Today We are pleased to have with us Wendy Staub, author of The Perfect Stranger.
Rhodes Review: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Wendy Staub: I’d say roughly half my time now is devoted to the business end of my career, and I’m on the road frequently promoting my books at reader conventions, author conferences, and of course on book tours. I’m also a married mom of two kids who keep me busy. I’m writing three books a year right now, and unfortunately, I’m not one of those fortunate authors who can pop open a laptop on the fly and write a chapter or two in an airport. So when I’m home, I’m invariably in my office from 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, living and breathing my fictional world until the book is finished. The total immersion process works best for me.
Rhodes Review: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Wendy Staub: Several times a year, I have to produce a 100,000 word novel in 8-10 weeks. Math was never my strongest subject, but that’s what it comes down to: I divide my target number of pages by the number of weeks I have until deadline. Every Friday on my desktop calendar is marked with a page number I need to reach by that day. I never allow myself to miss these personal mini-deadlines, because my publishing contract deadline depends on it!
Rhodes Review: How did you start writing?
Wendy Staub: My mom was an avid reader and my father and paternal grandfather were fantastic verbal storytellers, so it was in my blood. As a little girl in grade school, I would write “novels” longhand on notebook paper. Later, I wrote for school newspapers and literary magazines and was submitting my work for publication even back then. I finally made my first sale in college – I published a poem in Seventeen magazine – and placed in Writer’s Digest’s annual short story contest a year or two later. I sold my first novel at 27, after I’d moved to New York City and gotten a job as an editor. Over eighty books and two decades later, I’m blessed to wake up every day and make a living doing what I love best.
Rhodes Review: Do you have any suggestions to help my readers become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Wendy Staub: Decide whether you’re writing for yourself, or writing for an audience. There’s unlimited creative freedom if you’re not trying to sell your work. But if you’re focused on a writing career, keep in mind that you aren’t just creating art–you’re creating a product. That means being open to constructive criticism and perhaps realizing that your vision isn’t necessarily always going to mesh with the publisher’s vision. Learning to let go and adapt your work for the market is the first crucial step on the road to publication.
Rhodes Review: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
Wendy Staub: I absolutely read my reviews in trade magazines like PW, RT, Suspense Magazine, Kirkus, etc., and I read blogger reviews. When it comes to online reader reviews, I used to be obsessive about checking them. I’m always grateful when someone takes the time to post an honest review, whether it’s positive or negative. But open forum reviews online can be frustrating. They might contain a so-called “review” from a reader who will give my book, say, one star on Amazon, stating in the opening line that she didn’t read it but is protesting the price or the publishing company, that sort of thing. Or people post a spoilers, ruining the book for potential buyers—and it’s time-consuming for my publisher to get them removed. These days, I scan online bookstore reader reviews from time to time and I absolutely absorb feedback—what do they like about my books? What could be stronger? But I’m a very active presence on social media, and that’s where I interact with my readers in an ongoing dialogue that is invaluable not just because I incorporate their feedback but because I want them to know how much I appreciate their input. They’re tremendously loyal and without them, I would not be able to do what I do.
Rhodes Review: If you were to do your career as an author again, what would you do differently, and why?
Wendy Staub: Truly, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I was blessed to make my childhood dream come true, and I want my kids—and kids everywhere—to know that no dream is impossible. I did it, and so can you, if you’re willing to give it your all.
Rhodes Review: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Wendy Staub: My third grade teacher praised the first thing I ever wrote—an Abraham Lincoln essay–and I went home from school that day and told my parents that I wanted to become an author when I grew up. I never looked back!
Rhodes Review: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Wendy Staub: I’m passionate about travel—my husband and I set out to visit all 50 states with our sons when they were in elementary school. I’ve been to all but one (Wyoming), and the boys are missing only two. When I’m not traveling, I love nothing more than to cook for a crowd and sit around our dining room table laughing and talking for hours. That’s how I grew up! I come from an enormous extended and close-knit family and I married into one, and I’m fortunate to have maintained friendships from all phases of my life.
Rhodes Review: What do you think makes a good story?
Wendy Staub: When I’m writing a suspense novel, I never lose sight of my goal, which is to keep my reader turning pages, trying to figure out whodunit. My trademark is to mask a villain behind a familiar face so that the reader is blindsided by the final twist. If they say, “Wow! I never saw THAT coming!”—then I’ve done my job.
Rhodes Review: What are your favorite authors/books?
Wendy Staub: There are far too many to list here, and I count many household name authors among my personal friends, so I don’t want to leave anyone out! When I’m writing a novel—which is pretty much always—I try not to muddy the waters by reading one. I want the only fictional voice in my head to be my own.
Rhodes Review: What was the inspiration for The Perfect Stranger?
Wendy Staub: This is the second book in my social networking suspense trilogy for HarperCollins. The three novels are connected not by characters or setting, but by theme: do you ever really know who might be lurking behind a familiar screen name on the Internet? THE GOOD SISTER (Harper, October 2013), was about cyber-bullying and a fictionalized version of Facebook; THE BLACK WIDOW (Harper, March 2015), is about online dating. THE PERFECT STRANGER revolves around a group of breast cancer bloggers who are scattered all over the country and find kindred support and friendship in each other that they haven’t found in their real lives. They meet in person for the first time at a funeral when one of them falls victim to a random murder—or so they believed. Now they wonder if she shared too much online and if her killer is a fellow blogger who might go after one of them next.
The decision to write about breast cancer survivors was a personal and poignant one. I’ve lost my mom, mother-in-law, and her sister to breast cancer. In our family, we didn’t know anyone who had beaten the disease; only three beloved women who had lost their battles. So when my sister-in-law, who’s just my age, was diagnosed, she 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 so struck by these strong, courageous women and the bond they developed that I knew I had to write about it.
Rhodes Review: What was your favorite part of the book?
Wendy Staub: Because it features a group of characters who are scattered around the country, I visited all the locations in person to make the settings (Alabama, Indiana, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Boston, and L.A. in addition to my own home city New York) as authentic as possible. As I said, travel is my passion and I enjoy every minute of my on-location research.
Rhodes Review: What was the hardest part to write in the book?
Wendy Staub: Cancer is inherently seen as a dark subject. But this isn’t a medical thriller; it’s a domestic psychological suspense novel just like my others. My heroine has waged two fierce battles for for her life: one against cancer, the other against an unseen internet predator masked behind a familiar face. I worked hard to strike the right balance between them.
Rhodes Review: What if anything do you wish was different about the book?
Wendy Staub: I dedicated it to my sister-in-law and two of my closest friends who are survivors. Recently, I learned that another close friend has been diagnosed and it was too late to include her name. Other than that…no regrets whatsoever. Early feedback has been very positive and it seems that my readers are pleased to find this one filled with my trademark twists and turns and a final blindside.
We’d like to Thank Wendy for taking the time to talk to us, and be sure you go over and check out her review here
About the Author
New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than seventy-five published novels and has sold more than four million books worldwide. Under her own name, Wendy achieved New York Times bestselling status with her single title psychological suspense novels. Those novels and the women’s fiction she writes under the pseudonym Wendy Markham also frequently appeared on the USA Today, Barnes and Noble Top Ten, and Bookscan bestseller lists.
Wendy’s latest suspense novels for Harpercollins are linked by a social networking theme and include THE GOOD SISTER (Harper, October 2013), which has been optioned for television by Fox, as well as the upcoming THE PERFECT STRANGER (July 2014) and THE BLACK WIDOW (2014). Earlier in 2013, she concluded a bestselling, award-winning trilogy that was launched by Harpercollins in September 2012 with NIGHTWATCHER, which won the 2013 Westchester Library Association Washington Irving Prize for Fiction. It was followed in October by the New York Times bestselling SLEEPWALKER, which went on to become a finalist for the prestigious Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award presented at the Mystery Writers of America Edgars Symposium in April 2013. The trilogy’s final title, SHADOWKILLER, was released in February 2013.
Wendy’s thriller LIVE TO TELL (Avon Books, March 2010) received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was also a finalist at the 2011 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The sequel, SCARED TO DEATH, (Avon Books, January 2011) was honored with the WLA Washington Irving Prize for Fiction and the trilogy concluded with the bestseller HELL TO PAY (Avon Books, October 2011).
She contributed a short story, “My Father’s Eyes,” to the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Forge, June 2010).
As “Wendy Markham,” her most recent title, THE BEST GIFT, is a sequel to the acclaimed 2006 Christmas Time Travel romance, IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS (both from Signet).
Wendy won the 2008 RT Award for Career Achievement in Suspense and the 2007 RWA-NYC Golden Apple Award for Lifetime Achievement. A proud recipient of the RWA Rita award, she has also been honored five times with the Westchester Library Association’s Washington Irving Prize for Fiction and was recognized as one of WLA’s Millennial Authors in 2000. Her Wendy Markham novel SLIGHTLY SINGLE was named one of Waldenbooks’ 100 Best Fiction titles of 2002. Her novels SLIGHTLY SUBURBAN, THE LAST TO KNOW, and ASK ME AGAIN were nominated for RT Reviewers Choice awards, and five of her novels, DON’T SCREAM; THE LAST TO KNOW; MIKE, MIKE AND ME; HELLO, IT’S ME; and BRIDE NEEDS GROOM, were awarded a month’s top pick review by the RT BOOK club magazine.
Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide and her titles are regularly selected as features for Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Large Print Book Club, and Rhapsody Book Club.