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Interview: Jody Gehrman, Author of ‘Watch Me’

Jody Gehrman is a playwright, screenwriter, and author of eleven published novels. Her debut suspense novel, Watch Me, is published by St. Martin’s Griffin. Her previous novels have ranged from Young Adult to erotica. Babe in Boyland (Penguin’s Dial Books) won the International Teen Choice Award and was optioned by Disney. She is a Professor of Communications at Mendocino College in Northern California. She lives with her husband and three cats in Mendocino County. She’s addicted to semicolons.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Watch Me. When did you start writing and what got you into psychological suspense?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid; it’s been a lifelong obsession for me. I started taking it seriously in college, where I trained as a playwright. That’s when I learned that the inherent loneliness of writing has a natural antidote: collaboration. I still like to bounce back and forth between fiction and scripts to keep things fresh.

I started writing suspense a couple of years ago, and it’s an invigorating new landscape for me. Before that my novels were mostly Young Adult and contemporary women’s fiction. Like most writers, I feel the need to push myself into new territory from time to time. The recent wave of incredible suspense by strong women voices like Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Carolyn Kepnes and Ruth Ware inspired me to try my hand at psychological suspense.

Both as a reader and a writer, I’m more into why-dunnits than who-dunnits; the exploration of our shadows and secrets fascinates me. When I got the idea for Watch Me, I dropped everything I was working on and wrote it in a mad dash. I love those projects — the ones that sink their claws into the imagination and won’t let go.

Watch Me is a dark psychological suspense novel about a professor caught up in a dangerous relationship with her charming but psychotic student. Kate Youngblood feels like she’s disappearing; when Sam Grist enters her classroom, she feels seen for the first time in ages. What she doesn’t know is that he’s been stalking her for years, and he’ll stop at nothing to ensure their future together.

What was your inspiration for it?

Writing this book felt important and cathartic. “Watch Me” is a dare, a command, and a plea. I was trying to put into words an experience I think many women can relate to. We go from always being on display in our twenties and early thirties to suddenly feeling invisible. The minute we hit puberty we start to feel eyes on us; we get so used to that state, we unconsciously accept it as a law of nature. When all those eyes turn away from us, it’s as if we disappear. My protagonist is thirty-eight, divorced, emotionally bruised, and disappearing. That perfect storm makes her vulnerable to an obsessive sociopath. He may be dangerous, but at least he sees her.

What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?

Working in a brand new genre was scary and exciting. The book bounces between two very different voices—the writing professor and her deranged protégé. It’s funny; since I’ve worked as a writing professor for almost two decades, I assumed her voice would dominate the book. Nobody was more surprised than me when her unhinged student took on a voice that just exploded on the page. I guess we all have a bit of crazy in us. I’ve discovered that taking on the point of view of a sociopath is both fascinating and weirdly therapeutic.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

I hope the theme of middle-age invisibility will resonate with readers. We all yearn to be seen, to be savored and appreciated, no matter our age; it’s something we don’t talk about a lot, but our culture’s obsession with youth and beauty can really mess with one’s sense of self after a certain number of birthdays. Nothing would please me more than seeing Watch Me get passed from one woman to another as part of an ongoing conversation about that craving to become visible again.

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?

I’m a binge writer. My work as a full-time professor keeps me pretty busy, so during the semester I have to scratch out time in the cracks and crevices of everyday life. I try to write most days, but sometimes it’s not possible. Because of this, the urge to write wells up in me and spills out on weekends and holidays; during those times I often write for ten-hour stretches. That’s my favorite way to work, actually — to have a period of weeks where I can sink into the story and live there uninterrupted.

How do you celebrate the completion of a book?

With some books, the actual publication day can be anti-climactic. Watch Me has been such a great journey, so I’m determined to celebrate its release in style. We’re holding a launch party up here in Northern California with food and drink and live music—the works. I realized years ago that pub day is about celebrating with the people I love, coming together with my community. If I also sell some books, that’s fantastic, but it’s not really about that.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

Yes, please come visit and drop me a line. I love hearing from readers. My web site is Jody Gehrman.

Readers can find my blog there and information about all my books.

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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