Author Chat with Dorothy M. Place


I am totally excited today to share my interview with award-winning author, Dorothy M. Place in accordance with the release of her new book The Heart to Kill. Dorothy sees the world from a unique creative perspective, I admire her character and I fell for her rich writing style immediately. She has taken her talent to great heights in the telling of a story that many might consider taboo.

Dorothy’s new book takes a deep look into the psyche of a woman who has inexcusably taken the life of her own child. The story follows alongside her childhood best-friend who joins her legal defense team in spite of public outcry and a sure verdict of guilty. Check out this intense and intriguing story of these two young women and discover what could drive a mother to commit such an unforgivable act. The side story here is just as rich and compelling as the main plot, so this book is guaranteed to grip you all the way ‘til the end.


How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

The year I started graduate school at UC Davis, I went to see the play MEDEA. I believed I was the only person in the audience who empathized with Medea when she murdered her two sons. Like Medea, I had just been dumped by my husband for another woman and, being the sole support of three rowdy children, trying to complete a doctorate, and keeping everything on track, I have to admit there were times that murdering the children seemed like a possibility.

Actually, the play had a profound impact on me. Euripides, has the Greek chorus ask, “How does she have the heart to kill her flesh and blood?” That question came to mind with every media report that yet another mother had murdered her children. In fact, studies show that about 500 children under six years are murdered every year by a parent, and that number remains fairly constant.

And so, my book, The Heart to Kill, grew out of that question. Sarah, the protagonist, wonders how her high school friend, JoBeth Ruland, came to the point in her life when murdering her children was the only solution.

I have been thinking about the dilemma of women who have nowhere else to go but to murder their children. Like everyone else, I keep asking why. Perhaps there is no answer.

Where did your love of storytelling come from?

At age twelve, my parents moved to 58 acres of weeds and rocks in upstate New York from the New York metropolitan area and became “farmers.” We lived eight miles from a town of 3,000 and my mother didn’t drive. We lived more than a mile from our nearest neighbor, and their children were fully engaged in farm work. So, except for school, I spent my days and evenings alone. My favorite thing to do was to lie upon the roof of the goat house, where my mother couldn’t find me and ask me to do housework and read. Although I never considered writing as a profession, those long afternoons opened up the entire world for me.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing about ten years. I started with short stories, ten of which have been published, and two awarded prizes in short story contests. Since I was a research director at Sacramento State University, this was a complete departure from the number crunching I did at work.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Well, when I started I thought this was going to be a blockbuster because it dealt with a question that has been asked for 2,500 years. But, like your first pancake, this didn’t quite turn out the way I envisioned because, being my first novel, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to take an idea and turn it into words. Nevertheless, the book does offer the reader a journey into a story that explores a horrible crime and the enduring friendship between two women.

What projects are you working on at present?

Along with marketing my first novel, I am working with an editor to polish a collection of short stories and starting my second novel, The Search for Yetta. In the second novel, Sarah, the protagonist in my first book, goes on the find what became of a relative whose name had expunged from the family history after she survived the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City.

download-1On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burned, killing 145 workers. It is remembered as one of the most infamous incidents in American industrial history, as the deaths were largely preventable–most of the victims died as a result of neglected safety features and locked doors within the factory building. The tragedy brought widespread attention to the dangerous sweatshop conditions of factories and led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of workers. Read more…


Sarah, a student at Northwestern University Law School, returns to her apartment after a trying day to find two telephone messages. The first informs her that she has not been chosen for a coveted summer internship, a position for which her father had arranged an interview. The second is from her mother, with the news that Sarah’s best friend in high school, JoBeth Ruland has murdered her own son and daughter. To mislead her father about her failure to be chosen as a recipient of the internship, Sarah decides to secure a position on JoBeth’s defense team. Against her father’s vehement protest, she leaves Evanston, Illinois at the end of the term and returns to Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina, a small town in the Appalachian foothills, determined to convince him that the experience will contribute to her future.

To make the best of the situation, Sarah sets out to become a vital member of the defense team and to regain favor with her father. But she is not well-prepared for the shock of leaving her sheltered academic life and working in a community rife with chauvinism, malice, and betrayal. Her struggle is met with the benevolent amusement of the senior law partner, John-Two who, despite her objection, insists on calling her “Little Lady.” The criminal trial expert on the team, Al, a tense, disciplined young attorney, resents the intrusion of what he believes to be a know-nothing law student and treats Sarah as if she is incompetent. The folks of Eight Mile Junction close ranks in the face of Sarah’s inquiries, hiding the town’s complicity in JoBeth’s degradation from the eyes of “outsiders” by finding her guilty before the trial begins. And finally, her father, on whose judgment Sarah has relied her entire life, rejects her efforts to placate his ill-humored response to her decision that summer.

In the end, Sarah discovers the underlying issues that precipitated her friend’s murderous act. Through interviews with JoBeth, her mother, her former lover, and her work associates, her ex-husband’s mistress as well as the testimony given during the trial, the horrifying events that shaped JoBeth’s life are revealed, helping Sarah understand how a person can be driven to extremes that defy ordinary reasoning. It is the betrayal by those they love and believe in that changes their lives forever. Ultimately, it means disgrace and imprisonment for JoBeth. But for Sarah, who decides against returning to law school, it is the beginning of a life in which she, not her father, manages her future.

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untitled-1-copyBorn in Jersey City, New Jersey, Dorothy M. Place now lives and writes in Davis, California. A principle investigator of a research group at Sacramento State College, she began creative writing, first as a hobby then as a second career, ten years ago. Since 2005, ten of her short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, two of which were selected for prizes. At present, she is putting together her first collection of short stories, Living on the Edge, and working on her second novel, The Search for Yetta.




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