By Wendy Tyson
Shelley Coriell’s first novel in The Apostles series, The Broken, was published to terrific reviews and won Daphne du Maurier and Golden Pen Awards, among other honors. THE BURIED, Coriell’s second installment in the series, doesn’t disappoint. With riveting opening scenes, sharp storytelling and a complex plot, THE BURIED follows state prosecutor Grace Courtemanche and FBI crisis negotiator Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher as they race to find a merciless killer bent on revenge.
Coriell graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
What can you tell us about THE BURIED that is not on the back cover?
THE BURIED is a dark, twisty tale centered on old family skeletons and a serial killer who buries victims alive. The first draft of the story was so dark and the villain’s back story was so disturbing that I set aside the manuscript for two years.
When my publisher asked for the second Apostle book, I re-read THE BURIED and realized the story isn’t about victims being buried alive but about connections and disconnections with others, primarily family. With that in mind, I teamed my independent heroine, Grace, with a lovable but needy old blue tick hound, while my hero, Hatch, discovers he has a thirteen-year-old son who’s in trouble with the law. Both of these minor characters underscore the importance of “family” and provide a bit of light and lightness to balance out all the dark.
Memorable characters are at the heart of your novels. For each of your main characters, you write eight-line persona poems. I was intrigued by the concept! Can you share a little about what a persona poem is and how you use these poems to help you develop your characters?
As a suspense writer who loves a good plot twist or ten, I come at story through plot. For me, character development is hard. Since character is the heart of good story, I spent a number of years studying how to craft memorable characters and discovered a secret weapon: Character Persona Poems.
Basic concept: create a biographical sketch that distills a character in eight simple but telling lines. These lines include everything from likes and fears to important relationships and goals. I write these ultra-short biographical sketches for each my heroes, heroines, and villains and keep them close at hand while drafting and revising. When I’m struggling with an emotional reaction or story direction, I’ll always come back to the heart of my character as detailed in these eight lines.
While we’re talking about characters, can you tell us a little more about Grace Courtemanche and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
In a single word, Grace is a winner. She grew up the only child of a doting but demanding father and a genteel Southern mother. Poised, confident, and successful—Grace is a former high school and collegiate tennis champion and currently the shining star of the Franklin County prosecutor’s office, where she just won the biggest case of her career. She’s on top of the world until a phone call from a woman buried alive with a phone programmed to call only Grace pulls her into a world of terror and for the first time in her life, self-doubt.
You write young adult novels (Goodbye, Rebel Blue, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe) as well as romantic suspense. What has drawn you to these two genres? Do you find writing one helps with the other?
All of my books feature strong, independent women not afraid to speak their minds and live their truths, regardless of age. In YA, I love the raw truth and hope that defines the genre. Interestingly enough, crafting YA and romantic suspense is the same process. One character. One life-changing moment. One transformational journey.
Although your books have an element of romance, they are also dark, edgy and certainly heavy on suspense. RT Book Reviews called THE BURIED “suspenseful with crisp, smooth storytelling and a diabolical villain.” What themes do you find yourself drawn to again and again?
There’s a strong element of brokenness and healing in all of my stories. For example, the Apostles are an elite group of FBI agents who work outside the box and at times outside the law. They take on America’s vilest criminals using the most powerful weapons known to mankind, the human mind…and heart. They aren’t afraid to break the rules, and every Apostle I’ve met so far has either quit or been fired from the FBI before being personally recruited by Parker Lord for his Special Criminal Investigative Unit. Parker Lord on his team: Apostles? There’s nothing holy about us. We’re a little maverick and a lot broken, but in the end, we get justice right.
You have an interesting background. Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
A woefully practical writer, I knew it was hard to make a living as a fiction writer, so despite dreams of becoming a novelist, I worked as a journalist for more than twenty years. I’ve been a sports reporter, newspaper features writer, magazine editor, and a restaurant reviewer.
While I was paying my mortgage with non-fiction work, I’d spend early mornings and weekends writing fiction. It took me five complete manuscripts and five years of serious writing before I got my first New York offer for one of my young adult novels. Two years later my agent sold my first suspense at auction. There’s nothing sexy about my journey. Write. Edit. Repeat. I wrote more than a half million words before creating a story worthy of publication.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
It’s worth repeating. Write. Edit. Repeat. So simple, but true. Everything always comes back to story.
And finally—what’s next for you?
I’m just finishing content edits on The Blind, book three in my Apostles Series from Grand Central Forever, which features Special Agent Evie Jimenez, Parker Lord’s bombs and weapons specialist. In The Blind, Evie teams up with Jack Elliott, a buttoned-up billionaire/art philanthropist, to track down a serial bomber who uses bombs and live models to create masterful art that lives…and dies.
While I don’t have a favorite Apostle, Evie has a special place in my heart. She’s fiery, passionate, and not afraid of things that go boom. As the mother of three daughters, I’m thrilled that Evie is a kick-ass bomb tech in a career field dominated by men. Did I mention I write strong, independent women?
Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and novels for teens. Her debut romantic thriller, The Broken, was named one of the Best Romances of Summer 2014 by Publishers Weekly and a Top Pick/4.5 Stars by Romantic Times Book Reviews. An avid foodie and former restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner.
To learn more about Shelley, please visit her website and connect with her on Twitter @ShelleyCoriell.