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Windfall From a One-Night Stand

By Susan Goldenberg

BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS is a story about a struggling artist named Skyler Moore who receives a bewilderingly large, life-changing inheritance—and she has no idea why. As Skyler digs for the truth, it becomes clear that her benefactor might have taken other secrets to the grave, secrets that could have terrifying consequences for her.

BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS, published in May by Harper, is the 17th nail-biter of New York Times bestselling suspense writer Kate White, who was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine from 1998-2012. At Cosmopolitan, she was a keen collector of marketplace data, because she believed it helped her keep the magazine in first place on the newsstand, and she’s continued her marketplace research as an author. “My readers, most of whom are women, like page turners, likeable protagonists, lots of twists, summer reading they can take to the beach or on a plane. I brought my release date forward this year from June to May to be ahead of the flood of June releases. You have to decide when is right for you.”

Kate is smart, charming, organized, and appreciates readers’ feedback. She spoke to me from her Pennsylvania country home. She has an office in a former barn. When typing she wears a brace to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

The inspiration for BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS.

May ’23, New York City. I have a few skull scarves left over from my days running Cosmopolitan, and they fit in perfectly with my current life as a full-time author.

Sometimes I don’t remember where an idea came from—maybe a headline or overheard phrase—but in this case I do. When my mother died a few years ago, my brother (who was the executor of her will) was stunned to learn that the bank had sent a check for one of her IRAs to a woman whose name we didn’t recognize. Was it a daughter we hadn’t known about? Or a secret story we weren’t aware of?

It turned out that the beneficiary was a much-married relative (the bank used the name she’d had during one of her marriages) and the money wasn’t actually intended for her; the bank had made a mistake. The woman had just kept the money without saying a word. The bank refunded the money to us, and, as far as we know, it didn’t claw back the money from the woman.

It got me thinking “What if…?” “What if somebody is willed a large sum by mistake?” “What if someone is willed money by someone they don’t know?” And then finally, “What if a woman is willed money by a man whose name is unfamiliar to her until she recalls that she had a magical one-night stand with him 12 years ago?” She’d want to know why. Spoiler alert: $3.5 million.

Creating your protagonists—name, career, etc.?

My husband and I spend four months each winter at our home in Uruguay. For some reason, I love writing in hot weather, especially outdoors.

My protagonist isn’t full-blown when I start. I create as I write. For instance, Skyler’s fraught relationship with her mother emerged as I was writing the book.

I’m fussy about names. Sometimes I change them a few times during my writing process. I’m a nature buff, and though this might seem weird, my protagonists always have a hint of nature in their names. Like Skyler in this book. And Emma Hawke and Lake Warren in my earlier books.

Regarding careers, I choose a job or field I know something about. Bailey Weggins is a true crime writer, which I know a lot about. I introduced true crime stories to Cosmopolitan. My stand-alone books’ protagonists include a self-help writer, a celebrity bio author, and a Generations X and Y researcher—all of which I learned about in my magazine career.

With Skyler I branched out a bit more. She’s an artist whose work includes collages. I interviewed artists for the book and researched collages. I’m also an avid collector of art, so I personally have some familiarity with the subject.

Why is Skyler occasionally funny?

I always love incorporating a bit of humor, if possible. Before her life took a sad turn, Skyler had been an upbeat person who felt she had life by the tail. Since then, she’s become reclusive and has let friendships fall by the wayside, but she still has a wry sense of humor.

Though I love living in South America part of the year, New York City is home to me. And I get plenty of inspiration for my books just by walking down the street.

Why did you make concern about fertility a factor?

I married late and had my first child at 37, my second at 39. I was lucky, but I know what it’s like have concerns about fertility. Skyler feels that life is starting to pass her by, that her life lacks romance and friendship and children, that she’s become isolated, and her world is now very small. Securing the money for an IUI procedure is her driving force, but she’s hampered by the benefactor’s unfaithful, unscrupulous wife. The stakes are really high for Skyler, which makes her story compelling.

Ratcheting up suspense.

These days, readers want endless and unexpected twists, “What the f—k?” moments. It puts a lot of pressure on an author. I do a lot of rewriting and editing to make sure the pacing is as strong as possible. I have (thriller writer) Joe Finder’s advice stuck to my computer: “Every scene must feature a surprise, a reveal, or a reversal.”

Great first sentence. “The call that ends up changing everything—not only my present and future but the past, too—comes late on a Friday afternoon.” From BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS.

You really want to try to hook readers with the first sentence, and in my opinion, it’s great if it’s almost a microcosm of the book. I try to write that first sentence early on. The whole book goes better if I do.

At Bouchercon with authors Sarah Warburton and Shawn Cosby. It’s been really great to be out at events again, and I’m thrilled with the tour that Harper Collins planned for me this year.

Your writing schedule?

I love research but generally do it after I’ve already started working on a book, so I don’t get too bogged down because of that research. I write every day, even on weekends and vacation, and my goal is to write four to five pages, 1,000 to 1,250, words a day. I write in the morning, starting at 8:30, and I edit these pages in the afternoon.

Do you analyze other thrillers?

I read a lot, sometimes slowly, either to admire the author’s craft or to understand what’s not working. I try to learn from other authors, even from their mistakes.

Such as?

A zipper motion across her lips. Enigmatic smile.

Cover design.

I do pay attention to current book covers in the marketplace. I think that covers that show the whole person or a face fill in too much for readers, and they prefer to use their imaginations. BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS shows the shadows of a man and a woman walking at night on a cobblestone street because there’s cobblestone in Boston where the book partly occurs.


Susan Goldenberg is an author and journalist who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her newest book, #10, is the true crime Deadly Triangle: The Famous Architect, His Wife, Their Chauffeur, and Murder Most Foul, published by Dundurn Press in 2022. She has won a Canadian Author’s Award.