Between The Lines

How Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment Came to Write The Hand That Feeds You

Amy Hempel by Kenneth Chen

The Hands That Feeds You is about Williamsburg, Brooklyn resident Morgan Russell. Morgan, 30, is on the threshold of having everything she wants, mainly a name for herself in the field of victimology (she is completing her thesis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice), and a fiancé she loves.  She returns home one morning after class to find him brutally killed, her dogs—a Great Pyrenees, and two pit bulls she was fostering—covered in blood.  As she grieves for her fiancé, she feels guilty at having taken in the foster dogs, though she cannot make herself hate them.  She worries that she suffers from one of the syndromes she studies–pathological altruism: when selfless acts do more damage than good.

Jill Ciment by Arnold Mesches

She also discovers that the man she loved was not the person he claimed to be.  In fact, he fits the clinical definition of a sociopath, and had other fiancées concurrent  with Morgan.  As these women are murdered, Morgan’s research takes on an urgency: in order to stay alive, she must find out who he was, and how an intelligent woman like herself, who studies this kind of predator, became a victim.

We co-wrote the novel our dear friend Kathy Rich did not live long enough to write.  Kathy was a nonfiction writer (The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer and Back;  Dreaming in Hindi) who had become involved with a man from England in the last year of her life.  He said he wanted to marry her, but she discovered that he was involved with several women.  He behaved like a sociopath, and Kathy wondered how a woman as intelligent and accomplished as herself could have been taken in by such a person.  Turns out it is not an uncommon story.  Kathy talked about what she wanted to do in the novel, but she died of cancer before she could write it.   We thought that one way to honor her and find an outlet for our grief would be to write the novel FOR her.  Although we brought our own areas of expertise and interest to the novel, the core of it remains an examination of the workings of a sociopath and his unlikely victims. Kathy was, in a sense, the third collaborator on The Hand That Feeds You.

Additionally, the act of collaboration was a revelation.  We wrote on Google Drive, meaning we were in different cities but our computers called up the same screen: when Jill wrote, it showed up on Amy’s computer too, and vice versa.  We spoke on the phone while we wrote on Google Drive; we never wrote by ourselves.

Hand That Feeds You

Hand That Feeds You

By A.J. Rich