Attorney's first novel features psychopath as protagonist

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Moving to Boston seven years ago had a profound effect on Shannon Kirk’s writing career.

“When I got my job at Ropes & Gray, LLP in Boston in 2008, we (Kirk, husband Michael, and son Max) were living in Chicago. We had to make a huge life decision and moved to a town called Manchester-by-the-Sea. It’s gorgeous. It’s exploding with colors – beautiful,” recalled Kirk. “That move uplifted and upturned my adult life and taking a new job after a pretty steady career and being bombarded with the beauty of the New England area, all of that forced the creative bug that’s always lived inside of me to want to fight to come out. I really think it was all of that.
Coupled with that move – I was a trial attorney in Chicago – I (became) the department head of the litigation group here in Boston, which did not require me to be a trial lawyer and go to trial. I reduced my hours to four days/week.”

That made Kirk, 42, an alumna of St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. and Suffolk University Law School in Boston (where she teaches law on an adjunct basis), dedicate more of her time to her writing.

“I just started cranking out some manuscripts,” she said.

This resulted in her first novel, “Method 15/33” ($26.95), which has been published through Florida-based Oceanview Publishing, founded by Dr. Bob Gussin and his wife Dr. Patricia Gussin, a New York Times best-selling novelist who writes medical thrillers. Both Gussins have strong Michigan ties.

In “Method 15/33,” pregnant 16-year-old Dorothy is kidnapped. Her parents are frantic. Her boyfriend, the father of her unborn baby, is beside himself with worry. 

However, Dorothy isn’t the one they should worry about. It’s her abductors.

For Dorothy is a methodical, manipulative, cunning prodigy with sociopathic tendencies. She can shut her emotions on and off as easily as one does a light switch. While in captivity, she only appears to be submissive; it’s a front. Dorothy sizes up her abductors, noting their strengths and weakness, noting the objects in the room that she can use as weapons, as she awaits the perfect moment to strike back.

Kirk got the idea for “Method 15/33” after reading the non-fiction book “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout, which is a psychologist’s view of psychopathy.

“The book talked about the high prevalence of psychopaths in the United States, certainly among populations of higher management – CEOs, etc.,” said Kirk. “It explained in laymen’s terms the elements, the factors that you look for that are psychopaths, whether biologically or by environment.”

She continued: “I wanted to do a book on a psychopath. I’ve also watched ‘Dexter,’ ‘American Psycho,’ and all of those. I wanted to do something different than what we normally see in entertainment. I wanted it to be a female, but I wanted her to be vulnerable. Where psychopaths are always completely in control of everything – Hannibal Lechter is always in control, Dexter is always in control – I wanted her to be vulnerable. So I made her young. I made her a child and I made her have a child within a child – so extra, super vulnerable. When I had that concept in mind, it just went from there.”

“Method 15/33,” which has earned critical praise from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly, won the Indie Excellence Book Awards. It was also a finalist in the William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in 2013. Further, it has been optioned by Next Wednesday, a production company headed up by University of Michigan alumna Mary Jane Skalski and Damon Lane, who produced 2003’s “The Station Agent” and 2011’s “Win Win.”

“Winning anything is incredibly helpful,” said Kirk. “When the starred reviews (from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly) came out, it was almost overnight things started to change for me because it was very soon after that we got the movie options. And it was very soon after that we started to get international attention. Now I’ve sold rights in several countries, which have undergone competitive options. All of that happening simultaneously have led to a tsunami of good fortune… We’re doing well in terms of international sales. On a national market, we’re selling competitively with ‘Girl on The Train.’” She added with a laugh: “Obviously, I’m not on the New York Times best-selling list, but I want to be.”

Currently, she has three other books in the works. Her next novel, “Heavens,” is slated for a 2016 debut and is also a finalist in the above-mentioned Faulkner contest. Unlike “Method 15/33,” it’s not a thriller. It’s adult literary fiction centering on a woman dying in the ICU. She spends the last week in and out of consciousness and visits different realms of heaven with her guardian angel. Kirk got the idea for “Heavens” from a dream.

“I had the most (expletive) mind-blowing dream ever! It was the best dream ever! It was one of those dreams that are so super vibrant, I still remember it. I was in this really colorful forest. It was incredibly blue and incredibly green, but the colors were inverted. The sky was green and the trees were a bluish-green and there was this reservoir that was super-blue. I was in this serene, incredibly vibrant forest, having conversations with my father there. I woke up from it and I thought ‘Holy cow! I have got to write this!’ That single scene would not exist unless you died and heaven was real. That got me to think about a storyline and then it went from there,” explained Kirk.

According to Kirk, there’s plenty riding on “Heavens.”

“I feel a lot of pressure on myself – nobody’s putting the pressure on me – that it’s just as successful in that genre,” she said. “The reason for that pressure is not just a generalized angst, but it’s a real pressure I’m putting on myself because I want to publish in different genres with my name and without using pseudonyms. Typically, in the American publishing market, they want you to brand. I don’t want to brand. I want to be free to just publish in a multitude of genres. For me to be able to fight that fight and really pull that off, I really do need ‘Heavens’ to be strong.”

Kirk has no plans to write full time – at least, not yet.

“It’s hard to become a John Grisham and leave the practice of law,” said Kirk. “I would love to be a Scott Turow, a John Grisham, or a Steve Berry, but I’ve got a long way to go to get to where they are.”

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