|I remember thinking about New England when I set out to write my 2018 thriller Mister Tender’s Girl. I don’t outline so I didn’t yet know the plot of the book, but I’d decided the entirety of the story would take place over the two weeks leading up to Halloween. With that in mind, I knew I wanted a location for my story that fit a particular vibe.
And, I thought, well, New England is creepy.
I can’t tell you exactly what led me to this conclusion. I’ve never lived in New England (the closest I came were my four years at Cornell in upstate New York), and at the time I’d only really traveled to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But when I imagined trick or treaters running up and down a street on Halloween, fallen leaves skipping along the ground in a chilling breeze, I just knew that street was in a New England town. I suppose that’s how I decided the region was creepy. Also, once upon a time they executed witches in Salem.
And let’s not forget Lizzie Borden.
And pretty much every Stephen King novel.
So, I decided to set my story in new England. But where? I didn’t want Boston–too big. And I didn’t want a little hamlet where everyone knew each other. I needed a good mid-size city, a place a person could be anonymous if they wanted to, but still would likely run into people they knew in the supermarket.
This led me to Manchester, New Hampshire.
I toured Manchester on Google Maps and decided it would work. But to really be true to the spirit of the city, I knew I needed to go there, which is exactly what I did.
Discovering a new place for the purposes of novel writing is exciting. In Manchester, I could look at the city through the eyes of my protagonist, Alice. I navigated the streets and thought, here’s where she works. This is the route she takes to walk home at night. And…there! Holy shit, that’s her house!
I stayed at a beautiful BNB (shout out to the lovely Ash Street Inn). I walked for hours. I took pictures in a cemetery. I wrote in the local coffee houses. I toured the Millyard Museum (fascinating!). And at the end of my stay, I really didn’t find anything outwardly disturbing except the sheer number of Patriots fans.
But Manchester did have the mood my story needed. It was a place that was not itself creepy, but creepy things could happen there. And in my book, they most certainly did.
My experience writing Mister Tender’s Girl made me yearn to go back to New England in another story, but not the same location. I wanted an affluent town, a collection of McMansions in a bedroom community of Boston. A place were lawns are perfectly manicured and secrets securely locked behind looming front doors.
After extensive research, I did the thing a novelist loves doing most: I just made it all up. I created the small town of Bury, New Hampshire for my thriller The Dead Husband and gave it all the touches the book needed, including a house that may or may not be haunted. And I ended up loving the subtle malevolence of Bury’s residents and houses so much that I visited there again for my follow-up novel The New Neighbor.
So that’s my connection to New England. Nothing to do with my personal history. Nothing scientific or really, even reasonable. I based the location of three of my eight novels in New Hampshire simply because it seemed like a great place to go trick or treating.
If that whimsy isn’t one of the great joys of fiction writing, I don’t know what is.
Oh, hell, no.
|Making It Up
Newly added episodes of my conversation series Making It Up are out!
This month I chatted with internationally bestselling suspense author Hannah Mary McKinnon (Never Coming Home), brilliant thriller writer Ashley Winstead (The Last Housewife), and Joey Hartstone, a TV and film writer with his first novel recently released (The Local).
All episodes are available on my YouTube channel and wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Check them out now here!
|Making It Up clip of the week!
Making It Up clip of the week! Stuart Turton (The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Devil and the Dark Water) tells me about his hatred of law school. (click to play).
|August 24, 2022 7PM
Book Club featuring The Dead Husband
September 8-11, 2022
Panel Moderator: “Writing Domestic Suspense”, September 8
October 8, 2022 12PM – 2PM
Barnes & Noble
October 11, 2022 5:30PM
Fort Morgan Public Library and Museum
Fort Morgan, CO
April 29, 2023
Books and Brunch Scholarship Benefit
Make sure to check my calendar for the more up-to-date information. Also, if you’re interested in having me speak at your event or book club, please reach out to my PR team.
|What I’m Watching
The Old Man, (FX/Stream on Hulu, 2022-)
So this is a Jessica-and-me show. I have shows I watch alone (Better Call Saul, Halt and Catch Fire), shows I watch with my kids (Stranger Things), and shows I watch with Jess. We stumbled onto this not too long ago, and stumbling is about the only way to find good shows in the content-rich landscape of today’s streaming platforms.
And holy shit is The Old Man good!
From FX: “Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Thomas Perry, The Old Man stars Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow and Amy Brenneman. The Old Man centers on Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) who absconded from the CIA decades ago and has been living off the grid since. When an assassin arrives and tries to take Chase out, the old operative learns that to ensure his future he now must reconcile his past.”
This is the kind of show that has a lot of potential to suck. I fully expected Jeff Bridges to do some super-human asskicking, which tends to get very boring. But while the violence is indeed pervasive, it’s also real, as are the consequences. People get hurt, and they stay hurt. There is profound emotion. There’s a couple dogs you’re REALLY hoping stay healthy. And, my god, Jeff Bridges. The man is coming off of a nasty fight with lymphoma and has never acted better in his life.
Bonus: John Lithgow!
|What I’m Playing
Stray (Blue12 Studio, 2022). That’s right. I’m now playing video games.
To be truthful, I played video games well into my 30’s, but only the first-person shooters Quake and Doom. And only casually. I never was the true gamer type, playing for ten-hour bursts while popping Adderall and slugging Red Bulls.
But, for whatever reason, articles about this new game Stray kept popping up in my newsfeeds. And what got my attention were two things. First, the game had a PERFECT review rating, which is the same as a movie getting 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with dozens of reviews. Second (and this is the part where you laugh at me even more), the POV of the game is from a stray cat.
That’s right. You are a stray cat (and a cute one!), and you’re in some crazy dystopian after-world trying to make sense of things. From the studio:
“Lost, alone and separated from family, a stray cat must untangle an ancient mystery to escape a long-forgotten city. Stray is a third-person cat adventure game set amidst the detailed, neon-lit alleys of a decaying cybercity and the murky environments of its seedy underbelly. Roam surroundings high and low, defend against unforeseen threats and solve the mysteries of this unwelcoming place inhabited by curious droids and dangerous creatures.”
So, yeah, I bought this game and play it a little bit here and there. And I have to say, it’s much more soothing than putting up with Guff’s bullshit.
|Photo of the Month
Had a lovely and much-needed getaway to Steamboat Springs last month. Hiking, biking, hot springs, and some great eats. Man, I love the mountains in the summer.
Me, Sawyer, Ili, Jessica, Henry
|Update from My Kids
For my son’s 17th birthday I got him two tickets to “The Stadium Tour” concert, featuring Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett. And you know what? He let his old man tag along! I wasn’t complaining at all.
|Update from My Cat
Insert your own caption here.
|Humor of the Month, sent to me by a friend
|Book-Love Instagram Post of the Month
|Thank you @pumpkinjennilynn63! (Question: was @pumpkinjennilynn01-62 already taken?)
That’s it for now! Until next month…