WeekEND Reading: Brad Parks on his new domestic thriller, CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you went to pick up your child from daycare only to learn he has been taken by social services? That’s what was haunting Brad Park when he set out to write CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW; understanding the emotional arc of his female characters, how being stubborn is his greatest strength at the keyboard, plus Coke Zero & ice cream

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Brad Parks is back with another stand-alone domestic thriller with engaging characters, stunning twists, and chilling discoveries, this time focusing on Child Social Services, a drug bust and more. 

CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW, the latest thriller from Brad Parks, is the perfect encapsulation of everything Parks does so well—shocking twists, compelling, true-to-life characters, and affecting emotional impact.

So when the publishing house reached out to me with this one, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Plus, that cover! It’s so hauntingly typical.

After a childhood spent bouncing between foster care homes, Melanie Barrick finally has the life she’s always wanted. But one day, Melanie goes to pick up her son Alex from childcare and discovers he has been removed by Social Services.

When she arrives home, she learns that her house has been raided by the sheriff’s deputies, who tell her that they’ve found enough cocaine to put her behind bars for years.

Though she maintains her innocence, Melanie knows she will lose Alex forever if she can’t find definitive proof that someone is trying to frame her.

Parks’ first standalone, SAY NOTHING, received rave reviews from top media outlets, genre titans–including Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver–and readers alike. And CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is just as thrilling. 

Please join me in conversation with Brad Parks. 

Leslie Lindsay: Brad, I’m so thrilled to have you today. I’m always interested to know what inspired a particular title. Can you tell us how you chose to center the plot of Closer Than You Know around the child welfare system?

Brad Parks: As an upper middle class white kid, I grew up with exactly zero experience of the child welfare system. Then I spent a decade as a reporter in Newark, where child protective services was an enormous presence in the lives of many, if not most, poor families. As a political nerd, it fascinated me that in America—a nation founded by guys trying to resist tyranny—we created a system that gives government so much authority over such an intensely personal aspect of citizens’ lives. Think about it: No matter where you live, there is a state or local agency that has legal ability to take your children away from you. Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great caution and only as a last resort. But what an awesome power. Especially if it was abused. That’s the basic germ that I allowed to take root in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW that someone who understands the system could manipulate it to steal someone’s baby.

L.L.: What research did you do for this novel? Were there any differences between this book’s research into the judicial system and that of your last book, Say Nothing?

Brad Parks: I spoke with people who work for Virginia social service agencies at a variety of levels—from a former secretary all the way up to a director. They were, without exception, dedicated professionals whose hearts were absolutely in the right place. From them, I learned how the system is supposed to work. Then I spoke with, and read memoirs by, former foster kids. From them I learned how the system actually works. There are some success stories, of course. But for a lot of children, particularly those who enter foster care at later ages, the system creates as many problems as it fixes.  I also spent time hanging around Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, talking with lawyers and a judge. The great difficult there is that, unlike adult courts, trials involving children are closed. That was probably the greatest difficulty: Not having the opportunity to observe directly. I found myself asking a lot of my sources questions like, “Okay, how does this go exactly? What does this look like?”hqdefault

L.L.: This is your first novel told from the perspective of female protagonists, Melanie Barrick and Amy Kaye. Did you find writing from the perspective of female characters more challenging? How did you ensure that the tone felt authentic? 

Brad Parks: With forty-three years’ experience thinking like a guy—and none thinking like a woman—the prospect of writing from the female perspective definitely intimidated me at first. And there were a handful of scenes where I was cognizant that a woman would experience the events unfolding in a fundamentally different way. But for the most part, once I got into the story, I was amazed how little it actually mattered. In most of the situations these women faced, gender was probably the seventh or eighth most important thing motivating their thoughts and actions. There were other aspects of their personalities that simply mattered more. They were driven by their wants, their needs, their ideals, their hopes. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t writing female protagonists. I was writing human protagonists who happened to be female.

L.L.: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is your eighth novel. How is this one different than your previous stories?

Brad Parks: I always have strong feelings for my characters. But I was more attached to Melanie Barrick than I’ve ever been to any of my previous protagonists, even the one loosely based on me. There were times when I felt this horrible guilt about what I was doing to her—ripping her baby away from her, putting her through this horrible ordeal, sending her to prison. I always talk my characters throughout the writing of a novel. I found myself apologizing to Melanie quite a bit.

L.L.: You write a lot about the bond between a mother and her child in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW. How were you able to convey this unique relationship on the page so vividly? And did your own experience as a dad shape the narrative?

Brad Parks: I did a tour of duty as a stay-at-home dad with an infant. For many long hours each day, it was just me and this baby. I came to realize that a big part of what our culture calls “motherhood” is really just having another human being who is wholly dependent on you for every need, all the time. So I certainly drew on that physical and emotional experience. But I also came to understand there is another aspect to motherhood, and that’s because I watched my wife parent this same child. She wasn’t with the baby for huge chunks of the day, like I was, and yet there were ways in which her bond with the baby was undeniably closer. That really helped me flesh out Melanie Barrick, because when Alex gets taken from her, she is no longer his caregiver. But, deep in the very core of her, she is—and will always be—his mother.

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L.L.: This novel is so emotionally resonant, but also quite thrilling in that psych-suspense aspect.How do you balance the plot so they are both something the reader will ‘feel’ but also entertaining?

Brad Parks: I write by feel. If I don’t feel something, chances are the reader isn’t going to feel something. And if the reader isn’t feeling something. . . well, really, what’s to stop them from putting this down and playing Sudoku?

L.L.:  Before you were a full-time novelist, you were a successful journalist. How does that inform your work today?

Brad Parks: One year at a daily newspaper brings you into contact with enough fascinating stories and weird characters to fuel at least twenty novels. It also teaches you how to learn (quickly!) about anything at all.

L.L.: Do you miss journalism?

Brad Parks: I miss the people. The newspaper newsroom of yore was a magical place: A collection of bright, talented, irascible folks—many of them temperamentally unsuited for employment in any other industry—who spent half the morning strangling each other and half the afternoon worrying about lunch. But then somehow by the end of the day, they managed to get their act together just enough to publish the equivalent of a full-length novel, complete with pictures, graphics, and the horoscopes. And then they’d get up the next day and do it all over again. It was magical to be even a small part of the whole crazy show.

L.L.: How did you make the decision to transition into writing novels?

Brad Parks: In some ways, the decision was made for me. The newspaper business began entering its death spiral around the time I turned thirty. I came to realize there was no chance I was going to be able to ride that dinosaur all the way to retirement. I took a buyout in 2008, when I was 34, figuring it was better to jump than be pushed. At that time it was frightening. And depressing. Journalism was all I had ever done, all I knew. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under ordinary circumstances, I am far too risk-averse by nature to do something as outrageous as leaving a steady job for the uncertainty of writing novels. It took the collapse of the industry to make me pursue a dream I otherwise would have been too chicken to chase on my own.

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L.L.: Can you tell us something about your process that might surprise people?

Brad Parks: How—for lack of a better word—physical it is. While I’m working on a novel, particularly in that crucial first-draft stage, I treat myself like a professional athlete in season. I do everything I can to maximize performance: I eat right; I don’t drink much (besides Coke Zero); I try to give my brain lots of rest, whether that’s goofing off in the afternoon, or getting eight hours of sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong, I have distractions, like everyone. But my goal is to structure the other twenty hours a day so that those four hours in the chair can be as productive as possible.

L.L.: What do you think is the most important trait you bring to the keyboard?

Brad Parks: Stubbornness. It’s the gas for my writing engine, and I’d like to think I have more of it than most. When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. There was one test where you had to rearrange blocks. The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop. I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved that second-grade problem. But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am willing to bash my head against the screen until the words come out right.

“Exciting. . . Parks excels at keeping the pages turning with brisk pacing, relentlessly high tension, and a knotty narrative.”
Publishers Weekly

L.L.: Rumor has it that you’re known to break out into song during author events. Me, too but not at author events…just around the house. And not well. Everyone rolls their eyes. What inspired you to make this a trademark at your events? Were you involved in musical theater during your school years?

Brad Parks: Those rumors are malicious and false. How dare you. . . Uh, okay, guilty as charged. I was all-state chorus, did high school musicals, sang a cappella in college (yeah, I was one of those guys) and have continued to sing in pretty much any forum in which I am not muzzled by either decorum or someone’s hand. It’s just something I love to do. 

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW?

Brad Parks: To my knowledge, there’s never been a thriller that uses the child welfare system as its backdrop. And while I’m not trying to cram a social work textbook down their throats, I would hope readers come away with a more nuanced understanding of that world and some compassion for those involved in it. That’s one of the things I love about the thriller genre: It’s a vehicle that allows you to explore some weighty social issues, yet do so in a way that’s still wildly entertaining. Done right, it’s like ice cream that’s good for you.

L.L.: Thank you, Brad. It was a pleasure…and now, for that ice cream.

For more information, or to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, please visit:

Order Links:

brad-parks-smile-225-shadowABOUT THE AUTHOR:   International bestselling author Brad Parks is the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and have won critical acclaim across the globe, including stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website and used with permission from publisher. Images all retrieved on 3.15.18. Sources as follows: stay at home dad image retrieved from, newspaper newsroom image retrieved from, Juvenile and Domestic Relations court sign retrieved from,]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Author-Editor Team Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen Pen First Psych Thriller Together, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, about exes, lies, perception, memory; plus friendship, movie deals and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

Spectacular, mind-bending, romantic thriller about all sides of a marriage, infidelity, betrayal, and more.

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When a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US (forthcoming, January 9 2018 from St. Martin’s Press) landed on my doorstep, I was immediately intrigued. It’s co-authored (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen), which lends well to the ‘wife between us’ concept; that is, there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to complex relationships like marriage.

What calls to mind with THE WIFE BETWEEN US is a smart, edgy psychological thriller in the vein of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE meets Gillian Flynn’s earlier work (SHARP OBJECTS), meets DEAR DAUGHTER (Elizabeth Little), a subtle twist in vein of HER (Harriet Lane) with a flavor of GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Paula Hawkins); but it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

Vanessa’s seemingly perfect husband, Richard abruptly leaves her. She’s forced out of their four-bedroom Colonial and into her aunt’s apartment. She drinks. She worries after her aging aunt. She reluctantly takes a job as a sales associate at Saks. She keeps a close eye on her “replacement,” the new, young assistant Richard is now engaged to marry. download (57)

But it’s not just about a jealous ex-wife. It’s not even about her being lonely and worried. It might not even be about the new woman.

There’s definitely a twist with THE WIFE BETWEEN US, and I guarantee you’ll be flipping the pages frantically to discover the truth, which will reveal itself by the end.

Please join me in welcoming Greer Henricks and Sarah Pekkannen to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Greer and Sarah, it’s such an honor to have you! I understand you have worked together in the past—but not as co-authors. Can you talk a bit about how you came to collaborate on THE WIFE BETWEEN US? And what was the instigating moment for this particular title?

Sarah: After working together on seven novels as an author-editor team, we knew we had a unique relationship.  Not only do we share strikingly similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling, but we get along beautifully as friends. When we discovered we were both itching to write a psychological page-turner – one as twisty, complex, and fresh as possible – it almost seemed predestined.

Greer: We both studied journalism and psychology, which makes us curious students of human nature.  In THE WIFE BETWEEN US, we wanted to explore how memories are colored by the lenses through which we view our worlds – and how people can share an experience but carry away markedly different perspectives and emotions. Little did we know that it would take every ounce of our collective brain power to keep track of the literary kaleidoscope we wanted to create.

L.L.:  In watching your YouTube video, I can see that your working chemistry is so natural. It really seems like you had fun with this title. Were there any challenges co-authoring?

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Greer: Our biggest challenge is technology. Because we write every word together we rely on google docs and google hangouts. Most of the time these tools work beautifully, but when they don’t it’s incredibly frustrating.

Sarah: Aside from technological glitches, we did have a lot of fun!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US delivers a whip smart, twisty plot in a taut, pacy narrative. It’s terrific and troubling. This is one scary love triangle where you won’t know who to trust. I loved it.”

Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew

L.L.: As for the story, my read was that a complex relationship like a marriage is so very multifaceted it’s hard to tell where one truth begins and another ends. It’s not just marriage; those lines can be blurred in just about any romantic entanglement. Can you elaborate on that, please?

Greer: There are three sides to every marriage: the husband’s, the wife’s and the truth. This is true for any relationship.

Sarah: One of our hopes was that THE WIFE BETWEEN US  would cause readers to reevaluate their own perceptions.

L.L.: I have to admit, my mind was reeling as I read THE WIFE BETWEEN US. I had to read ‘very carefully,’ for fear I might miss something. I had lots of theories. I can only imagine you did, too. Did you ever write yourself into a corner, and if so, how did you back out?

Greer:  We have two words for you: Cake Topper.

Sarah: We definitely backed ourselves into a corner with that one. It only took about 80 hours of conversation before we figured out a way to fix it!

L.L.: I understand THE WIFE BETWEEN US is to become a major motion picture. From the producers of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, no less! How thrilling! What can you tell us about the process and when might it be in theaters?

Sarah: We spent a day talking to various producers who were interested in our manuscript, and signed a contract with Amblin Entertainment, which is Steven Spielberg’s production company. They are currently working with a screenwriter to create the script based on our book!

L.L.: Are you collaborating on something new?

Greer: Yes, our next novel is also a psychological thriller, tentatively titled You’re Invited. It features twists and turns, of course, as well as strong female protagonists.

L.L: What’s keeping you awake at night? And let’s hope it’s not a faulty alarm system.

Greer: The plot of our new novel is as twisty and complicated as our first book and I think we are both becoming quite obsessed with all the potential twists and turns. We often email each other in the middle of the night with random ideas. Most of the time they still make sense in the morning.

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Sarah: Please check out our website for more information on our book – and hopefully we’ll get to meet a lot of readers on tour!

L.L.: Ladies, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here today. Happy New Year!

Greer and Sarah: Thanks for having us!

For more information, to connect with the authors, or to get a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US, please see:

Greer:

Sarah:

Buy the Book!

Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks_photo credit Bill MilesABOUT THE AUTHORS:  Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally and USA Today bestselling author of seven previous novels. A former investigative journalist and feature writer, she has published work in The Washington Post, USA Today, and many others. She is the mother of three sons and lives just outside Washington, D.C.

Greer Hendricks spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Greer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. THE WIFE BETWEEN US is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Image of split wedding couple retrieved from, frustrated writer image from, unboxing image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 1.5.18] 

WeekEND Reading: Kelly Simmons on her “dark & stormy” nights, why she hates the term ‘red herrings,’ the chasm between the supernatural and religious worlds in ONE MORE DAY & why she’s glad I didn’t ask about M&Ms

By Leslie Lindsay 

ONE MORE DAY was so emotionally riveting, so devastating, and so well told that I couldn’t get enough. In fact, when I closed the book for the last time (after reading *everything* including the acknowledgements, discussion questions, and about the author), I still looked Kelly Simmons and her other books up on-line. That, to me, is the sign of good book.  ONEMOREDAY.FINAL COVER.jpg

The plot revolves around young Ben (2 years old) who goes missing from his car when his mother turns her back for just a brief moment to pay the parking meter. Sounds innocuous enough, right? But then we start getting glimpses that this mother just isn’t right, that there’s something ‘off.’ It was her flawed character (in fact, the *entire* book is brimming with flawed characters, from her mother, husband, friends, and more), and that’s very intriguing to me. Two-year old Ben is missing and no one knows where he is, and there weren’t very many witnesses.

Plus, the mother’s alibi doesn’t exactly jive. It’s nearly a year later and it appears Ben isn’t coming back. Until he does. For just one day. He hasn’t changed. And then–poof–he’s gone again. As a reader, you start guessing what’s real and what’s not. Is his mother (Carrie) just nuts? Even the police aren’t sure what’s going on.

I will say that the “twist” wasn’t at all what I was expecting
. And that may be my initial reticence in those early pages. But, I kept with it, and so glad I did. ONE MORE DAY is eloquently told, details of parenthood, grief, and more dazzle, along with family secrets and dysfunctional relationships. Truly an amazing study in spirituality meets psychology, meets supernatural.

Join me as I welcome author Kelly Simmons to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: So, I read ONE MORE DAY in lightening speed, probably because I found the prose to compelling, and that I so, so wanted to know just what the heck was going on. Was it that was for you, too? Did you have an inkling of the direction you wanted to take with this story? Did it grow organically?

Kelly Simmons: I knew the whole story, for the most part.  A few of the twists and turns changed along the way, and some of the characters grew far beyond my original vision.  But I don’t want to leave the impression that writing it was easy, haha! Because I sweat blood over this one, especially weaving in the roles of the detectives and the unfolding of the crime.  Since it’s not a traditional crime/thriller novel, it was tricky using those elements and achieving the right balance.

L.L.: I don’t want to spoil too much here, but ONE MORE DAY is a perfect October read mostly because there’s a little bit of a supernatural element brewing under the surface. In many regards, the characters are unsettling and then there’s the sheer horror of a kid going missing. The mood is dark and the whole thing becomes the stuff of nightmares. In fact, Publisher’s Weekly calls your work, “the perfect read for a stormy night.” Is there a ‘right’ season for a story like this and does that matter?

Kelly Simmons: Originally, the book was slated for October release, but for various marketing reasons, it was moved.  I love the idea of being a “stormy night writer.”  I relate to being a bit gray, volatile, unpredictable I guess! But there is such an appetite now for writing that is gripping and dark – GIRL ON A TRAIN and GONE GIRL have really changed the landscape for that type of story, so more and more, we see gripping books launched in every season – even summer, with Liane Moriarty’s new release.

L.L.: Carrie, the mother of the child who goes missing is quite religious. She volunteers at a church, prays regularly, and generally calls upon religious teaching from time to time. But ONE MORE DAY creates a bit of a chasm between belief and religion and intuitive inklings. Can you speak to that, please?

Kelly Simmons: It’s just something I’ve noticed over the years, that quite a few religious people people seem skeptical of the intuitive realm.  I was fascinated by the idea that you could believe in heaven and yet not believe in ghosts or psychic energy.  And honestly, as I get older, and go to more and more funerals, I hear more stories of people speaking to their dead parents and grandparents; of “seeing” them through symbols and signs.  It’s interesting to me, and I feel left out, as if I’m missing my sixth sense.

“Twisty, psychologically deft and wildly original. It’ll have you guessing to the very end.” — Megan Abbott, Edgar Award Winning Author

L.L.: I was skeptical of almost all characters of Ben’s disappearance. Every character seemed to have a little bit of a motive, however sick and wrong that may be. Was that your intention all along, to have readers question the sanity of every character? And how might a writer make good use of ‘red herrings?’

Kelly Simmons: Yes, I wanted to scatter small seeds of doubt.  But the term “red herrings” actually is troublesome to me, as a writer.  Yes, triangles create tension, and red herrings can manufacture that kind of tension.  But–real life is filled with doubt, with symbols, with possibilities.  Suspicion should be everywhere!

L.L.: I’m going through a phase where structure is a hot issue to me. Maybe it’s because it’s something I tend to struggle with in my own writing. ONE MORE DAY is structured in such that we hear from various characters on different days of the week, yet there’s a good deal of backstory in those sections. How did you devise this framework?

Kelly Simmons: I like having a structure in place before I write; it’s like having a notebook for all your subjects in school!  And while there is a lot of forward momentum in a story in which you know something is happening every day – to me, fiction is all backstory.  It’s all why, not what. images (1)

L.L.: What’s inspiring you lately? What’s got your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Kelly Simmons: When I’m deep in writing mode as I have been all summer,  I don’t read as much as I do when I’m revising. But I’ve been devouring  the TV series Animal Kingdom, with Ellen Barkin and Scott Speedman. I have a little thing for him, not gonna lie.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Kelly Simmons: My next novel is about family secrets and prejudice, set on Nantucket.

L.L.: Is there something I should have asked, but forgot?

Kelly Simmons: I’m just so relieved you didn’t ask me how much I weigh. Because when I write, there are M&Ms involved.

L.L.: Kelly, it was a pleasure to read ONE MORE DAY and chat with you. Thanks for coming by!

Kelly Simmons: My pleasure.

For more information, or to connect with Kelly on social media, please see:

KSimmons.PhotoAbout the Author: Kelly Simmons is the author of the critically acclaimed novels STANDING STILL, THE BIRD HOUSE, and ONE MORE DAY. She’s a member of WFWA, Tall Poppy Writers and The Liars Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping fledgling novelists.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay through these various social medial channels.

[Cover, author image, and book trailer courtesy of K. Simmons and used with permission. Notebook image retrieved from on 8.26.19]

Writers on Wednesday: Gilly Macmillan on the challenges of a sophomore novelist, finding inspiration from real-life, getting to the truth in fiction, never tiring of new ideas, and more in her domestic thriller THE PERFECT GIRL

By Leslie Lindsay 

Last year, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gilly Macmillan burst onto the scene with her critically acclaimed and Edgar-nominated debut, WHAT SHE KNEW.  She returns this fall (William Morrow, September 6 2016), with THE PERFECT GIRL, her second hypnotic literary domestic psych thriller. Perfect Girl
Set in Bristol, in the southwest corner of England, a beautiful young piano prodigy (Zoe) is living a privileged Second Chance Life with her blended family, consisting of her mother, step-father, step-brother (also a pianist) and new baby (half) sister, Grace. Lurking under the surface, however are some dark secrets Zoe Maisey and her mother are harboring. Though she has a genius IQ and can play the piano darn well, moments from the past continue to haunt both she and her mother, events so tragic the mother hasn’t even told her new husband–demanding Zoe to do the same. But the cat is out of the bag fairly early in the book when someone from Zoe’s past shows up at performance at a local church.Twenty-four hours later, her mother is dead. Macmillan’s writing is razor-sharp, blending suspense and a compelling plot, told by various POVs as the aftermath of Zoe’s mother’s death unfold. I flipped the pages at a frantic pace as I wanted—demanded—to know what really happened. Macmillan does a fine job of breathing breath into different characters and highlighting blended families, domestic violence, infidelity, substance abuse, moving forward with one’s life, and the extent to which we go to maintain our secrets, and perhaps, even our innocence.

So, join me as I sit down with Gilly and chat all things writing and THE PERFECT GIRL.

Leslie Lindsay: Gilly, thrilled to have you back to discuss your second book. Thank you for taking the time to pop by. I had a tough time putting this one down. I was reading with a frantic clip and I’m curious, was it that way for you too, as you were writing? What ultimately inspired this story?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you so much for having me!  I’m thrilled to be back and delighted to hear that you enjoyed THE PERFECT GIRL.  You’re right, I did write it at a bit of a frantic clip.  I think it was partly because it’s such a claustrophobic set-up in the book, and set over such a short time-frame, that it rewarded that kind of immersive approach to the writing.

The inspiration behind the story was a real-life case that I heard about a few years ago.  It concerned a teenage girl who was sent to jail after being convicted of causing the death of some friends in a car crash, just like Zoe in the book.  This girl served her time, but never got back on track after that, in spite of having a loving and supportive family.  I was so saddened by the story, and by the idea that a foolish teenage mistake could result in such a devastating life-altering outcome.  The idea for the book took off when I began to wonder what might happen if you tried to move on after that: who would you become, and how would you make a future?

L.L.: I’ve heard some second-and –third-time authors lament about how challenging subsequent books can be to write. WHAT SHE KNEW thundered out of the gates and seemed to become an over-night success. Can you give a little glimpse into the world of a sophomore novelist? The challenges and also the benefits?

Gilly Macmillan: The world of a sophomore novelist is a strange place.  Sometimes thrilling, but often terrifying!  The learning curve is steep when your first book goes out into the world.  I was advised to write my second novel before the first was published and I was very glad I did because the promotion work and all of the other things that happen around publication can be very distracting and time-consuming. 

The challenges of writing my second book included writing to a deadline and for an audience that was wider than just myself and my regular readers (who were my husband and my writing partner) for the first time.  I felt under a spotlight in a way that was new WHAT SHE KNEWand threatened to feel uncomfortable at first.  My solution was to tell myself to hold my nerve (this is my mantra!  Sometimes hourly!) and write a book that I would like to read myself.  That’s how I got through WHAT SHE KNEW, and it was the key to writing THE PERFECT GIRL as well.

The advantages were many.  I had had no instruction on how to write when I started WHAT SHE KNEW so I made a ton of mistakes during the writing process that took a lot of time and patience to correct during edits.  However, that rather painful experience meant that I had a much better understanding of structure and pacing and the whole craft of writing a novel right as I worked on THE PERFECT GIRL.  It was good to feel that I’d learned a lot and meant that the editing process was much smoother.

“With tightly drawn characters, a fascinating storyline and absolutely exquisite narration, THE PERFECT GIRL is sure to keep readers up at night. Gilly Macmillan proves once again to be a master of the written word and is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Literary suspense at its finest.”

—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Baby

L.L.: I have to applaud your attention and sensitivity to emotionally shaken adolescents in THE PERFECT GIRL. In my former life, I was a psych R.N. working in a place quite similar to what you refer to as ‘The Unit.’ Can you talk about how you developed this piece of the narrative and what did your research consist of?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you.  It’s very important to me to try to remain as sensitive as possible to my characters and the situations they find themselves in, so it means a lot to hear that.  In terms of research, for starters I read everything I could find about teenage incarceration.  The material I found included first-hand accounts of the experience of being incarcerated written by teenagers, interviews with people who had worked with young people in detention units, and government inspection reports of juvenile detention centers.  I wanted to try to understand the system from every angle I could so I also did face-to-face research.  I interviewed a solicitor friend about how the law might treat teenagers in Zoe’s situation and also spoke to two retired detectives.  Additionally, I visited a police custody suite, spent a morning in court, sat in on a police interview with an adult who was under arrest, and visited an adult prison.  It was only after I’d done all of that that I felt able to try to imagine what Zoe’s experience might have been like and put it into her words.  What I learned during this process made fascinating but also very difficult material and certainly made me feel somewhat desperate about how we treat some of our teenagers and young people who are in detention.

L.L.: In fact, there’s a lot of issues that pop up in THE PERFECT GIRL: divorce/re-marriage, blended families, infidelity, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and secret-keeping. In fact, I think there’s a line in the book that goes something like, ‘A good lie is one that is very close to the truth.’ When we write about all of the things that make up the world we live in—even these not-so-pretty-things, I think there’s that much truth in our fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Gilly Macmillan: Truth in fiction is something that I think about a lot, and something that I’m always striving for.  It’s one of the reasons I love to write in first person and it’s why I take my research very seriously.  I think the best fiction in any genre can tell us something about ourselves and our world, however uncomfortable, and the act of reading gives us time to reflect on those things. images

I try very hard to write characters whose predicaments grip us emotionally because there’s something recognizable and true in them.  I think there’s room for that in crime and thriller writing, alongside intricate plotting and all of the other devices we can use to pull a story along.  If the story isn’t tugging at the reader’s feelings in some way, I don’t think I’ve done my job.

L..L.: In what ways were you influenced by some of the teen culture mentioned in THE PERFECT GIRL?

Gilly Macmillan:  My children are teenagers (well, almost, in the case of the youngest) so I’m surrounded by teen culture at home and I’m always surprised at how much of it is based around what’s online.  I love it and I loathe it!  I think it can be wonderful when they make connections with new people and share recommendations and ideas online.  It’s a completely new way of creating and maintaining friendships and experiencing popular culture, and so different from my generation’s experience of being a teenager.  Having said that, I’m also afraid of its darker side, as many parents are.  I researched some nasty message sites as I was writing THE PERFECT GIRL and was shocked by the severity of some of the bullying that can go on.

Online teen culture felt like a really important part of Zoe’s story, especially as she’s rather shielded from it by her family and perhaps, as a result, a bit more naïve when she encounters it.  I think there’s some safety to be found in education around online culture, though it’s probably impossible to protect our teenagers from all of the pitfalls.  It’s certainly a rich source of material for psych thriller writers as a result.

L.L.: And since I’ve typed the title a handful of times, I have to ask, what are your thoughts on all of these books coming out in the last four years or so with ‘girl’ in the title? Because at one time, this book was originally called BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK.

Gilly Macmillan: ‘Girl’ titles are definitely a ‘thing’ right now, aren’t they?  The book was originally going to come out in the UK under the title BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK cover_bitdbut it was decided, rightly, that having different titles here and in the US can be confusing.  When THE PERFECT GIRL was first suggested I was pleased because I think it’s a great fit for the book, and for Zoe’s character, regardless of the trend for ‘girl’ titles.  I would like to think that ‘girl’ titles have become popular because we’re living in a time when we’re developing (finally!) more positive associations with the word.  ‘Girl’ nowadays can mean somebody feisty and brave and smart and engaging, and I think that qualifies it immediately as a potentially interesting title for a book. 

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Gilly Macmillan:  I’m working on a sequel to WHAT SHE KNEW which sees the return of Detective Inspector Jim Clemo.  He has a new case to work on, which involves two teenage boys who are involved in an incident that leaves one dangerously ill after almost drowning and the other so shocked that he’s unable to speak about what happened.  It’s been great to return to a character I know so well and am very fond of and it’s an exciting challenge to write a follow on for him.

L.L.: What’s keeping you awake these days? What’s inspiring you? It doesn’t have to be literary, but if it is, then by all means…

Gilly Macmillan: That’s a tough question!  I sometimes feel as if my mind will never rest, there’s so much to think about and so much going on the world at the moment.  In terms of writing, I was inspired a great deal by a book I read last year called ALL INVOLVED by Ryan Gattis It’s a brilliant, heart-breaking, raw story of what happens during the LA riots while the police are occupied and some of the gang neighborhoods are left essentially lawless.  My third book is the thing that’s keeping me up at night at the moment.  I can spend hours fretting over characters or plot points, and even in the small hours I feel compelled to write down any ideas I have right then and there because if I don’t they’re gone by the morning!

L.L.: What question have you been asked a lot lately?

Gilly Macmillan: I’m often asked if I think I’ll be able to keep having ideas for new books.  The answer is ‘yes’!  I find life, and people, so endlessly fascinating that I’m sure that, all being well, I’ll be finding stories that I’d like to tell and characters that I’d love to explore for a very long time.

L.L.: Gilly, just a pleasure as always! Thank you!

Gilly Macmillan: You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure.  Thank you so much for having me!

For more information, or to connect with Gilly on social media, please see: 

Website

Twitter: @GillyMacmillan

Facebook 

“Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.”

—Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty One, on What She Knew

Gilly Macmillan -¬Gilly Macmillan.JPGAuthor Bio: Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew. She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecturer in photography, and now writes full time. She resides in Bristol, England.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay through these various social media channels:

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to L. Truskowski. Cover(s) and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Truth and fiction quote by Stephen King image retrieved from on 8.24.16]

Writers on Wednesday: Shari Lapena on ‘grip lit,’ letting characters tell the story…and being surprised, what’s on her nightstand, and the runaway success of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR

By Leslie Lindsay

Wow. I just closed the cover of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (August 23, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) last night in one breathless sitting. This is the book to pull you through the late-summer doldrums or indulge in a little ‘me’ time as the frantic pace of fall is upon us. Because this book, like others in the ‘grip lit’ category will not let you go. The pacing is brilliant and relentless, a chilling psychological thriller of astounding shock and amazement. Cover.Couple Next Door.Final

And it’s a debut.

I don’t want to give away too much—but here’s what you need to know:

  • Anne and Marcos Conti have a new baby, a beautiful townhouse, and a growing software company with the right investors.
  • One night, when the sitter cancels, instead of skipping the dinner party they’ve committed to—just next door—they decide to check on the sleeping baby every 30 minutes and bring the baby monitor.
  • In the short time between their checks, Baby Cora is snatched. Taken. Without a trace.
  • There’s a host of unreliable narrators. They all have motive.

Join me as I chat with Shari Lapena about her explosive debut, inspiring enthusiastic praise from #1 New York Times Bestselling authors like Sue Grafton, Harlon Coben, and Lee Child—almost from the moment the manuscript sold.

Leslie Lindsay: Shari, I am so thrilled to have you stop by. I just devoured THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. I mean, if I could have had it for dinner, I would have.  Did the story consume you in the same way? And why this story now?

Shari Lapena: Yes, it was a fast book to write. Right from the beginning I got caught up in the premise and I couldn’t let it go. I came up with the idea of a couple that gets left in the lurch by their babysitter, and their solution—to leave the baby at home and take the baby monitor next door with them and rely on half-hourly checks on the baby—leads to every horrible thing that follows.

L.L.: So, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR…Oh, I just can’t stop thinking about it. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? The pacing is just relentless. Was it that way for you as a writer? What was the time frame for draft one, for example? 

Shari Lapena: First I come up with a premise, or a jumping-off point, and then go from there. It has to be something that sparks a lot for me, as this was.  I don’t plan out the entire novel first—I follow where it takes me.  So here, I had a couple stood up by their babysitter, and the baby was clearly not welcome at the dinner party next door.  What do they do? The husband convinces the wife, against her best judgment, to leave the baby at home. That was enough to get me started. I knew the baby was going to disappear, of course—but I didn’t know the who, how, or why of it. But right away I had a setup, a conflict between husband and wife, and enough to propel me forward.

I deliberately set out to create a page turner. I wanted the pacing to be fast, and it felt like that for me when I was writing it. I wrote the first draft in about six months.

SS-RABB-4400-Ballerina_273x0L.L.: There are so many twists and turns and so many little pieces that just sort of ‘fell’ out into the open. Things like duplicity and deception and postpartum depression. Were these pieces carefully plotted, or did they come more organically as you wrote?

Shari Lapena: Some of it I had as ideas in the back of my head, but not carefully plotted out. For instance, I knew that I wanted Anne to have post-partum depression because I knew that would make her a more complex, interesting and unpredictable character. And I knew it would make people suspicious of her, rightly or wrongly. I don’t want to give too much away, but for example, when the onesie arrived in the mail—that surprised me. I didn’t plan for that to happen right from the beginning.

L.L.: There’s a tremendous piece by Terrence Rafferty in The Atlantic that talks of a new generation of women writers tapping into the zeitgeist, taking crime writing to new places and connecting to a huge readership. He writes that woman writers have sort of given up belief in the hero-and-villain model of storytelling, and instead, rely on unreliable narrators to provide a chilling tale. I get that. I love that. What is your general take on the ‘girl grip lit?’

Shari Lapena: That is such a hot topic these days. On the one hand, gripping psychological thrillers written largely by women are not new. Years ago we had Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. But the focus right now on “griplit” seems to be about books that are psychological thrillers written largely by women, that have a darkness to them and that explore the tensions and the potential for psychological suspense in our most intimate relationships—in our marriages, our families—and in our homes.  That seems to be hitting a nerve with readers.

“Doomy domestic thrillers are what readers want now.”

~From Terrance Rafferty in The Atlantic

June/July 2016 issue

L.L.: I understand THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is your suspense debut, but that you have other novels as well, so it’s not exactly a debut in that sense, but perhaps a ‘genre debut’ for you.  Can you tell us a bit about THING GO FLYING (2008) and HAPPINESS ECONOMICS (2011)?

Shari Lapena: My first novel, THINGS GO FLYING, is about a man named Harold who is depressed, and afraid that life goes on forever. You see, his mother was a medium and he had 51rhSiC+IkL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ghosts in the house all the time growing up, throwing the dishes, so he knows life isn’t really over when it’s over, and he just can’t face it. His wife, Audrey, is a control freak with an explosive secret. They have two teenaged sons. Then Harold’s mother comes back from the dead to haunt them and Harold finds he has his mother’s gift for talking to the dead, and if there was ever a gift he wanted to return, it’s this one. Audrey is also terrified—how is she to safeguard her secret now? If she can’t control this world, how is she to control the next one? And how will she protect her good china? Harold must figure out how to find meaning in his life, and how to come to grips with the mostly terrifying idea that life might go on forever. Ultimately he is helped by being counselled by a philosopher, rather than a psychologist, under his Employee Assistance Program.  I like to think of it as a lighthearted book about death.

My second novel, HAPPINESS ECONOMICS, is about a blocked poet, Will Thorne. He is married to Judy, a wildly successful celebrity economist. Pressured by a starving fellow poet, Will establishes The Poets’ Preservation Society, a genteel organization to help poets 4197Co1aFuL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_in need. But when Will meets his muse, the enigmatic and athletic Lily White, he becomes inspired not only to write poetry, but to take guerrilla action in support of poets everywhere, which his wife finds absolutely mortifying. Will ends up doing parkour and splattering graffiti poetry all over the bank buildings in the downtown core. It’s really a book about a clash of values—art versus commerce.

L.L.: Both sound very interesting! And before, you worked as a lawyer and English teacher. How have your previous professional experiences shaped you as a writer? And what advice might you give to those wanting to break in?

Shari Lapena: I would say that my law background hasn’t contributed to my writing particularly—I wasn’t a criminal lawyer who tapped into that to write legal thrillers. I don’t think teaching English makes a novelist either. I think it’s the desire and the disciplined effort that makes you a writer. You have to put the work in. For those wanting to break in—it’s harder than ever, but it’s not impossible. My best advice would be to write a really good story. People want a story. Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it, and find your own unique voice. Then listen to your editor.

L.L.What are you working on next? Cause I’m dying to read it!

Shari Lapena: Not surprisingly, I’m writing another thriller. I don’t want to say much about it at this point, except that it’s a page turner!

L.L.: What’s keeping you up? What’s captured your attention lately?

Shari Lapena: I’ve just started I LET YOU GO, by Clare Mackintosh. I think it’s going to live up to all the wonderful press it’s received. Before that I read and loved Daisy in Chains, by Sharon Bolton. And on my bedside table to read soon: What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan; In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware; and The Secret Place, by Tana French. And I’m lucky, I get ARCs—I have The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe and It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell. And I’m looking forward to Linwood Barclay’s The Twenty-Three when it’s out in November.

L.L: What question might I have forgotten to ask? 

Shari Lapena: I can’t think of anything.

L.L.: Shari, it was such a pleasure to connect. Just love, love, loved THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR and wish you much joy and success with the launch!

Shari Lapena: Thank you so much! It’s been a bit of a shock, how well the book has been received. It’s been a bit overwhelming, to say the least!Shari Lapena.credit Joy von Tiedemann

For more information, or to follow Shari on social media, please see: 

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @ShariLapena


About the Author:
 Shari Lapena was a lawyer and an English teacher before turning to writing fiction. She has written two previous novels: Things Go Flying, shortlisted for the 2009 Sunburst Award, and Happiness Economics, a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. She lives in Toronto. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is her suspense debut, and has sold in more than twenty-two markets.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via various social media channels, including:

GoodReads books 002.JPG

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to M. Burkes and T. Gaffney. Cover image and author image courtesy of Penguin/RandomHouse. Author image credit: Joy von Tiedmann]. 

Write On, Wednesday: Carla Buckley talks about her forthcoming title, THE GOOD GOODBYE, juggling dinner plates, domestic fiction, and the search for the perfect bath towel

By Leslie Lindsay 

“The first thing you should know is everyone lies. The second thing is that it matters.” good-goodbye-225

I love this line and it adequately summarizes the fourth novel from Carla Buckley, a spellbinding domestic thriller about an entwined family forced together in the eaves of an ICU in which both of their daughters, cousins-close-as-sisters lie in precarious prognoses.

Today I am honored to have Ms. Buckley with us as we learn more about the dark secrets we all have buried within.

Leslie Lindsay: Carla, I am so honored to have you join us today. I’m always interested in what ‘flipped the switch’ for you when you set out to write THE GOOD GOODBYE. What was your ‘ah-ha’ moment?

Carla Buckley: Hi, Leslie. Thank you so much for having me; I’m delighted to be here today! My “ah-ha” moment for THE GOOD GOODBYE actually occurred several years ago, when I learned about a true event in two college girls’ lives. It made the national news at the time and the two families involved ended up writing a memoir about what had happened to them. Their horrifying experience raised haunting questions in my mind, and I tucked it away for a time when I might be able to explore what it might be like to walk in their shoes.

L.L.: I am in awe with the way you depict the emotional complexity of family life. It’s authentic, it’s engaging, and overall very well balanced. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?

Carla Buckley: You’re so kind—thank you. It means a lot to me, actually, to hear you say this. I never imagined, when I was growing up and dreaming of one day being published that I would end up writing about family life in the suburbs. Oh, no. I planned to talk about grander topics on a bigger stage, and I wrote eight novels along these lines. Every single one of them was rejected. It wasn’t until I turned to my own life to talk about the things that truly mattered the most to me—discovering who you are and what you’re made of when you’re driven to your knees by circumstances outside your control—that I finally broke through. My hope is that my readers see themselves in my stories and ask themselves, what would I do if something like that happened to me?

L.L.: THE GOOD GOODBYE alternates narratives of the two college-aged girls/cousins (Rory and Arden) and Arden’s mother, Natalie. The story crackles with family drama, rift with secrets, and the horrifically mysterious accident that leaves both girls burned and in the ICU, and one friend dead (this is not a spoiler, it happens right away). Was this your intention all along, or did the story take on a life of its own as they so often do?

Carla Buckley: Before I began writing, I knew a few things: my opening scenes, the big central revelation, and my ending line (and who would speak it.) I also knew that I wanted Natalie to be a professional chef because I thought it would be fun to talk about that world (and research it), but most of all I wanted the fire in the girls’ dorm room to feel inevitable, as if nothing else could have happened that terrible night. When I started writing the book, I thought I knew who had set the fire, and why. But as my characters slowly revealed themselves to me, their story took off in an unexpected direction, and my initial assumptions about what had caused the fire proved to be wrong. That was the biggest surprise to me, and the most satisfying.

L.L.: Rory and Arden’s POVs are backtracked in time to when they were healthy college freshman, yet are “told” from their unconscious state. This is a unique structure, and one I would find a challenge to write. Can you speak to that, please?

Carla Buckley: The idea came to me one day when I was thinking about how all things being equal, it’s the structure of a novel that sets it apart and makes it something new. So I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to pick a pivotal event in a woman’s life and have one character tell her story entirely in flashback leading up to the event, while another character told her story from the event onward? I’d never approached writing a novel this way and the biggest challenge for me was balancing revelations in the past and in the present, while keeping both storylines moving forward as one. My editor described it as having to juggle dinner plates without dropping any of them. It turned out to be enormous fun. I really loved writing this story, and only wish I could write another novel using this approach.

L.L.: Reading as a mother, this story really pulled at my heartstrings. It made me want to reach out and hug my girls and keep them close. (Sorry girls, you’re not going to college after all)! You’re a mother as well. Did writing THE GOOD GOODBYE open your eyes to some of the challenges and fears our own kids are facing these days?

Carla Buckley: I actually wrote part of THE GOOD GOODBYE while sitting in my son’s ICU room. I’d been on book tour when my husband called to tell me our son, away at college, had been in an accident. We dropped everything and rushed to be with him. As the surgeon explained when we arrived at the hospital, it was a fluke that had saved our son from being completely paralyzed. I’d already started writing THE GOOD GOODBYE and now I found myself living it. I sat in that dark hospital room and looked at my son. I felt numb. Here was everything I had feared. In the end, my son recovered completely and our lives went on. The entire ordeal reaffirmed my conviction that although parenthood makes us unbearably vulnerable, it also grants us exquisite joy. I hope I reflected that in THE GOOD GOODBYE.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?

Carla Buckley: So many things! The daring mama fox that’s taken up residence in my neighbor’s abandoned backyard, The Walking Dead, Gwen Stefani’s Used to Love You, Ted Koppel’s terrifying Lights Out about a cyber attack, the search for the perfect bath towel, rosemary and olive oil Triscuits, and the tantalizing beginning of an idea for a future book about trying to speak up but no one listening because of who you are…

L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse into your forthcoming title, THE RELUCTANT MOTHER*?

Carla Buckley: In the novel I’m currently working on, I explore a few questions that have always intrigued me. What makes a family? What holds a family together?  When a woman running away from her previous life finds herself living next door to a family in crisis, she’s forced to confront her own past and fears, only to realize that she’s the only person who can help. [*title is currently in flux]

L.L.: Thanks so much, Carla for joining us today. It was such a treat!

Carla Buckley: Thank you for having me, and asking terrific questions that really made me stop and think. It was a true joy!

carla-buckley-225Carla Buckley is the author of The Good Goodbye, The Deepest Secret, Invisible, and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a best first novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Wharton School of Business, and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She serves on the board of the International Thriller Writers as Vice President, Awards, and is currently at work on her next novel.

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For more information, please see: www.carlabuckley.com