In a literary space where the business of agenting and publishing is increasingly siloed, New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd has strayed from the regular mold of genre fiction with a protean body of work ranging from suspense and thriller novels to romance, paranormal, and historical fiction.
Dodd’s new novel, STRANGERS SHE KNOWS, revolves around Kellen Adams, an army veteran who stands up for strength, leadership, and justice, after a spell of abuse at the hands of her husband.
The character grew out of a meeting Dodd had three decades ago with two lawyers who defended women victims of domestic abuse.
“These women talked about the physical and psychological abuse they suffered and described how difficult it was to get out of that situation,” Dodd says. “I thought there was a story there. The story brewed for decades, and Kellen Adams was the right person for that story.”
STRANGERS SHE KNOWS, published by HQN Books in September 2019 and selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, is the third of Dodd’s Cape Charade full-length thriller series.
Dodd attributes the provenance of the series’ name, Cape Charade, to a desire for a title that would carry a West Coast essence, as well as her fascination with the 1963 romantic comedy mystery film Charade starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Hard to Kill and Dead Girl Running, which are the first and second novels in the series, show army captain Kellen as evolving from a naïve young woman who weds her sweetheart at 18. Little did Kellen know that she’d be a battered wife. When she came to grips with that reality, she would escape from the clutches of her marriage and land a gig as an assistant manager at a large Washington state resort, where murders would pile up. It isn’t long before Kellen is shot in the head. When she comes to after a year-long coma, she must break through the haze of her amnesia and find the killer.
STRANGERS SHE KNOWS places Kellen on an obscure island off California. This remote haven is seemingly safe from the murderer who is now hunting her down. But when her daughter finds herself in the line of fire, Kellen must prepare to face a killer playing a cruel game—where only one person can make it out alive.
Kellen strikes a chord with diverse readers around the world, including and especially those who have personally or vicariously experienced domestic violence or abuse in some form.
“I cannot even begin to imagine the violence and abuse that South Asian women go through,” Dodd says.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that one out of four women aged 18 and above has been a victim of severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner in her lifetime. Further, more than 40 percent of all homicides involving women in each of 15 US states are those interlinked with intimate partner violence, according to the Center for American Progress.
The theme that is universally applicable in such a reality is that of strength. And Kellen Adams is an embodiment of the strength and resilience that are intrinsic to every woman. Whether it is an arranged marriage or a marriage of choice, it’s a question of whether the person a woman marries is the right one for her, Dodd says, pointing out that Kellen, who was “romanced by the wrong guy, was stupid and had to pay the price” herself.
Nevertheless, this aspect of Kellen’s story unveils her transformation from a helpless woman to a stronger person who is able to shine a beacon of light for others.
One unique characteristic that sets STRANGERS SHE KNOWS apart from the other stories in the Cape Charade tribe is a thread about the Second World War that Dodd chose to include—that decision has infused the story with an additional layer of depth, above and beyond the contours of all the action.
Dodd, through her stories, has been ever-present to her readers in many environments, including hospitals. And STRANGERS SHE KNOWS, while an entertaining read, ultimately seeks to stun and inspire with messages of strength and endurance as an alternate life unravels through the eyes of Dodd’s characters.
Against the backdrop of this dimension, developing the Cape Charade series and the character of Kellen Adams wasn’t without challenges. “While I didn’t personally relate to the character, I was able to place myself in her shoes and think about how she would recreate herself,” Dodd says, noting that bringing forth aspects of anguish and suffering as well as “uplifting parts where Kellen was learning to survive on her own” was a tad demanding.
With its crisp pace and poignancy, STRANGERS SHE KNOWS contributes significantly to the suspense and thriller genre, where authors’ attempts to interpolate fictional narratives with elements of real life are being embraced more than ever before. In that regard, authors, agents, and publishers have become more exploratory today, Dodd says, citing Jordan Harper’s Edgar Award-winning She Rides Shotgun and Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series as examples of contemporary thriller novels that combine glimpses of real life with globally appealing suspense and action sequences.
Meanwhile, the advent of mixed-genre novels is being seen as a vanguard of change in the publishing space, even if that process is subtle. Dodd believes that this trend augurs well for various players in the ecosystem because book lovers are evolving as increasingly sophisticated readers who want to connect with new voices and hitherto uncharted scenarios. Romance and suspense, for instance, are genres that can quite often overlap, she points out, adding that she is encouraged to see a resurgence of fiction-writing that includes paranormal elements—something “that wasn’t very much around for a while.”
Dodd, who will be celebrating her 30th year as a writer in February 2020, has written 57 books to date, including 17 romantic suspense novels, seven straight suspense stories, and nine paranormal romances.
But the unconventional and rules-breaking author, who aims to write at least 2,000 words a day, says she was not an overnight success. It was her 19th book that hit the New York Times bestseller list.
“The difference between talent and success is hard work. I worked very, very hard,” Dodd says. “And I like the job. I love telling stories and this is what I do best.”
She wrote for 10 years before she was published. And when she was, it was her third completed manuscript that saw the light of day—not her first or second one.
“I would be smarter in publishing if I had stayed in one genre,” she admits. “But I enjoy the process of learning that comes with writing in different genres. I would be much more successful if I focused on one genre. But I don’t know that it would have made me happy. It’s about making myself—and my readers—happy.”
That said, Dodd’s pragmatism is an ingredient of her success as a multi-genre author: She wrote 20 books in one genre before switching to another—a strategy that gave her leeway to evolve as an established writer.
Dodd says that her husband’s and mother’s shared love for reading has exerted a positive influence on her literary career. Her father, who died before she was born, worked as a pressman and wrote newspaper stories too.
“He talks to me about things I know nothing about,” Dodd says of her husband, Scott, whose military background and present role as vice-president of a structural design company come in handy for her plot development and book research processes. STRANGERS SHE KNOWS, for instance, includes the rebuilding of a Ford F100 pickup for which Dodd consulted Scott’s father, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, as a source while constructing her scenes.
Dodd is also active on social media and enjoys talking to readers online. Her approach to building the sizable audience she has today has involved sharing parts of herself that she chose to share, and rolling out an e-newsletter which supplies information about her books, her journey, and her writing processes. That e-newsletter, which was launched more than 14 years ago, continues to attract readers and aspiring authors from far and wide.
Next on the anvil for Dodd is Wrong Alibi, slated to release in 2020. This novel, set in Alaska, revolves around a young woman who escapes from prison after she is framed for a gruesome double murder. Eventually, she must deal with her past and face the real murderer as she strives to save her family.
New York Times bestseller Christina Dodd writes “edge-of-the-seat suspense” (Iris Johansen) with “brilliantly etched characters, polished writing, and unexpected flashes of sharp humor that are pure Dodd.” (ALA Booklist) Her books have been called “scary, sexy, and smartly written,” and in her crowning achievement, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. With more than fifteen million copies of her books in print, Dodd’s fans know that when they pick one up they’ve found, as Karen Robards writes, “an absolute thrill ride of a book!”
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.