We’re super excited for Vicki Grant’s upcoming thriller, Tell Me When You Feel Something, so we asked Vicki to pop by the blog and answer a couple of questions!
Q&A with Vicki Grant
Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?
Here’s my elevator pitch: Vivian Braithwaite is in a coma. Lots of kids shot cell phone footage of her taking a pill at a party just before she seized so there’s no real question what caused her to overdose – or is there? Davida Williamson has her doubts. Despite her crippling shyness – and her own mixed feelings about her apparent friend – Davida is determined to discover what really happened. Throw in some romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and a growing sense of dread – and that’s basically the premise behind Tell Me When You Feel Something.
The inspiration for the story came to me years ago when I found out that some of my daughter’s high school friends worked as “simulated patients” at med school. Their job basically was to ’simulate’ illnesses so student doctors could sharpen their medical chops before getting sicced on real patients. Until then, I had no idea that was a thing. My brain kicked into high gear. A YA story set in a med school? Kids having to fake diseases and conditions? I had so many ideas about what I could do with that scenario. My first attempt was a comedy TV series with the punny title of Ben Dover (also the name of our hapless hero.) I couldn’t talk anyone into buying the series, but the SP angle hung around in the back of my head. By the time I’d conceived of Viv and Davida working as SPs, the story had become much darker. My brother’s in the medical business so I’d occasionally pick his brain about what he’d witnessed. I could always count on him for some deliciously gross (if anonymous!) details after a night in emergency but it was the more complex issues he encountered that really resonated with me. I’d spoil it to say too much more other than to add that although the particulars in the book are fictional, the situations (and machinations that created them) are based on reality.
Designer credit: Talia Abramson
There are multiple perspectives in the book – what was the easiest perspective to write? The hardest? Do you have a favorite character?
Viv’s chapters were probably, if not the easiest to write, at least the easiest to conceive. I certainly wasn’t the star in high school that Viv was, but we shared a similar background. I’d never suggest I had an unhappy childhood – because I didn’t! – but I understand firsthand what Viv was going through. As in her case, my parents adored me (and my siblings), they just couldn’t stand each other. This led to some notably bad behavior. Different than in the book, but still far from ideal. Through it all, despite the unseemly behavior happening behind closed doors, we were expected to play happy, well-adjusted teenagers in the outside world. More than that, we were expected to succeed. Anything less felt like abject failure.
This, of course, isn’t an unusual situation. To a greater or lesser degree, don’t all teenagers live with the conviction that they have a terrible secret to hide? Sometimes it has to do with family breakdown or addiction. Sometimes it’s just having a sister you think is weird (which, depending on your state of mind, can loom almost as large). In the book, Viv is at the darkest part of her struggle, before she’s developed any perspective on it. I remember what that felt like – and how growing up was all I needed to get past the worst of it.
As for the hardest perspective to work from? Again, I can’t give too much away but “the bad guys” are usually the most difficult to get right. Partly that’s because I don’t identify with them (geez, I hope not) but also because I don’t believe anyone is entirely evil. Very, very bad things are done in this book. Terrible, unforgivable things. But that doesn’t mean I want to paint the perpetrator and/or perpetrators as unredeemable monsters. No one is all bad, no matter what they’ve done. I always try to imbue my villains with some decency, some inherent worth. They’re human beings after all. How to do that without in ANY WAY condoning their behavior is the tough part.
Who are some of your favorite thriller writers (or what are some of your favorite thriller novels)?
I love thrillers that make sense. That sounds like one of those “well, duh,” responses but a lot of thrillers don’t. The clues might all add up, but the basic premise doesn’t. For instance, the social media influencer who singlehandedly cracks an international cocaine ring? The pre-school teacher who teams up with a semi-pro skateboarder to solve the murder of a Moldavian prince? Might make for a fun read, but when would that ever happen? So I’m going to go way, way back for this and mention Scott Turow’s book, Presumed Innocent. It’s not a YA book but it’s still the best thriller ever. It’s a true mystery set in a real-world situation, solved by someone realistically in a position to solve it. Brilliant!
What’s your preferred genre to write? Would you write another thriller?
I love writing thrillers, especially with some humor, so yes. I’d absolutely write another one! (In fact, I’ve got one on my laptop right now, waiting for a polish.)
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a middle-grade novel called Green Velvet Dress, Worn Once. It’s about vintage clothing and medically-assisted death and forgiveness and somehow figuring out how to fill the giant gaping hole torn in your life when the person you love more than anything dies. Oh, and it’s a mystery and it’s funny too.
Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?
At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I live in Nova Scotia where there’s been virtually no COVID, so there’s very little I’ve done without during the pandemic. Our borders were closed so I haven’t been able to travel – but how can I complain about that given what the rest of the world is dealing with? I feel very lucky. (I’ve even be able to get my highlights touched up regularly!)
Thanks for joining us, Vicki! If you’re intrigued by Tell Me When You Feel Something, make sure to request it on NetGalley right now or pick up a copy on June 15!
Tell Me When You Feel Something
By Vicki Grant
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270091 | Penguin Teen Canada
It seemed like a cool part-time program – being a “simulated” patient for med school students to practice on. But now vivacious, charismatic Viv lies in a very real coma. Cellphone footage just leads to more questions. What really happened? Other kids suspect it was not an intentional overdose – but each has a reason why they can’t tell the truth. Through intertwining and conflicting narratives, a twisted story unfolds of trust betrayed as we sift through the seemingly innocent events leading up to the tragic night. Perhaps simulated patients aren’t the only people pretending to be something they’re not. . . . The perfect after-school job turns deadly in this contemporary YA thriller that exposes the dark reality of #MeToo in the world of medicine, for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.