… But never say never. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you get the idea for this story? Why did they do this? And then when they got to the apartment, they found the boy who’d been gone for five years. There are people of all races, people of all sexualities, and not everyone is, you know, walking barefoot around the magnolia tree. GALLERY: If You Love True Crime, Stream These Shows and Docs
What sort of research did you do? And for a while, I was thinking I would do the point of view of the kid, but then I started thinking of a story about, you know, what happens when he comes home — the friends, the family. A boy [Shawn Hornbeck] was abducted, I think he was gone about five years. And he’d been through abuse, and your captor may be abusing you, but they’re also caring for you in a weird way. Here, 14-year-old Sam has just returned home after being abducted three years prior. … Everyone wants it to be this triumph. Maybe he just liked playing video games all day.”
How did you decide, especially given the subject matter, to make We Now Return to Regular Life a YA novel? I’m kind of obsessed with that kind of story. I think seeing them as human beings is one way to kind of hopefully prevent this from happening again. … [There’s a] movie within the story that is sort of a doomsday movie, creating a propulsive narrative in which [the protagonist] Miles and his classmates fight for survival in a world that is falling apart. EW talked to Wilson about the controversial dilemmas raised in the book, his real-life inspiration, and depicting a part of the South we don’t usually see. MARTIN WILSON: Well, there was a case about 10 years ago. … He was only three hours away from where he had grown up … it became clear that he had some freedoms. From FX’s American Crime Story anthology and Netflix’s The Keepers to the 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight, the resurgence of TV specials surrounding the murders of people including JonBenet Ramsey and Natalee Holloway, and numerous podcasts, true crime stories are at an all-time pop culture high. Why did they become the way they were? When I started it, I was nervous, I was like, “Is this too dark? The engagement with readers is just so great. He’s never going to be the Sam that he would’ve been had this not happened, but, let’s learn to deal with and love the Sam we have now. You don’t know if that’s possible. I felt that way about my first book [What They Always Tell Us] too. But, here, it’s just happening to them right now. He did abduct a child, after all. [Rusty] was going to kill Sam, and Sam convinced him to let him live. I think [there are] just really troubled people in the world, and I think it’s better— you know, they’re awful, and there’s no excusing what they do, but it’s better to kind of figure out why. I could’ve made an adult novel, by, you know, making Beth and Josh be a lot older and reflecting on it. And I think there is that elation mixed with the reality setting in, that, you know, her son — her brother — has been traumatized, and he’s a very different person. And it’s tragic for people to have misplaced affection like that. I think it’s not great to just view people as monsters. It’s gonna be set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama again, my hometown — I think I’m gonna set it in the early ’90s. I know that’s, you know, sick, but he probably realized when Sam was fighting that, “Oh this is a kid, he will need me. He had every chance. Even the people who do horrible things, they’re human beings in the end. And I like that immediacy. I just very much didn’t want him to be a one-dimensional psycho monster. And, you know, they vary. Show Full Article And I think I thought, you know, I wanna try to do this as a novel. So I feel very connected with the people who read my book, and I don’t know if that’s always the case in the adult world. They cover it, they want all the lurid details, and then when they’re—when the story fades, they kinda fade away with it. It wasn’t exactly worldly, I wouldn’t say, but there was a lot going on. Some ended [up] okay, and some ended up having drug addictions. Do you think you would ever do a continuation of what happens to them, or a sequel? I think in some ways, they handle it like all these stories. Do you plan on doing anything else with an abduction story line in the future, or is it too early to say? And then some of them ended up talking about why they stayed, and I think it varies, but, you know, Sam was 11 years old, and he’s a child. And I will love him, and that’s why I’ll let him live.” You know, I’m not writing Rusty’s story, but, I think he had these feelings for Sam. Again, it would be a whole other novel [laughs] for me to write Rusty’s story, which, I don’t think I would want to — there’s a whole story and a world there that you’re not getting, but I think the mystery and ambiguity … adds to the story. … But I think it’s maybe too soon for me to dip back into those waters … but I for sure will return to very dark and heavy things, ’cause that’s what I’m drawn toward, I guess [laughs]. I don’t think so. VIDEO: Best Selling YA Novels
Recently I’ve become pretty obsessed with [Investigation Discovery’s] Disappeared, and one thing they say in just about every episode is, they would rather their family member be [found] dead than to not know where they are. And her mother was quite the opposite. When you mention the media, there’s sort of that line: you have the duty to the public, to report what’s going on and to keep them abreast, and then you also have a duty to the family who it’s actually afflicting. It was easier that way. There was diversity in my school. That’s letting him off too easy. I read a true crime book that was based on the case. So I just found the story very, like, crazy and compelling and fascinating. He had a bike, he had a girlfriend. It’s a very fraught time of life, and that period of my life shaped me, so I guess I’m sort of obsessed with it because of that. Told from the perspectives of Sam’s older sister, Beth, and his friend, Josh — the last two people to see him before he vanished — the story traces the ordeal’s impact on his family, community, and Sam himself. So I knew I could do it, and I did like the perspective of being a young person. What else are you working on right now? The publicist for publisher Ecco, a HarperCollins’ subsidiary, found partial inspiration for his fictional YA drama in a real-life abduction. Is this too…mature?” But like I said, there are so many great YA books that don’t flinch away from that stuff. And then he just kept him, and it’s interesting that he didn’t try to kill him again. Was there shame on his part about being attracted to a young boy? There are cities; I grew up in a city that had a university, that, you know — it wasn’t podunk. I kinda wanna leave it. I think everyone has a different psychological makeup, and who knows why Rusty did what he did. I kinda wanna leave them where I leave them. Enter Martin Wilson and his sophomore novel We Now Return to Regular Life. ‘Cause I just don’t think there are many people like that. There are so many passionate young adult readers that they reach out to you. Are there any unforeseen challenges you’ve come across when writing about something literally so close to home? And you don’t really hear much about what these people go through after they come home and get all that media attention. So I kinda wanna show this type of [the] South that people might not see. It wasn’t— they didn’t have access to the family, so it wasn’t terribly compelling, but it did, you know, it did kind of discuss other victims of similar abductions. I wanted to feel connected to the locale and, I think I wanted to show, too, in my book, that the South isn’t … all rural, and people who live in small towns, and grew up on farms. How did you approach that? … I think in the actual case, and maybe in this story too, there was that frustration about, “Why didn’t this kid leave? I have started a new novel, I mean it’s very early. In her mind. But my one thought about that scene is that, Rusty at that point was in love with Sam. I think Beth chose to believe Sam was dead so she could try to move on. And then, I guess the man who abducted him tried to get another kid, and that kid— somehow someone saw it and reported it, and they found the abductor. Is there any part of you that thinks we should view [the abductor, Rusty] with some humanity or still as a run-of-the-mill villain? … I think they do kind of have a Stockholm Syndrome when they’re in these situations that explains why they don’t leave.