Gussin's latest novel, 'Come Home,' inspired by trip to Egypt
A frequent problem for writers of series fiction is how to deal with characters over time. It's a particularly thorny problem in the thriller genre, with two less-than- ideal solutions: show the character aging gracefully or ignore time altogether.
Patricia Gussin came up with a solution after four books in her Laura Nelson series: She passed the literary torch to her character's daughters.
“I wanted to get a younger protagonist and I wanted to bring it into today's world,” says Gussin, who appears Feb. 16 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. “I had a lot of feedback — oh, you just can't drop Laura. But I was very shameless, and I went into this new series and gave (Laura Nelson) a cameo appearance.”
The new novel, “Come Home” (Oceanview), features Laura Nelson's twin daughters, Nicole and Natalie. Like their fictional mother, they are both doctors: Nicole is a plastic surgeon, Natalie an executive with a pharmaceutical company. When Nicole's young son is taken by her husband back to his native Egypt, the siblings become enmeshed in a series of incidents that take place in Africa and South America.
For Gussin, a former pharma executive who lives in Florida and has an honorary degree from Duquesne, stories tend to emerge from her travels and experiences. “Come Home” was inspired by a trip she and her husband, Pittsburgh native Dr. Robert Gussin, took to Egypt just before the Arab Spring uprising in 2010.
“A lot of these things are rolling around in there, and they sort of find their way through,” Gussin says, noting how she incorporated elements of pharmaceutical companies, cancer treatments and even aviation travel routes into “Coming Home.”
The plot of “Come Home” is a family drama. Nicole's husband, Ahmed, shares a plastic surgery practice with his wife. Feeling increasingly drawn to his homeland, he impetuously takes their 5-year-son to Egypt, setting off a chain of events that involve two families thousands of miles apart.
Again, Gussin was able to draw from her own experiences when constructing the plot, noting her daughter's friend was married to a man with an Arabic heritage.
“I learned a lot from just using him as a prototype, here, in writing something about how an Arab man might react,” she says. “I have taken the time to get to know a few (Arabic men). Yes, it is a stereotype, but they are stereotypes for reasons, too.”
Gussin envisions the novel as the start of another series she plans to call “The Identicals,” featuring the Nelson sisters. But going forward, the next book will not have the exact same cast due to the nature of the thriller genre.
“I think the readers can be pretty darn sure those two (the sisters) aren't going to go away,” Gussin says. “But anybody else is at risk. When I write a book, I know that something terrible has to happen because it's the thriller genre. Anybody is up for grabs as to whether or not they're going to meet a horrendous fate.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.