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Flying By the Seat of His Pants

By Dawn Ius

Carter Wilson is an unabashed pantser.

Even after six thrillers and a handful of short stories, Wilson admits that almost everything beyond the germ of an idea is made up on the fly—a writing method that in the case of his newest novel, THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A, almost veered him off course.

The thriller—a chilling tale of two strangers seated side by side on a plane with an uncanny familiarity—is Wilson’s most intricate story, and though it lands smoothly (and perhaps with a bit of uncharacteristic hope), getting from point A to…well, 2A…was almost as complex as the plot itself.

“I put so much into the first 150 pages, that I got so stuck trying to figure out what it all meant,” he says. “I spent a month with my office covered in paper, trying to connect things.”

As with all of his novels, Wilson began THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A with a few knowns. He knew the setting—both on the plane and off. He understood that his characters would have an eerie connection. And he knew that a type of “memory loss” would play a significant role in the story.

Wilson with his daughter, celebrating a Colorado Book Award win for his 2018 thriller Mister Tender’s Girl.

Loss of memory is something Wilson knows a lot about—his father passed away at the young age of 69 from Alzheimer’s, and the concept of “memory” is loosely threaded through all of his books. But in THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A, the memory focus relies on the bittersweet notion of nostalgia—and the horror of not remembering distinct pieces of your childhood.

Of course the two “strangers” on the plane in THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A suffer uncanny similarities in their memory loss, though Jake Buchannan and Clara Stowe are at very different intersections of their life. And you’d be forgiven for making assumptions about Clara based on the book’s title—but as is the case in all of Wilson’s work, you can never predict what happens from page to page.

Which is exactly the way he likes it.

“When I outline, it takes the fun out of it for me,” he says, acknowledging that in the case of this book, pantsing came with some inherent risks. “You always want a character to be expendable. But the outcome of this book was not at all what I expected. I was really scared that when I got to the end, whether I’d have a book anyone wanted.”

Turns out that wasn’t a problem.

While not as dark, THE DEAD GIRL IN 2A is a great follow-up to last year’s Mister Tender’s Girl, which won the Colorado Book Award, and is a nominee for this year’s ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original. Despite these industry accolades, great reviews from the trades, and an option deal, the novel didn’t have quite the break-out Wilson had hoped for—which is a testament, he says, to the fact that nothing about selling books is formulaic.

Strangers on a plane: Wilson and the not-dead girl seated next to him in 2A.

“It’s frustrating when you think you’ve done everything right,” he says, acknowledging the tremendous effort into marketing made by his publisher and publicity team. “But after six books, I’m at the point where if I go without writing for a while, I get a bit anxious. I plan to just keep on writing and selling more books.”

A massive shift for Wilson, who says that despite growing up in a creative family, he only discovered writing at the age of 33. Sixteen years later, he still maintains a day job in the hospitality industry, but he’s able to make more time for his creative pursuits—like writing and photography.

In fact, Wilson says he’s drafted his seventh book, which is in the hands of his girlfriend for a first read, and is itching to get started on something new. Mum’s the word on both projects, but yes, he plans to continue flying by the seat of his pants…even if sometimes it makes for a rockier journey to the end.


Dawn Ius
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