Wendy Walker’s career as a family attorney has served her well in the thriller-writing business. Her first best-selling book, “All is Not Forgotten,” addressed memory repression, memory retrieval, and the possibilities for manipulating both. Her latest, “Emma in the Night,” tackles narcissism. With back-to-back novels addressing psychology and personality, Walker is carving out a niche “around real and identifiable pathological disorders”—a niche that should find fertile ground in the thriller world. Walker will be in Houston on Thursday to discuss and sign her new book. We talked to her about “Emma in the Night” and the psychology of personality disorders. The interview was published in the Houston Chronicle on August 13, 2017.
Q: Tell us about “Emma in the Night”
A: The book is about two teenage sisters who disappear one night from an affluent home. Three years later, only one of the teenagers returns, and she has a story about where the sisters have been. Her name is Cass, and we hear the story from her, but the narrative is also advanced by Dr. Abby Winter, an FBI Forensic Psychologist. She worked the case when the girls originally went missing, and it has haunted her. Dr. Winter is an expert in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a main theme in the book. It has a twist ending, it’s dark, but there is redemption in the novel, and I hope that readers will be drawn to the characters.
Q: In your novel, the sisters—Cass and Emma—have a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Tell us about this disorder.
A: It’s one of a spectrum of personality disorders, which includes histrionic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and so on. Many people in the field believe these disorders are created during early childhood in the way the brain is wired. With Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it’s not someone with a huge ego and confidence. It’s actually someone with a completely fractured ego, who has constructed a personality that protects them. They create a false ego that is almost impenetrable. They choose and cultivate people who will support it and reflect back to them what they need to see: that they are perfect, better than others, entitled to more things, and other attributes that I go into in the book. I carefully constructed the mother to fit within the actual illness.
Q: In your first book, “All is Not Forgotten,” you addressed the science of memories and recall, including repressed memories. This novel tackles Narcissistic Personality Disorder. What prompted you to write about the psychology of memory and personality?
A: I think I’m carving a niche in the thriller market around real and identifiable pathological disorders that I think are fascinating. I didn’t set out to create it, but I came across an article on memory science, and it was interesting to me. Around the same time, I was undergoing training as a Guardian Ad Litem, and that involved studying personality disorders. I incorporated some of that into “All is Not Forgotten,” and I got great feedback from the publisher and readers. They were captivated by these real-world issues, so I incorporated the Narcissistic Personality Disorder into “Emma in the Night.”
Q: You mention that you’ve had some training on these issues, but you are not a psychologist. What research do you do to explore these disorders in such detail?
A: I don’t have a degree in psychology, but my training as an attorney gave me basic knowledge to be aware of these disorders. It’s enough to know how they might work in a plot. As I am preparing to write the book, I consult with an expert really understands the disorders, and then I incorporate them fully into the novel.
Q: Unreliable narrators have been the trend of late—including your last two novels. As an attorney, you are often faced with unreliable narrators. How do you distinguish fact from fiction in the legal world?
A: In the legal world, it’s about perception and interpretation rather than people setting out to provide information that is factually untrue. There are two sides to every story—especially in family law—and it is fascinating when you look at the motions filed in court. The same facts are presented so differently! But people tend to psychologically and emotionally reconstruct events in a manner that allows them to deal with their intensely personal involvement in those events. It’s a coping mechanism of sorts. I’m sure I’ve come across people in the legal world—and in the larger world—who have actively lied without any sense of remorse. But that is much less common than people who simply change the tone of the story.
Q: “All is Not Forgotten” is being developed as a film. Do you have similar hopes for “Emma in the Night”?
A: Of course! I have a wonderful film agent, and I think the book will provide incredible roles for three talented actresses. I hope the twist-ending, the complexity of the characters, and the topic of narcissism will appeal to Hollywood.
Q: Do you find it ironic that Hollywood might do a film that addresses Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
A: (laughs) The thing about narcissists is that they don’t know they are narcissists!
Mike Yawn is the Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics at Sam Houston State University.