brady

A.F. Brady

An interview with A.F. Brady

A.F. Brady discusses her debut psychological suspense novel, The Blind

What is your debut novel, The Blind, about?

The Blind is a psychological suspense novel that follows Dr. Samantha James, a psychologist working in a Manhattan psychiatric facility. Sam is the most talented and successful clinician at the institution, and along with her picture-perfect boyfriend, seems to have the ideal life. But simmering under the surface, she is struggling to manage her own demons, and only when a mysterious new patient Richard comes to her office and throws everything into disarray, does Sam begin to delve into the turmoil of her own mind.

You yourself are a licensed psychotherapist. What inspired this particular story? Something you encountered in your professional practice?

As a licensed psychotherapist, I have many years of experiencing working in mental health facilities of all kinds. Typhlos, the institution in The Blind, is underfunded and understaffed, and the clinicians are overwhelmed. This is drawn from experiences in my career, where I worked in facilities that did not have access to the resources we needed to adequately care for the number of clients we were treating. The story behind The Blind was inspired when I was talking to a friend while I was working at this particular facility, and I told him "you have to be crazy to work here." Many of the stories in the novel are inspired by real life events as well, and the clinical components, although I tried to keep those to a minimum, are accurately represented.

Not many psychological thrillers are written by actual psychotherapists. How did your professional expertise help you write the book? Hinder?

I think it helped because I have experience working with clients who are suffering from the disorders I explored in The Blind. I have a greater breadth of knowledge regarding how particular disorders are manifested, and I also know what the day to day activities are like in an institution such as Typhlos. Although it's not as glamorous as it may have been if I had created it all in my mind, the fact that I am drawing from real life experience lends a sense of authenticity. My professional expertise hindered my writing progress sometimes because I found myself getting way too clinical, and I had to rewrite whole paragraphs that ended up reading like a psych textbook. When writing The Blind, did you ever find it challenging to separate you the psychotherapist from you the novelist and storyteller?
Sure. Sometimes I would get on my soapbox while writing, and start ranting about the unjustness of the state of mental health care, and I would get preachy about the stigma associated with mental illness. It was easy to create characters, scenes and relationships as a storyteller/novelist, but it was often difficult to separate the emotional component of really feeling for my characters, because I know that real human beings are suffering the way some of my characters were suffering.

Have did you keep the story flowing without getting bogged down in jargon or arcane details of complicated psychological theories and practices?

Lots of editing!

The novel is written in very short chapters. Why did you decide to use this technique to tell your story?

It's written in Sam's voice, and Sam is disjointed, confused and struggling to hold it all together. She flip-flops from being her true self to her portrayed self, and she can't keep up with either self for too long. That's reflected in the chapter length. You'll notice the longer chapters are usually focused on Richard's stories, or the lives of someone other than Sam. The short bursts are reflective of Sam's rapid transition from one version of herself to another because she can't keep up with either of them for too long.

Sam, the main character, is a brilliant psychologist but, quite frankly, a hot mess. Have you witnessed colleagues who were drawn to becoming therapists because of their own mental health issues?

It's hard for me to comment on the motivations of other therapists, but I will say that a lot of us are drawn to the helping professions because of a sense of empathy toward suffering. In some cases, this is born from suffering in our own lives, whether it's ourselves, or loved ones who have struggled.

Why did you decide to turn to fiction writing after a career as a psychotherapist?

Well, I am still a practicing psychotherapist, so I haven't switched careers completely; I have simply added another facet. I have been writing all my life, and I enjoy it enormously. I was always very focused on pursuing a career in psychology because I want to help people, I thrive on helping people, and I feel there is an extreme need for it in our society, and every society frankly. None of us have it all together, and we can all use a helping hand now and again. I felt that writing would give me a new platform to reach people. A lot of my readers thus far have commented that they can relate to Sam, and have felt the way Sam feels. Following her through her journey in The Blind is another way that I can potentially help people to feel that they are not alone; that someone can understand what they are experiencing. Sam is a flawed human being, but so are we all.

The novel is set in New York City, where you yourself have lived your whole life. Is this locale important to the story or just the place you are most familiar with?

I think it's a combination of the two. I know New York very well, and many people who have lived here will tell you it's a two-faced city. It can be the most wonderful, welcoming, perfect place in the world, but it can also kick the shit out of you. The setting is reflective of Sam's struggles with herself. Desperately trying to be perfect, but underneath it all being a mess. And New York City is shiny and wealthy and glorious, but also not those things at all. Sam and New York are pretty similar. Chaotic, tumultuous, unpredictable, but really wonderful as well.

Even though you are a psychotherapist, did you need to do any additional research for this story?

Of course! The majority of the research I had to do was for Richard's backstory. I wanted the schools, locations, dates and events to be historically accurate. In the psychotherapy business, we are always doing more research, learning new ways to deal with old problems, and reminding ourselves of the nature of various diagnoses. It's a constant state of research, and for me, writing is the same way a lot of the time. Even if it means going and sitting in the park that I'm writing about. Immersion research, I suppose.

Do your professional colleagues know about this foray into fiction writing? If so, what has been their reactions?

Yes! Many of my colleagues know I've written this book, and some have read it already. In my experience, therapists are a supportive bunch, and I've been lucky to receive a lot of support and praise from other mental health professionals.

What writers, if any, have influenced you?

I am a huge Hemingway fan. I love the way he makes characters and settings come alive with easy, simple sentences. His stories have always resonated with me, and bring me to safe, nostalgic places in my mind. On the other hand, I also love Jay McInerney, Brett Easton Ellis, James Frey and Chuck Palahniuk for their incredible abilities to create extremely flawed characters with whom I can't help but fall in love. I adore David Sedaris because he has the capacity to inject humanity and humor into any situation.

Are you at work on a second novel? Can you give us a sneak peek into what it is about?

I am at work on a second novel, yes. It follows a sociopathic defense attorney who experiences several massive life changes throughout the course of the book, and is challenged to regain a sense of humanity. The story questions whether or not people really do have the capacity to change.

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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