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Heather Gudenkauf chats with me about her new domestic thriller THE OVERNIGHT GUEST, set in rural Iowa, her favorite true crime podcasts, plus what’s on her nightstand, and more


By Leslie Lindsay

From the NYT bestselling author, Heather Gudenkauf, another grisly psych thriller with a brilliant structure about a double murder and a missing girl.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book

Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of eight novels. Her debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE, was an instant NYT bestseller and remained on the list for 22 weeks. Gudenkauf’s critically acclaimed novels have been published in over 20 countries and have been included in many Best Of lists including Seven Thrillers to Read This Summer by the New York Times, The 10 Best Thrillers and Mysteries of 2017 by The Washington Post, a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, and a Best Book for the Beach by ChicagoNow.com. Her most recent novel, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST, is available now.

ABOUT THE OVERNIGHT GUEST:

A woman writer receives and unexpected visitor during a snowstorm in this chilling thriller THE OVERNIGHT GUEST (Park Row, January 25, 2022). True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in the old farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new Book. There’s a cozy fire, complete silence, time away from her son and ex-husband; it will be productive, if not perfect. But twenty years ago, that very Iowa farmhouse was the scene of a grisly double murder and a 12-year old girl disappeared without a trace.

“The Overnight Guest is not only compelling, it’s addictive. Flawlessly plotted, the story unfolds in layers, each one more shocking than the last. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.”

 —Samantha Downing, bestselling author of My Lovely Wife and For Your Own Good

As the storm rages, Wylie finds herself trapped in the house, haunted by secrets. But then the power goes out. It’s dark. And cold. And then a tragic accident happens outside her door. A young child is traumatized and injured. A truck is totaled. Where is the child’s parents? How can Wylie help? After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, Wylie begins to search for answers, but soon it becomes clear that maybe the answers–and the people–she thought were far behind her are closer to the surface than ever.

THE OVERNIGHT GUEST toggles between past and present, with a police procedural/murder investigation as well as a darker more literary story that is told from a more sinister timeless framework. It has a brilliant structure, alternating extreme temperatures between the blazing heat of summer and that of the icy winter, lending to a slightly claustrophobic tale. Gudenkauf always shines when she is writing about her home state of Iowa.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Heather Gudenkauf back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Heather! It’s always so good to chat. THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is the perfect curl-up-and-read winter book. The farmhouse, the Iowa winter…and of course, a murder. Actually, two. I’m always interested to know what sparked the idea for a particular work. What was it for THE OVERNIGHT GUEST?

Heather Gudenkauf:

Thank you, Leslie, it’s always great to chat with you! The spark for THE OVERNIGHT came from where many of my ideas get their genesis – the news. I was online, researching interesting cases and came across an article about a young woman who crashed her car into a ditch and ventured out into a blizzard to find help. She was found the next day, eyes frozen open and near death. Medical professionals couldn’t even get an IV into her frozen arm – the needles kept breaking. Amazingly, the woman survived.

This news article really got my wheels turning and I began to explore the idea of what would happen if someone found a nearly frozen child on their property during a blizzard.

I also am fascinated by true crime, and the idea of having a main character who is a true crime writer really appealed to me.  From there, Wylie, a true crime author who travels to a remote Iowa farmhouse, gets drawn into a decades old cold case and THE OVERNIGHT GUEST emerged.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I want to talk a bit about the structure and themes a bit because I feel they really play off one another well. THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is structured as a sort of braided narrative, taking three time periods and parts and tying them all together. There’s the frontstory of the crime writer holed up during the winter storm, a mysterious tale of a young child with a mother in…captivity, plus the backstory and investigation of the double homicide/missing girl. I found this kept my interest and I was certainly puzzling out the plot, so kudos for that.

My question is: did you know how all of these pieces would come together in the end, or were you surprised? Did you write the various sections in groups—for example, of the homicide chapters, then all of the snowed-in chapters, then the child with parent, and piece together, or did you write straight through?

Heather Gudenkauf:

I really love writing stories with multiple points of view and shifting timelines. While I knew the three storylines I wanted to focus on and how I wanted them to eventually come together, how I got there was filled with many detours and dead ends. In the beginning of the writing process, I spent a lot of time on the homicide chapters and then wove in the blizzard scenes. As I got to know my characters better, I layered in the mother and child sections.

Discovering those surprises along the way – about plot, characters, even the ending – is the best part of writing. It’s those ah-ha moments that are unearthed on the writing journey that make it so much fun.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

“Masterful, terrible, and absolutely addicting…Tense, taut, and terrifying.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:

True crime is all the rage these days. Even I have fallen…victim…to it. For example, the Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie case has certainly captivated me and thousands of others. Maybe it’s my writer-brain hinting at cause-and-effect, or maybe it’s something else to focus on, no matter how grisly. What are your thoughts about the true crime rage? Do you have any favorite podcasts or Twitter feeds you like to follow?

Heather Gudenkauf:

I am a long-time true crime addict and am fascinated by the machinations behind the investigations and the search for justice. One of my favorite podcasts is Criminal hosted by Phoebe Judge. It’s a unique podcast in that it covers all aspects of crime including current and historical cases. It’s compulsively bingeable and Phoebe Judge has the best voice in the biz. Another great one with impeccable reporting is In the Dark with Madeleine Baran. If you haven’t listened to the Curtis Flowers season, you’re missing out. It’s a deep dive into a very flawed, corrupt justice system and the search for the truth – I cried and cheered – so many emotions. For a laugh, I enjoy listening to Crime Writers On… and True Crime Obsessed.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I always have to ask about houses and homes and setting, because it is such a fascination of mine. These old farmhouses…they really do have a haunting vibe, even if nothing sinister happened there. It’s the peeling paint, the isolation, the fact that many farms across the Midwest are no longer operating as they once did. What are your thoughts on that and was the farmhouse in THE OVERNIGHT GUEST inspired by a real place? How about the natural round-about with the tree in the middle of the road?

Heather Gudenkauf:

I’m like you, the settings of novels are just as important to me as the characters. While the farmhouse in THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is not based on one specific farmhouse, the farms I see as I travel along remote gravel roads in my home state of Iowa, are my inspiration. The setting of the story, set outside the fictional town of Burden, is also inspired by small town Iowa. However, the tree in the middle of the road, that plays a critical role in the novel, is a real spot in Iowa – Brayton, Iowa. Supposedly, over 161 years ago, a surveyor placed a green cottonwood stick into the ground at the exact spot the county line was to be drawn. Now the tree is over 100 feet tall and 18 feet wide.

When I saw a picture of the tree, I knew I had to include it in some way in THE OVERNIGHT GUEST. I love sharing little tidbits about my home state with readers.

Photo by Jesse Zheng on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your nightstand this winter?

Heather Gudenkauf:

I’ve been reading so many wonderful books this winter. Two of my favorites have been BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FOOLS by Jillian Cantor and THE WINTER COUNTS by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FOOLS is a retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY from the points of view of the women in Jay Gatsby’s life and the mystery surrounding his death. It is gorgeously written. THE WINTER COUNTS is a thriller set on Rosebud Indian Reservation. Heska Wanbli Weiden’s characters absolutely leap off the page and the story was riveting. I can’t wait to see what comes next for both these authors.

Leslie Lindsay:

Heather, this has been so great. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Heather Gudenkauf:

Thank you, Leslie! I hope readers love THE OVERNIGHT GUEST.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH HEATHER GUDENKAUF, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE OVERNIGHT GUEST, PLEASE VISIT:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded, in part, of the work of Gilly Macmillan meets Mary Kubica (particularly her latest book, LOCAL WOMAN MISSING), with touches of Lisa Unger.

See what I’m excited about reading in 2022.

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book. Thank you for your patronage. This is my last ‘in conversation with’ on this site.*

It’s been a joy and privilege to connect with authors and share interviews with you.*

Photo cred: Leslie Lindsay

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading, and even writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of eight novels. Her debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE, was an instant NYT bestseller and remained on the list for 22 weeks. Gudenkauf’s critically acclaimed novels have been published in over 20 countries and have been included in many Best Of lists including Seven Thrillers to Read This Summer by the New York Times, The 10 Best Thrillers and Mysteries of 2017 by The Washington Post, a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, and a Best Book for the Beach by ChicagoNow.com. Her most recent novel, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST, is available now.

Author Photo Credit: Erin Kirchhoff

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is c9ef8888-4b93-4a58-ac08-bfce876c3606.jpg
Photo credit: K.M.Lindsay

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

It’s been a joy and privilege to connect with authors and share interviews with you.*

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading, and even writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

It’s been a joy and privilege to connect with authors and share interviews with you.

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