I’m thrilled to welcome Wendy Corsi Staub to Lit, etc! I enjoyed Wendy’s newest release The Perfect Stranger and today she’s here to talk a little about her writing process and her new release.
Q. Tell me something about Wendy Corsi Staub other than the standard bio on your website.
After my husband and I lost both our moms and his aunt to breast cancer and one of our best friends died suddenly, we realized life is too short to put off the bucket list for retirement years. So we set out on an ongoing 50 state book tour with our sons, hoping to complete it before our firstborn graduated high school. When he did last year, we were only short three. We crossed off another state this summer as a family—and at this point there’s only one (Wyoming) that I haven’t visited. I hope to complete the mission with my guys next summer!
Q. Are there any occupational hazards to being an author?
Absolutely, but I’ve found the solution. Sitting at a keyboard doesn’t help chronic back pain by any means (I have scoliosis, old injuries, compressed nerves, bulging disks, sciatica, you name it!). After spending two decades in my author’s chair and the last few years on a medical carousel—chiropractor, physical therapy, neurologist, spinal surgeon—I realized that the only time I wasn’t in agony was in the summer, when I swim daily laps in an outdoor pool. So last fall I joined an indoor pool and kept it up. I now swim an hour every morning—no matter what!–and haven’t seen a doctor about back pain in well over a year.
Q. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I wasn’t exactly a math genius as a kid, but it all comes down to numbers and I swear by my “calendar/calculator” method. These days, I’m writing a mainstream trilogy per year for HarperCollins, plus I’d estimate that I spend almost a third of my life on the road promoting my books, and I have a husband and kids who keep me busy. That leaves me with roughly 2-3 months to write a 100,000-word book whenever I’m home. I divide the total number of pages I need—around 500—by the number of weeks I have—and I put a page number on my calendar for each Friday. I make sure I hit the designated page every week, and if Wednesday rolls around and I’m nowhere near it, I know I’m not going to sleep or leave my office until my goal is reached. Forcing myself to be accountable to my own deadlines is the only way I can get my butt into my chair every morning, because there is always something else I could be doing around here.
Q. You’ve written women’s fiction, young adult, and thrillers. If you were only allowed to write one genre for the rest of your career, which would it be and why?
I’ve always been a sucker for a good twist, whether in books or television or film. When I’m writing my adult suspense novels, I have the same breathless anticipation I get when I’m reading a page turner or watching a film that’s been marketed as having a surprise ending. I can’t wait to see what happens next…even when I’m the one who’s making it happen.
Q. What makes thrillers so special?
You need to create characters the reader is going to care about so that the stakes are ever higher as the plot careens ahead. All of my thrillers are domestic psychological suspense, featuring ordinary protagonists who are going about their daily business when they cross paths with danger. They aren’t superheroes or FBI agents or spies; they’re suburban housewives, soccer moms, teachers. One thing they all have in common: there is something, or someone (usually their family) that they would do anything to keep safe. Most of us can relate to that fierce protective instinct.
The ticking clock is another key ingredient that provides that all-important adrenaline boost. And for me as a reader, the plot has to be filled with plenty of twists and blindsides so that I have no idea what’s going to happen. If I can see an ending coming a mile away, I lose interest. So as an author, that’s what I try to achieve. If my readers tell me afterward that they were shocked by the ending, then I know I’ve done my job well.
Q. What’s the process you follow when writing a thriller? Do you know the answer (who done it) and work backwards, or do you let the characters lead to you the answer?
I always start by sitting down and writing the first couple of chapters in a sort of purge that lets me get the idea underway and decide whodunit and why. Then I take a step back and allow the end result to take shape in my mind before I plunge on with the rest of the book. I don’t outline if I can help it. Luckily, at this stage in my career, it’s not always obligatory. I like to let the characters come alive and take over, a crucial part of the process because I write from both the hero/heroine’s viewpoints and the killer’s, and I want the plot and motivations to feel organic.
Q. What type of research do you conduct for your thrillers?
I research from the moment a glimmer of an idea enters my brain until the moment I approve the final page proofs right before publication. I’m a stickler for accuracy—I work really hard to get the tiniest details right—so there’s really no limit to how far I’ll go to research something. I mean that quite literally: I travel pretty extensively so that the setting rings true. I rely on an ever-growing stable of experts (FBI agents, cops, lawyers, doctors, etc.) with whom I remain in close contact throughout the writing process. I prefer to communicate with them in writing over verbally, because I go back and refer to that correspondence repeatedly for that and future novels. For each new project I use stacks of books and create dozens or even hundreds of research files (paper and digital).
Q. Let’s talk about your newest release, The Perfect Stranger. As a blogger myself, I try to keep my real life separate from blogging and several of the characters in Stranger do just that. What was your inspiration for The Perfect Stranger?
This is the second in a trio of social networking-themed thrillers for HarperCollins. The first, THE GOOD SISTER (October 2013), was about cyber-bullying and set against a fictionalized Facebook. The third, THE BLACK WIDOW (on sale in February 2015) is about online dating. The blogosphere felt like a logical backdrop for this one.
I write about deadly predators, and the most frightening one I’ve ever encountered in real life is breast cancer, which fixed my own family in its crosshairs and began to work its way through like a sniper, robbing us far too soon of my mom, my mother-in-law, and her sister. My sister-in law is a survivor, diagnosed several years ago through routine screening.
In our family, we didn’t have anyone who had beaten the disease; only three beloved women who had lost their battles. So when Stacey was diagnosed, she was determined to beat it, and found herself turning to online resources –including blogs–for support and information. She’s a fiercely private, even shy, person but she eventually wound up writing her own cancer blog and meeting a network of women who became friends. I was fascinated by her experience and knew I had to write about it. Plus, the many women I’ve loved who have faced this disease are the most courageous real life heroines I know. I wanted to honor that fighting spirit in this book.
Q. You’ve written over 75 novels. Do you have a particular favorite or are they like your children, you love them equally?
I do have favorites—novels, not children—though the list is ever-evolving depending on where I am in the writing/production/promotion stage.
Q. Finally, and on an entirely unrelated note, who would play you in a film of your life?
I’m no actress, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a control freak. I can’t imagine anyone playing me but me–any more than I can imagine having someone else write one of my books!
01. Karaoke Song?
The Day the Music Died…as long as I’m not at the mike. (My artistic talent does not extend to vocals!)
02. Fair or theme park?
Fair for the junk food, theme park for the attractions that captivate my teenaged sons.
03. Oreos or Chip Ahoy?
Neither! Believe it or not, I basically lack a sweet tooth (other than for fruit pie or pumpkin-anything) and I’m not a fan of chocolate. Salty/crunchy is my vice; ask me to choose between salt and vinegar or jalapeno Kettle chips and we’d have a tossup.
04. Titanic or The Notebook?
Titanic…I’ve been a Titanic buff since I was a little girl.
05. Cake or pie?
Pie! I’ve always had pumpkin pie on my birthday instead of cake.
06. Jazz or Classical?
Classical in the morning, Jazz at night.
07. Godzilla or King Kong?
Um…neither? Can I do a write-in for the Jaws shark?