Author Elaine Viets loves mysteries. She’s the author of a series of humorous “Dead End” job mysteries, a slew of cozy mysteries, and even some mystery shopper mysteries (I really want to read one of those!). But when it came to her latest novel, Brain Storm, the mystery began not just in her own mind, but in her own head.
And there’s a Kentucky connection! Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt is the doctor who saves Angela’s life. Born in Kentucky and named for his mother’s favorite country singer.
Elaine Viets was kind enough to visit with daeandwrite and share some of her experiences. I think Elaine’s suggestions will make a great blueprint for your book club and Brain Storm an intriguing choice. Lots of great discussion points: what happens when you can’t be you anymore; how does a small community protect its own; who do you rely on when you can’t trust anyone?
Give a read to the q & a below, then go check out Elaine Viets’ Brain Storm:
DaeandWrite: I understand you have some things in common with your protagonist Angela Richman, the death investigator who suffers a stroke near the beginning of the novel. Tell us about your experience and how it influenced Brain Storm.
Elaine Viets: In April, 2007, I had a series of blinding headaches, which I thought were migraines. After four days, I had trouble talking and doing everyday tasks, such as tying a bow in my robe belt. I couldn’t figure out how to use a fork to scramble a breakfast egg. If you know my cooking skills, this sounds like a fair description, but I seriously could not figure out that fork. I was determined to ignore these symptoms and drive 40 miles to give a speech, but my husband took away my car keys and called my internist, who sent me to the ER at a hospital that billed itself as one of the “fifty best” in the US. The neurologist on call said I was “too young and fit to have a stroke” and sent me home. I was supposed to report that Wednesday for a PET scan, but Wednesday never happened. Instead, I had six strokes, including a hemorrhagic stroke, and brain surgery. I was in a coma for a week and spent more than three months in the hospital. I used a walker for six months and a cane for two years. I’ve made a nearly complete recovery, but that took more than four years.
DaeandWrite: Viets describes Angela Richman’s mirror experience near the beginning of Brain Storm:
“Better,” she said, though another headache was gathering at the edges of her mind, like a storm on the horizon.
“Would you like coffee?” she asked.
“Brought my own,” he said, holding up his thermos. Angela scrambled an egg, then swallowed another Imitrex.
She fought the headache all day as she struggled with her report on Ben Weymuller’s death investigation. Angela turned it in about four o’clock. At four thirty, Rick poked his head in her study door.
“I’m leaving now,” he said. “this is even more screwed up than I thought. It’s gonna take at least a month.”
“I’ll give you the spare key, in case I’m at work tomorrow,” she said. Like everyone in the Forest, she trusted Rick.
Angela could barely see him through the blinding migraine dazzle, as if he were spotlighted on a brightly lit stage. She was determined to push through this. She was too young and fit to have a stroke. The Forest’s top neurologist had said so.
“Are you feeling better?”
“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’ll lie down until it’s time to go out with Katie.”
Angela crawled into bed for a nap that soft spring night, Thursday, March 10. And woke up nineteen days later.
In Brain Storm, Angela confronts a world that’s radically changed. She’s physically infirm, her appearance has been radically transformed from surgery and medication, her job is at risk, and something funky is going on with the doctor that mistakenly released her. Throughout, Angela complains vocally about the hospital food, a complaint I anticipate began with Elaine.
DaeandWrite: I would guess that during your own hospital stay you became more than frustrated by the hospital food?
Elaine Viets: The food was horrible – and so unhealthy. Red meat with gravy, white bread, fried food, no fresh fruits or vegetables. I still shudder at the thought of canned green beans. Don’t hospital dieticians read the nutrition guidelines?
DaeandWrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?
Elaine Viets: Angela Richman, my death investigator, likes to hit the highway in her black Dodge Charger, and play her favorite songs from her teen years in the 1990s – nice and loud. She likes Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Londonbeat’s “I’ve Been Thinking about You.” She’d be mortified if you knew she also listens to Marky Mark’s “Good Vibration.”
I don’t listen to music while I write or edit, but at the end of the day, I like to kick back to classic rock: the Stones, the Doors, Eric Clapton.
DaeandWrite: Angela and her friend Katie have a favorite Mexican restaurant. Is this based on one of your favorite restaurants? Or do you cook yourself?
Elaine Viets: I’m a terrible cook, but I love Mexican food. There are some good ones in Fort Lauderdale, including Casa Frida’s in Fort Lauderdale. If you’re in the area, I recommend it. It’s a cut above the usual taco joints.
DaeandWrite: Brain Storm was released in 2016. What’s next?
Elaine Viets: The second Angela book, Fire and Ashes, which I’m writing now. It will be
published by Thomas and Mercer in August 2017.
DaeandWrite: Any book signings/events coming up?
Elaine Viets: Yes, I’ll be at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention at the Marriott New Orleans, September 1618. I have three events at Bcon on Saturday, September 17. From 3:003:50 PM, I’m on a panel, “Shake It Off: From Notes and First Draft to Finished Novel.” This is a funny, thoughtprovoking discussion with mystery writers Harry Hunsicker, LS Hawker, Laura McHugh, Jeffrey Siger and me. Daniel Hale is our moderator. At 4 o’clock, right after the panel, I’ll sign my books, including Brain Storm.
At 2 p.m. that same Saturday, I’ll be signing Blood on the Bayou at Bouchercon. More than 22 writers, from Alison Gaylin to David Morrell, Sheila Connelly to Gary Phillips, have donated stories to this NOLAthemed anthology. New York Times bestseller Heather Graham wrote the introduction. I did a DeadEnd Job story. Helen and Margery leave the Coronado for a case in New Orleans in “Good and Dead.” All proceeds from Blood on the Bayou will benefit the New Orleans Public Library. Buy a copy, read your favorite authors, and help the library.
On October 8, I’ll teach a class – “Jump Starting Your Writing” – at Sleuthfest on Saturday, a oneday intensive writing conference sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. This year, SOS is in Venice, Florida. For information, go to https://www.regonline.com/SleuthFestonSaturday2016
On Nov. 12, I’ll be in Vero Beach, Florida, teaching a writing workshop for the Laura (Riding) Jackson Foundation, “Writing Killer Mysteries – The Basics” from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Loft. More information is at
After the workshop, I’ll sign Brain Storm and my DeadEnd Job mysteries at 3 p.m. at the Vero Beach Book Center, 392 21st Street that same day.
I’m really looking forward to next spring, when I’m the Malice Domestic 29 Guest of Honor from Thursday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s quite a lineup: Marcia Talley is Toastmaster, Charlaine Harris is honored for Lifetime Achievement, the awardwinning Martin
Edwards receives the Poirot Award for his contribution to the genre, and Luci Zahray is Fan Guest of Honor. Luci’s no ordinary fan. She’s also the “poison lady” who’s helped writers kill thousands. (www.malicedomestic.org)
DaeandWrite: Where can readers purchase Brain Storm?
Elaine Viets: Brain Storm is a trade paperback, ebook, and audio book. You can buy it here: (amzn.to/2awPsIe). Right now the paperback version is on sale for $9.99. Autographed copies are available at The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York City (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, Delray Beach, Florida, (email@example.com).
Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog.
So, for this Book Club I’m going to refer to the grilled chicken sandwiches, artichoke salad and chocolate cupcakes Katie brings to Angela in the hospital. But I have to also add:
cauliflower! The original brain food.
My culinary hero Ina Garten has a delicious roasted artichoke salad recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-artichoke-salad-recipe.html.
For the cauliflower, though I definitely will leave one head whole and sliced, I also love to mash it for low-carb mashed potatoes. Put cauliflower in pot with enough water to cover. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook the cauliflower for 12-15 minutes or until very tender. 3. Drain and discard all of the water (the drier the cauliflower is, the better) and add the milk, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper and mash with a masher until it looks like mashed potatoes.
There’s also a complete Mexican menu for dinner in Brain Storm: guacamole with thick chunks of ripe avocado, crunchy tortilla chips and hot salsa. Platters of steak fajitas, chicken burritos, and steaming bowls of black beans and rice.
I like Elaine Viets’ list above. If you want to go a different route, here are ten songs Steve Jobs used to train his brain according to Inc. Magazine: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/10-songs-steve-jobs-used-to-train-his-brain.html
Well, this is definitely one of those physically transformative roles that every actress wants to win her Oscar.
Angela Richman: Anne Hathaway
Katie: Kathryn Hahn
Dr. Gravois: Tony Goldwyn
Dr. Tritt: I think he may be a little long in the tooth for the character as written, but I couldn’t help but see Billy Ray Cyrus in the role.
Let me take a moment and share some information inspired by Brain Storm that might save a life. According to the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, these are the ways to recognize stroke:
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:
Thank you so much to Elaine Viets for sharing with daeandwrite.wordpress.com. If you enjoyed this blog post, please follow daeandwrite and share with your friends.