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The Perfect Stranger: A Talk With Wendy Corsi Staub

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Photo credit: Lisa L. Nasca, Photographic Images Unlimited.

With the release of her 21st thriller, The Perfect Stranger, NY Times bestselling suspense novelist Wendy Corsi Staub will have published more than eighty novels in various genres. Wendy has twice been nominated for the Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award; and is the recipient of the Romance Writers of America Rita Award; the RT Book Reviews Award for Career Achievement in Suspense; the RWA/NYC Golden Apple for Lifetime Achievement; and many other honors. Wendy's titles are regularly selected as features for Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Rhapsody Book Club.

Her new novel, The Perfect Stranger, concerns Landry Wells who is involved with a group of women bloggers, all of whom have something in common -- breast cancer. One blogger is dead, the victim of a random crime -- or was it? At the funeral, Landry is about to meet her online friends, with whom she's shared things even her husband and children don't know. These women know everything about her -- and one might be a cold-blooded killer.

What drew you to writing?
I'm from a big Italian-Sicilian family. We sat around the table and told stories. My dad was a natural storyteller and my mom was a rabid reader. I think I had a book in my hand when I was a year old. I guess I had it in my DNA and my early environment.

What were you doing before you began writing fiction?
I was trying to figure out if I could write fiction and make a living. I never wanted to do anything else. In third grade, I wanted to become an author. I never had a different plan. I went to college, majored in English, but all I wanted to do was to move to New York City and become an author. I did a lot of other things, but they were all directed toward becoming a writer. And, that's what I did.

What made you decide to turn to so many genres -- Young Adult, Women's Fiction and Suspense/Thrillers?
When I was in college, I worked in an independent bookstore. I knew I wanted to become a commercial writer. I was very aware early on what was selling and what wasn't. If I wanted to pay my bills by writing, I would have to figure it out. I adapted very early in my career. I'm naturally a very prolific writer. I write quickly -- that's just my style. I would get bored between projects and wondered what else can I do that will help me break out of the pack. So, I tried my hand at different genres under different names -- one, Wendy Markham, is still being used in women's fiction.

Do you have a favorite among these genres?
The psychological suspense novels are my favorites. I'm passionate about them. They're what I love to read and write.

Having written 80 novels, you must be very disciplined. What's your writing process?
I find I can only write in my home office on my desktop computer. I can't just pick up a laptop and go to Starbucks and focus. I find if I live and breathe what I'm writing, if I just immerse myself, I work best. Yesterday was a 16 hour day because I'm narrowing in on the ending of a book. When I'm home, I write intensely seven days a week. Now, I write two or three books a year. Some years ago, I wrote more; they were Young Adult and shorter than the adult thriller novels. It takes a lot of coffee to keep me going.

Ever work on two novels at one time?
Only in production. For instance, I had to stop writing one to edit another, or look at a copyedit. But, I never write two at the same time. I'm totally immersed in what I'm writing. I live and breathe the characters in the setting of a novel I'm writing.

The Perfect Stranger is written in the present tense. What made you decide to write it in that way?
All my adult thrillers are written in the present tense. When I first started writing as a Yong Adult Suspense author, the present tense was the way to go. It was a comfortable voice. When my editor asked me to write an adult novel, I wrote it in the past tense because that's what I thought you were supposed to do. It didn't work. It felt very flat. I rewrote it in the present tense and it felt completely right to me, and I've never gone back. The present tense feels so immediate. If you're writing suspense, it brings the reader right into the story. You know, suspense is all about something that's about to happen. In the present tense, the reader is in the moment.

Since The Perfect Stranger captures so much about the day-to-day lives of women, what kind of feedback do you get from readers?
They can relate to the story and the characters very easily. It's always fascinating when danger strikes, when you least expect it, in the most ordinary places. It's terrifying if danger jumps out at you in ordinary circumstances, and most readers live ordinary lives, as I do. They relate to the stories--to putting your kids to bed; to cooking; shopping and those sorts of things. They identify with those activities. I identify with them also and I write what I know.

What do men say?
Surprisingly, I do have quite a few male readers. It's not romantic suspense. I'm a woman writing suspense. Occasionally, I'll be labeled a romantic suspense author, which can put off male readers. But, it's really psychological suspense. I have a large cast of characters and many of them are men -- and they're not always the killers.

When you have time for reading, what do you enjoy?
When I'm writing fiction, I read only non-fiction. I read biographies, historical works and true-crime books. I'm presently reading a book by Kevin Cook about the Kitty Genovese murder in New York. I enjoy reading about murders that haven't been solved. I read about the Zodiac Killer and things like that. I love watching Cold Case on television. I read only non-fiction when I'm writing a novel because I feel reading fiction could muddy my voice. My process is one of total immersion. I want the only fiction voice in my head to be my own.

With so many published books to your credit, have any been adapted to television or film?
I have some irons in the fire, but I've learned that with Hollywood, you never hold your breath. Some things have been optioned, but I'm just going to go on writing.

If you could invite any 6 people to dinner, writers or not, living or dead, who would they be?
Lately, I've been immersed in doing genealogy research. I want to find out more about where I came from. I've been on line and uncovering fascinating stories about my family's past. Tantalizing bits of stories have been lost. I would love to pluck a few people from that family tree and sit them down at the table so they could tell me more about who we are and where we came from. It's so difficult to solve those mysteries. And some would very likely make great stories.

What's next for you?
In February, The Black Widow is coming out. It follows The Perfect Stranger. After that, I'll be working on something called Blood Red, which is the working title for a novel about a serial killer who stalks redheads.

Tell us about your book touring.
Some years ago, I embarked on a 50 state book tour with the goal of doing signings in all 50 states. I only have three left.

Congratulations on penning your 80th novel, one that holds the reader in suspense until the very end.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of Mad Dog House, Love Gone Mad and The Foot Soldier