From Emily Carpenter, bestselling author of Every Single Secret, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, and The Weight of Lies, comes a new psychological thriller, UNTIL THE DAY I DIE.
After her husband dies in an accident, Erin Gaines and her brilliant college-age daughter, Shorie, grieve. For Erin, the responsibility of running the financial app Jax, the company she, her husband, and their partners had founded, plus typical mother-daughter relationship stresses, are overwhelming. Erin’s business partners, extended family, and even Shorie want her to take a break. They schedule her for a few weeks at a luxury spa in the Caribbean. At first Erin resists, but then decides they may be right.
But Hidden Sands is not as the brochure promises. Either Erin is losing her mind, or she wasn’t sent there to recover. She was sent there to disappear. And it will take all of Erin’s and Shorie’s ingenuity to save her.
Jessica Strawser dubbed UNTIL THE DAY I DIE “seductively sinister . . . a fast, frightening read,” and Heather Gudenkauf called it “twisty . . . jaw-dropping.”
“A wild thought—The Lord of the Flies with soccer moms—inspired UNTIL THE DAY I DIE,” Carpenter says, noting that the story eventually evolved into something “less nihilistic and with more soul.”
In previous books, Carpenter avoided phones and computers, because her characters had to be in danger and isolated from the outside world—a common plot issue for thriller writers. “I really wanted to write this thriller using technology to help solve the problem. I faced the cell phone issue head on and had the characters use Jax. These great women are stuck on a Caribbean island and running for their lives, though, so I never lost the Lord of the Flies element.”
Carpenter’s experiences as an actress, screenwriter, and producer influence her writing. “I create something the reader can visualize, with cinematic color, sounds, and smells. I love words and even the way a paragraph looks on the page, but I also want to slam the reader into this overwhelmingly sensual experience. That’s the way film makes me feel, and I love that books can give you both an intellectual experience and a visceral one too.”
Plot is key. “I plot first, a very big-picture, macro kind of plotting, then I let the book lead me through twists and turns. I’m very open to being surprised or having new ideas along the way, and that’s usually what happens.”
In this story, the idea of women on an island came first. “Then the element of the budgeting app, Jax,” Carpenter says. “I came up with the idea of my main character Erin having a daughter in college who figures out something nefarious is happening. Making the app their family business took it up a notch.”
Character matters, too. “I’m fascinated with why people do good and bad things, how they obfuscate and hide, and sometimes don’t even understand their own motives,” she says. “As I was figuring out the story, the characters presented themselves: a really smart, strong, savvy mother and brilliant, tech-minded daughter at a crossroads in their lives. Estranged on one level, they ultimately save each other, because their love is incredibly strong. That made me excited—when I had Erin and Shorie’s characters, and I knew it was going to be interesting and exciting not only from a plot standpoint, but from a character standpoint too.”
The villains surprised Carpenter “with the depth of their darkness and willingness to sacrifice innocent people to get what they want. I did not originally set out to write that.”
Headlines also influence her work. “We’re inundated with scandals, crime, and cheating on all levels, in our government, in the business world, and now in the college admissions world,” she says. “I’m such an idealist at heart, it shocks me how much goes on under the table and behind closed doors. It feels like everything is rigged, and everyone cheats and lies. That feeling is so disheartening because it affects all of us, all the time. For me, writing this book was a figurative punch-back. Erin and Shorie fight against a host of injustices and win—even though Shorie cuts corners, too, and has to grapple with that.”
Carpenter says one of the biggest challenges of writing UNTIL THE DAY I DIE was “keeping the technical detail about Jax clear without it turning into a tech manual.”
Understanding a tech startup involved research, she adds. “I had an expert, a family friend in Silicon Valley, take a look at what I’d created for Jax and fit it into the real world. He helped with processes and lingo and some of the technical details I didn’t have. I also researched CEOs of startups. I read a lot of interviews and tried to get into that headspace of being really ambitious and smart and basically a powerhouse problem solver. I found this consulting company in Australia that basically takes your app idea and helps you make it happen. These two incredible young men streamline the whole process. It was fascinating to read about and helped me understand how to launch an app.”
UNTIL THE DAY I DIE unfolds at a breakneck pace—editing was key to keeping the tension taught and the story moving forward. “It’s hard to get the balance right, and my earlier drafts are certainly rough, because I’m either barreling through the action too fast or going too slow with a character’s interiority,” Carpenter says. “Smoothing it out takes some finesse. In the end, it’s a preference. My characters always have complicated motivations.”
But she admits, not all of the process was hard work. “I had fun coming up with Hidden Sands. It’s this over-the-top, posh, rehab resort that’s so perfect and staffed with beautiful people, but underneath has this super-weird, boot camp kind of vibe. I loved having Erin immediately suspect trouble and ultimately be proven right.”
Next for Carpenter is a Southern Gothic follow-up to her first novel, called Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters.
As with all her books, Carpenter hopes readers will “have a spectacularly fun adventure. And when they put the book down, they immediately wish they could watch the film version on Netflix.”
Emily Carpenter is the bestselling author of three thrillers, Every Single Secret, Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, and The Weight of Lies. A graduate from Auburn University with a bachelor of arts in speech communication, Emily has worked as an actor, producer, screenwriter, and behind-the-scenes soap opera assistant for CBS TV. Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she moved to New York City for a little while to pursue her career before moving back to the South. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her family.
Visit Emily on her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@EmilyDCarpenter).