I don’t like to write about perfect people

David Bell lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he teaches Creative Writing. When he doesn’t write, he likes to wander around in the nearby cemetery.

Thank you for this very well-done mystery. What was the genesis of this novel?

I spend a lot of time thinking about missing persons cases. The idea of disappearance is a terrifying one to me. Missing persons cases are open-ended and leave so many unanswered questions: Did the person run away, or were they taken? Are they alive or dead? Are they being harmed? Or do they simply not care to come back? In Cemetery Girl, I tried to explore the after effects of such a case. How does the family pick up the pieces and go on with their lives in the wake of a horrible crime?

Tom seemed nice to me at the beginning of the novel, and very less so at the end.
Where is the moral in all that?

Tom is a complicated character. He becomes obsessed with knowing what happened to his daughter. He can’t live with the mystery, and sometimes he places the desire to know the truth above other more practical and sensible concerns. I don’t like to write about perfect people. None of us are perfect people, and characters in books should have all the recognizable flaws and shortcoming that real people have.
Must the search for truth take precedence over anything else?

It doesn’t have to, of course. But we live in an age and culture that tells us we can and should know everything. It is difficult to live with doubt and uncertainty—although all of us do to some extent. We don’t really know what goes on in the hearts and minds of the majority of the people we know. How many people keep their desires, fears, hopes, and wishes hidden from others? So the search for truth is long and often frustrating.
You chose to locate the plot in New Cambridge, Ohio. Is this meaningful for you?

New Cambridge is a made-up town. But the town means something to me because I’m from Ohio and I love to set stories in small American towns. Everyone has the notion that small towns are nice, safe places where no one ever gets hurt and nothing bad ever happens, but we all know that is not true. Small towns have their own sets of problems. And since everybody knows everybody else, it can be really difficult to keep a secret. And when people try to keep secrets—and those secrets get out—we have good stories.
You teach Creative Writing. Is it possible to learn how to write a mystery novel?

It’s certainly possible to learn to write any kind of novel. If someone wants to learn to write, they have to do two things: read and write. A lot. Creative writing classes give writers a few essential things: structure, deadlines, and feedback. Writers can’t exist in a vacuum. They have to interact. They have to talk about writing. They have to hear from readers they trust. That’s what writing classes can do.