Posted by Krista Hall
Another sleepless night…NYT bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub‘s newest psychological thriller will not only keep you up at night, but also keep you guessing till the end as she takes you on a dark, twisty journey on the flipside of normal. Wendy joins us to talk about NIGHTWATCHER, the first book in her New York trilogy (Harper, August 28, 2012).
“In memory of the thousands of innocent souls lost on September 11, 2001, and in honor of my beloved New York, the greatest city in the world.” NIGHTWATCHER Dedication
Wendy: The initial premise came to me within a day or two of the attacks, when I heard on the local NYC news that crime was drastically down all over the city—robberies, assaults, murders, etc., were all but nonexistent as people came together in an unprecedented way. But there was absolutely no way I was going to write about it when it was all so raw. I promised myself that I would wait at least a decade to revisit the plot, and that is exactly what I did.
Krista: “Anything is possible” is the optimistic philosophy of NIGHTWATCHER’s 24-year-old protagonist Allison Taylor, a Midwestern transplant working as a style editor for a NYC fashion magazine. After the attacks on the Twin Towers, these words take on a more ominous tone as her world view shifts. How did 9/11 change your view of the world?
Wendy: New York is my world—I fell in love with this city on my first visit with a school group at thirteen, moved here out of college, and have lived here (now in the suburbs) for over twenty-five years. In fact, I once worked in one of the twin towers. So in a way, I’ve found myself thinking, “there but for the grace of God…” On that particular morning, my husband was headed for a meeting in a building adjacent to the WTC, and I was on my way to meet my editor, who worked in the Woolworth building a few blocks north. The planes struck before I left home, and before my husband left his midtown office, so we were safe. But on that ordinary morning, thousands just like us, people who were going about their daily business, people who never dreamed that they were in the path of a deadly terror attack, lost their lives. For me, the random luck people experienced on that day—good and bad—drove home the cliché about living every moment to the fullest because you just never know.
But one of my favorite things about New York—and New Yorkers, and Americans, really—is a resilient, gutsy spirit. After the initial period of jitters and fear, I was, like most New Yorkers, determined to proceed with life as I knew it. If the first responders and the people who escaped those burning towers and the people who lost loved ones could get up in the morning and start a new day, the rest of us had no choice, did we? Of course we don’t—we can’t—ever forget, but we can—and must—go on with business as usual, living wholeheartedly and taking elevators to high floors and boarding planes without hesitation.
Krista: The serial killer in this book is called the Nightwatcher which sounds scary and threatening in the context of the novel, but I remember another nightwatcher in those months after 9/11: the US Military. The constant drone of fighter jets circling Washington, especially at night, brought me a sense of safety. Did you think about the duality inherent in the term Nightwatcher when you chose it for the first story of your new trilogy?
Wendy: I’d love to be able to say yes, of course, that’s absolutely it. But to be honest, I had originally entitled the book NIGHTCRAWLER. The sales team vetoed it at the eleventh hour and I needed a new title, pronto. I was brainstorming with my husband as we were driving somewhere that day, and our then-thirteen-year-old piped up from the back seat, “How about NIGHTWATCHER?” It was perfect. It was also too late to give him official credit in the book, so I’m proudly doing so here. And of course, it works well on so many levels, particularly the one you cite.
Krista: In your thrillers, you peel back the public façade of families to examine the ugly underbelly of private dysfunction and illness. What is it about families that interests you as a writer?
Wendy: Most of us have a family of some sort; most of us have someone who means the world to us, someone we would stop at nothing to protect. Nearly all parents, for example, have a powerful primal instinct to keep their children safe from harm. And nearly all of us feel safest when we are at home. That theme works its way into all my thrillers—danger crossing that sacred threshold, violating the safe haven, threatening all that my characters hold dear. Thus, the walls come down: my readers find it possible to step into my characters’ shoes, and to think “this could happen to me.”
Krista: NYT bestselling author Lisa Jackson wrote, “If you like Mary Higgins Clark, you’ll love Wendy Corsi Staub!” I read recently that MHC has her own profit line on Simon & Schuster’s operating budget. How does it feel to be compared to the grande dame of the psychological thriller?
Wendy: That was a pinch-me moment, to be sure—Mary Higgins Clark wrote the first two thrillers I ever read, in sixth grade: WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN and A STRANGER IS WATCHING. I already knew I wanted to become an author at that point, but had never read a suspense novel. Thanks to her, I was instantly hooked on the genre, and went on to devour every book she wrote. Flash forward a couple of decades, when, as a New York Times bestselling author myself, I was a finalist at last year’s MWA Edgars for the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark award. I had met Mary a few times at that point, always briefly at industry events, and had found her to be a gracious class act. But on awards night, we really got a chance to talk.
I got to tell her what an inspiration she had been since my childhood, and she told me that she had read LIVE TO TELL and found it “absolutely terrific.” THAT was probably the biggest pinch-me moment of my life—and there’s photo evidence!
Krista: I read on wendycorsistaubcommunity.com that you hate—I mean strongly dislike—chocolate. For real? So what is your guilty pleasure?
Wendy: Believe me, I have too many to count. A sweet tooth just doesn’t happen to be one of them, and chocolate, in particular, gives me a headache and makes me nauseous. Ugh. Other than that, name your poison: Wine? Coffee? Salty-crunchy anything? Rare red meat? Sushi, Chinese food, Italian…Bring it on!
Krista: Tell us a bit about the next two novels of the NIGHTWATCHER trilogy: SLEEPWALKER and SHADOWKILLER. When they will be published?
Wendy: The very last scene of NIGHTWATCHER is a twist that opens the door to SLEEPWALKER’s plot, and the same is true of the final twist in SLEEPWALKER, which leads into SHADOWKILLER. Like NIGHTWATCHER and my other thrillers, these books feature elements my readers have come to expect from me: villains hiding in plain sight, multiple viewpoints, and of course, plenty of surprises.
SLEEPWALKER goes on sale just weeks after NIGHTWATCHER, on September 25. The novel opens on the ten-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Allison is now a happily married mom living in the suburbs, but the shadows of the past are never far off. A new series of murders bear striking similarity to the NIGHTWATCHER—same MO, same signature–but he can’t have committed them. Only a few people know the details of the original crimes: most notably Allison—and her husband, who has been sleepwalking lately with no memory of his nighttime escapades. Because this book was set in a real time frame of fall 2011, and was written before those months came to pass, I found myself having to rewrite the book to reflect reality: Osama Bin Laden had been killed, an earthquake and hurricane had struck New York, a suburban blizzard canceled Halloween. All of those events served to enhance my plot—particularly the storm-related power outages!—but by the time I had rewritten for the third or fourth time last fall to reflect reality (a major part of the plot unfolds around Halloween), I was praying for an uneventful November, both in real life and fiction!
SHADOWKILLER comes out a few months after the first two books, on January 27, and is written in two parts. The first half flashes back to the year 2000, when we meet our main characters in the “past” and follow the paths that led their lives to collide for better or worse. Seemingly minor plot points from NIGHTWATCHER and SLEEPWALKER will now catapult into the action, and there are some twists that will have careful readers slapping their heads in the old “I never saw that coming—but I should have!” The second half of the novel picks up in 2012, with Allison and her family picking up the pieces from the SLEEPWALKER plot.
Now it’s your turn to ask Wendy questions about her new trilogy. What was the first suspense novel you ever read? Wendy is giving away an autographed copy of NIGHTWATCHER to one lucky commenter. Check back on Thursday to see if it’s you!