by Julie, summering in Somerville
I am thrilled to welcome Michele Dorsey back to the blog to talk about a her new book, Gone But Not Forgotten.
A ROSE IS A ROSE, ISN’T IT?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
When I began writing Gone But Not Forgotten (Severn House July 2023), I had no idea what category the story of Olivia Rose Taylor would fit in. I only knew I was writing the story of a 29-year-old woman who did not know the identity of her family of origin. Olivia’s mother fled to Vermont when Olivia was four and changed their identities when her husband threatened to kill them. But Olivia yearns to start a family of her own with her husband, who is a psychiatric resident, and reluctant to have babies without knowing Olivia’s gene pool. Olivia’s mother’s dementia and untimely death challenge her to find answers to who she is on her own.
What a mess. What was I writing? This was supposed to be a mystery. I only knew that Olivia story steeped deep within me. I found Olivia confronting psychological obstacles and barriers I wasn’t entirely familiar with and began researching something called “ambiguous loss,” which is essentially unresolved grief. Ambiguous loss falls into two basic categories. The first is when a person is physically present but psychologically absent. Olivia’s experience dealing with her mother’s dementia is a good example. The second category is when someone is psychologically present but physically absent. Olivia has grown up feeling the silent domination of her father’s influence in his absence without even knowing his name. When Olivia talks to her mother, it’s as if she’s talking to a stranger living in her mother’s body.
Her husband was adopted, so he too suffers the ambiguous loss of his birth parents and because his adoptive parents have died, he gets hit on both ends. Ambiguous loss is real psychological soup to stew characters in. The bottom line is a person sits across the table from someone who stares back but isn’t there, or sits alone at a table looking at an empty chair but feels the presence of a person missing.
The next psychological element Olivia faced was gaslighting, which is a term taking from a 1944 movie of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman. Gaslighting is a masterful and devastating form of manipulation used by a more powerful person to control another by twisting events and results in emotional damage in the recipient such as self-doubt. “That never happened,” and “I’m not the one who did that. You did,” are examples of the undermining that comes with gaslighting. Olivia encounters gaslighting in her relationship with her husband, leading her to feel unworthy and plainly pathetic.
All very interesting, but what was I writing? Although there is no blatant violence, the story takes place in Boston with scenes in hospitals, courts, restaurants, that are not consistent with cozies. I decided I must be writing a psychological thriller since there was so much psychology to the story. Because Olivia’s quest is to find her family so she can create her own family, it became clear Gone But Not Forgotten is a domestic thriller. According to the Crime by the Book blog, the term “domestic thriller” is one which every single reader might define just a bit differently – but at its most basic, this subgenre of crime fiction is a style of psychological thriller that focuses on interpersonal relationships.”
Does it matter in the end how you categorize a book? Writers know it can drastically affect marketing and sales. But my question is to readers. Does a label stop you from reading a book? Because a rose is just an Olivia Rose… which happens to be the name of the David Austen rose in my garden.
About the Author
C. MICHELE DORSEY, three-time finalist in St. Martin’s Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Competition, is a lawyer, mediator and adjunct law professor. When she’s not visiting St. John, her favorite island in the Caribbean, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Michele is also the author of the acclaimed Sabrina Salter series set on St. John in the Caribbean. SALT WATER WOUNDS was the latest addition to the series, which began with NO VIRGIN ISLAND and was followed by PERMANENT SUNSET and TROPICAL DEPRESSION She also writes the Danny and Nora O’Brien series. starting with OH DANNY GIRL, a legal thriller featuring Danny O’Brien, a young female lawyer whose newly widowed mother joins the firm just as Danny’s husband is found murdered, naked, with another woman in a hotel.
About the Book
An elderly mother with dementia – and dark secrets.
A daughter who’s desperate to know the truth – no matter what.
Get hooked by this thrilling, slow-burn novel of domestic suspense from critically acclaimed mystery author C Michele Dorsey.
Ever since Olivia and her mother fled their home, back when she was just a child, Olivia’s lived with her mother’s secrets and mantras. Don’t stand out. Don’t make friends. And most important of all: Don’t ask questions.
Olivia is now a twenty-nine-year-old law student. She lives in Boston in a beautiful home with the perfect husband. It’s a good life. But she’s always longed to know more about her family history, and now her beloved mother has dementia, she knows she probably never will.
That is, until her mother signs a check in a different name, the day before she dies, leaving Olivia an unexpected clue to her past – a clue that will lead her down a dark and deadly path.
Because someone doesn’t want Olivia to know her real identity. Her husband, her mother’s caregivers, even her best friend – can she trust they’re who they say they are? The truth about Olivia’s past may set her free – but only if she doesn’t die first . . .