Tell us about your upcoming release, Danger to Others.
Late October in the Pacific Northwest foothills brings more than a change of season. Psychiatric evaluator Grace Vaccaro is on edge. A field evaluation gone wrong leads to a shooting, Grace’s mother has died and ghosts from her family past are everywhere. When a young woman says she killed her therapist, Grace suspects it’s delusion until the woman escapes from a locked unit. The search to bring her back forces Grace to face her personal demons.
Please tell us a little about yourself!
When I was a girl, I wanted to be Dear Abby. Maybe that led to my career in mental health or better yet, writing. I am the author of two mystery novels, Grave Disturbance and Danger to Others (to be released in March 2022). I worked in both community and inpatient mental health for many years and taught at the Quileute Tribal School on the Washington coast. I received my BA from Ohio University and my Master’s from Seattle University. When I’m not writing, you’ll find me working in my garden, playing the ukulele or volunteering on the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage trail in Spain.
Did you do any unusual research while writing this book? Have you gone on any literary pilgrimages?
Writing is never easy for me but often enough, when I need a new plot turn, I find an idea in the news within days. With Danger to Others, I was making progress on the main plot and thought, “I really need a subplot.” By the weekend, the Seattle Times ran an article about Northern State Hospital, the mental institution that closed in 1973.
My main character is a mental health evaluator who determines when a person, due to a thought disorder and dangerous behavior, will be committed to the modern embodiment of the old state hospitals. This was a subplot with my name written all over it. As I was about to save the article for inspiration, I realized just how meaningful the topic was—my father’s mother had died in Ohio’s Massillon State Hospital before I was born.
Families didn’t talk about mental illness back then. All I’d been told was that she’d had a brain tumor. In my work life, from time to time when I saw a patient with a brain tumor showing confusion or personality change and thought, maybe that’s what happened to my grandmother. It was too late to ask my father. Then my subplot sent me into research mode.
First, I visited Northern State Hospital. The Recreation Area Loop has a trail that winds through the hospital’s old dairy farm. The mysterious, collapsing buildings set in the shadow of the North Cascades inspired a favorite scene in Danger to Others.
Next, I sent for my grandmother’s death certificate and was surprised to learn that there had been no brain tumor. She died of a heart attack just 19 days after admission to Massillon State. Her diagnosis was late onset psychosis. Then and now, families struggle to understand what happened when a loved one experiences mental health problems—especially in a world where mental illness is stigmatized. This springboard for my subplot was fictionalized in Danger to Others. In fiction, my sleuth found people with answers to her questions. Answers don’t exist in my real life, but resolving my protagonist’s questions satisfied me too.
After many years in the field, I find mental illness neither titillating nor shocking. Instead, I have a deep fondness for people in all stages of coping and symptoms. My writing journey led me to learn about my grandmother and how her history, without my knowing, likely led to my career in mental health.
How can people learn more about your book and follow you?
Danger to Others is available at the usual sources online. Also, please consider supporting local bookstores, the book can easily be ordered if it isn’t currently in stock. Please visit me at my website https://marthacrites.com or on Facebook or Instagram