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Lois Duncan: Why I Write Horror

Twisted_WindowIn anticipation of Halloween, Lois Duncan revisits the inspirations behind her horror thrillers including The Twisted Window, Gallows Hill, and more.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t plan to be a writer. I started submitting stories to magazines when I was 10, painstakingly pecking them out on my mother’s manual typewriter, and at age 13 I actually started selling them. When I was 20, I wrote my first full-length book, a sweet romance titled Debutante Hill. It was by necessity a young adult novel, because what did I know to write about other than teenage issues that reflected my protected childhood? That book was published and won a national award, and without any conscious intention for it to happen, I found myself a “niche writer,” known for her gentle love stories.

However, the time soon came when I found that restriction boring. I had outgrown my niche, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I began to take cautious risks, like placing my characters in dangerous situations and then extracting them safely with a platonic kiss at the end. My publisher was not happy with my changing what was then considered the “established formula” for my youth books. So I found another publisher, one who would let me write mysteries as long as they weren’t “edgy.”

But I wanted to be edgy. I kept pushing beyond my limits, with scarier situations and more sophisticated plotting. So again I had to change publishers. But now I was having fun and kept on pushing, and suddenly—overnight, it seemed, although it had been many years coming—I found myself being described as “Lois Duncan, the Matriarch of Young Adult Horror and the Macabre.”

Here was I, gentle, grocery-shopping, laundry-running, mother-of-five, revealed to the world as a woman with a terrifying dark side! My husband and children were stunned, but I was delighted. Writing was now not only my career and my passion; it was a game. With every new novel I tried experimenting with something different. In Killing Mr. Griffin, my protagonist was a teenage psychopath. With I Know What You Did Last Summer, I used a double-identity twist, (which worked well in the book but was omitted from the movie). The theme of Stranger With My Face was astral projection; Gallows Hill was based upon reincarnation; and Down a Dark Hall, (soon to be a major motion picture), was a ghost story.

But probably the most challenging story I ever tackled was The Twisted Window. This was an experiment with viewpoint, inspired by the fact that witnesses to a crime will appear in court and convincingly describe very different recollections. It occurred to me that the same is true of readers. They are totally influenced by the statements of the viewpoint character. But what if there were two viewpoint characters, and each saw the same thing and interpreted it differently? Would it be possible to keep spinning the reader’s responses to events in the story to coincide with opposing beliefs of each viewpoint character? It would be like gazing at the same scene through a twisted window so that things appeared one way and then abruptly appeared otherwise.

That is the reason The Twisted Window has been classified as a “horror book.” There’s no violence, no gore, no multi-fanged vampire. In fact, there’s not even a villain. The horror is the fact that readers have to keep switching their beliefs from chapter to chapter.         

Such crazy-making can be the greatest horror of all.

Gena Showalter's Recommended Halloween Reading

ZombieheartsGena Showalter introduces her latest book, The Queen of Zombie Hearts, and shares what's on her Halloween reading list.

I didn’t have Halloween in mind when I started writing Alice in Zombieland or its sequel Through the Zombie Glass—I was actually inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass—but my publisher and I agreed that October would be the perfect month to launch each new title, and I’m beyond thrilled to complete the trilogy this month with the release of The Queen of Zombie Hearts. My zombie-slaying heroine, Ali Bell, and her crew of slayers are ready to get you into the “spirit” of the season (hint, new twist on zombies, hint). I hope you enjoy falling down the zombie hole with Ali, her sometimes Cheshire-like best friend, Kat Parker, and my own secret, favorite crush, Cole Holland, who at times might just seem a little bit mad. 

The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole—Poison Princess and Endless Knight: Apocalypse now, baby! The end of the world has come, and the teenage embodiments of the Arcana cards must fight to the death…because only one can survive. 

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire: Murder and mayhem: All the girls at Vienna High dream of getting on “the list,” where the hottest girls in the school are named. But this year, if you’re on the list…your life ends.

See Me by Wendy Higgins: A fantastical world of leprechauns, fae, and human magic. A modern day teenage girl must come to grips with an arranged marriage to a handsome Irish boy, but as things start to go her way, she’ll realize some things aren’t what they appear to be.

Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto: I haven’t had a chance to read this book yet. But what embodies Halloween better than an eerie, romantic tale with touches of horror featuring a girl haunted by ghosts and a 157-year-old tragedy involving an intriguing young man who is long dead?

The White Rabbit Chronicles by me: If I don’t like my own books, I shouldn’t be writing. Alice in Zombieland, Through the Zombie Glass, and The Queen of Zombie Hearts tell the story of Alice “Ali” Bell, who learns through a terrible tragedy that the invisible monsters her father always raged about are real—and she was born to slay them.  

Heather Graham's Top 5 Halloween Reads

Best-selling paranormal romance author Heather Graham gives us a spine-tingling reading list to help celebrate one of her favorite holidays. Her latest book, "The Betrayed," is on sale now.

51-KVC4lWFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays—as it was with my family. I grew up in an Irish household, so the stories abounded, and when they ended, there were more wonderful stories told by brilliant authors from way back—and during our own time.

Choosing the five I love most? Impossible! But I’m going to give it a try.

First, I’ve recently reread Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus—since I decided to make use of the historical “year without a summer” when Shelley wrote that story in one of my own, Waking the Dead. What I love about Frankenstein isn’t just the shivers—it’s Shelley’s tug on human emotion as we see the tragedy befalling the innocent—and the monster.

Then there’s Hell House by Richard Matheson. What can I say about such a master? Once again, characterization is key—and fear creeps down your spine as you read.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub—the book is both scary and heart-wrenching. As you can tell, “slasher” flicks aren’t my favorites—I love a lot of emotion with my fear!

For a vampire tale? They Thirst, by Robert McCammon. I couldn’t put the book down—and jumped several times in broad daylight.

Ghoul by Michael Slade. It’s tremendously…ghoulish!

Okay, quitting is hard. And I’ll cheat a bit by mentioning a few more. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, anything by Poe and Lovecraft, and of course, there’s Dracula...

Finally, (forgive me) I can’t resist mentioning my own The Betrayed, out now and set in Sleepy Hollow at Halloween!

Exclusive Excerpts from Marjorie Brody, Ariel Swan, and Mark Edwards

UpandcomingUp and coming authors Marjorie Brody, Ariel Swan, and Mark Edwards share excerpts from their most recent releases.

Get a sneak peak at Marjorie Brody's Twisted. Download Twisted Excerpt

Read the first 46 pages of Mark Edward's Because She Loves Me. Download Because She Loves Me Excerpt

Get a sneak peak at Ariel Swan's The Nightingale Bones. Download Nightingale Bones Excerpt


Q&A with Christopher Rice Author of "The Vines"

TheVinesNew York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice sits down with author Blake Crouch, to discuss his new book, The Vines, and where his inspiration comes from.

Blake: I really loved The Vines. Your prose is so elegant and grounded, even while it’s building this world that lives between the lines of horror and fantasy. Obviously, the eponymous vines are your creation, but did you dig into the history of Louisiana’s plantation culture while you were researching the book? The character, Nova, mentions a database for slave narratives (The Lost Voices Project), and I wondered if that was a real thing?

Christopher: Well, for starters, thank you, Blake! I've never known a writer to turn down words of praise. But they mean more when they come from an author you truly admire. I read Run when you first released it and it knocked my socks off. As for The Vines and the tortured history of Louisiana's plantations, the Lost Voice Project does not exist at this time. The groundwork for it exists, however. Gwendolyn Hall, the scholar I mentioned on the acknowledgments page, is a real person, and she worked for years to assemble an exhausting database of slave names that had been lost to history.

B: I especially enjoyed the Louisiana backdrop. I grew up in the South (North Carolina) and you lived in New Orleans for years before relocating to Los Angeles. I think growing up in the South is like growing up in a massively dysfunctional family.  You end up spending the rest of your life trying to figure out how you truly feel about it. Or maybe I’m just projecting!  Do you find it easier or harder to write about the South considering you no longer live there?

C: You pretty much nailed it. I'd also use a junkie/addict metaphor in describing the South, because it offers things you can't find anywhere else in the country. Even if you reach a point in your life when you just can't live there anymore, you find yourself in other places searching for the things only the South can offer. (The food! I miss the food. Whenever I visit New Orleans, I give myself permission to eat pretty much everything in sight.) I have to say, it's easier for me to write about the South when I use a supernatural framework. Monsters and predatory plants allow me to portray my conflicted feelings about the place better than simple clashes between everyday people.

B: Who are your literary influences, passions, and guilty pleasures?

C: No lie, you're a big influence. Your ability to blend elements of thriller, horror and Sci-Fi without introducing so much jargon that you crowd out the souls of your characters – that's been a huge influence on me. James Lee Burke is another huge inspiration. I like to describe The Vines as a James Lee Burke novel with killer plants! But generally, I'm a fan of any book that can grab me by the lapels and not let me go until it's over. I love the sense of being transported through adrenaline-fueled genre fiction. Whether it's a crime thriller or an erotic romance, I want to be taken out of myself when I'm reading it.

B: How did this story originate for you? Was there a scene, a character, an image that served as the catalyst?

C: This was originally conceived as a California novel. I kept having these image flashes of Spanish soldiers coming across a ruined mission covered in these great tangles of vines, and I kept having this sense that a shaman of some sort had driven the vines to rise up and kill all the missionaries. But the idea wasn't growing legs and so I put it away. The reader response to The Heavens Rise, and the way I returned to New Orleans in that book for the first time in years, was so passionate I felt my next novel should be set in Louisiana as well. And then the whole thing just began to unfurl.

B: The Vines is your second supernatural thriller, following The Heavens Rise. How are you finding the genre of speculative fiction and what made you want to depart from your previous run of traditional thrillers?

C: I truly love it. It's an enormous freedom.  It feels like I've been shot out of a canon.. I think for the most part people can be disappointingly cruel to one another, because they're afraid of silly, vaporous things. Supernatural fiction gives us an opportunity to present our characters with a bigger threat than their own self-centered fear. We can either go The Mist route, and posit that they'll destroy each other in response, or we can go the route that you go in the Wayward Pines Trilogy, where people band together and rise up against forces that seem overwhelming.

B: Without giving too much away, the “creature” in The Vines is an interesting amalgamation of classic monster archetypes. Did you grow up watching monster movies?

C: It was all about Pumpkinhead. My mother and I watched that movie dozens, if not hundreds, of times when I was growing up. It's so wonderfully atmospheric and scary, and Lance Henricksen gives a great performance in it. It’s a great Appalachian retelling of the golem legend, in which someone seeking revenge calls forth a powerful supernatural creature and then quickly loses control of it. I miss horror movies like Pumpkinhead.

B: I think one of the big-time achievements of this novel is the deft weaving into the story structure of all the classic social conversations the South has been wrestling with (badly) since, well, forever: race relations, gay rights, new money, old money, no money. Was that a conscious decision to tackle these issues, or do you find they just inevitably present themselves whenever you make “the South” a prominent character in a story?

C: For me, it gets back to the whole idea that a haunting or a monstrous infestation should be crafted in such a way that strikes at the community's exposed nerves, that it churns up most of what's unresolved about the community.

B: What are you working on next? 

C: Universal Pictures has optioned my adaptation of The Tale of the Body Thief, the fourth novel in The Vampire Chronicles by you-know-who. And I'm also working on The Surrender Gate, which continues the world I introduce in my erotic romance novella, The Flame, which releases in early November. As for my next scary supernatural thriller, I've got tons of ideas. I'm confident the last scene in The Vines sets the stage for a great series, not necessarily a direct continuation of The Vines but a new world in which many books could be written..

Video Post from Gregg Olsen on "The Girl in the Woods"

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gregg Olsen, discusses his new book The Girl in the Woods in a video blog post.



Exclusive Q&A with Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

In this two part interview, Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang talk to us about their new graphic novel "In Real Life," that dives into the world of economics, adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture-clash.  61frd62ErFL

Charlie Chang: How did you conceptualize the book?

Cory Doctorow: I wrote this story as a parable. The idea that people who want to pay you less will try to make you hate the people who are taking your job for less money is not a new one.

The way I write fiction is a very agglomerative process, like a super-saturated solution of story ideas or fragments and eventually two of them will knock together and glom onto each other and that will nucleate a spontaneous crystalline formation of several ideas that are seemingly unrelated, but they all piece together.

What’s happening in gaming with gold farming was a natural way, for me, to tell that story and the  difficult relationship the companies that own the games have with properties. They are allowed to kick gold farmers out of games or ban gold farming because it's their property. If you don't want to play by their rules, go away. Except if the property is virtual gold, in which case, you have no rights to it at all. Property is the most important thing in the world, unless it's your property, in which case, it's my property. Looking back on it, one of the lessons of this story is about gender inequality and solidarity among people who are living under conditions of economic inequality perpetuated by racism. Although every one of those injustices stands on its own as important, the thing that underlies all of it, and the only way to break through it, is through solidarity.

For me, all fiction is science fiction, in that it has the pretense that you, as the reader, can be telepathic and know what's going on in someone else's head. Fiction is like a fly through of what it feels like to live under some other circumstance. By causing someone to empathize with the situation, you don't have to unpack the ideology.

Continue reading "Exclusive Q&A with Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang" »

Exclusive Sketch by Joe Prado

Check out an exclusive sketch of Robin by artist Joe Prado from New York Comic-Con and don't miss this week's newest issue of "Justice League #35" featuring a cover by Joe and Ivan Reis.



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Q&A with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh, author of the RITA nominated "Heart of Obsidian", talks with our romance editor about balancing two complex series. Her latest release in the Guild Hunters series, "Archangel's Shadows," is available for pre-order now. 

Nalini SinghAlyssa Morris: You have two different, very established series that are pretty much completely different from each other, so how do you balance writing two different series with equally complex worlds?

Nalini Singh: I never actually intended to end up writing two very complicated series. I thought Angels' Blood, the first book in the Guild Hunters series was a stand-alone. And then not until I was getting to the end did I think oh no, it’s not a stand-alone. So I kind of fell into it, but I think the balance comes form the fact that they are so very different. I don’t have a problem separating them out, so when I switch from writing a Psy-Changeling book to writing a Guild Hunter book, I guess I make the switch in my brain and just go for it. And now I’m writing one a year for each, which I think gives me enough time to sort of switch over and keep them separate. I think it would be more difficult if I was writing series that were similar in some way and then I think it would be harder, but the Guild Hunter series, even the language choices are different in that series.

AM: Do you have a bible for each series to remind yourself when you’re switching back and forth?

NS: Definitely. I have to have a bible and I also, when I write, this is particularly for the Psy-Changeling series because each book focuses on a different character, and there are some long-term characters. For example, when I wrote Hawke’s book, book 10, he had appeared in book 1 and in multiple books since. So I would go back and read every mention of him previously, just to make sure I have the same information the reader has. Because quite often as a writer I will write scenes and delete them, but the information from the scene is still in my head, so I don’t want to mistakenly assume I’ve told the reader something that is not actually in the book, so I always go back.

AM: Is there anything in particular you like to eat as fuel for your writing?

NS: Fuel for my writing? Not really food, but I drink a lot of tea. A few years ago I actually had to go totally caffeine-free on doctor’s advice (laughs) just like too much caffeine because I drank so much tea. So now I’m on decaffeinated tea but I still drink like pots of it.

AM: I noticed on your blog you talk about chocolate a lot…

NS: I do eat a lot of chocolate, it’s true. I keep trying to be good and switch over to the dark chocolate, which is meant to be much better for you, I really like it, but then I fall back into my milk chocolate loving ways. That’s the one vice that I couldn’t give up. That’s my little treat.

AM: So we just had a new book in the Psy-Changeling series, but can you give us a hint of what’s next?

NS: So the previous book Shield of Winter was about an Arrow, and the next book is also about an Arrow, it’s about Aiden, who is basically the leader of the Arrows, and he’s different from Vasic in that Aiden seems very together. He ‘s basically got this huge responsibility on his shoulders. And he has to lead the squad into the future. And sort of create a future for them because right now they’re living on the fringes. These are the assassins and the dangerous men and women that people need but they don’t want to live with them because they are so dangerous, so they’re on the fringes. So I guess it’s kind of like Shield of Winter and this book are kind of like a two parter, because Vasic’s made it but now Aiden has to lead the rest of the squad out. So it’s about that and of course it’s, you know, romance. And I’m can’t give you too many hints on there because I need to figure things out. This is a tough one and I just want to make sure that I actually have it working before. I’ve always kind of known who it was going to be. You know, who this couple is going to be. But I just have to make sure that on the page it’s going to translate. I think when it comes out, when I am ready to talk about it, people will realize why I was like, “Oh my gosh, can I make it work?”

AM: I remember with Heart of Obsidian there was so much secrecy about all of that…

NS: Yes that was crazy! Never again will I try and keep a secret. Oh my god that was so hard.

AM: I got a copy to review and I got all of these forms—these are the things you cannot talk about. And then I was like well what can I talk about? (laughs)

NS: I guess it was the whole Ghost thing and like not wanting it to be spoilered for people, and then we were like well what can we reveal? Oh it was just crazy. But it was really fantastic everyone was so good about it. Everyone who had early copies no one was sort of like giving out huge spoilers or anything. But it was so hard!

AM: Do you have a sense of how many more books there are going to be in the Psy-Changeling series?

NS: It’s difficult because with Heart of Obsidian it was the end of the story arc, the original one. And these two books are the aftermath. But then I realized that it’s kind of like a new beginning as well, so I am now working on a new story arc to take us into the future. So once I write this book I’ll have a much better idea of how it’s going to go. But even then I probably won’t know the number of books, because I tend to think in story terms, like this is the story and we’ll see how long it takes to tell it.

AM: Do you think this will be an entry point for people who are new to the series to be able to start at the different arcs?

NS: I think so. Oddly enough I think Heart of Obsidian is a good entry point because it’s so self-contained and focused on the romance. It’s Kaleb and Sahara 90 percent of the book. But I think Shield of Winter and this next book probably aren’t, because they deal with so much of what has happened and linking back and things, but yeah. I think after that, I think there will be a good entry point, because I want to do books like set in the falcon shifters or in the sea changelings. So there are sort of self-contained communities and so even though they will be linked back I think they will be able to.

AM: Explore different parts of the world?

NS: Yeah. I really like it. I think that I love the breadth and the depth of the world.

AM: I think that’s what people like about it, too, it’s so developed. Have you read anything you really loved lately?

NS: Actually, I’ve been raving about a debut author and she’s releasing in November, I think. It’s Sonali Dev’s A Bollywood Affair. It’s fun. It’s this big, dramatic romance. If you’ve ever seen a Bollywood movie you know—

AM: Yeah!

NS: Huge drama and color.

AM: So lush.

NS: Yes. And it really felt like that and it is a romance. It’s very much, you know for my romance reader heart it was like, ahhhhh.

AM: Swoony?

NS: Swoony. It’s got the hero and the heroine you like and it really is really fantastic. And just coming over on the plane I read an early copy of Milla Vane’s she’s calling it the Beast of Blackmoor novella. It’s actually in the same anthology as my next Psy-Changeling novella, Night Shift, in December, and that’s really good. It’s bloody and gruesome but sexy and romantic at the same time.

AM: Are there any subgenres of romance you particularly like to read?

NS: I read a lot of historical. I just love all the balls that they go to and all that kind of stuff. It’s almost like another planet.

AM: It’s pure escapism.

NS: Yeah, it is. And I still like science fiction and fantasy. I like, I guess space opera, where it has the romance in it as well. And last year I found Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and I inhaled all of their Liaden books, which are fantastic. Contemporary, till love reading contemporary. I mean. I’m one of those readers who, if I find something interesting I’ll pick it up. I don’t really read that much paranormal any more because I think I’ve read so much. I really read just a ton. And I love writing it. But for me to get into a new paranormal it has to be something very different.

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Guest Post by CJ Lyons: Seduced by the Dark Side

51Q9bzbvqlL[1]CJ Lyons, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-seven novels, discusses her new book Fight Dirty and why we love bad guys.

Why are so many of us drawn to the dark side of life for our entertainment? We devour serial killers, blood thirsty villains, and homicidal maniacs like they’re tasty treats, constantly on the hunt for more twisted, cunning, and diabolical crimes to plunge into.

If someone does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, does that make them evil? Does it matter what their intentions are if innocents suffer? What if their actions serve a greater good?

Serial killer, Dexter Morgan, -from the show Dexter- justifies his killing sprees by the fact that he lives by a code instilled in him by his police officer father. According to this code, he only kills victims who are vicious killers targeting innocents. In other words, villains so heinous that in comparison, Dexter himself is on the side of angels.

Of course, that’s all smoke and mirrors. Like any good sociopath, Dexter twists his father’s code to suit his own needs. It becomes an excuse, a way to justify Dexter’s bloodlust rather than to truly rehabilitate Dexter…until Dexter’s perfect sociopathic existence begins to crack, allowing a few real emotions to surface. Never guilt, of course, but during the course of the TV show (which differs from the books), he finds himself swayed by affection for his sister, his wife, and finally his son.

He’s Pinocchio, yearning to become human, and with the help of his loved ones, eventually gets close. And during his struggles we, the audience, can’t help but cheer him on.

Another famous sociopath who has earned a place in the hearts of millions is Hannibal Lecter.

Yes, Hannibal is a fiend. His goal in life is to rid the world of those who he feels are ugly and inferior—and with an ego the size of his, that's 99.9% of the population.

But Hannibal has a secret desire, one that Jack Crawford exploits when he sends Will Graham and Clarice Starling to Hannibal in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.

Hannibal wants to kill. But he needs to be loved. He's searching for a partner, someone he can care for, protect, mentor, respect.

Aren’t we all? By endowing this fiendish killer who in his mind is doing all the right things for all the right reasons, we can’t help but feel a touch of kinship at the primal, universal need driving his actions.

Both Dexter and Hannibal are sociopaths—as are about 4% of the real world population. Sociopaths are known for their charm, impulsiveness, need for constant stimulation, and lack of anxiety about the consequences of their actions. They make for excellent surgeons, spies, trial lawyers, and police officers—any occupation where their sense of self aggrandizement and need for power is satisfied.

An interesting twist on this paradox is Sherlock Holmes. Who didn’t smile when the BBC’s latest incarnation of Sherlock proudly proclaimed he was a highly functioning sociopath?

Realizing that his lack of conscience and empathy impede his ability to do what he loves most: solving crimes no one else was genius enough to solve, he recruits his own “angel on his shoulder” in Dr. Watson.

Watson may not have a lot to contribute to Holmes’ ability to outwit his foes, but he does act as a guide as Holmes travels this oh-so-boring world filled with “tiny little people with tiny little brains.” He helps Holmes to avoid succumbing to the temptation of turning vigilante or worse. Without Watson, Holmes would be no different than his nemesis, Moriarty.

It’s this delicious tug-o-war, revealing the hard work it takes a true sociopath to avoid temptation and fight against their inner need of instant gratification, that makes for wonderful conflict and allows the audience to both want Holmes to succeed while simultaneously feeling sorry for how empty he really is as a human.

I’ve tried to instill this same tension in my new Renegade Justice series featuring fifteen-year-old sociopath Morgan Ames. In the first book, FIGHT DIRTY, Morgan’s serial killer father, the only role model she’s ever had, is now imprisoned for his crimes. Morgan realizes she’ll do anything to stay out of prison and preserve her freedom, even give up killing—the only skill she has.

She’s torn between her own violent impulses and her desire to avoid prison and so turns to help from a VA trauma counselor whose wife was one of the FBI agents responsible for Morgan’s father’s capture. As she struggles with her own true nature, she realizes there are plenty of people around her who are just as evil, if not worse.

How far will she go to stop them without jeopardizing her own freedom, if not her life? When is it okay to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons?