Please welcome October's featured author, Wendy Corsi Staub!
Wendy Corsi Staub Interview
New Mystery Reader: Welcome Wendy; it’s great to finally have a chance to chat with you!
Your first title, Live to Tell, in your new trilogy received great success back in March, and your new title, Scared to Death, is expected to do the same when it comes out early next year. Why don’t you begin by telling us a bit about this suspense trilogy you’re currently working on.
Wendy Corsi Staub: Well, right now I’m writing my second trilogy for Avon Books, which will be launched in 2012. I’m working on the first book, Nightcrawler, to be followed by Sleepwalker and Shadowkiller.
But I believe you’re referring to my trilogy that’s currently in release, which began with Live to Tell, continues with Scared to Death, and will conclude with Hell to Pay in 2011. This was actually not meant to be a trilogy. I had conceived Live to Tell as a standalone thriller, but as I wrote it, the characters took over (to use that old author cliché) and I realized that a development was going to take place, plot-wise, that I hadn’t counted on. That kind of thing happens a lot when I write, and I have learned to just go with it.
This particular twist—which initially surprised me as much as it should my readers--is revealed on the very last page of Live to Tell, and opens the door to Scared to Death, which picks up a year later. Once again, with Scared to Death, the book I thought I was writing became something altogether different when a new twist presented itself about halfway through. Of course, I went back to rewrite and make it work.
Live to Tell was released just as I finished writing Scared to Death, and I was thrilled that it did extremely well—a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, critical praise, bestseller lists, lots of reader mail. The next thing I knew, my editor and I were discussing a third book, to turn it into a trilogy.
The potential plot popped into my head right away, but I had to go back and rewrite the ending of Scared to Death to make it work. Hell to Pay picks up fifteen years in the future, with a heroine who was introduced as a child in the first book.
NMR: You’re written several stand-alone suspense tales for adults, how are you enjoying working on this trilogy in comparison?
WCS: Sequels are great in the sense that you get to revisit characters you know well, and find out what happens next. But sequels also mean a lot of nit-picky details, and it’s slow going. I had done series work quite often in the past—as a young adult, chick lit, and romance author—so I knew that I would have my work cut out for me. For example, when re-introducing a minor character, you can’t just choose any old eye color—the person already has blue eyes or brown eyes, or maybe you never mentioned it, but you have to make sure. Throughout the writing process, you constantly have to go back and revisit earlier books to make sure you stay true to the world you have created—a world your readers have come to know very well, and believe me, they will call you out on the smallest inconsistency! After all, many people read series books back to back in a matter of days—or even hours--but authors write them a year or two apart, for months at a time, so the details of the earlier books aren’t as fresh in their minds. But that’s no excuse for mistakes. I’ve always been a perfectionist in that respect, but I’ve also always been a fast, prolific writer, so anything that slows the process tends to frustrate me.
NMR: Have you found it difficult to leave behind your characters in your stand alone titles? Do they ever come a’knockin afterwards wanting to have another story written about them?
WCS: Funny—I always feel like I personally know my characters so well that I’m already fully aware what they are going to end up doing at any given time in the future, after the book ends. It’s much more likely that readers will write to me asking—and sometimes, begging, especially with my teen readers!—for another installment. I’m usually happy to oblige, when I have the time and the publisher is willing.
NMR: You’ve not only garnered critical acclaim and awards for your adult suspense titles, but for your tween paranormal tales, and your romance titles written under the name Wendy Markham as well. You’re a busy lady. How do you the find time and mental clarity to juggle amongst such different types of genres?
WCS: Fortunately, it’s the way I’m wired. I’ve always been adept at multi-tasking and compartmentalizing, and I’m super-organized—though you might not know it by looking at my office. I’ll admit that when my children were younger, the juggling act was much easier, because I was in control of everyone’s schedule. The biggest challenge in recent years has been working around a tween and a teen who have various sports, lessons, school activities, and social engagements. As a mom, I don’t want to miss a thing; time is flying by and they’re not going to be home forever. That’s why I’ve had to put aside the young adult and Wendy Markham books for the time being. I simply don’t have time to do it all these days, and when forced to choose, my children are my first priority.
NMR: Probably not a fair question to ask, but between all these different genres you’ve written under, which has been the most challenging and which the most engaging?
WCS: It’s certainly a fair question, though the politically correct thing to do would probably be to say I’m equally engaged in any genre. But that wouldn’t be true. The most challenging genre for me was category romance, which I wrote years ago. Having edited that genre for a few years (I was an associate editor at Silhouette before I launched my writing career), I was very familiar with it, so writing it felt like a logical step. But there was less creative freedom than I would have liked. It was always a challenge to put the hero and heroine and their unfolding romance front and center, because I found the subplots and secondary characters just as interesting. Luckily for me—and my readers—I only did a couple of category romances before moving on.
The most engaging genre for me is suspense—which I’m sure comes as no surprise, since that is where my career has been focused for years now. I’ve always loved to read a good thriller above anything else, and writing one is just as exciting. I feel just like the reader does—throughout the writing process, I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen on the next page!
NMR: Do you find the transition between each genre to be a smooth one when writing, or is it pretty difficult to change gears between books?
WCS: Again, I’m pretty adept at compartmentalizing, and I only work on one book at a time, so the transition is pretty smooth. Away from my desk, I tend to gravitate toward the trappings of whatever genre I’m writing at the moment. For example, I’m much more likely to watch shallow reality TV (love those Real Housewives and Rachel Zoe!) or hit the mall when I’m writing chick lit. When I’m writing suspense, I tend to watch a lot of Criminal Minds, read the newspaper’s police blotter, kill people…;-)
NMR: What about writing brings you the most joy? The least?
WCS: So many things about it bring me joy: the creative process itself, the ability to work from home, the travel, making a nice living doing something I would do for free, the interaction with my readers...
The one aspect of my career that absolutely does not bring me joy is the business end of it. Negotiating, working with numbers, hiring and firing my “team,” having to drop everything to fill out necessary forms, endless paperwork—none of that is joyful, believe me. Luckily, my husband—who had a twenty-year career in advertising and sales--came on board full time a few years ago to manage the business end of my career, and he is a godsend.
NMR: Your bio mentions that you’ve wanted to write ever since you were a child, and it seems your path to success was pretty direct and has remained steady, if not grown even stronger. What do you attribute this to the most?
WCS: I’ve always been a strong-willed, goal-oriented, ambitious person—exhibit A: my childhood journals are full of checklists! My parents were both go-getter, over-achiever types and they always taught me that anything is possible, but that you can’t wait around for a lucky break--it’s up to you to make things happen. So I started trying to become a published writer when I was in third grade, sending my Abraham Lincoln essay out to national magazine editors. Just a few years ago, I found the editorial rejection letters my mom had tucked away in my baby book.
I always knew the odds were against my reaching this level of success in commercial fiction, but the best way to get me to do something, even now, is to hint that it might be impossible. Bring it on!
NMR: Which characters do you enjoy creating the most in your suspense tales: the bad guys or the good guys?
WCS: Good question, and the first time anyone’s ever asked it! In fact, I kept coming back to this question and not answering it because I am not a wishy-washy person and it caught me off guard when I realized I didn’t immediately know the answer.
The thing is, like most people in real life, my bad guys are never all bad, and my good guys are never all good. I tend to create complicated, flawed heroines, or serial killers who were subjected to some horrible childhood experiences that made them who they are. They are equally compelling to create.
NMR: How real do these characters become to you, and are there a couple that you miss in particular, or is it out of sight out of mind?
WCS: The characters are very real when I’m writing them. I know them so well that I know what they would say or do in any given situation—which is why, once I throw a couple of well-rounded characters together to act and react, a story can really go off in an unplanned direction.
But with few exceptions, when I’m finished writing a book, it usually really is “out of sight, out of mind.” In the often yearlong interim between finishing a book and having it released, I’ve created dozens of new characters. That’s why I tend to need a “refresher” when it’s time to do interviews and go on tour. Readers are just getting to know characters who, for me, have become distant old acquaintances.
That said, there are a few characters I do miss in particular. I really loved Lucinda Sloan, the psychic heroine of my 2009 thriller Dead Before Dark. And I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of Tracey Spadolini, the heroine of my chick lit “Slightly” series.
NMR: As an author for whom writers block would be especially devastating with all you have going on, what advice would you give those who run into that now and again?
WCS: I often share my “calendar” process: before I start writing a novel, I divide the number of pages I need to write by the number of weeks I have before deadline. Then I mark my calendar with a page number I have to have reached by Friday night of each week. I advise aspiring writers to use self-imposed, realistic deadlines and create their own writing schedule.
My contractual deadlines are usually pretty tight, so I can’t afford to slack off. But that doesn’t mean I’m inspired every single day of my life. Some mornings, I force myself into my chair and phone it in, accepting that it’s the quantity, not the quality, of the work that matters on that particular day—in other words, it’s structure as opposed to art. I just forge ahead with barebones scenes and trust that I’ll go back and fix it all later. I always manage to do it, too—usually later that day, or first thing the next, because mediocrity doesn’t sit well with me. That’s why I only write one draft of every novel, constantly rewriting as I go along. When it’s done, it’s DONE.
NMR: And finally, just for kicks and grins, what do you do on your days off for fun, that is if you ever get one of those!
WCS: Because I’m such a Type A crazy person, I never get a day off while I’m at home, because my office is here and I can’t seem to ignore it. I work for at least a few hours a day, seven days a week. Again, that’s the way I’m wired; I’m not comfortable in my own skin when I try to force myself to “relax” at home. For me, being busy is fun; the opposite is torture.
Travel is my number one passion—which is a good thing, because it’s a big part of my job. I try to combine business and pleasure, particularly when my family accompanies me on legs of my ongoing 50-state book tour.
I guess my only true days off are during the two vacations I take with my husband and sons every year—one week in February in the Caribbean, another week away late in August. My favorite thing to do is spend a day on a beach or by the pool with a good book and snorkel gear or swim goggles at hand (because I’m too restless to sit still for more than an hour at a stretch), and a night at some great restaurant with red wine and music.
NMR: Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule, Wendy!
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