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Charleston in the Morning: Interview With K. Elliot Simmons

K. Elliot Simmons has written over two dozen bestselling crime fiction novels since writing his megablockbuster hit “Roadside Stalker” over twenty years ago. His latest novel, “Terror in Suburbia,” is hitting all-time sales records for a fiction book. The following is a transcript of Sheila Nguyen’s interview with Mr. Simmons on “Charleston in the Morning”.

SN: The name K. Elliot Simmons has been synonymous with best-selling books and movies for more than two decades. Mr. Simmons was riding high on that wave of successes when tragedy struck in April 2013. While walking from his car in downtown Pittsburgh, he was shot by a fan suffering from mental illness. Mr. Simmons spent months undergoing surgeries and physical therapy. Now, after two years, he’s back with his darkest tale yet, Terror in Suburbia. Today we are speaking with Mr. Simmons live in the studio. Mr. Simmons, welcome.

KES: Thanks, Sheila. It’s good to be here.

SN: First of all, congratulations on your new book. Three weeks on top of the New York Times Best Seller List and still going. Not a bad start for your first book in over two years.

KES: Yeah, I didn’t expect that.

SN: Before we talk about the new book, can I ask you about the attack?

KES: Not much to tell, really. My wife and I were taking her mother out for her birthday. We were walking from the car and a man walked up to us. He said my name, so I assumed he was looking for an autograph or something. I remember he reached into his jacket and I was expecting him to pull out a paperback, but instead he pulled out a gun. Afterward, he told the police that he was a big fan and he thought that if he killed me, he’d make a big enough impression that I’d write about him. Clearly, he had some issues. I hear he’s doing much better now.

SN: Wow, that must have been terrifying.

KES: Honestly, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be scared. One minute I’m standing on the sidewalk downtown, the next I’m waking up in the hospital.

SN: So, understandably, you took some time off before writing Terror in Suburbia. Critics have called the new book gruesome and poorly developed, but your fans seem to love it in spite of the critics. How much of your experience of being shot affected how you wrote Terror?

KES: (Laughs) The critics say the same thing about a lot of authors who write things people want to read. No, I would agree with some of what they are saying about how gruesome it is. But it kind of has to be. It’s a story about a serial killer and that’s not a nice topic. As for the rest… Well, ask the fans what they think.

SN: But your experience being shot? Do you think that affected the tone of the book?

KES: I don’t think so. I really think it’s just the subject matter. Of course, everything that makes up our lives, everything that happens to us, affects how we perceive everything around us, so I suppose it would be naïve to say that it didn’t have some impact on the book, but, no, I don’t think the book is a direct result of that.

SN: But Terror is the second book you’ve written about a serial killer. Your first one, Roadside Stalker, wasn’t nearly as gruesome.

KES: No, but Kevin Reid was a different kind of killer than Cory Rivers. Cory’s full of hate and rage and he takes that out on his victims. Kevin is actually a nice guy that just happens to be addicted to killing women. When he looks at one of his victims, he experiences something like what normal people feel as love. He cherishes his victims. Charlie hates his.

SN: But your first book doesn’t really go into a lot of detail about the murders, but Terror is pretty explicit.

KES: (Laughs) Well, I was a more timid writer back then. I’ve gotten a lot more confident over the years. Look at Amy. That one was pretty explicit, too.

SN: They made a wonderful movie from that book. I think it’s probably my favorite movie adaptation from any of your books. Do you think Terror in Suburbia will be made into a movie?

KES: I don’t know. I’m sure there’s somebody, somewhere, trying to figure out how to make it work. The book is making too much money for it not to at least be considered.

SN: So what’s your favorite of all of your books?

KES: That’s a good question. I get asked that a lot, actually, and I don’t really have a good answer. I’ve liked every one of them for different reasons. Forgotten was a lot of fun because I got to go in a different direction. Amy was interesting to write because I spent the whole book inside her head. That was a real challenge. I relied a lot on my wife to get the details right. Her favorite, though, is probably Billie Blue.

SN: Oh, I loved that book. I’ve heard you say that you got the idea for it when you were researching for another book.

KES: Yeah. I was hanging out at a Police station in Pittsburgh, interviewing some of the officers about what they did and how they felt about their jobs, you know, normal stuff. Then this girl, excuse me, young woman, comes up and asked me for an autograph. She looked like she was fourteen, but she had just graduated the police academy like a month before. Looking at her, I just kept thinking “how is she ever going to be able to handle a six-foot, two hundred and fifty-pound thug that doesn’t want to be caught?” One of the other officers standing there must have guessed what I was thinking because he said “She maybe be small, but you don’t want to mess with her.” Then she told me she had grown up with three older brothers and learned how to fight when she was still little. So I asked her why she wanted to be a cop and she told me about her oldest brother. Apparently, he didn’t come home from work one day. They found him a few days later in an alley. He’d been shot and beaten to death. The police were never able to figure out who did it or why. She said that’s what made her want to become a cop. A few months later, I was thinking about that and wondered what she would have done if she had already been a cop when he disappeared.”

SN: So she’s “the real Billie” that you mention in the book’s dedication?

KES: Yep. I never got her full name at the time and I wasn’t able to track her down before the book went to print to get it. I’ve talked to her since then, though. She’s an amazing woman.

SN: Back to Terror in Suburbia, what was the inspiration for it?

KES: Well, Sheila, sometimes stories just come out of the blue.

SN: So no intriguing encounter with a detective looking for his white whale like Detective St. James?

KES: (Laughs) No, not for this one. It was one of those rare occasions when the story just poked up out of the ground and I dug it up.

SN: Well, you dug up a diamond. So what’s next? Do you have a new book in the works?

KES: No, not yet. I usually start a new book as soon as I finish the previous one, but I think I’m getting too old for that. I need a little break in between. Maybe that’s the real impact being shot has on my work.

SN: Well, I’m sure your fans will forgive you. Thanks for talking with us this morning.

KES: Thanks for having me, Sheila.

SN: Coming up next, This Weekend in Charleston. Things to do in Charleston with the family over this beautiful spring weekend.