Lindsay Hunter Never Intended to Write a True Crime Novel


True crime is hot right now. It’s a genre seen across every media you can think of, from podcasts to TV shows to movies and even books. The idea of crime and mystery, of violence against a neighbor or family member—these narratives captivate and fascinate us, for better or for worse. 

But after the Dateline credits roll and you turn off the TV, what’s left? What lifelong traumas and consequences linger in the lives of those touched by the crime? How is a family transformed? In Lindsay Hunter’s newest novel Hot Springs Drive, the answers are ever-expanding and far more sizzling than you might realize. 

The novel follows Jackie and her best friend and neighbor Theresa as they embark upon motherhood, suburban life, and a weight-loss program to reclaim their bodies. But once Jackie loses the weight, a new desire consumes her, and she finds herself on a dark and dangerous path of secrets and betrayal. Theresa’s murder comes halfway through the novel, with the murderer immediately identified, breaking the formula of the crime narrative. Instead, in the second half of the book we’re deftly shown an unfolding over the years of how brutal the consequences of small actions can be, and how much an entire ecosystem of lives can be undone. Hot Springs Drive is where literary fiction meets mystery, and the marriage of the two is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. 

I was delighted to speak with Hunter over Zoom about mother and son relationships, the way secrets can spiral into hefty consequences, and the identity of motherhood.

Sara Cutaia: Hot Springs Drive takes a somewhat new spin on “true crime” at least in my opinion. You know fairly early who killed Theresa. And the suspense isn’t necessarily focused on the murder itself. Can you talk about how the idea for this novel came to be?

Lindsay Hunter: This idea actually came from my own true crime obsession. It’s based on an episode of Dateline NBC that I listened to as a podcast. And the episode is called “Hot Springs Drive.” I was completely blown away. I never let myself listen to it again after I heard it. But what struck me wasn’t the crime itself. I mean, because like you’re saying, it’s true, crime is everywhere and adaptations of real crimes are everywhere. And they sort of follow a formula. And I wasn’t interested in seeing if I could write that kind of thing. But what I was really interested in was this relationship between a mother and her son. How on earth could a teenage boy take it upon himself to murder his mom’s best friend in such a violent way? There had to be something in that relationship. Was it codependence? Hatred, rage, a mistaken sense of chivalry? That’s where it started for me. There’s some codependent relationships circling around me in my own life that I am obsessed with. I wish there was a team of scientists studying them and reporting back to me. And I thought this was going to be my way into examining that kind of relationship. It didn’t start with I want to write a true crime novel. It started with what the fuck, how? And I still think about it. I still wonder about that relationship.

SC: Wow. So Hot Springs Drive was an actual murder? 

How on earth could a teenage boy take it upon himself to murder his mom’s best friend in such a violent way?

LH: Yes. And I don’t even remember details because I have refused to revisit the podcast. I don’t even remember if she was having an affair with her best friend’s husband, how many kids she had… none of those details.

SC: Do you still regularly listen to true crime podcasts?

LH: Yeah. My brain is rotten. I love them. Before, I was looking at Twitter as a way of filling my brain with information in my idle moments, but I needed a way to fill my brain with information where I could also use my hands. And I was like, podcasts—I started listening to podcasts. 

SC: I want to focus on Jackie a little bit. She catches our attention most, not only because she has the first person narration every now and then, but I think she’s the messiest, and also the most honest of all the characters. Jackie centers herself in an environment—a suburban household with four children—where that’s not stereotypically encouraged of mothers. What’s been your experience with not only being a mother and raising children, but also trying to write about it?

LH: Yeah, that’s such a big question. And it’s something I think about all the time. As a mother, you’re always in your past looking at your mother and looking at yourself as a child. And you’re in the present looking at yourself as a mother and looking at your children. Then you’re looking at the future and hoping as your children embark in their lives, that you’ve done well. And so I think for me time is happening all at once. It’s a lot to ask of anyone to handle the kind of responsibility Jackie has, to process all of that at once. I think it can be very easy to fall into like a moment of can everyone just fucking shut up for a second? Can I just be me for a second? 

As a mother, you’re always in your past looking at your mother and looking at yourself as a child.

I was talking about this yesterday with an author for my own podcast, and we were talking about how motherhood is sort of an identity that’s layered on top of an identity that already exists. And she was specifically talking about mothers leaving their children and how that identity is kind of stripped off sometimes. I think it’s just a lot to hold. And for Jackie—for anyone—it’s locating yourself in that and holding onto yourself. It can be an act of self-care, as we like to say, right? Like finding time to lock the bathroom door so you can be alone. It can be an act of rage. I think Jackie thinks to herself, I no longer recognize myself, so I’m going to make myself into something recognizable. And that’s her struggle, right? She struggles to find control in a situation where she feels no control, she feels controlled. 

SC: I want to touch on this idea of control specifically. I feel like it’s really intertwined with other themes in the book, like “hunger” and “desire” and how both of those two things seem to merge with a need. Like you need food and you need to answer desires in specific ways. So ultimately I saw those things becoming a driving force for everything in the novel, from food to love to attention to sex. How did you see all those things working together?

LH: I think it goes hand in hand with what we were just talking about: your kids. At some point they’ll see you as a person, as a whole person. But they shouldn’t have to. You are there to care for them and shepherd them and be the adult in the room. Maybe Jackie should have just gotten a job. Like at a certain point in your life, you know, when you are only that and there’s no one who’s looking at you behind the mother and the wife, I think you start to pay more attention to that lack of control. Jackie feels like she’s lost control of her body. She’s lost control of her house. Once there was meaning for her in being a mom and taking care, but she’s started to pay attention to other things. Once she understands, oh there’s a way that I can control my body, it’s very informative for her. She can control it in an unhealthy way, in a punishing way. She can sort of feed this desire, which is, you know, this need, as you put it. There’s a way to feed it. There’s a way to remember that she exists, that she’s a body, that she can feel things, that she has control over other people. She’s attractive. She has a pull. But it gets to the point where she no longer has control over it. 

SC: I was especially intrigued by how the children observed and judged their parents and how they were monumentally shaped by what they find out about their parents, both big and small. You mentioned kids find out that their parents are people eventually, but these kids especially, I feel like they sort of jumped ahead and found out sooner than most kids do and in a really dramatic, dark way. So I was curious about how you go about examining those relationships from all those different angles and then putting it into a book in this way?

LH: As a child, I was obsessed with eavesdropping and figuring out why things mattered and what my parents and their friends were talking about. I felt like there was stuff they were keeping from me and I wanted to understand it. I would do anything to try to figure it out. Even now I have my mom’s high school yearbooks. I thought they were like the most fascinating documents because they were giving me an insight into her before I was ever a glimmer in her eye. And I was just obsessed with this notion of like, who are these people that are only showing me one side? My oldest kid is also equally obsessed with, What are you talking about? What does that mean? I think for the kids in the novel, they know something’s up. They know something’s not right. Their parents were already in the process of distancing themselves and of course they want to know why. Like, why is Jackie suddenly so thin? Why is she kind of mean now? And why is she sneaking around? And I think those kinds of things, secrets—badly hidden secrets can be bad for kids in the long run because the kids are trying to understand their parents with the information that they know. Every child starts to think it’s their fault, right? Like, what could I have done? And is there something wrong with me? And I think we see that with Cece especially. You start to take the information you gathered as a child and you apply it to yourself as an adult and you tell yourself these stories that aren’t necessarily true, but it’s a way for you to protect yourself from what happened.

I want to stress that motherhood is the best thing in my life. I just love them so much. I feel like sometimes I talk about the bad things too much, but they’re the best thing in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But there’s like all these little failures all the time, every day, constantly. If I showed you my house right now… To me, it’s like, okay, it’s a little tidy, but there’s just messes pushed into corners, you know? And if I step back outside myself and look at it, like if I was going to have someone come to my home, I’d be like, Oh my God, you know? I think that one thing I’ve learned with every child, your love exponentially grows, but so does the chaos. Your failures feel exponential. So I’m thinking about how I can personally relate to why Jackie sort of abandoned all of her motherly duties because she focused on the successes that she could literally see happening. Her version of success. 

SC: I wasn’t expecting the novel to span decades, following the characters in the aftermath of a murder long after it’s been “solved,” and the murder’s behind bars. It really digs into the emotional fallout, the trauma, the lasting grief that comes with the death, but also with the consequences of actions and inaction of everyone involved. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about these ripple effects before diving into the structure?

LH: First of all, I have to congratulate myself because my first two novels, it’s a very tight timeline. Like I think Eat Only When You’re Hungry is like three days and then at the very end it jumps ahead. And Ugly Girls is like a week or two or something like that. It’s very tight. And that can feel as a writer so claustrophobic. So time moves in this book. This has been one of my obsessions all along as a writer.

When I was still living in Florida—18, 20 years ago—I was in line at the checkout at the grocery store, and I was watching this mother joking with her son, who was probably like 10 or 11, about the age my oldest is now. And I was thinking about my own family and how my brother and my mom had that relationship. But then sad things happen, as they do. So I was thinking, like, how does a relationship, a mother/son relationship or any familiar relationship go from this beautiful thing watching this mother and son laughing, to pain? The novel I tried to write in grad school, which is a shitty, terrible novel but necessary for me to write, was sort of trying to look at that. And so I think that’s carried me through everything I’m writing. And I think when I first started writing this book I wrote Cece as an adult. Those were things I wrote early because I wanted you to see who they were and who they became. And that to me is also part of the tragedy, or part of the redemption, the grace. There’s poignancy there. There’s meaning there. And so that’s what I wanted to show even more than these completely shattered two families. I wanted to show who you can become based on a huge trauma, but also these other little things that happen along the way.

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