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The Sirens of Suspense




Peter Swanson is the author of The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, The Kind Worth Killing and Her Every Fear.  He has degrees from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College. His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Soundings East, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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item1 The Origin of an Idea item1

The idea for Her Every Fear has been rattling around inside my head for at least fifteen years. That’s not unique in and of itself; I have constant ideas for books. They live for a little while, trying to take root, but most of them wither and die. And, usually, for good reason. What was unique about Her Every Fear was that the original idea, my first conception of the book, was that it was going to be a romance, a story about a man and a woman who fall in love despite never having met one another. They fall in love because they live in each other’s house.

I thought it was an interesting idea. Two people arrange to swap apartments. The woman moves into the man’s apartment, and vice versa. A six month swap. There would be complications, of course. Exes who show up. Weird neighbors. But along the way, the man and woman would write back and forth, and they would fall in love, never having met.

The problem with the idea was that I was seeing it wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be a romance, it was supposed to be a murder mystery. And one day it just clicked. A woman moves into her second cousin’s Boston apartment for six months, and the day she arrives, a corpse is discovered next door. Did her cousin do it? Is she living in the house of a murderer? Should she warn her own neighbor back in London?

The idea pushed all my other ideas to the side. I could picture the apartment in Boston. It would be spacious and elegant, something in Beacon Hill maybe. And the woman who moves there, named Kate now, would be someone with a tendency toward agoraphobia, someone who sees danger where there is none. She immediately suspects her cousin of being a murderer, but she doesn’t trust her own mind.

I got excited about writing this story because it’s the kind of story I love to read. I’ve always been drawn to gothic thrillers, to stories in which the main character’s home becomes a threatening and unreadable place. Jane Eyre. Rebecca. Rosemary’s Baby. Gaslight. In all of these stories, there is a man present, whom the protagonist doesn’t know if she entirely trusts. The twist in Her Every Fear would be that the man isn’t there, but Kate is still not sure if she trusts him.

When I begin to write I look for inspiration from books and movies. Long before writing defined me, reading did. The books I loved most as a kid were mystery stories, anything slightly creepy. When I was ten I started to read the books my parents left around the house. Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. Jaws. Coma. Around that time, I also saw my first Alfred Hitchcock film, Dial M for Murder. I was hooked. I loved how the villain in that film, the very dapper Ray Milland, was not like other villains I’d seen in films or TV shows. He was urbane, and well-mannered, even while he was plotting to murder his wife.

Later on I saw another Hitchcock film, called Rope, about two college intellectuals who murder a friend just for the thrill of it. There’s a moment in that movie that I’ll never forget. The two college students are strangling their victim. After he dies, there is a look on Farley Granger’s face (he plays the less evil of the two murderers) of almost instant horror and regret. He knows that he has crossed a line and that he can never, ever go back.

That relationship between the two men in Rope (based on the real life case of Leopold and Loeb) became my inspiration for the other major plot thread in Her Every Fear, a story about two men made worse by their association with one another.

I’ve long believed that good books should have more than one central idea, that if a writer can combine a couple of themes it makes for stronger stories. Her Every Fear is about a woman who doesn’t trust the space she’s living in, and the spaces in her own mind. But it’s also about the ways that two people can create their own warped moral universes.






WHAT MOVIE MURDERER MOST INTRIGUED YOU? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of HER EVERY FEAR! (US entrants only, please.)



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