By L.J. Sellers
What happens when you combine the terror of an entire city—New York during 9/11—with the terror of an individual being stalked by a serial killer? You get NIGHTWATCHER, another great thriller from Wendy Corsi Staub, the award-winning and bestselling author of nearly eighty books.
SUSPENSE magazine calls NIGHTWATCHER “a great read…suspenseful, powerful, tense and—as usual—wonderfully written with an ending that will leave you guessing.” Now here in Wendy’s own words is what she has to say about the book and her career:
You’ve combined 9/11 with a serial killer. What inspired that double-jeopardy idea?
I live in the metro NYC area and was struck by two things I heard on our local news in the immediate aftermath. One: authorities reported that the crime rate dropped drastically in the days following September 11th—and it was a good thing, because the NYPD was distracted and otherwise occupied amid the chaos. Two: mental health experts discussed the triggering effects a catastrophic event might have on anyone who had already been mentally and emotionally unbalanced. The “what if” mechanism in my writer’s brain went into overdrive and a premise took shape almost immediately.
I was haunted and unnerved not just by the palpable climate of fear, but that the city had also changed, physically, overnight—lower Manhattan was virtually cut off from the rest of the world in the days after the attacks, with smoldering ruins, barricades blocking the streets, not even electricity or communications capabilities in many places. I wanted to isolate my victims there, and have a serial killer prowling the neighborhood.
Of course, it was all too raw to write about at that time. I waited a full decade before revisiting the idea, and when I did, it demanded a full-blown trilogy. The first book, NIGHTWATCHER, takes place in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in Manhattan. The second, SLEEPWALKER, opens in the nearby suburbs on the tenth anniversary of the attack. The third, SHADOWKILLER, is part prequel (the first half of the book explores the characters in the months leading up to 9/11) and part sequel (the second half opens in the present, with a plot triggered by the big twist revealed in the last line of SLEEPWALKER).
Does the story have a theme or message you wanted to convey?
I’ve always been proud of and inspired by the resiliency of New Yorkers in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks —actually, Americans in general. But because I live where I do, it was that feisty New York spirit that really struck me. As a result, the theme running through all three books in this trilogy is resiliency—it’s all about rebirth and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to make a fresh start. Readers get to know Allison Taylor, the heroine of all three books, as she makes peace with her past and grows from traumatized small town child to somewhat selfish single city girl to mature, married suburban wife and mother. Within the three-book arc we also see NYPD homicide detective Rocky Manzillo coming to terms with not just the events of September 11th and an ongoing serial murder investigation, but a very personal tragedy. There are also two peripheral characters, whose identities I won’t reveal here because it would be a spoiler, who emerge as primary players and embody that same resiliency—for better or worse.
What do you want readers to know about the story that’s not in the book description?
NIGHTWATCHER is not about the September 11th attacks on New York in any sense other than that I use it as a backdrop, to establish a unique sense of time and place. This is not a political thriller about global terrorism. It’s a domestic psychological serial killer thriller just as my previous suspense novels have been, filled with my trademark twists and multigenerational characters and an unexpected reveal in the final pages.
You’ve written nearly eighty books. How do you keep the pace? Where do your ideas keep coming from?
Almost any writer will tell you that ideas are never a problem. I have file folders—both online and in an office cabinet—crammed with book ideas. I tear out magazine articles, jot down dream fragments, email myself links to downloaded 20/20 episodes…ideas are everywhere. The only hurdle is finding the time to write them. Every author works at a pace that feels natural, and my personal pace just happens to be fast, in everything I do.
That said, there is a tremendous amount of self-discipline involved. I work under perpetual multi-book contracts, which means I have deadlines stacked up well in advance. I use a desktop calendar to project my work volume as it corresponds with my travel/PR schedule with every new contract. For example, I just signed to write a new suspense trilogy for Harper, with three deadlines six months apart. So for the next eighteen months, every Friday on my calendar has a page number I need to have reached in the work in progress. Most days, I’d rather be doing something—anything—else. But it’s like any other job and I force myself to be accountable: I sit down at my desk, usually before dawn, and stay there until I’ve made enough progress on that week’s page quota.
You’ve written women’s fiction, thrillers, and YA. What’s your favorite and why? And do you plan to try anything else?
My favorite, hands down, would be my suspense novels. I write the kinds of thrillers I like to read: fast paced books featuring everyday characters who unexpectedly cross paths with a predator—danger on the homefront, so to speak. Writing them is as much fun as reading them, in the sense that I never quite know what’s going to happen on the next page. I love when a character I’ve created surprises me, or when a perfect red herring unexpectedly presents itself in just the right way.
In terms of trying something new: I co-wrote a romantic comedy screenplay with my husband and a friend of ours, and it was a finalist in the 2011 Los Angeles Screenwriting Expo. The three of us are now turning our attention to a new project that will remain secret for the time being.
After spending your life as an author, what’s your best moment? And your worst?
|My first impulse is to give the cliché answer that there have been so many ups and downs, it’s hard to choose. And that’s true. But I will choose: the best moment, which narrowly edges the “you’ve just sold your first novel” phone call, would be the first time I ever received the “you’ve just made the New York Times bestseller list” phone call that came in February, 2003. Hitting the list was so unexpected—not just by me, but I think by my editor and agent as well—that it was my equivalent of winning the Lotto. I was sure it was a fluke—until that book hit again the following week, and wound up riding the list for over a month. I went on to have subsequent NY Times bestsellers, and those phone calls remain the best moments of my career.
The worst moment would have to be losing my mom to breast cancer just after her 63rd birthday a few years ago—and losing my career momentum in the six-month aftermath of her death. Ordinarily, I manage to compartmentalize personal issues and get on with the work no matter what’s going on in my life. But I was absolutely derailed by that loss. My mom had been my champion and cheerleader, as far as my career was concerned, from the time I was in third grade and informed her that I wanted to become an author when I grew up.
My grief was absolutely crippling, and I was dealing, too, with my devastated children who had just lost their beloved granny to the same disease that had tragically stolen their other grandmother—my dear mother-in-law—at almost the same age a few years earlier. It was just too much to bear and I, who have always prided myself on having never missed a deadline, simply could not get my act together to produce anything worthwhile. For the first time, I blew a deadline, and then another. And when I finally forced myself to get to the keyboard, instead of making progress on the books I owed two different editors, I wound up “wasting time” writing a proposal for a “book of my heart” that I was told would never sell. In a happy twist, it did, a few days before the Christmas after my mom died, and that jump-started my creative efforts. I’ve been back on track ever since.
If you had not been a writer, what else would you have done? And/or what personal interests do you have?
I can’t imagine being me and not being a writer. It goes hand-in-hand with the fabric of my personality and has since I was a little girl. But of course I do have other interests. Years ago, whenever my career took a downturn in this rollercoaster business, I thought I could always fall back on one of them in an entrepreneurial way. I’m a great cook, if I do say so myself, and I love to plan parties and entertain. When my kids were little, I did these major over-the-top theme birthday parties and other moms would ask me for help planning their own kids’ parties. So I always think—personal chef or party planner! I could do that!
My other major interest is travel. After we lost our moms so young, my husband and I decided never to waste a minute or put anything off for “retirement years” that might never come. And so we set out to visit all 50 states with our two boys before our oldest graduates high school. That milestone is now right around the corner, coming up next spring, and I just bought plane tickets last week to Hawaii, our fiftieth state. It’s part book tour (my career goal is to sign in all 50 states) and part family vacation. I thrive on the trip planning stage as much as the travel itself—I love to plot our course and figure out all the details online. And so of course I always think that a job in the travel industry would suit my gypsy soul just fine.
Wendy Corsi Staub has published over seventy novels, including multiple New York Times bestselling thrillers. Her latest, HELL TO PAY, concludes a trilogy that includes LIVE TO TELL, which received a starred Publishers Weekly review and was a nominee for the Mary Higgins Clark Award at last year’s MWA Edgars, and SCARED TO DEATH, which received a 2011 WLA Washington Irving Prize for Fiction. A new Harper trilogy will launch in September with NIGHTWATCHER, followed by SLEEPWALKER (October) and SHADOWKILLER (February). She is currently under contract for a third suspense trilogy for Harper.
Other honors include an RWA Rita, four WLA Washington Irvings, the RWA-NYC Golden Apple for Lifetime Achievement and the RT Bookreviews Career Achievement Award in Suspense.
To learn more about Wendy, please visit her website.
Visit L.J. at: www.ljsellers.com.