Burying Secrets in my Novel

Sarah AndreExcept for making my Houston personal trainer the psycho in my first romantic suspense (hey, I could’ve cut him into pieces and stuffed him in garbage bags!) there was no ME in the story. I’m not an Olympic skier, (surprise!) nor a journalist, I’ve never been to Aspen…it all came straight from my imagination.

I can’t say the same for my new novel: Tall, Dark and Damaged, released last week. I set the story in Winnetka, IL, a sleepy suburban town north of Chicago. I took my 7-year-old-self’s memory of my grandparents’ sprawling  house on Sheridan Road, overlooking Lake Michigan, and evolved it into a billionaire’s lost-in-a-maze mansion. There’s some creepy Gothic-toned scenes of a tight, spiraling back staircase (like right out of a Hitchcock film,) and my grandparents’ house had that…dumped out into the kitchen. Even had a hidden door halfway down that housed a secret passageway to a set of bedrooms. (Also in the story.)

Guilded Age Mansion

Not the actual house. 🙂

Both feature a boathouse carved into a cliff-side that resembles a castle. The cliff was a shocking 30 foot drop from an expansive back lawn to the sand, which used to terrify me as a child. Even worse, the stone stairs to climb down to the beach were steep, narrow and weathered-smooth. I play the visceral fear up in the novel. 

My copy editor cautiously advised me to make up a soda name when I explain the hero’s family fortune came from his great-grandfather inventing Orange Crush. The thing is–my great-grandfather invented Orange Crush. 🙂 Clayton J. Howel. (Wikipedia it!) Unfortunately, he sold the patent immediately or I’d be writing this from a cabana in Monaco! 😉

The epic thunderstorms over Lake Michigan would slam the surf into the cliff, and the reverberation would shake that enormous house to it’s foundation. Naturally a scene had to occur during the savage weather!

Hawaiian coast

This is actually in HI, but you get what I mean.

Quite a few character names were borrowed from friends and family (ex., cousins I used to play with in that house. The nanny my parents hired when we lived in England.)

A significant subplot occurs surrounding an area called Rogers Park, which  is a real place, my uncle lived there many years, and he was a catalyst in correcting the story’s Chicago details. He and his sister, my Aunt Mary, read a full version in 2010, but sadly they’ve passed away now. I named them and my grandparents in the dedication.

I’m not sure this is very usual- taking a memory you had as a child and enriching details but burying many secrets and hidden meaning within the pages. However, it’s a story that touches my heart because it wasn’t just created out of my imagination. In many ways I lived it. Except, of course, for meeting a white-hot, emotionally damaged hero. 😉talldarkdamaged-andre-ebookweb version 2[2]

I hope you enjoy this romantic-mystery/suspense/thriller. Would love to hear what you think!

Amazon     B&N     iTunes 

Sarah’s website, Author FB Page and Twitter

Read an excerpt at the bottom of this page.


His Life Changed in a Heartbeat

Disinherited as a teen, Devon Ashby returns home twelve years later as a ruthless CEO, brilliant at negotiating deals, but emotionally stunted. In an instant all he’s struggled to build implodes. Amid the turmoil of saving his company from a hostile takeover, his engagement to a business partner’s high-society daughter hits the rocks. Compounding his troubles, he encounters his high school sweetheart, whose heart he smashed. The vulnerability she awakens leaves him at greater risk than all the crises he faces.

Her Dream Job May Get Her Killed

While restoring art in a billionaire’s private gallery, Hannah Moore is unwittingly drawn into the dysfunctional family’s confidences. When she discovers the rich developer behind her and her sick aunt’s eviction is the family’s black-sheep son—the lover she’s never gotten over—her desire turns to fury. Always one to avoid conflict, Hannah must stand up to Devon and the growing menace of someone who thinks she knows too much.

A Decades-Old Secret Turns Deadly

When a family member is murdered, Devon and Hannah become ensnared in sibling greed, festering jealousy, and a tragic secret that’s divided the family. Amid their reigniting passion they race to expose the killer before they become the next victims in this cat-and-mouse game of survival.

Tell us about a vivid childhood memory you have surrounding a house or location. One commenter wins a $25 Amazon gift card!

About Sarah Andre

Romantic Suspense That Keeps You Up All Night! I live in sunny FL, love daydreaming, reading and chocolate. I write in the wee hours of the morning before my helpless hubby and 2 male Pomeranian pups awaken with their demands. :) My debut LOCKED, LOADED and LYING is available now.

Posted on June 7, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. Congrats on your newest book release, Sarah! I’ve got my gorgeous print copy and will be treating myself with it after my next deadline. Looking forward to it (reading your book, not the deadline.)

  2. kim hunsberger

    I was about 8 yrs old. My Grandparents lived at the end of a really long gravel, fence lined lane. Family went visiting and I decided to walk the lane. It was getting towards dark and as I walked alone I kicked rocks, picked up sticks, you know, normal tomboy stuff. I remember looking up and seeing a HUGE snake twined around the fence. I whirled and ran crying all the way back to the house. Sure that giant monster was close just ready to swallow me whole. I burst into the house screaming about a monster chasing me.
    All the adults grabbed flashlights and my grandpa grabbed his gun.
    Alas there was only a really big stick weaved around the fence.
    But every time I put my foot down while flying as fast as my little feet would carry me, I left little divets.
    To this day my dad still laughs at me about the big snake. And now I’m in my forties. Sigh.

  3. I grew up a few blocks from Lake Michigan in the suburbs of Milwaukee. That steep climb down to the sand sounds very familiar, although not the big house. The new book is waiting on my Kindle, Sarah.

  4. I love how you’ve married memories to fiction. Can’t wait to read this one!!!

  5. I didn’t realize the house in the book came from a childhood memory! I can only imagine what a child would think and feel in such a house with those crazy storms blowing.
    I am so happy this book is out and I hope it finds huge success!

  6. Darnit, Grampa! What were you thinking selling that patent! I love that house, Sarah! The passageways, the cliff–what great fun you must’ve had as a child there! The book sounds terrific–can’t wait to read it!

    • Thanks, Erika. Yeah…Orange Crush.
      Have never drunk it (I don’t like soda.) All each family member has is a print of his friend- Norman Rockwell’s painting: “The ‘Orange Crush’.”

  7. I loved this book, Sarah! I am so happy to tell everyone how wonderful it is. Congratulations and lots and lots of luck!

    • You are truly so great or my ego, Diana! Guess I should get the definition of thriller, because I would not have gone near that description!

  8. You described well how we anchor a good deal of plot and character to what we know and go wild from there. Your book took a long and twisting road to get to publication. I intended to take a favorite story I put aside five years ago and polish it up…your journey encourages me to take on the task. Good luck with Damaged. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  9. Freaking Orange Crush?! I loved that stuff as a kid (along with grape Nehi..hmmm)

    That setting sounds so cool…and the fact you actually experienced it is even cooler.

    • Aw, thanks Laura! I figure if I ever have dementia and live in my childhood, I’ll be at that place all the time. Not such a bad thing. 😉

  10. Reblogged this on Book Smart TV and commented:

    Sarah Andre is talking about her latest, Golden Heart nominated novel today! Read on to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate and learn about the dark childhood secrets behind her fabulous novel Tall, Dark, and Damaged.

  11. Oh, and congratulations on being nominated for the Golden Quill! You rock, girl!

    • Thanks! What freaking surprise. I’d forgotten I entered, forgotten when they were announcing. And then the certificate came last night!

  12. Love the way you’ve threaded your real life memories into this story, Sarah! Can’t wait to read it and wishing you loads of good luck with it!!

  13. So fun to hear how this all started. Great book! Congrats!

  14. Congrats on the new release, Sarah. I bet hide and seek would have been fun in your grandparents house!

    • It would take all day. 🙂
      And my grandmother put a giant, open bag of M&Ms in the huge pantry, and anytime I went by I’d grab a handful…there was no air conditioning, so the chocolates were all melty. Still my fav way to eat M&Ms. Microwave them for 30 seconds to get ‘that’ way.

  15. What a fantastic story behind the story! I have great memories of my grandparent’s house too, though more the garden which was twice the size of the modest house. I had free run in the garden, to pick and eat whatever I wanted from berries and dill, to carrots, daisies, roses, and lilac. They just moved out of the house last year, but I’m glad my eldest daughter got to experience that garden for four years. 🙂

  16. Great post. Great blurb. Great cover! So excited for you, Sarah!

    I loved my grandmother’s house as well. What made the house cool was my grandmother though–not the actual house. My “granny” was way ahead of her time. She had a master’s degree from Columbia University when most women didn’t attend college. She was also the first female editor of an Associated Press Newspaper. Anyway, she had this office at the end of the hall in her house. It was filled with dark wood and green-shaded brass lamps and… a TYPEWRITER. I would sit at that typewriter and pretend to be a writer. I can transport myself there in an instant when I close my eyes. ❤

  17. Sarah, I loved learning all these details. It makes me even more excited to dive into TDD! My grandparent’s house had a back stair case from the second floor to the kitchen that totally fascinated me as a kid–although it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the one you described. Plus their house was in a suburb in New Jersey and not on top of a cool cliff overlooking Lake Michigan. Congrats on the new book ❤

  18. Sarah, the fact that some much of this book’s foundation comes from your family’s history adds some much! Can’t wait to read it.
    My aunt and uncle had a Christmas tree farm. I loved sliding through the tree bundler. As a writer, I can’t help but think how that could be used to prepare a body for disposal. 😉

    • Wow, that last sentence took an unexpected turn! 🙂
      Thanks so much for your support, Lynn, it means so much.

  19. Invented orange crush???!!! That is a way cool piece of family history. Love the cover. *smwack*

    • Right back at you. Yep. On my maternal side: my grandmother’s family invented the drink and my grandfather’s side came over on the Mayflower. And then there’s me- a romance writer. 😉

  20. Sarah, you are always surprising me. What a great post with awesome tidbits about you.

    I grew up with a creek bordering the back of our property. I remember exploring the creek once when I was around 12. As I was walking along the edge not far from my parents’ property, I came across a path that meandered deep into the woods. Naturally, I followed it. As I turned a bend, I came face-to-face with a looming, black, dilapidated, abandoned two-story house, completed with creeping vegetation and half-broken windows. The kind you see in horror movies. I about dropped my…well, I was startled and terrified! I remember that irrational fear well, however fleeting, and recall it when I need to write that emotion.

    I have my copy of TDD and can’t wait to read it! Congrats on its release!


    • Aw, thanks so much, Jenn. Can’t imagine Fearless You being afraid of anything.
      We should have taken that place together! By storm! 😉

  21. Krissy Walker

    When I was about 7, my brother and 2 cousins wouldn’t let me play with them unless I walked around the graveyard that was behind my grandparents house, BY MYSELF. Well being the total “badass” 7 year old girl I was, I agreed. So here I go, no problem. It’s only when I get halfway around that I started hearing footsteps behind me. I step, they step. I’m thinking that it’s one of them messing with me. So I stop, turn around….Nothing. Nobody. I look toward where they were standing and sure enough, they are still there. I’m thinking OK it’s just my imagination. So I start walking again. That’s when the steps start behind me again. I step, they step. The little hairs on the back of my neck stand up and someone touches my shoulder. That’s it. I’m done. I take off at a full run, as fast as my short legs would go. I ran right past them and straight to the house. I didn’t go back into that graveyard until about 20 years later. Which leads to an even freakier story involving my husband and a ghost? named Franklin Marsh….but we will save that one for another time.

  22. I love that you’re using your memories – and enhancing them! This is on the TBR pile!!

    • Thanks Nan! Initially it didn’t work because the descriptions of everything slowed the pace to a crawl. I think this is the perfect mix.

  23. Melissa Keir

    I love to include real pieces of life into my books. It makes them all so much more meaningful to me!

    • I agree. This story is poignant for me, and all the family who’ve read it. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa!

  24. Interesting stuff Sarah! I definitely use (and morph) places from my past in my writing. Having those little details in mind really helps. I love the way your book’s location sounds. Can’t wait to read this one– I’m halfway through Lock, Loaded, and Lying and loving it!

  25. When I was nine my family moved into a house that was built in the early 1800’s that have a huge brick-walled basement with a bunch of rooms. From the first time I went down there, it gave me the creeps. It was warm from the excellent oil heater but I got chills being there and I always felt like something was watching me. Then went I was 13, weird things started to happen. A vase would tip over when I walked through the dining room, chairs moved, doors opened and closed on their own, a weird light danced around my bedroom although there was no way car lights could shine into my window. My parents thought I was playing pranks and would punish me for “telling stories.” By the time I was sixteen, the phenomenon ceased and never came back that I know of. I really hated that house and was glad when they sold it!

  26. What a cool story. Congrats on the release!

  27. Love your memories and how you used them in the story. Can’t wait to read it!

  28. aprilkirkland

    I loved reading about some of your memories. One of my favorite memories from childhood is when we lived on this old dirt-road right around the curve from the rodeo. I would sit in the corner of my yard and watch the horses.

  29. Hi, Sarah! Congratulations on your release! I love the way you’ve weaved those real-life threads into your book. Hmm, I’ve always wanted a house with hidden passageways! We once found a door hidden behind a wall in an old house we renovated. Didn’t lead anywhere terribly interesting, though. TALL, DARK & DAMAGED, however, sounds extremely interesting! Can’t wait to get stuck into my copy.

  30. CONGRATULATIONS TO JENN BRAY WEBER, winner of a $25 Amazon gift card.
    I know where to find you. 😉

  31. I live in Evanston and my hubby and I love to drive down Sheridan and gawk at the big mansions, so I can absolutely picture what it must look like. I’m really looking forward to reading the book! 🙂

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