Nightstand: R.H. Herron’s debut novel based on her work as a 911 dispatcher

The “Stolen Things” author is reading Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born a Crime.”
R.H. Herron is the author of "Stolen Things." Tawnie Ashley
R.H. Herron is the author of "Stolen Things." Tawnie Ashley
Published September 6

In R.H. Herron’s debut thriller, Stolen Things, the reader meets Laurie Ahmadi, a 911 dispatcher whose work day suddenly gets much more personal when she answers a call and finds it is her teenage daughter, JoJo, who has been drugged and raped and is pleading for help. Even though the entire police department, led by Laurie’s police chief husband, springs into action, JoJo’s trouble only gets more twisted with every page. Herron, who has an MFA in writing from Mills College in Oakland, Calif., has taught writing workshops at University of California Berkeley and Stanford. For Stolen Things, she relied on her experiences as a 15-year-plus 911 dispatcher in California.

What is on your nightstand?

I always have so many books on the go at once. I like to dive in according to whatever mood I’m in. There’s Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, on living more distraction free; No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol, a glorious memoir of choosing to be alone; Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, a memoir that opened so much up for me on how to think about apartheid in South Africa, it’s hilarious. And I always have May Sarton’s journals for peace before sleep; currently it is The House by the Sea.

Did you experience the heartache at the beginning of the story with a co-worker?

Stolen Things is very loosely based on a dispatcher’s daughter who was sexually trafficked by the members of three local law enforcement agencies, not the one I worked for. All I could think about for a long time was how that dispatcher had to go back to work, to go back to the radio and talk to people who instead of protecting her daughter had hurt her. The book itself isn’t about this. It’s about the search for a missing girl and the relationship between the dispatcher and her nontrafficked daughter, but I worked out some of my own angst while writing it. Yes, heartache comes along with dispatching. It’s as much a part of the job as the ability to stay awake all night and eat cold food because you got busy after you heated your dinner. It’s a good job, though, one that I was proud to do.

Is this a standalone story or will we get to revisit the characters?

I’m not sure if we will revisit these characters yet. The Magic 8-Ball is giving me a very definite “Wait and See.” I’d love it if I could feel particularly close to JoJo. It’s always hard to part from a story and put it away forever. I would like to visit them again.