The Invisible Heiress
by Kathleen O'Donnell
Genre: Psychological Thriller
From two-time Book of the Year finalist Kathleen O’Donnell comes a gripping psychological thriller filled with unexpected twists.
A psychiatric patient with a dark secret
Preston Blair, a blogger with a dark sense of humor, is committed to a private psychiatric hospital, accused of a shocking crime. Her father Todd’s influence as a D.A. has kept her from prison, but her sanity remains on a knife-edge.
A therapist with an agenda
Preston’s therapist, Isabel, is too preoccupied working her latest con on a rich, married, sadomasochistic secret lover, to care about Preston’s problems, even when Preston tells her that her socialite mother, Harrison Blair, had committed an unthinkable crime herself years before—one that might help explain Preston’s own misdeeds.
A shocking secret that begs to be told
When Preston’s absent husband, Brendan, suddenly turns up and tries to prove her innocence, tragedy strikes. Preston’s convinced her parents were involved, but it turns out to be much more complicated. As Preston delves deeper into the mystery, her head clears and a devastating event that she had long erased from her muddled mind comes rushing back.
A killer that cannot be stopped
Stumbling onto video evidence, which exposes a killer’s greed and lust for power, Preston finds her own life is in danger from a surprising and once trusted source. She discovers that the truth hurts. It just might be the death of her.
Fans of Gillian Flynn and Jessica Knoll will love Kathleen O’Donnell.
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I don’t know which scene satisfied me most—my posh parents waiting in the concrete-walled visitors’ room or me deposited in front of them by a uniformed guard.
They sat across from me at the Formica-topped table. My father’s face was tight, eyes damp. Seeing him distressed kicked a dent in my smug demeanor, so I stopped looking at him, my eyes ping ponged toward my mother. Despite the sordid circumstances, she shone, her beauty ferocious, perhaps highlighted even more by the dour surroundings. Thick hair still a perfect shade of bombshell blonde, skin pale but flawless despite time’s march, the blue of her eyes a perpetual shock.
So entranced I forgot to insult her.
“My incarceration poses a real problem for you. Doesn’t it, Mother? Harrison Blair doesn’t sully herself with the downtrodden.”
She shifted backward then forward quick.
“You’re the problem, Preston. Downtrodden? That’s how you think of yourself? You—”
“Harrison, Preston,” Dad said. “Please. Let’s start right. Preston, your mother and I haven’t seen you in so long. Though God knows I’ve tried. Let’s all make a real effort.”
He paused, probably to steel himself for objections in stereo. None came.
Dad continued. “You’re not incarcerated. You’re hospitalized. Your new therapist what’s her name.” He squeezed his eyes shut like her name had been tattooed inside his lids. “Um, she, Isabel, says you’ve made some headway, participating in therapy now.”
“Might as well,” I said.
“That’s the spirit. Won’t be long until you’re back home. You’re doing so well considering how difficult, well you’re done with that part of the, uh, the rehabilitation.”
“You mean the sweating, shaking, puking, padded room part?” I said.
“You’re sober. That’s all I meant.”
My mother’s eyes popped like a kidnapper just yanked the hood off her head.
“Sober?” she said. “Doesn’t that term apply to alcoholics? Surely they have another term for homicidal, drunken pill add—”
“She’s clean, Harrison. That’s all that matters.”
Dad kept yanking on his tie. I thought he might hang himself with it right before our eyes.
“All that matters? Is that your idea of a joke, Todd?”
“Nice dye job, Dad. Only you’d believe those stupid commercials. So natural no one will—”
“Darling, stop,” he said to Mother. “Of course sobriety’s not all but it’s a start. I think, we think enough time has passed. We should jumpstart our family therapy.”
“We who?” I said.
The guard took a step forward, disapproving of my elevated tone. My father waved him back.
“Not Mother, I’m sure.”
“Well, Isabel thought—”
“Just because I’m in the cuckoo’s nest doesn’t mean I don’t have rights,” I said. “Isabel shouldn’t talk to you at all about me. I’m an adult. She’s my shrink. Confidentiality too big a word?”
“Shrinks. Therapy,” Mother said. “In my day you poured yourself a scotch and got on with it.”
“You don’t pour yourself anything. You hire that out,” I said.
“Family therapy’s part of the deal,” Dad said. “The judge insisted—”
“You own the judge. We don’t have to do anything. Remind him, Mother.”
“You should kiss Judge Seward’s robed ass,” she said, hissing like a stabbed tire. “You’d be someone’s bitch if not for his mercy.”
“You mean, if not for your money. Don’t pretend you did shit for me. You did everything for yourself, Mother, to stop the gossip. That’s what you do.”
With both fists, Dad twisted the tie he’d finally managed to take off.
“Preston, we hoped something good could come out of—”
“Todd, the only good that could possibly come out of this mess is if Preston stays hospitalized for the rest of her natural life.”
“Harrison, please. We agreed—”
“You agreed. With no one but yourself.”
“Hate to break up the party but I’m ready to go back to my room,” I said more to the guard than my parents.
“Wait, Preston,” Dad said, peering around the room, looking for his spine. “It doesn’t feel like it now, but here’s a chance for you and Mom to, I don’t know what, start again, improve your relationship, even a little. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?”
“Steady on, Dad. The devil comes dressed as everything you want.”
I let the guard take my arm, turned in time to see Mom lean her head back enough to dab at the scar under the collar of her ivory silk blouse, a scarlet line cut across her throat, not quite ear to ear, a vicious permanent necklace.
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Normal people scare me. I love the weirdos, the outcasts, the people on the fringe. The ones who’ve been broken but you can still see their cracks. The weirder the person the better I like them -- for some reason they like to tell me everything. Unbidden. They start talking and don’t stop. I should’ve been a cop. I definitely would’ve been the closer. I also have an irrational fear of being buried alive, sandwiches made in grocery stores and eggs cooked by someone other than me. I don’t like the word “of” or “that” and commas get on my nerves. Don’t start me on exclamation points.
Where were you born/grow up?
I was born in Tainan, Taiwan and adopted by American parents when I was born. My adopted father was in the Navy and they were stationed there and couldn’t have children. I grew up all over the world, but my most formative years were spent on a highway town in the middle of nowhere. That’s where I learned to love the eccentrics. I consider that place the village that raised me. I couldn’t wait to leave but I love going back. It always feels like home and I’m always welcome there.
Who is your hero?
My eleven year-old granddaughter, Adelia -- she’s been disabled and declining since she was two -- with no known diagnoses despite years of tests. Last year they discovered her brain stem was atrophying, for still no known reason but they do know it’s terminal. She has been in hospice care for the last year. She never complains, never feels sorry for herself. She tries harder and is tougher than any adult I’ve ever known. She lifts, and breaks, my heart all at the same time. Her body fails yet her spirit thrives. Her life and her illness have made me realize how important leaving a legacy in the written word is. I write about her literally and will write about her figuratively. I don’t want her bravery and exceptional life to be forgotten.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Invisible Heiress?
They all have secrets -- some sad, some bad, some dangerous. They are all, like every character I’ve ever written, oddballs. The protagonist Preston, and her nemesis Isabel, are both irreverently funny, terrible narcissists and angry. They are two people who’s paths would never have crossed but for a terrible crime. Isabel is struggling and in serious financial trouble, has always fended for herself. Preston is rich, with all the advantages that go along with it, including the influence to duck a criminal charge and she’s never taken care of herself a day in her life. Despite their glaring differences they are very much the same.
Did you learn anything during the writing of The Invisible Heiress?
Where do I start? Oh, yes. I learned the more I write the harder it is, the more I care about the finished product. I’ve been lucky to work with exceptional teachers, writers and editors. So I can’t fool myself anymore. I know what’s good and what sucks. I learned every sentence matters. I learned a lot about what I believe, what my definition of family is, and the strength of the mother/child bond. I believe it was Joan Didion who said she writes to find out what she thinks. That was definitely true for me with this novel. Everything I believe is there, on the page.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
Two favorites. First, I’d have to say the humor. It’s definitely irreverent and even inappropriate but it makes the story more unique. Some of the events are tragic yet the humor makes them more bearable, more relatable. The second is the rage. It was a lot of fun to write a character who is so enraged. Preston has no filter. She says what she wants, when she wants, to whomever she wants. She spares no one her wrath. It was freeing to give Preston life, an angry, spoiled, often hilarious one. It was also fun to write someone as manipulative and focused as Isabel. She does whatever it takes to get her way. No extreme is too extreme. I loved her even though she’s villainous.
Convince us why your book is a must read.
It’s not your run of the mill mystery/psychological suspense novel. At the risk of over using the word -- it’s unique. Preston is a blogger who blogs to try to figure out how her life ended up in the pisser, her followers try to help even though she’s snarky and bitchy. Her blog is a stand-in for her interior monologue, which I’ve never seen used in another novel. Her back and forth with her followers makes it more of a conversation than a thought process. The blog posts are irritating, outrageous, tender and sad all at the same time. And did I mention they’re funny? Badly behaved, funny people are a hoot to live vicariously through. Ultimately, this novel is an unexpected love letter to mothers and daughters disguised as a psychological thriller. Let’s face it. What’s more psychotic than familial relationships?
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I usually start with one or two characters. Then add as I go. But usually I delete characters as opposed to add before all is said and done. I’ve never once had a story all worked out in my mind before I start. I just write. Whatever story I start with is rarely what I end up with.
Advice you would give new authors.
Don’t listen to anyone who loves you. They are not your truth telling critics and they won’t help you write a decent book. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, “everyone (friends, family) tells me I should write a memoir because my life is so interesting.” It’s probably not. That might seem like tough advice but it’s true. Or, “everyone (friends, family) tells me I’m so funny I should write a book.” You might be funny as hell but making that into a story that sells is a whole other thing. An interesting life and/or a great sense of humor does not a novel make.
Learn your craft. Take classes. Read. Develop a very thick skin. Write. A lot. Get comfortable with the Delete key -- it’s your best friend. No one is born a great writer. You can make a decent writer into a really good writer but great writers are rare indeed. And rarely does a bad writer become a good one. It’s like most other things. You’ve got a bent for it or you don’t.
Writing a novel is hard, hard work - a slog a lot of the time. It can take years to get it right. Especially if you want to get it right. Yes, you need an editor - a story editor - a good one. Preferably one who’s had experience at a large publishing house. They’re expensive. They will hurt your feelings. They might tell you to get rid of one of your favorite characters (kill your darlings). They will delete that sentence it took you five days to write. They’ll cut entire chapters. You will probably cry. They might even tell you writing isn’t your strong suit.
Learn to listen to those who know better than you. And when you first start that’s just about everyone who has written anything at all.
Describe your writing style.
It’s direct, to the point, as spare as possible. I say what I mean without preamble. I don’t use ten words when four will do. No matter the subject matter there’s always humor. I write like I live. There aren’t many situations in life that you can’t find humor in. Even tragedy. In fact, sometimes all you can do is laugh. There will be plenty of time to cry.
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