A Woman’s Midlife Awakening

Sheila McGraw Author Interview

The Knife Thrower’s Wife follows a woman that, after failing to save her marriage after his infidelity, ends up the prime suspect in his mysterious murder. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

While many mystery novels start with the discovery of a dead body, I deliberately opened the book with the protagonist, Julia, having a disturbing dream of her husband as a knife thrower with her strapped to his target; and unfortunately, his aim isn’t the greatest. I wanted to write a more nuanced, psychological profile of Julia and allow the reader to befriend her, get to know her character, and possibly relate to her situation before bodies appeared. Julia’s reaction to the dream and how she passes it off as a fever-dream is in keeping with her deflection from, and her burying of, unsavory happenings in her life and her past that are gradually revealed. Julia is a complicated mix of smart, capable, loyal and talented, but also a people-pleasing doormat.

Once her character is revealed, I wanted her to begin to change, to become stronger, so I had her pay attention to her ever-increasingly violent dreams and not ignore them as she would have before. She begins to paint scenes from the dreams and begins to understand that the nightmares are her subconscious trying to awaken her to the fact that she lives in a state of denial in a gilded cage.

It intrigued me that her art was imitating dreams, her dreams were imitating her real life, while her pretend life was superficially imitating a Hallmark card. Also, several unsavory characters have gatecrashed Julia’s orbit and she must deal with their presence which also brings out a new dynamic in her.

In plotting the story I was aware the book could end here, as a fascinating psychological look at a woman’s midlife awakening through her art and her husband’s betrayal. However, there was another twist to be had. And since I was writing a mystery, it’s only fitting that when a body is found, one of her paintings raises the suspicions of two detectives, one eager and young, the other, older and jaded… until finally, she endures a trial.

Julia starts off the novel as a devoted and submissive wife and through the course of everything becomes a stronger more confident person. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Since time immemorial, men have had the physical strength (and the anger issues), for good and for bad. Women tend to be nonviolent nurturers by nature and by conditioning. Women are nice. Many women, like Julia, take their niceness too far. They go along to get along and will accept, or at least work with, the status quo to preserve a lifestyle, a standard of living, a marriage, a relationship, a career. Julia has taken her niceness to a tipping point. She is a successful artist, she happily runs the house, shops, cooks, cleans the pool, tends the garden… all admirable and enjoyable… until she starts to recognize that not only are her efforts taken for granted, they are expected. Add a deception to the mix and there comes a turning point as she begins to question the status quo. Only then can she begin to see the real picture and from there she is forced to take action and quit being the ‘javelin catcher’ for the entire family.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

The Inadvertent submissive: The belief that we can have it all begets the superwoman-complex of demonstrating our ability by taking on way too much and ending up as the maid, bottlewasher, chauffeur, chef, renovator, seamstress, wage-earner, and all-round fixer… a slave to everyone’s wishes.

Gaslighting: Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. It’s important to trust our gut and trust what’s in front of our eyes.

The subconscious: Our conscious self organizes our closet by putting all the blouses, pants, and jackets in groupings. Our subconscious self pulls everything out of the closet including stuff that’s hidden at the very back — the boxes of Halloween costumes, old love letters, journals, and sex toys.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The next book is Sketchy Characters — available February 15th, 2022.

A devastating hurricane.
A frantic search for a missing friend.
A brutal double murder…
When chaos blows up Marilyn’s life and she’s forced to go on the run from ruthless killers, she can’t dodge a cast of sketchy characters that ooze into her orbit. There’s a crooked lawyer and his wealthy clients, an internet scammer, a pair of suspicious hipsters, and a serial killer targeting the artists at Marilyn’s life-drawing group. Throw a couple of good friends and a sexy and protective detective into the mix and it’s not all bad. Even so, it’s survival of the smartest and most resilient as the action moves full speed, the twists keep coming, and Marilyn tackles the circumstances of her new, near-impossible normal.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Illustrator Julia Green believes she’s living the American dream in suburban Houston, until she begins having sleepwalking nightmares featuring her husband, Austin, as a knife thrower with scantily clad Julia strapped to his target. And Austin’s aim is regrettably poor. Julia paints scenes from her dreams, and in analyzing them, realizes that what her friend, Trix, said is true, that ‘she doesn’t see what is right in front of her’. Soon, as Julia questions her lifestyle and state of mind, her observations light the wick on an explosive cache of suspicions and repressed secrets. When an unexpected tragedy occurs, Julia becomes the focus of the media and police, and she must cast off her submissive persona, find inner strength, and navigate treacherous waters to her long-overdue awakening. Review excerpts Foreword/Clarion: 4 stars 124 words In Sheila McGraw’s energetic, polished mystery The Knife Thrower’s Wife, cracks begin to appear in a long marriage. Julia loves her husband, Austin, whose portrayal as a mean, even sinister, man is spot-on. The book is realistic in its depiction of a family picking up the pieces of a marital implosion. In humorous fantasy scenes, Julia slips into daydreaming about how she would react more assertively to people if she had no personal and social constraints. Visual lines show how Julia feels “tiny, hairy centipede feet of fear” and capture her house as “a domestic detention unit” in the eyes of a big city resident, and in conversations, characters’ South Texas mannerisms come out to entertaining effect. —Foreword (Clarion Review)

Posted on January 31, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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