Even though I write fiction—30 novels so far—I’m a feature news junkie. I ignore most reporting about everyday crime, but I love the quirky stuff, especially chain-of-event stories. Some are so interesting or unbelievable that I scour the details and can’t stop thinking about the circumstances. When that happens, I know the crime or character belongs in my next book. Certain stories about social or cultural events hit me the same way, and when those things occur around the same time, I start asking, What if...?
For AfterStrike, the inciting article was about a woman who’d been hit by lightning. At first, she thought she was unharmed, so the ER doctors released her, unconcerned. But over time, her memory started to fail, and she experienced headaches, nerve pain, and mental fog. Medical experts kept telling her she was fine and that her symptoms were likely caused by stress. Sound familiar? Eventually she lost her job, her health, and her spouse. But in time, she found a support group (Lightning Strike & Electrical Shock Survivors), which helped her recover, at least emotionally. The group, which holds a yearly convention, is fascinating in itself, and I knew I had to explore her journey.
That compulsion was solidified a few months later when I read a second article about a lightning strike survivor, then met (and danced with) a man with no arms. As a child he’d climbed an electrical pole, and his limbs had been blown off by an intense shock. Clearly, the universe wanted me to tell their stories.
Around the same time, a headline in a prominent news magazine caught my attention. The subtitle about how a “family bloodied itself to pocket six million” sucked me in. I absorbed every fascinating detail, wondering how anyone could get caught up in such a scam. I’m dying to share some specifics—such as the scary bag of tools the patriarch carried—but I also don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t read it yet. Some of the suspense builds from not knowing those oddities until the end.
To develop a thriller plot, I started bouncing those ideas off each other to see how they could interact. I considered writing about the support group as amateur detectives, but quickly rejected the concept. I wanted the story to be a standalone...and intensely compelling. The more I plotted, the more I realized I needed a law enforcement character. Why not bring in an undercover FBI agent my readers’ already love? So halfway through, Agent Dallas gets involved and cranks up the heat.
The story is set in my homeland, the Pacific Northwest, with scenes in Portland, Oregon, and Tacoma, Washington. But the location isn’t particularly relevant. Crime and fraud occur everywhere, and so do lightning strikes. In fact, there are around 240,000 lightning strike incidents every year around the world, with 2,000 deaths. Another unexpected detail: Several members of the LS&ESS group have been hit twice.
With a multiple timeline structure, AfterStrike is the most challenging novel I’ve written. Readers also say it’s my best work, and the response has been amazing. In addition to enjoying the story for its own sake, I hope people will come away with more compassion for those around them who might be suffering in silence from shocking invisible injuries.
L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries—a four-time winner of the Readers Favorite Awards. She also pens the high-octane Agent Dallas series, the Extractors series, and provocative standalone thrillers. Sellers also writes thriller scripts, including the true story of how she rescued her grandchildren from a dangerous cult in Costa Rica. She resides in Eugene, Oregon, where many of her 30 novels are set.