By Leslie Lindsay
THE VANISHING YEAR (Atria Books, September 2016) is a stunning domestic psych suspense by Kate Moretti, one that delivers a modern, urgent, cutting-edge slightly different than her contemporaries.
How is it different? Well, for one it’s a bit rags-to-riches where other, comparative titles are not. Zoe Whitaker is living a charmed life in NYC. She has a ‘golden boy’ wealthy husband, a marble penthouse, all the fancy clothing and jewels a girl could want…but she’s not superficial; her character comes across as very personable, yet flawed–you know the girl has secrets, but what are they?
No one knows, but five years ago Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all.
Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.
The beginning pages read beautifully, I was enthralled with the world Zoe resides, her ‘secret,’ and the words Moretti strings together.
Join me as I sit down with New York Times bestselling author of four books, Kate Moretti.
Leslie Lindsay: Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to chat about your latest book, THE VANISHING YEAR. I’m always intrigued by what sparked an idea into a full-fledged book. What was haunting you when you sat down to write Zoe’s story?
Kate Moretti: The ending came to me first. Without spoilers, I wanted to write a story that centered around this idea that in a whirlwind marriage, both people come into it with a whole backstory that neither of them knows. That you can’t reinvent yourself and your past will always come back for you. Most of my books have centered around this theme, so you might say I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m hoping to move on, one day.
L.L.: I want to talk about the title for a moment. My first thought was, ‘woman leaves for a year; a fugue state.’ But that’s not exactly the case. She spends a year as Henry Whittaker’s wife—(I hope I’m not giving too much away!)—but then she sort of finds herself. Did you start out with a title and build a story around it, or did the title come after?
Kate Moretti: I usually come up with my titles around the halfway point. THE VANISHING YEAR means a few things to me. The year she was married to Henry, she slipped into being this person he wanted her to be, and she says it happened so slowly she hardly noticed it. More directly, it relates to the year she literally did vanish – from Hilary Lawlor to Zoe Whittaker nee Swanson. I liked this concept so much, that the events of one year can completely alter who you are. I played with it a little bit in the idea that Tara (Henry’s deceased wife) vanishes a bit, too. She goes from having friends, a life, a job, to being almost sequestered. It worked on a few levels for the book. Titles are tough!
L.L.: There’s so much of this story that is about finding oneself, about coming to terms with the ghosts that haunt our own pasts. Can you talk about that, please?
Kate Moretti: I think everyone, even regular, average, boring people like me, who don’t have these turbulent past lives still have regrets and mistakes and things they’ve done that they partly wish they could undo. I say partly because I’ve learned so much from my slip-ups that even though they’re painful to think about, they become such a big chunk of who I am today. I think, on some level, this theme is hugely relatable, which is why there are so many books like this! Without the confines of reality, you can expand on these mistakes and make them larger than life. I love diving into that place, where moral people do amoral things: where is that line and how hard do you have to push for your character to cross it? The best part is, all my characters are different, so I can explore this in every book, until I’ve exhausted myself.
L.L.: Some reviewers have compared THE VANISHING YEAR to a modern-day REBECCA (Daphne Du Maurier). I see that…rich husband one barely knows…phantoms of a time long forgotten (we hope), but yet there are some key differences. Was REBECCA in any way an inspiration for you?
Kate Moretti: THE VANISHING YEAR was my love letter to REBECCA. Rebecca was the first adult mystery novel I ever read and I read it pretty young, maybe 14? There was a lot I didn’t understand and re-reading as an adult, I couldn’t remember what my young self thought. But I fell in love with the atmosphere, the slow unwinding of the plot, the reveal of Mrs. Danvers, and the final plot twist. I’d read Nancy Drew and Christopher Pike and RL Stine but nothing got me the way REBECCA did. THE VANISHING YEAR is my first real attempt at a woman-in-peril mystery. I wanted my character to be a bit sassier than the new Mrs. De Winter, I wanted my Mrs. Danvers to be unexpected, I wanted Henry to be a slight echo of Maximilian. Even the opening line was a hat tip: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again vs. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of my mother. The plot is, of course, all very different. A few early readers caught the resonance pretty clearly and that made me happy.
L.L.: There’s a strong element of one’s family of origin in THE VANISHING YEAR, a bit about adoption, as Zoe is on a quest to find her birth mother. I think this is an important piece to discovering who we are. Yet, in the end, we’re just floating…could it be that sometimes ‘our family’ becomes not who we expect?
Kate Moretti: I think family is whatever you make it. Your family, simply put, is your people. The people you surround yourself with, not always just the people who are blood related. Growing up with a large extended family, we called second cousins aunts and uncles, we called friends of the family cousins, there was a great deal of fluidity around familial vernacular. We have good friends that my kids call their cousins, so I’m happy to see that be passed on. In VANISHING, Zoe is propelled by this idea of having a tether to the world. Henry feels very free-floating to her, she’s semi-isolated in his life, her only good friend is tired of her flightiness. She seeks out her birth mother, hoping this can bring her some much needed grounding. I couldn’t even imagine this kind of isolation.
L.L.: There are a good deal of twists and turns in THE VANISHING YEAR, plenty of seedy secrets, and a darkness that pervades. Was this intentional, or did it transpire more organically? Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Kate Moretti: I’m a mix of both. For VANISHING, I did plot pretty heavily, with spreadsheets. I think for a suspense novel, to wind all the pieces together, you either do an enormous amount of rewriting or you plot heavily and braid the plot together before you start. I do a mix. I plot, then write, then re-outline (because I always veer off), then write, then plot, then write. Repeat as necessary.
L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? Any chance it’s an old house with a secret passageway?!
Kate Moretti: My current obsession is serial killers. I’m such a pleasant addition to holiday dinner parties these days! The book I’m drafting, called THE REMAINDERS, is about a woman whose mother was famed serial killer. I have to learn how serial killers work. I’m reading Confessions of a Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland, which is the untold story of BTK [bind, torture, kill; a.k.a. Dennis Lynn Rader].
I’d would really love to find that house. I live in a 150 year old farmhouse now, but through the years and various remodels (before we bought it), it’s been fairly gutted so I’m not sure there is a secret passageway. There is, however a little room. Our house has a turret, and from my attic office, you can go inside. It’s dark in there, I’ve only ever looked in it. It could be haunted! [image to left retrieved from this NYTimes article on secret passages in NYC]
L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?
Kate Moretti: I’m always happy to talk about what’s next! My next novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is out September 2017. It’s about a teacher accused of an affair with a student, who then goes missing. It’s very different from VANISHING because it’s multi-POV, more character driven, less plot heavy. To me, there are books that are building to a big surprise and then there are books that are about the journey of the story. VANISHING was building, BLACKBIRD is about the story. I love both, but Blackbird was much harder to write. I think it’s a bit more nuanced, a bit deeper in terms of relationships.
L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting and getting to know THE VANISHING YEAR. Thanks for popping over. And have a restful holiday season.
Kate Moretti: Thanks for having me!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).
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[Author and cover image courtesy of Atria Books and used with permission. Image of REBECCA retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of Confessions of a Serial Killer retrieved from Amazon, both on 12.2.16]