Saturday, February 18, 2023


I want to thank Chris Patchell for taking the time for this interview!


Chris Patchell is an award-winning USA Today Bestselling Author who started writing to curb the homicidal tendencies she experienced during her daily Seattle commute. She writes gripping suspense thrillers with romantic elements set in the Pacific Northwest and believes good fiction combines a magical mix of complex characters, compelling plots, and well-crafted stories.

Over the years, she has written numerous popular books and series, including bestsellers Deadly Lies, In the Dark, and her most recent collection of small-town crime novellas, the Lacey James Series. Along the way, her writing has won several awards, including a 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Award, an IndieReader Discovery Award, and a Pacific Northwest Literary Award.

When she’s not writing, you can find Chris reading books, hanging out with her family, watching football, and struggling to keep up with her workout regime, all while shushing her incessantly yapping Yorkies. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two kids.

When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was given my first writing assignment in the third grade. We were supposed to write a few paragraphs on something we liked to do, but I wrote a five-page story on vampires. It was so good that my dad thought I stole it from a comic book. That’s when I fell in love with writing.

Did you have any influencing writers growing up?

In my twenties, my bookshelf was an even split between Stephen King and Danielle Steel. 

When I started writing again in my mid-thirties, I was torn between writing romance and suspense. In the end, suspense won out (secretly I blame this on my career in technology where it is oh-so-therapeutic to theoretically kill off your co-workers on paper) BUT I will admit that there’s always a hint of romance in my stories. 

I love digging into my characters’ psyches to see what makes them tick, and suspense stories provide ample opportunity to explore the darker side of human nature.

Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

Um… no. Okay, seriously no, but often when I’m crafting characters, I’ll focus in on a specific behavior or characteristic and think about someone I’ve met who shows similar behavior. I’ll pick apart how that characteristic shows up for them, and what part of their life’s experience may have played a role in making them behave the way they do. 

It’s not the person per se, just a small sliver of who they are that I embed in that character, which makes them feel deeper to the reader, more realistic. 

For instance, when I was writing Dark Harvest (book 3 of the Holt Foundation Series), I had a character who loved babies and I thought about my mom. When there was a baby in the room, she was always first in line to hold her. I started to think about why my mom loved babies so much, and I think it’s because they’re so trusting and accepting. They’re so easy to love. I baked that core emotion into my character by crafting a backstory that demonstrated that experience. It was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Where do you draw your book inspirations from?

Oh, so many places. Sometimes it’s a word, or an image, or a memory. Sometimes it’s a story I see on the news which triggers an idea. Often, I’ll combine that idea with something else I’ve been noodling on. 

The idea for my latest book, The Perfect Brother, was based on a conversation I had with a friend of mine over a bottle of wine at Cannon Beach. He was leading a data science team at the time, and they worked on a project to see if using publicly available data, they could have predicted a high-profile but unexpected business merger. 

Turns out, the answer was yes, and as we talked about their experiment, I started to think about how marketing companies use our cell phone data to track our buying habits, and how that data could be used to predict what we will buy next and from where. 

Then I started to think about how Artificial Intelligence and predictive analysis could be used to solve crimes. Some of this technology exists today. The story ended up being about a software engineer named Indira Saraf who adapted the AI technology she was working on to try to identify the person who murdered the woman her brother was accused of killing. The storyline grapples with some of the same issues that AI solutions also contend with, like implicit bias. It made for some pretty interesting research.

Do you have a basic outline when starting a new story or do you let the characters lead the way?

Great question. I do a combination of both. I have a loose outline that I use as a guideline, and I let my characters deviate from the path where and when necessary. 

Earlier in my writing journey I wrote elaborate outlines, but I found that sometimes when those pesky characters showed up on the page, they had minds of their own. I ended up wasting a lot of time and effort creating rigid outlines only to toss them aside and let the characters blaze their own trails. 

But I do find that I need a sense of where the story is going. Often, when I get stuck, it’s because I don’t know what comes next or how a particular part of the storyline unfolds. In those situations, I pump the brakes and take the time to outline the next chunk of the story. That’s always the secret sauce for me to help get things moving in the right direction again.

When you are picturing the characters in your book, do you have a cheater photo for inspiration?

Funny you should ask. Typically, I don’t, but in the case of The Perfect Brother, I did put together a collage of character images for inspiration.

Many people read as a form of escape and relaxation.  What is your favorite way to sit back and relax?

I’m fortunate enough to live in Oregon within easy driving distance of the Pacific Ocean. The ocean beaches here are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. One of my favorite things to do is to go for a long walk on the beach or stop at a vineyard for a lovely glass of wine. Although I’m not a camper or a hiker, I do love spending time outdoors. The long summer evenings on the west coast are magical.

Who are your favorite current authors to read?

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot in my genre. Mary Burton, Lisa Regan, Rachel Caine, Kendra Elliott, Lisa Gardner. I’ve also sprinkled in some Kristin Hannah.

What are your favorite books by others?

There are so many! But here are a few that I’d highly recommend. 

Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens. 

In an Instant, by Suzanne Redfearn. 

Kristin Hanna’s book, The Great Alone, is one of my all-time favorites. 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. 

I’m currently reading The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith, which I’m quite enjoying.

Do the locations in the stories have any meaning to you?

Absolutely! Most of my books are set in the Pacific Northwest, where I’ve spent half of my life. From cities where I’ve lived, like Seattle and Vancouver, BC to small-town settings like Whidbey Island and Sweet Home, Oregon, I love this area. 

Not only is it beautiful in the summer and moody in the winter rain, but it has so many natural barriers that make for great suspense including the Cascade Mountain range and the valleys that tend to flood. 

Oh, and let’s not forget Seattle traffic. I feel as if that’s a big enough barrier that it deserves its own classification. I do love to give my readers a taste of the area, so that if you’re from here, it rings true, and if you haven’t been, you get a sense of what it’s like.

Do you write in single or multiple POV?

I’ve done both. Although I primarily write from multiple points of view, one of my books, Deception Bay, is written in present tense, single point of view. What I loved most about that book was the protagonist’s voice. Austin Martell is a funny, if not somewhat narcissistic writer who is forced to go home to Whidbey Island to deal with his mother’s accident, which may in fact be no accident at all. Deception is also unusual in that it’s a romantic suspense story told from a male’s point of view.

What do you find to be your best research tool?

I do a lot of online research, but I also have a smart and talented group of friends who have other smart and talented friends, so when I want to dive deeper into a topic, be it cyber-sleuthing, police procedure, or research on genetics, I reach out to my friend network. 

Someone always knows someone who is willing to share their knowledge. Plus, I have “cold called” a few experts. One of my favorite research conversations was with a guy who owns his own opposition research firm in Portland, Oregon. Some of the things that are unearthed within the bounds of a political campaign are truly shocking. I found him through an article written in the Oregonian. 

I also interviewed a fire chief in Duvall, Washington. That conversation started out a little stiff, but by the time I reached the part where I said “so if I started a fire, shot a witness and flooded the valley, you’d be out of resources,” we were laughing like old friends.

Do you write under a pen name?  Also, do you write under more than one name?

Once upon a time when I first started publishing, I thought about using a pen name. In fact, I had a great one already picked out. But in the end, it was my husband who convinced me to publish under my own name. 

I was worried that if I was interviewing for jobs in my profession, the person interviewing me could google my name and find out that I write creepy suspense and crime novels. My husband shot back, “so she’ll know you write books. That’s actually pretty cool.” Turns out, he was right.

What genre do you write and why is this your preference?

I write suspense novels and crime thrillers, mostly because I like the high-stakes, the fast pace, and the opportunity it gives me to explore lives that are very unlike my own.

Tell me something about yourself outside of writing.  Jobs, accomplishments, family, quirky trait...what led to you being you?

Hmmm… I used to be super shy, so instead of going to college right away, I opened a retail record store in my home town after high school. When I saw the movie High Fidelity, based on Nick Hornby’s novel, I laughed out loud because some of those characters rang so true to my experiences back then. When I closed the record store, I finally went to college and got a grown-up job, but those were some good years.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Trust your instincts and don’t let anything (self-doubt, criticism, etc.) stop you. Start where you are and always have one thing about your writing that you’d like to improve. You don’t have to be perfect. Embrace the concept of continual improvement.

How do you deal and process negative book reviews?

I don’t read them. I’ll have my husband scan negative reviews to see if there’s anything constructive there, but I’ve learned that most one- or two-star reviews can really be summed up as “this wasn’t the book for me.”

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Editing. Always the editing. Though it’s absolutely necessary, it triggers my perfectionist tendencies and I feel as if I may never escape the endless loop. In the past few years, I’ve learned to trust my instincts and stop second-guessing myself. This has helped.

What do you need in your writer’s space to keep you focused?

I SHOULD turn off all notifications when I’m writing. That would help eliminate distractions and help me focus. 

I also have a set of noise-canceling headphones for when the dogs are kicking up a fuss and the whole family is home. Distractions abound!

What is your naughty indulgence as you are writing?

Dark chocolate with sea salt. Definitely.

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?  And why?

Mary Burton. I’d want to know how she got to where she is and what advice she would give.

What is your schedule like when you are writing?  Do you have a favorite writing snack or drink?

Coffee. Grapes. And dark chocolate (see aforementioned).

Do you listen to music when you write – what kind of music is your favorite?

Nope. I’m a write in silence kind of gal! Music activates a part of my brain that steals focus from everything else I’m doing. 

I do love to write on days when the rain is pounding down. I feel like that’s the sound track that sets the mood for many of my novels. Ha! I suppose that sounds kind of dark, and it is, but I do also like to inject some humor and levity into my stories when I can.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

I have two yappy Yorkies who share my office, and as far as office mates go, they’re okay. They can be disruptive if they see danger approach. Danger could be in the form of an Amazon delivery person parked outside the house, the landscapers (with their scary scary leaf blowers), a third grader sprinting down the sidewalk to catch the bus, or a stray paper bag floating down the street (sure, it looks harmless, but what if it’s a Chinese spy balloon).

Their motto is: stay vigilant. Family safety is paramount!

What is your kryptonite as a writer?  What totally puts you off your game?

Noise. Being interrupted every fifteen minutes. Not knowing where the story is going or how a particular plot point plays out. This could bring my productivity to a screeching halt for days until I work it out. No bueno.

Have you ever killed off a character that your readers loved?

Ha! Yes. Most of the reviews written on my first book, Deadly Lies, mention the shocker-roo of an ending. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but… Yeah.

How do you celebrate after typing THE END?

I never celebrate at the end of a first draft, because that’s when the real work begins, and by the END of the editing cycle, I’m usually too exhausted to do much other than maybe drink a glass of wine on the couch and drool (not at the same time—wine first; drool later).

This is something I want to change, so recently I’ve decided that on publication day, I’ll take the day off and spend it at the ocean. Do something that is regenerative; that I enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed this interview!

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