An Overnight Success, 13 Years in the Making
Considering that few readers had heard of Liv Constantine before the stunning success of 2017’s The Last Mrs. Parrish, you’d be forgiven for calling the writing duo an overnight success. But you’d also be in for a gentle correction. Though Mrs. Parrish was their first thriller, sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine have been publishing together (and fighting their way through the query trenches) since their women’s fiction debut, Circle Dance, hit shelves in 2004—a cool 13 years before Mrs. Parrish turned them into book-world celebrities.
So if success came overnight, no one told Lynne and Valerie. They continued to write books, both together and separately, as they honed their craft and learned the business of publishing. Lynne finished a solo effort, The Veritas Deception, and completed another manuscript with Valerie (Black-Eyed Susans) before the sisters began work on the collaboration that would launch them into the stratosphere. They attended conferences such as ThrillerFest, where they met agents and found like-minded writers to cheer them on, collected the requisite rejection letters, and, above all, kept writing until they finally signed with their dream agent, who sold Mrs. Parrish to Harper just six days after submission.
Harper’s enthusiasm for the manuscript proved well founded. A nod from Reese Witherspoon’s book club jetted Mrs. Parrish onto dozens of bestseller and must-read lists, and suddenly Liv Constantine was the talk of the thriller world. Nearly two years after its release, Mrs. Parrish is still making headlines: on April 16 of this year, Deadline announced that Amazon Studios had acquired the book for series development—news that broke just a few days after trade journals reported that Harper had paid seven figures for the duo’s next two novels, on top of a separate deal for a pair of solo thrillers from Lynne.
The sisters barely have time to process all that good news, though, because they’re about to hit the road for an extensive tour to promote their soon-to-be-released second thriller, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU. Like Mrs. Parrish, the new novel concerns a woman beguiled by a world of wealth and privilege, only to be caught up in the dark undercurrents of the upper class. This time, though, the sisters are leaning into their roots as Agatha Christie fans; while it’s still a psychological suspense tale in the mold of Mrs. Parrish, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU is also a classic murder mystery.
The plot centers on Dr. Kate English, a surgeon and heiress tormented by a stalker who might also be her mother’s murderer. When Kate turns to estranged childhood friend Blaire Barrington—now a successful author of police procedurals—for help in unmasking the killer, the women find no shortage of suspects, including Kate’s possibly unfaithful husband and her newly widowed father. Blaire, who spends much of her professional life shadowing detectives in the name of research, throws herself into the investigation, but her return to Kate’s life dredges up feelings that she never really belonged in her friend’s elite world. As the women scrape away the veneer of glamour that surrounds them, they must contend with ugly, long-festering secrets—including their own.
The Big Thrill was lucky enough to catch Lynne and Valerie in a rare moment of calm to discuss their upcoming novel, their evolution as writing partners, and their recent, momentous news. And since the sisters are topping bestseller lists as one voice, it only seemed natural for Lynne and Valerie to assume their popular persona and answer our questions together, as Liv Constantine.
Can you give me a little background info about the new book? For instance, is there a particular moment or incident that sparked the story for THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU?
From the very start we wanted to explore the deep and lasting bond of friendship in THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU. The plot came together as we discussed the things that forge a profound friendship and the things that can tear it asunder.
I won’t ask you to explain your collaboration process, since you’ve done that in many other interviews. But I am curious as to whether that process has changed at all since the success of The Last Mrs. Parrish. Did you do things any differently for the new book?
Our process has definitely evolved. When we wrote The Last Mrs. Parrish we assigned scenes and each wrote them completely. In THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU we did the same thing but then traded scenes and added to them. In our next book [The Wife Stalker], we’ve evolved again and now one of us of will write half a chapter, email it to the other, and ask for it to be finished. It’s like magic—it comes back complete! It’s wonderful when either of us is stuck or bored with a scene, and we wonder why we didn’t think of it sooner. We find this to be a much more invigorating and interesting way of working.
THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU is certainly a psychological thriller, but it’s also a murder mystery. Is that a type of story you both felt drawn to, even before you got around to writing one?
Yes. We both love Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark, and as children we were both huge fans of Nancy Drew. We had a lot of fun working to make sure that any of the cast of characters could be the killer.
From the psychological suspense side, we wanted to explore the bounds of friendship, the dynamics involved in mother-daughter relationships, and the baggage we all bring into a marriage. THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU centers around a murder and the idea that behind every friendly smile, a killer could lurk. There are complicated relationships and there is domestic terror. Our protagonist, Kate, a successful heart surgeon, begins to question her own judgment and sanity by the end of the book.
I’ve read that neither of you is fond of using outlines. Did writing a murder mystery change that at all?
We found that it involved more complex plotting and required a broad, bare-bones outline in the beginning. By the time the story was complete, the killer had changed, and another major twist was added at the last minute. By not having a strict outline, the story developed organically and the characters dictated the changes.
Like Mrs. Parrish, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU centers on two women and uses alternating POVs, though the structure is markedly different in each book. What draws you to that dynamic? Is it a function of writing as a duo?
Certainly writing as a duo is part of the equation, but it’s equally a function of the story. We always start with an idea and develop it from there. In the beginning, the idea of two protagonists was appealing because our voices could be different just as the two protagonists would be different. And even though we no longer work that way—both of us now contributing to all characters—we like the idea of two characters equally weighted and in conflict with one another. Our next book will again have two women, but our idea for book four will have a male and female point of view.
From a craft perspective, how do you handle those alternating POVs? Does each of you tend to take ownership of a particular character, or is everything a 50/50 effort?
It’s a 50/50 effort. We talk every day and decide who is writing which scene, then we email each other, add to each other’s work, and edit. Then we go through several rounds of editing where we add or change again. By the time the book is finished it’s not unusual for Lynne to have written the first part of a sentence and Valerie the last.
Can you tell me a little about how Kate and Blaire, the protagonists of THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, took shape for you?
The friendship between Kate and Blaire was forged when they were children, giving us the opportunity to create so much of a shared past between them. As the story changed and developed, so did the way we initially viewed their relationship. We softened Blaire a bit and gave more complexity to Kate.
What’s the secret to crafting an effective, unexpected plot twist?
“What if…” becomes our favorite lead-in as we talk through an idea, allowing the story to develop and breathe. It is usually the third, fourth, or even fifth iteration where the “aha” idea comes and we realize that what we thought happened… didn’t. Often it is taking the most outlandish idea and honing it down a little. We’re always open to changing the trajectory of the story and we continually ask what would the character do? Is this authentic? Sometimes these late changes require a major overhaul, and we groan, but we look at each other and know that it’s necessary and will be worth it in the end.
The two of you are having quite a month—you’ve just signed a major deal for your next two novels, and Amazon Studios announced plans to adapt Mrs. Parrish. What can you tell us about those projects, and what’s it like to be getting this kind of a response to your work?
It’s been so amazing and gratifying to see our work reaching a wider audience.
We finished our third novel, currently titled The Wife Stalker, and were thrilled to sign another deal with HarperCollins, this time a two-book deal. We’re so fortunate to have a brilliant editor that we both love and work wonderfully with and look forward to continuing the journey with her. Everything really began with our finding the perfect agent for us, one who gets as excited about our projects as we do and is dedicated to building our careers. We feel we’ve hit the jackpot with her and our publishing team.
Both of us are avid Amazon Prime watchers and were thrilled when they expressed interest in developing The Last Mrs. Parrish. Seeing the deal become a reality was a dream come true for both of us. We’re so excited to see where they take it, and to watch the characters and the story come alive on the screen.
Our hope is that we continue to create works that examine complex relationships and that our readers will love.
Lynne, would you like to talk about your just-announced solo book deal?
I’m really excited to be working on a new series featuring investigative reporter Jack Logan. The Network is a thriller that follows Jack and long-lost love, Taylor Phillips, as they uncover a massive conspiracy encompassing government, media, and the entertainment world. It weaves ancient history and modern times, including a conspiracy that encompasses politics, polemic issues like euthanasia, vaccinations, reality TV, and the rise of the antihero. It’s a book that took me over 20 years to write, and one that I felt I had to write. It comes out this December, and I’m now working on the second in the series. For this series, since it’s so different from the psychological thrillers, I’m writing under the name L. C. Shaw—which is a variation of my married name.