Debut author P.D. Viner on killing his first character

Oct 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. ET

The main character is the heart and soul of any novel — which made it all the more difficult for new author P.D. Viner to kill her. Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. In an interview with SheKnows, Viner talks about his personal connection to Dani and the lasting impact she has had on his and the other characters' lives in his shocking and powerful debut.

P.D. Viner

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a shockingly disturbing and deeply powerful debut by author P.D. Viner. This dramatic novel thrusts readers into the lives of Patty and Jim Lancing, whose daughter, Dani, was kidnapped and brutally murdered — and the killer was never found.

A break in the cold case, however, changes everything. As lies and secrets are unearthed, the heartbreaking truth behind Dani's murder is finally revealed. SheKnows sat down with Viner, who revealed his emotional attachment to Dani's character and how he connects as a parent.

SheKnows: Where did the inspiration for the characters in The Last Winter of Dani Lancing come from?

P.D. Viner: There is a lot of my own mother in Patty, Dani Lancing's mother. Whenever my sister or I were hurt she would become a demon — wanting to fight for us and avenge us. So I began to write more of Patty’s story, but I found that she is so full of rage and guilt that I couldn’t be in her head all the time.

Then Jim (Dani’s father) and Dani came to me, and I must admit I loved writing Dani’s relationship with Jim as I have a daughter who is 5 now. Except for the being dead bit, I would love to have such a funny and close relationship with my daughter when she is grown.

SK: As a father yourself, did the emotional struggles Dani's father experienced in the novel strike a particular chord with you?

PV: I started writing the book when my daughter was 2 years old, and I was both full of awe at how wonderful having a child was but also fearful that I could lose her at any moment. I think the double-edged sword that accompanies parenthood really drew me forward because it made me ask questions like 'How would I cope if I lost her?'

I found myself thinking about whether I would hurt anyone who threatened my child. I wondered if I would kill for her and I decided I would. I also knew that it would be even worse to not have closure after the loss of a child. How does a parent cope with that? I would crumble, collapse in on myself and live in the past. I would go crazy. And with those possibilities in my mind, I wrote Jim and Patty.

SK: Was it difficult to kill Dani Lancing? Did you feel emotionally attached to the character in any way?

PV: Dani isn’t dead. Not really. She lives for Jim, Patty and Tom (Dani’s childhood sweetheart) in such a real way that she is flesh and blood. I write her as a living, breathing character. For me, she is alive, and her relationship with Jim is as touching and tender as I can make it.

Dani looks after Jim in a way that speaks to me of courage and a big heart. What was difficult was making her relive the final moments of her life and remember what had happened to her.

SK: As a filmmaker, time often constrains the story you can tell. How was the creative process different for you when writing this novel?

PV: A running time of two hours may be a constraint but filmmakers can layer information in so many ways, through music, sound and visuals, to create an intricate world that immerses the audience — but everything is there on screen; little is left to the imagination.

When someone picks up a book, however, something amazing happens: the reader brings their own imagination to the story. The writer creates a visual framework, but the reader fills in the gaps, adds shading and color, takes the writer’s ideas and brings them to life in a way that is truly three dimensional.

The novel is more intimate than film, and while a film is a collaborative venture, it can’t compare to the depth of collaboration that occurs between the writer and their reader. I love being a novelist.

SK: In your blog, you talk about life after the book for the characters in your book. How have these characters become a part of your life — even after the novel has been published?

PV: I can answer this in so many ways, because on multiple levels Dani, Patty, Jim and Tom are with me all the time, and I am far from done with their stories. I have already begun to tell more tales about them.

It is so exciting to learn more about Dani day by day and to explore the world she exists in. I want to spend more time with her, her parents and Tom. I really hope my readers do too.

Sound interesting? Start reading The Last Winter of Dani Lancing now.


4 New releases from the best women writers
Melissa Joan Hart talks drug use and famous exes
Jason Segel adds a new job to his resume: Author

Image Credit: P.D. Viner / Twitter