116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa City author Erik Therme self-published his first novel, 'Mortom,” in 2014. The book caught the eye of someone at Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint, which published the book again in 2015. So from the very beginning, Therme has been a 'hybrid” author - meaning he both self-publishes and works with traditional publishers.
For his latest book, 'If She Dies,” he had the opportunity to work with a publisher. But he ultimately decided to self-publish the psychological thriller about the aftermath of a child's death.
The novel is narrated by Tess, a mother who has become obsessed with the daughter of the man who killed her own daughter. As Therme notes, this novel is a 'slow burn,” which is something of a change from his previous work that frequently proceeds at a breakneck pace as the author worked to constantly up the ante for his protagonists.
The more meditative pace of the new novel serves its themes well as Tess struggles to function inside the fog of her own grief - and to understand the pivotal events at the book's heart.
Therme answered questions via email.
Q: What was the original spark for 'If She Dies” and its characters?
As with most parents, I imagine, my greatest fear is the death of a child. How do you live through that moment, let alone the days, months and years that follow? Or even worse, what if the death wasn't an accident, and the person responsible wasn't brought to proper justice? This was the original spark for the story, and from there, it almost wrote itself.
Tess, as with most of my characters, is a thinly disguised version of myself, and it wasn't difficult to put myself in her shoes: trapped in time, unable to move forward, but also unable to escape the past.
Q: It would be fair to say that you are a 'hybrid” author - meaning you publish some books with publishing houses and you self-publish others. Why did you decide to self-publish 'If She Dies?”
The downside to being with a publisher is that your book becomes a 'product” and you have little (or no) control over things like your title, book cover, and how it's edited.
On the flip side, a publisher has the ability to market your book to a wide audience and they take on all the expense, which can be hefty.
I was offered a publishing contract for 'If She Dies,” but their vision didn't align with mine, so I made the decision - for better or worse - to publish this one on my terms. Big risks yield big rewards, as they say, so we shall see.
Q: To my mind, your writing gets sharper and more assured with each book. Is ongoing improvement something you consciously think about, or are your style and technical skills developing organically?
I appreciate the kind words! I'd like to think every author improves over time, but I will say this: I deliberately set out to reinvent myself with this one, as I wanted to write a 'slow burn” character-driven story. For me, the story dictates the style, and I think that first person allows for a much deeper reading experience.
I've also never written a married protagonist before, and the scenes between Tess and her husband Josh did develop very organically. Although, much to my wife's chagrin, I often found myself drawing from our real life conversations, and many of Tess and Josh's quirks and beliefs - good and bad - are based in fact. That said, my wife had preemptive 'veto” power over anything that hit too close to home.
Q: You have stayed away from producing a series so far. What appeals to you about the stand-alone thriller? Any thoughts of dabbling with recurring characters?
My previous novels have been brisk tales that often occur over a short period of time - sometimes even a few hours - with the main focus on the story. With a series, the reader needs to be invested in the characters and their world, and although more than one of my books have an open ending, none of them felt quite right for a sequel.
As an author, you also have to take into consideration that unless the first in your series does well, no one is going to be interested in a second or third book. That said, I do like the idea of characters from one book showing up in another, and I've been known to plant Easter eggs for my eagle-eyed readers.
Q: What are you working on next?
Funny you should ask, as I've been mulling over the idea of writing a sequel to 'If She Dies.” Disregard everything I said above. Ha!