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The Sirens of Suspense




A graduate of Smith College with a B.A. in English, Sarah Caine has worked as a copywriter, speechwriter, and a scriptwriter. Now she’s moved on to flash fiction and a novel, THE 8TH CIRCLE, a thriller, which will be published by Crooked Lane Books in January 2016. Married to an ex-political consultant, she is also the mother of three wonderful children and one lunatic cat.

Find Sarah Caine on Facebook and Twitter.




As this season of presidential politics begins to enter the blood sport level, I find it weirdly fitting that The Eighth Circle is hitting the bookstores. Although it’s not overtly political like Primary Colors or the underappreciated television series Boss, it is still very much a part of the political world.

I know it well. My first real job after graduating from Smith was working for a Philadelphia non-profit. The mission was to obtain federal grants for small businesses locating in the city. We also worked with garment manufacturers, a dying industry, and later the workers who had been laid off as a result of businesses that had died. Depressing stuff. I ended up being sent to work on a political campaign where I met my future husband, a political consultant. It wasn’t a match made in heaven. He was used to giving orders, and I didn’t like taking them. We didn’t clash so much as I tended to ignore him. For some reason, he found this endearing. He’s a man who can take a lot of punishment, which is probably the first requirement for working in politics: endurance. It’s not bad for a writer either.

Because the campaign had very little money, I became the designated writer. Press releases, speeches, direct mail, flyers--if it required words, it came to me. There wasn’t much—if any--time for revision. That’s not to say I didn’t get rejection. “This is crap, write it over fast,” was the most common form of input. That was another political requirement: a thick skin.

Still there’s nothing like huddling together in a cramped office with ten other souls, stuffing envelopes and mocking the candidate. Our band of volunteers bonded over lack of sleep and beer. Politics is not for the faint hearted or easily offended, though it may be more PC today. Becoming one of the guys was an excellent survival skill. In this regard, having a colorful vocabulary is a good thing.

There is also nothing like a winning campaign to suck you into the political world, and for a while I was hooked. I got to go to parties. Meet people. My husband and I married, and I started my own public relations business. I worked with him as well as with labor unions and corporate clients. It was a busy, hectic time, though in truth most political dinners are overrated. The food is generally awful, and you end up with a closet filled with cocktail dresses. That’s why black is my favorite color, and I learned from painful experience to buy every pair of heels a size larger than I actually wear. Men have it lucky. If they own a tux and a good suit, they’re set.

I kept up the pace through my first pregnancy, and brought my daughter to work. Well into my second pregnancy, I was shooting a video for a drug rehab program and driving through North Philly filming drug deals. It was a living. After my third child, however, I had to slow down. I stepped away from the business and began to work freelance, while watching my children. It was an easy decision to walk away. I was tired. Politics has a way of wearing you down after a while, like the slow drip, drip, drip of water on rock.

Being a freelancer gave me a chance to think about writing fiction. I had been an English major in college, and I had written a lot of short stories plus three quarters of a novel. I just had never sent anything out. Now I began to consider the possibilities.

I had always heard that you should write what you know. What I knew was Philadelphia politics. Lots of bizarre stories and interesting characters. I had also heard people don’t read political novels, but I wrote one anyway. It was long, way too long. It was also rejected a lot. So I put it aside.

By this time, the political landscape had changed significantly. Nine/Eleven had occurred. Politics had become uglier somehow, or perhaps the Internet had just given voice to the uglier side of human nature. Talk radio, which had always been a part of the debate, had risen to historic heights. Income inequality was in the news, and in Philadelphia an article about a sex club got a small amount of attention.

The club had been raided. Apparently some of the members were notable, but names weren’t forthcoming. It made me think. What if there was a club for wealthy people that offered sex among other services, and what if that club was protected by very powerful politicians in return for large anonymous donations? The Citizens United Supreme Court decision had certainly made it possible, and I had met enough bizarre people wandering through the political landscape. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was neither a sex club patron nor a politician.

Thus, Danny Ryan was born. He’s an outsider. A good reporter, but not on his game. He’s suffered through a huge tragedy: the loss of his family. He stumbles into the whole situation when his friend dies on his doorstep (or as the case may be, in his duck pond). I’m not sure why I chose to write from a male point of view, except that I thought it would be interesting to put a man, who isn’t necessarily a macho guy, in harm’s way.

I wanted to look at some serious issues (money in politics, underage sex trafficking), but most of all I wanted to write a good story. If you’re looking for greed, lust, anger, or any of the other deadly sins, you can’t do any better than start with the political world. They’re all there in shimmering scarlet.

With politics setting the stage, I was free to let my characters scheme and murder across it. Did it work? Only the reader can judge.


WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE 8TH CIRCLE! (US entrants only, please.)



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