In Carla Norton’s debut novel, The Edge of Normal, Reeve LeClaire, who was kidnapped and held captive for four years, counsels another kidnap victim.
What prompted you to write a novel about prolonged captivity, which you addressed in your nonfiction bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box?
There’s a saying that we write what we fear. Maybe that’s true, because I had nightmares while covering that  trial and writing about that case. The more I learned about it—the kidnapping, the sadism, the mind control issues—the deeper it burrowed into me. Those real events had been buzzing in my head for years when Jaycee Dugard’s rescue hit the news. That was the trigger. I kept wondering what other survivors felt, watching that news unfold, and my protagonist was born.
How did you research survivors of prolonged captivity?
I’ve been lucky enough to talk with some experts—psychiatrists, academics, and former FBI profilers—and there’s quite a bit of published material. I also drew from research by the late Dr. Chris Hatcher, who was an expert witness for the prosecution in the case I wrote about in Perfect Victim. I tried on the “head box” used in Colleen Stan’s abduction. I visited the scenes of the crime, descended into the basement. And for a period, I became obsessed with the nature of evil, collecting books and articles about psychopaths and criminals. I see them as almost reptilian, with their chameleon-like personalities and aberrant brain patterns.
Is Reeve LeClaire typical of survivors of this crime?
I’m wary about making generalizations about real survivors of these types of crimes. But the age at which a victim is abducted is an important consideration. Since Reeve was kidnapped at 12 and held until she was 16, her system was being flooded with stress hormones during a critical time of development. She’s very aware that she has suffered psychological impairment along with her physical scars. Also, she lost her mother to cancer, which might be considered “secondary wounding.”
As much as she tries, Reeve isn’t back to normal, is she?
She never will be, but that is her strength. She has endured so much that she has an underlying toughness. She’s damaged but uniquely courageous, perhaps a bit like Lisbeth Salander. I wasn’t interested in a protagonist whose strength comes from training, or who’s duty-bound to fight crime. Reeve isn’t a cop or a spy. She’s driven by her inner demons.
I’m working on a sequel that puts Reeve into new kinds of peril. And while I’m working on what I call Edge 2, I’m beginning to think about Edge 3.