Interview with Wendy Walker

  

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Wendy Walker lives in the next town over from me. She is a wonderful story-teller, and her persistence in the tough game of writing is inspirational!

  1. Your earlier books were ‘women’s fiction’, and All is Not Forgotten is much darker, definitely a thriller. What made you change your focus? Were you influenced by novels like Girl on the Train?

My first two published novels were called Four Wives (2008) and Social Lives (2009). These books were in the genre of women’s fiction and involved stories of women in wealthy suburbs struggling with their identities, marriages, children, and former lives. I have lived in suburban Connecticut most of my life, both as a child and a grown woman, and I find it fascinating! But those books didn’t “break through” so I went back to practicing law. It was hard to give up the dream of being a writer, so I also managed to keep writing! I signed with a new agent and she loved my concept of a psychological thriller based on memory science. Gone Girl and Girl on a Train had created this new genre and editors were hungry for more. I was a bit nervous about switching genres, but I had always enjoyed suspense and thrillers and I was very interested in this story concept, so I dusted it off and wrote All Is Not Forgotten. It was great advice!

2. I know you’re the mother of teenage sons. Was it hard to write about rape in that context?

 I am asked this frequently and honestly, it was not difficult in the way people suspect. I get very emotionally detached from my own life when I’m writing. I try to be in the head of my characters. In this book, Dr. Forrester is telling the story and he is at times detached and at times emotional so I tried to follow that path. Focusing on the words he would use at various points in the story kept my mind off of the events and on the choice of those words. What was hard was trying to write the violent scenes in a way that would stay true to the language and descriptions of both survivors and professionals who work with them. I did a lot research to see what that language was – how they want us to hear about what happened to them – and I worked very hard to walk that fine line.

3. Do you still write wherever you happen to be ( I remember you used to write in a minivan!) or do you have a more settled schedule and writing venue now?

Ha! That’s true. Those days are long gone, but I still consider myself a time scavenger. Every day, I map out how many hours I have until my kids are home, and then I squeeze everything into those hours. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but it just doesn’t. When the kids were younger, they were home most afternoons and evenings without much to do. I could often get household chores done then. Now, every minute from 4 until 10 is packed with driving and help with homework, so my daytime hours are always shrinking! The good news is that I can write at a desk.

4. What books are on your bedside table right now?

A pile of psychological thrillers which haven’t been released yet! I get asked to blurb books by other authors, which is quite an honor. I have read some really good ones. Look for The Twilight Wife and The Clairvoyants – both are out now.

5. Are you working on your next book, and will it be a thriller?

My next book is called Emma In The Night and it will be out August 8, 2017! I’m so excited about this book because it delves into narcissistic personality disorder – not the one we talk about casually, or even the one often used in books and movies. This new novel dissects the complex pathology of the psychological illness, which is actually quite rare. Here is a little teaser!

Three years ago, two sisters disappeared from their home in Southern Connecticut. Now, one has returned to tell the dark story of her time spent on an island off the coast of Maine. As the FBI searches for the island and the sister who did not make it out, we learn about the twisted past the girls endured in their own home before they left – and the truth about where they have been comes under scrutiny. Through the voice of our narrator, the sister who has returned, and the investigation by the FBI’s forensic psychologist, the stories of past and present converge in an unexpected ending.

6. Are you one of those writers who likes to plan every detail of the story before you start, or do you create on the fly? Does this change from book to book?

 Because of the way my novels are structured, I have to plot everything from the very beginning to make sure the pieces all fit together. I write the different story lines onto colored index cards and then layer them into the chapters when they seemed to fit organically into the narrative. I am a meticulous plotter! Of course, things do change and grow as a character comes to life, and sometimes I will go back and make adjustments for that. In All Is Not Forgotten, the character Charlotte evolved quite a bit and as I decided to give her more depth, I adjusted the plot to accommodate this new angle.   

7. When you’re not writing, what are your favorite things to do?

I love spending one on one time with a good friend or my fiancé, or having people to our home to cook dinner (I usually watch!). I also love skiing with my kids, yoga, and watching a really good TV series after a long day of work.

 8. What is your idea of a perfect day?

Kids off to school, a quick run, 6 hours of writing with no interruptions, kids home, dinner, no driving, no drama, then a glass of wine and catch-up with my fiancé. A girl can dream!

 

Kindle: The Book to End All Books?

I asked for a Kindle for my birthday. Not because I want to purge my shelves of the clutter and dust of physical books. Not because I have a long commute and want to know for sure that I’ll never be without reading material. Not because I love gadgets and had to lay my hands on this one.

No. Because I want to know my enemy.

I mean, I’m a writer, and from what I’ve been reading on the Web, the Kindle and other e-readers are going to turn writers into volunteers rather than professionals. There will be no money to be made in writing anymore, because e-publishers will offer writers such tiny advances–if they offer any at all–that writing simply won’t be a viable way to make a living (except in the case of a chosen few, who are already such recognizable brands–think Stephen King–that they will be able to self-publish at the click of a mouse, thereby increasing their own profit margins immensely.)

E-publishers will recompense writers poorly not because they are exploitative, but because they themselves will be battling to keep the wolf from the door. You see, to make e-publishing take off they’ll have to discount their e-books so deeply  that, even taking into account the lack of printing costs, their own margins will become so thin as to be almost non existent.  As for brick-and-mortar bookstores, they’ll go the same way record stores went.

Remember record stores?

With no store fronts to show off new titles, e-publishers (and almost all publishers will now be electronic) will have to get the word out about ‘big’ books in other ways. They’ll have to spend money on Internet advertising, obviously, but they will also need to develop alternative strategies to attract readers. Most are already developing these strategies. New communities of readers in every genre will spring up on-line. Publishers will hire people whose only job will be to blog and chat on-line, talking up one title or another. Book trailers will become a thriving new business, and an art form in themselves. Teaser podcasts (one chapter only) will pop up all over the place. Some writers will try to sell their product directly to the market, cutting out all middle men. Most will fail, of course, but a few will create dazzlingly successful careers.

And where will this leave me and my writer friends whose names are not yet brands? I’m not really sure. Maybe small advances will be okay, because maybe we’ll be receiving big royalties. After all, it’s so much easier to buy a book when all you have to do is click a button with your thumb.

Think about it. Buying a real book means getting into a car. Driving to a store. Spending time selecting from a host of covers. Standing in line at the check-out. Pulling out the cash or credit card and handing over a good chunk of money, possibly as much as $25 for a hardback. Then driving home. It takes a major commitment of time and effort before we even get to the cash price of the whole exercise.

Buying a paper-and-ink book online involves spending even more, because you have to stump up for shipping and handling. And then there’s the lengthy wait until the book lands in your mailbox.

But buying a book from Kindle is perilously easy.  You’re slouched in bed late at night eating Halloween candy, and suddenly you have an urge to read the latest cozy chain-saw killer thriller.

No problem! You just click over to the ‘store’, find the book you want, select ‘Buy’ and click the button. That button doesn’t even make a sound. The whole thing is effortless. Seconds later… ta da! Instant gratification. You’re deep in the woods with the crazy chain-saw serial killer.

You don’t even have to enter those pesky credit card details over and over again; that very first time, when you buy the actual Kindle, is enough. All future transactions just go onto your card with barely a blip. You hardly even know you’re spending money! Of course, you’ll see those transactions again at the end of the month on your credit card bill, but the books are so darn cheap, what does it matter? I mean, four or five dollars a pop, who cares? Right?

Of course, they do add up.

But still. Maybe people will start buying books like chewing gum, without a second thought. I mean, a book is no longer a big commitment. You don’t have to find a space for it in your house. You don’t have to pack it up in a box when you move. You don’t have to display it as evidence of your reading tastes, or hide it away somewhere in shame. All the books you own, now, are intangible. Nothing to show for them at all, just the plain leather binder of your Kindle.

So maybe the volume of books sold will soar, and this alone will be enough to allow writers to generate sufficient income to keep at it. After all, writers and artists are traditionally the starving classes, aren’t they?

On the whole, I’d like to believe that the advent of Kindle and other e-books won’t entirely kill off writing as a profession. Quite possibly, electronic publishing will spawn a huge amateur writer class, who will e-publish at will, with no gate-keepers to keep out works that don’t seem commercially viable. But will any of us be able to make a living at it anymore? Let’s wait and see.

Are You a Power Mom?

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: POWER MOMS has just come out, and I have a piece in it.

I think every pediatrician’s office ought to have a copy of this book in its waiting room, for all those exhausted moms sitting glassy-eyed and shell-shocked with their crying children after yet another sleepless night mopping a fevered brow/changing a wet bed/cleaning up vomit/chasing away nightmares. It’s inspirational reading.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a Power Mom. I’m definitely a mom but sometimes when I’m going one-on-one with my seven year old, I’m not quite sure exactly who is wielding the power. But I like the concept of Power Moms. I think it’s great.

Because as we all know, the whole mom thing is totally underestimated by innocent bystanders.

I mean, nobody who hasn’t been through it really understands what’s involved.

I still remember my own rude awakening. During my first pregnancy I felt terribly important. Everybody treated me as if I were really delicate and fragile and special. People wanted to touch my bump. They wanted to know all the details of how I felt, what I was eating, how I was sleeping.

When we checked into the hospital, the special treatment went on. People were monitoring my every heart beat—oh, hang on, maybe it was the baby’s every heart beat. But they were definitely monitoring my blood pressure, and they kept asking me to describe my ‘discomfort’, on a scale of one to ten. They were hanging on my every word. I was the center of the universe.

Then, finally, the big moment arrived and my baby made her grand entrance into the world. On cue, the door of the hospital room flew open and about half a dozen people burst in—all decked out in white coats and masks. Somebody let me hold the baby for a fraction of a second, then a person in a white coat plucked her off my breast and marched out of the room with her. And everybody followed. Every last soul. Not even my husband stayed behind to hold my hand and ask if I wanted a drink of water. Which I did, pretty badly, to be frank.

So there I lay, battered and bleeding and bent out of shape, wondering when my crowd of admirers would come flocking back to my bedside, full of admiration and congratulations.

They never did. From the moment she entered the world, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was all about the baby.

And me—I was chopped liver.

And that’s what being a mom is all about: becoming a support system for another human life. There’s no ‘me’ anymore, only ‘mom-meee’.

Of course, the real trick is not losing track of yourself while you’re doing all that supporting. The real trick is holding on to a sense of yourself as an individual, that person you were before the baby made its grand entrance. The women who wrote the stories in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: POWER MOMS are power moms because, one way or another (and it hasn’t always been pretty), they’ve managed to do this. They’ve managed to maintain a sense of themselves in the midst of diapers and bottles and binkies, homework and carpools and soccer matches. Better still, instead of draining them dry, motherhood has made them stronger and wiser.

As I said, every pediatrician’s waiting room ought to have a copy of this book. But maybe the OB/gyn offices shouldn’t stock them. No point in scaring the living daylights out of pregnant women.

Santa brought us a Wii!

Santa brought a Wii down our chimney at midnight on Christmas Eve.

 

Hurray, I thought. Santa’s a genius! Three Wii remotes, three children—dissent will be a thing of the past in the Chidley household. (Dissent has been rising to epic proportions lately because of the ‘one computer-three children’ state of affairs.) And indeed, the whole Wii thing started out on a highly promising note, with everybody rolling on the floor in hysterics over the antics of the hapless Mii tennis players, all of whom seemed remarkably inept. We would howl and hoot as they leapt in the air, desperate to make contact with the ball, always just a hair’s breadth too late.

 

But as the children grew more proficient with the digital racquet, the situation began to change. In a surprisingly short space of time, they’d all come to grips with the timing aspects of the game. No more wild flailing at the wrong split second. Long rallies became the order of the day. And then, out of nowhere, Middle Child mastered the hitherto unknown art of serving high-speed aces to her opponent, who generally didn’t even have the wits to shake a racquet at the ball as it blasted by.

                                                                                                               

Around the same time, Youngest developed the habit of leaping into the air as he ‘hit’ the ball, which seemed to give him a low hard stroke that was almost impossible to return.

 

Eldest developed a knack of swishing her ‘racquet’ continually, which allowed her net player to return impossible shots, completely confounding the opposing team.

 

Just as I was settling down with a book, congratulating myself on the new peace Wii had brought to our embattled household, voices became raised. The dreaded cry, ‘Not fair!’ began to ring in the air. At a certain point, a punch-up seemed inevitable.

 

“Children,” I said sternly, “if you can’t show good sportsmanship, we’ll have to put the Wii away.”  They slunk off to play with their Nintendo DS’s instead.

 

In the evening, Husband and I decided to give the Wii a go.

 

We’ve been at it for two days now, on and off. I won’t let him forget—not for a moment—that I knocked him out twice at boxing. There we were—drenched in sweat, wildly punching the air in our living room, weaving and feinting, going in for body shots when we dared, grunting and groaning, jabbing at each other’s heads with a grim concentration that the children found downright scary—just for the fun of it! It was sort of ridiculous, yes—but strangely satisfying. Because I won!

 

Tennis isn’t nearly as much fun. It was at first—because I won. But Husband has been practicing on the sly. The moment I leave the room to unpack the dishwasher or check my email, he’s up there with his racquet, challenging Jack and Hugo to best of three. And he’s getting ridiculously good. He has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve—angles, lobs, low balls, speed balls, I swear he’s even figuring out how to put spin on that sucker. I can’t seem to win a single point, anymore.

 

To tell you the truth, I’m beginning to think the Wii is over-rated. I mean, here I am, barely able to move my arms because they ache so much from swinging that remote control, glaring at Husband with deep resentment, subjected on a regular basis to the sight of his victory dance while my Mii hangs her head in shame on the wide screen; I mean, it’s just not dignified.

 

Anyway, at least Husband is going back to work tomorrow. I’ll have eight uninterrupted hours to figure out how to hit an ace. Perhaps Middle Child can teach me. I’ll have to bribe her with cookies. And when Husband comes home tomorrow night, he’ll be toast.

 

**Elise Chidley is author of Your Roots Are Showing, a romantic comedy about marriage, email, and mistakes.