The perfect home. The perfect family. What if it’s all a lie?
Jane Harris lives a beautiful, upscale life in Orange County, but exactly one year earlier, her elder daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident. Re-emerging from a haze of anti-depressants, the still-grieving Jane is determined to reclaim her life and family.
However, her husband, David, who has planned a memorial service for Mary, spends long days and nights at the office. Their younger daughter, Betsy, poised to graduate high school, seems distant and secretive. Jane’s family has changed without her. And Mary’s death may not have been as accidental as it seems.
How far will someone go to keep a family together?
And what would motivate an author to take a deep dive into this perfect world?
Kaira Rouda says she is “a product of the American suburbs. The setting I’m most familiar with is a gated community within a small, suburban town where people are fixated on keeping up with the Joneses and making sure everything seems perfect. I’m fascinated by what’s below the surface of seemingly perfect lives. That’s where my stories begin.”
Her characters are “driven by a force only they could attempt to explain. My domestic suspense novels have more to do with the monster in the house than vapid social elitism. Although where those two worlds collide, there certainly is fodder. When you don’t have to worry about where your next paycheck will come from, when you are fortunate enough to have all of your family’s needs met, you have time for other things, both good and bad. Volunteerism is an example of the good people do with extra time and resources, and self-obsession would be an example of the bad.”
Narcissism and self-obsession is rampant in our world today, Rouda believes. She says she’s become very good at spotting narcissists. “Our culture has been fueled by advertising and its view of perfection and status. The residents of the suburbs became the perfect target. Today, with social media, everyone can express his or her own perfect lives, in real time. With filters. The character of Jane is both the perfect mother and the monster in the house. Hopefully, Jane’s narcissism is at once familiar and terrifying.”
Rouda goes on to say, “Psychological suspense is so fun because of the subtleties. The truth can be hard to find. While I love all types of crime stories, I enjoy creating characters that aren’t what they seem. Hopefully, I can keep writing them, and hopefully, readers enjoy these stories, too.”
In THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, Rouda digs deep into these relationships. In a marriage, “both parties have a responsibility to nurture it, but when you have picked a narcissist, and you’re basically a loyal person, you’re trapped. It takes a lot to move out from under that spell, even though it looks easy from the outside. David thinks he’s doing the best thing for his daughter, while trying to find happiness for himself.”
In this world, “David’s under the assumption that staying under the same roof with Jane until Betsy graduates is the best choice. Yes, that’s selfish, because he has a new life he’s ready to step into. But he’s not a narcissist, just trying his best to extract himself from his marriage with the least chaos possible. He’s not being direct though, and he’s way past trying. He sees Jane for what she is. Almost.”
Betsy, the younger daughter, truly loved her sister and misses her. “Problems arise when the natural separation isn’t allowed to occur, when there’s mistrust and lying, tracking and spying. Kids are smart. They know what isn’t being said, they sense what isn’t true,” Rouda says. “I’ve always said the one thing kids really want is a happy mom. In this story, Betsy would agree. Most moms aren’t like Jane. Jane’s not capable of traditional love, only control. Everything and everyone around her is there to serve as a reflection of her. She’s a spider and everyone is caught in her web.”
Whenever a writer tackles serious themes, the story can seem preachy. Rouda avoids this pitfall with Jane’s humorous obsession with tragic death from situations that while unusual, can and do happen. “For example, death by dishwasher: You need to keep those knife blades turned down, people.”
Rouda says her browser history on domestic accidents is “terrifying.”
Writing THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER involved a different process from Rouda’s domestic suspense debut, Best Day Ever, which “came to life all at once. Paul was a singular character on a mission to tell his story and I had a blast writing it.”
She wrote THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER during her husband’s political campaign for the US. House of Representatives, “so there were distractions, and rewrites, but I love this story and how it turned out, so all of the iterations made it what it is.”
A confirmed pantser, she works in surprises along the way. For her writing, there’s nothing better than a title, a character, and a clean, empty Word document.
So far, she’s enjoying the response to the novel. “It seems Jane has done her job—readers love her and hate her all at the same time. THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER has been on both The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star’s bestseller lists, so I’m especially thrilled that Canadian readers have discovered my novel. The feedback has been fabulous.”
Another domestic suspense novel is in the pipeline. “I cannot wait to share it with everyone,” she says. “You’ll find me right here, writing about grown-ups behaving badly.”
Kaira Sturdivant Rouda is an accomplished business leader, entrepreneur, national speaker and internationally bestselling and award-winning author. A former magazine editor, and society columnist, Kaira won the Stevie Award for Women in Business for creating the first female-focused residential real estate brand, Real Living, and growing the brand to more than 22 states before its sale to Berkshire Hathaway. Her first book, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs, led to a national speaking tour where she inspired thousands. Turning to a full-time writing career, her most recent works are Best Day Ever and the THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER (releasing in May 2019). Active in the areas of homelessness, food security, and empowering women and girls, in her twenties, as a volunteer, she created the first walk-in emergency shelter for homeless families in Central Ohio. Kaira has received numerous awards for her community service, including the national Kiwanis Service to Mankind Award, among many others. She lives in Southern California with her husband, Congressman Harley Rouda, and her four twenty-something children.