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The Sirens of Suspense

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An Anthony Award-nominated website on all things mystery.

Got Suspense?

ABOUT WENDY:

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New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than eighty novels. Wendy now lives in the New York City suburbs with her husband and their two sons.

 

Find Wendy on Facebook and Twitter

http://www.wendycorsistaub.com

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WENDY CORSI STAUB item1b
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You always wanted to be a writer, but started your career first as an editor, and ghostwriter. Your first novel was the Rita Award-winning SUMMER LIGHTNING, a YA paranormal thriller. How did these experiences inform your journey, and do you feel they gave you advantages other writers didn’t have? If so, what lessons can you pass along?

I became an editor for the same reason I worked in indy bookstores while I was in college: I didn’t just want to write, I wanted to make a living at it. So I approached that goal not just as a talent to embrace or a skill to hone, but as a business I needed to learn from the ground up. The advantage is one any aspiring writer can seize: I did my homework, and I learned to write a marketable manuscript. It’s not enough just to have talent, a brilliant idea, a publishing industry connection. You have to work incredibly hard for years just to get published—and then you will work even harder, forever after, in order to stay published. That’s the lesson.

 

As the author of something like 80 novels in the last twenty years (HOW??) you’ve written both series and stand-alones, but have said that you prefer the latter. What makes them more attractive to you? 

Continuity is difficult, given that I write domestic psychological suspense novels about ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. When you need to sustain that over three books, extraordinary can easily become preposterous. How many times is an ordinary suburban mom going to cross paths with a serial killer? I’ve worked really hard to pull it off in my first two trilogies for HarperCollins, LIVE TO TELL/SCARED TO DEATH/HELL TO PAY and NIGHTWATCHER/SLEEPWALKER/SHADOWKILLER. My third trilogy was connected only by a social networking theme—THE GOOD SISTER was about a fictionalized Facebook, THE PERFECT STRANGER was about bloggers, THE BLACK WIDOW about online dating. No interconnected plots or storylines, only a shared premise: you never know who is really lurking behind an internet screen name. The latest trilogy, which just launched with BLOOD RED and continues next year with BLUE MOON and BONE WHITE, again features continuing characters, but is made believable because it’s set in a town, Mundy’s Landing, whose violent past consists of two historic unsolved crimes. An annual festival—colloquially dubbed Mundypalooza—draws armchair detectives, crime buffs, the press, and your garden variety ghoulish gawkers, all trying to solve the historic crimes and claim the Historical Society’s ever-increasing reward. It stands to reason that it might just draw a creepy villain or two as well, right?

 

Many of your plots are inspired by current events and new technologies. What draws you to a story, and what’s your favorite part of the research process?

I’m drawn to anything that translates to a high concept idea—that standard one-line Hollywood pitch. For the Mundy’s Landing series: What if a quaint village notorious for historic murders attracted a copycat killer who, on the hundredth anniversary of gruesome unsolved crimes, set out to re-enact them?

Research—ah, I love everything about research. I could research around the clock for months, if I only had the luxury. I delve into any subject and setting I’m writing about in order to get every detail exactly right. I don’t just read stacks of nonfiction books and pore over websites—I travel to my settings, I speak to experts, I haunt museums, I watch documentaries. It’s an ongoing process from the moment I conceive the glimmer of a story until it’s gone through its final editing phase. I’ve lost many a writing day while off on a tangential search for some obscure detail. Research is my perpetual shiny object. I always find it difficult to tear myself away and go back to the writing.

 

HELLO, IT’S ME, which you wrote under the pseudonym Wendy Markham in 2005, was turned into a movie which just aired on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. How was that experience? Did you have any input into the screenplay or the process?

It was utterly rewarding and surreal to visit the set and watch my characters, setting and plot come to life courtesy of talented actors and an amazing crew. I consider myself blessed every day to make a living doing what I love, and there have been plenty of unforgettable highlights over 80 books and 22 years as an author. But ranking right up there at the top was the moment I walked onto the set and met my fictional heroine Annie, now a living, breathing person (Kellie Martin, who starred in the film and who is an absolute sweetheart). I didn’t write the screenplay, and it was very different from the book, but I completely respect the process and I adore the executive producer, Jon Eskanas, who really embraced and nailed the theme. On a personal front: the book HELLO, IT’S ME was published just a few weeks before my mom lost her battle with breast cancer, yet she made it to one of my tour events. She’d read every book I’d ever written, and that was the last. She loved it and told me it would be a great movie. With its theme of love that lives on after death, this has been an emotional project for me, and I find it poignant that it began filming on May 11, 2015—the tenth anniversary of my mom’s death.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest BLOOD RED, your upcoming NINE LIVES and what’s coming next for you?

BLOOD RED is the launch book for the Mundy’s Landing suspense trilogy. The village is, as I mentioned above, notorious for an unsolved historic crime—think Lizzie Borden’s Fall River. This is a town that’s seen better days, but it’s been revitalized by tourist dollars that pour in due to Mundypalooza. The old guard thinks it’s exploitive; newcomers want to cash in. I loved the idea of exploring murder-as-industry, this modern-day culture of bloodthirsty media and ambulance chasers fascinated by the gory details of other people’s tragedies. BLOOD RED’s heroine, Rowan Mundy, grew up in Mundy’s Landing as the youngest child in a working class family. Her older siblings were stellar students and fine upstanding teenagers. Rowan was not. She ran wild in high school, but made good on a deathbed promise to her mother that she would turn herself around. She went to college, married hometown hero Jake Mundy, had three children, and got a teaching job at her old elementary school. Except for one fleeting, errant moment, she’s walked the straight and narrow for the past thirty years. Then she gets an anonymous package containing 13 burnt cookies wrapped in a yellowed newspaper bearing the date of her near slip-up—a telltale sign that somebody knows what she did. The predator intends to make her pay for her sins, and is creeping ever closer, while claiming lookalike redheaded victims.

NINE LIVES launches my new LILY DALE series from Crooked Lane. These are cozy mysteries written for an adult audience, but they’re set in the real-life spiritualist colony Lily Dale New York, where I based a successful Young Adult series several years ago. Lily Dale is a lakeside cottage village populated entirely by people who claim that they can communicate with the dead. I grew up a few miles away, and have always been fascinated by it.

For years, those who read and loved my young adult Lily Dale series (AWAKENING, BELIEVING, CONNECTING, and DISCOVERING) as well as my Lily Dale-set adult thriller IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE have been asking for more. I take my readers’ feedback very seriously, and I finally found the time and opportunity, so this is my gift to them. It’s a new series and fresh start, but I promise some appearances by beloved characters from the original books.

While my YA series was paranormal—there were definitely some ghostly goings-on—these books are firmly rooted in reality. Readers can decide for themselves whether the things that go bump in the night are ghosts. Our heroine, Bella, is a skeptic surrounded by eccentric mediums and psychics. She’s a young widowed single mom who finds her way to the Dale on a cross-country drive, thanks to a pregnant stray cat named Chance, who turns up in her path. That was inspired by a real life pregnant stray cat named Chance, who turned up on my doorstep last year, delivered six kittens, cost us thousands in vet bills when she nearly died of a bacterial infection, and who now cozily resides on the rug next to my desk (her kittens are all living happily ever after in equally cozy homes). In the book, Bella and her son Max wind up staying in Lily Dale to help run a guesthouse and solve a mystery (or many). Their lovable new neighbors are sometimes so busy seeing what isn’t there and talking to people no one else can hear that they miss what’s all too obvious to logical Bella.

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COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW by using the Comments box further down on this page, or on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of BLOOD RED! (U.S. entrants only, please.)

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SIDEBAR WITH WENDY:

Book she wishes shecould read again for the first time: The enchanting MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, which I read in Savannah, where it's set.

What she's reading now: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE..

Favorite sentence she's ever written: I'll choose my favorite in BLOOD RED, from the cop's POV after discovering a victim and the serial killer's peculiar crime signature: "She was covered in a sheet of dry cleaner's plastic, shrink-wrapped like a bodega cucumber."

Period in history she'd like to visit: The 80s, so I could give myself a sorely needed fashion makeover.

One thing she wishes she had known when she started writing: Cliché, but I wish I'd anticipated that every valley, no matter how low, is sooner or later followed by a peak—and vice versa.

Favorite Online Resource: I have a tough time with titles, and idioms are helpful for brainstorming, so I often come here —you can plug in a search term that matches the theme of your book—for exaple, "Wedding," or "Blood"—and it will kick back a list that helps to jumpstart ideas.

Favorite independent bookstore: Can't choose a favorite because I have never met an indy bookstore that I didn't love, so I'll say that the most recent one I visited—the wonderfully welcoming, author-friendly Mystery to Me in Madison, Wisconsin, where I did a pub day event this week—blew me away!

If she could have one superpower: To be in two places at once—a feat I attempt on a daily basis to no avail.

If she could meet one of her characters: I love Sullivan Leary, the spitfire female NYPD detective who was intended to be a quick secondary character in THE BLACK WIDOW, but has since found her way into BLOOD RED and the upcoming sequel, BLUE MOON, and—along with partner Stockton Barnes—is apparently here to stay.

If she could invite four people to a dinner party: Lizzy Borden, Amelia Earhart, D.B. Cooper and my mom—the first three because I want to solve history's greatest mysteries, the last because I miss her desperately. And she was a great cook and a sparkling conversationalist.