Up Close: Samantha M. Bailey
From the Darkest of Humanity to the Light
By Josie Brown
A woman hands her infant daughter to a “stranger” before falling to her death in front of a subway train.
The woman given the child claims they’ve never met—but there’s enough evidence to prove otherwise. And if she’s lying, it’s because she has a lot to gain: the child she’s always wanted and access to the fortune the child will one day inherit.
In other words, WOMAN ON THE EDGE has all the right elements for a taut, breakneck domestic thriller.
For Toronto-based novelist Samantha M. Bailey, the idea for her bestselling debut struck her like a lightning bolt: “It was the perfect ‘what if.'”
Bailey is quite serious when she insists the plot came to her “thanks to public transit. Six years ago, I was on a subway platform. I saw a woman who was standing very close to the edge. She was holding a newborn. I’m always sure to stand right up against the wall because our platforms are narrow, and there are no barriers. This woman looked tired and frazzled, as all new moms do. I know I was with my own two kids. Then the train came, and everyone got onboard. As I watched the woman interact with her child, I realized I’d projected my own fears onto her.”
At the time, Bailey’s younger child was three years old, and the older was six.
For Bailey, being on that platform was both luck and timing. “My best ideas come when I’m not trying so hard to find them. I try to pay attention to the nuances of others around me.”
She took an empty gum pack out of her purse and scribbled down the premise for the book that would become WOMAN ON THE EDGE. “When I got home, I immediately started writing it.”
Six years later, a bestseller was born.
In WOMAN ON THE EDGE, the anxious new mother, 36-year-old Nicole Markham, is the founder and CEO of a successful fitness apparel company. Despite her husband Greg’s reticence about having the child, Nicole feels it’s her calling.
From the mail Bailey has received, she knows Nicole’s anxieties reflect those of a lot of women.
“There isn’t a mom who hasn’t felt that the experience of motherhood has changed her life,” Bailey says. “Childbirth comes with much responsibility–sudden responsibility! Along with the joy and the overwhelming love, there is an exquisite pain for the love of your child. It is such a shocking life-changer—particularly for high achievers like Nicole. She is extremely successful, extremely powerful. Suddenly your baby is the sole focus of your world.”
In Nicole’s case, it is also the catalyst for her demise.
Bailey’s second protagonist, Morgan Kincaid, has a different cross to bear: her life has been upended and her reputation tainted by a financial scandal perpetrated by her husband. Although his death was ruled a suicide, it took place under mysterious circumstances.
As far as the press is concerned, her husband’s suicide has already cast a grim shadow over her.
It comes to light that Nicole had a specific reason for handing Quinn to Morgan: her will stipulates that Morgan is her child’s legal guardian.
Which begs the question: did she jump, or was she pushed?
Once again, Morgan is the prime suspect in an investigation.
Because of the way Bailey has structured Morgan’s part of the story, readers don’t know if they should trust Morgan’s perspective on it. They are left to wonder: did Morgan somehow manipulate this emotionally vulnerable woman to give up her baby for the fortune the child was sure to inherit?
It doesn’t help Morgan that Karina Martinez—the police detective assigned to investigate Nicole’s death—was also the lead investigator in the death of Morgan’s husband.
“Considering their past history—and Detective Martinez’s knowledge that Morgan has been yearning for a child—her tunnel vision is easily understood,” Bailey says.
The dual storylines are told in different time frames: one moves forward in real time, while the other starts a few weeks prior.
Bailey rotates the protagonists’ perspectives so that the plot thread revealed in one dovetails with the action of the other. She loved the challenge of juggling their two perspectives. “It wasn’t hard for me to separate their stories. Although they were entirely different women, they had parallel characteristics.”
Bailey has artfully populated the book with other suspects whose motives are just as compelling: a controlling husband who, from the get-go, was reticent at the idea of being a father; Nicole’s brother, whose actions leading up to Nicole’s death are questionable; and two of Nicole’s board members whose Machiavellian maneuvers are reason enough for her paranoia.
There is also a ghost from Nicole’s past whose own motives concern a decade-old incident involving another mother and infant.
“People are complex. Everyone has layers,” Bailey says. “I wanted my characters’ arcs to go from the darkest side of humanity to the light; that they could be either a villain or a hero.”
Throughout the story, readers’ perspectives of the characters play out realistically.
“It’s all about perspective,” Bailey says. “Suspects are judged by the evidence. Each character in the book has a motive. Readers will take the evidence presented in the book and make their own judgments.”
Bailey has sprinkled the plot with enough evidence to change the reader’s perspective on everyone, several times over.
This is especially true with Morgan. “You have her perspective, and then you have the public’s perspective of her. So who should the reader believe?” Bailey says.
Not to mention the fact that Nicole’s paranoia may also be skewing her judgment until the last scene of the book.
All great fodder for a suspenseful thriller—right up to the shocking end.
WOMAN ON THE EDGE does not shy away from a serious medical condition that plagues too many new mothers: postpartum depression.
“From the beginning, I knew I wanted to include the issue of postpartum depression,” Bailey says. “I have friends who had it. I would see their struggles, their shame, their fear of judgment. I knew how isolated they felt despite family and doctor support. They couldn’t reach out because they were too afraid to tell anyone how they were feeling. I’m grateful they were also willing to share their stories.”
Although Bailey never personally experienced the condition, the birth of her first child brought on bouts of irrational anxiety. “So many women go through this: fear, worry, and anxiety. To this day, I remember constantly checking to see if he was breathing and obsessively making sleep and food schedules. If he sneezed, I’d be, like, ‘Oh my God! We have to take him to the hospital!’ I even went so far as to Google every malady.”
She is happy that readers have reached out to her to express their thanks for writing about the condition with great sensitivity. “They say they see themselves in Nicole. This means the world to me.”
Bailey’s road to publication had many ups and downs. Besides being a freelance fiction editor, she is also a voracious reader. “I learned from reading. It has shaped my writing over the years.”
“I’ve been writing novels for 17 years. When I started out, I was naïve. My first book was a rom-com. It got me an agent who was based in New York. I thought I’d be going off to New York too in a few months and that my debut was going to be in all the bookstores. I thought I’d be walking around Manhattan in my Manolo Blahniks like Carrie in Sex and the City. I thought, ‘Here we go! It’s a done deal!'” She laughs. “And of course it didn’t happen. We all have these wild dreams of success. But we keep writing because it’s what we have to do. Because we love it. We want this.”
To her dismay, that first book didn’t find a publisher. “Every rejection was a gut punch. But I would take a breath, roll up my sleeves, and take one sentence at a time.”
On the upside, that kind of bright-eyed optimism also got her through the pub house rejections that followed.
She wrote another book. And she kept writing, focusing on women’s fiction.
“Every author’s journey is different,” Bailey says. “I am always happy for my author friends’ successes because it fuels my motivation. If another author’s dreams can come true, mine can too—in my own way and in my own time. And it will happen on the path I choose to follow.”
Those years between Bailey’s first submission and WOMAN ON THE EDGE were spent writing daily. When she was ready to submit to literary agents, she began with the ones she felt could sell the book she had written.
Bailey ended up with her dream agent, who was meticulous in her notes for the novel. Taking to heart her agent’s insights, Bailey insists, was instrumental in it landing with the right publisher and editor.
Although its US launch is this month, the novel launched in Canada in December. It reached Number 1 in both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. It also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was a PW “Best Books Pick of the Week.” Canada’s Indigo Books made it December 2019’s “Fiction Book of the Month,” and Shopper’s Drug Mart chose it as its January “Book Lover’s Pick.”
Today, it is still in the top five fiction bestsellers.
All because Bailey asked herself, “What if…?”
“You immerse yourself in your characters, who go through traumatic, difficult, frightening events. Any normal event may spark a plot point. We’re always thinking about stories. It’s why we’re writing.”
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