This One is for Maya
December 17th was the release day for Next Day Gone, my eleventh book and second thriller. Will there be more from me in this genre? I’ve been told I may have found my niche. Seems that there are readers out there who have enjoyed this one and Nine Ladies Dying, which was my first stab—no pun intended—at the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I thank you for that. I truly, truly do. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’ve enjoyed these two stories.
I grew up on books like these. It started with Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew and the Trixie Belden books originated by author Julie Campbell Tatham. I read and was intrigued by Edgar Allan Poe in school, then found Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Joe Hill, Elizabeth George, J.A. Konrath … and on and on and on. I’ve been writing for many years. I guess it was only a matter of time before I decided to write in this genre.
YA books have also been a favorite … especially after my daughter, Maya, was born, and she turned out to be just as big a bookworm as I am. One of my most favorite things in the world to do is to take Maya to Barnes & Noble, get venti chai Frappuccino’s with whipped cream and sip them as the two of us walk leisurely through the aisles, oohing and aahing at the colorful spines and the unbelievable collection of beautiful, scary, creative, eye-catching covers filling the shelves. I always go to the clearance area first and fill my arms with books about Greek mythology, travel, classics and discounted copies of fiction by big-name authors. Then I make my way over to the YA section, where Maya’s got her arms full as well. She begins handing me book after book saying, “Doesn’t this sound creepy?” or “Whoa, read this!” or “What an interesting premise for a storyline …”. I study each cover, then flip the book over and read the synopsis—my author brain always in awe of a well-written synopsis because I really, really hate writing those things—and I share Maya’s excitement about having so many unread books at her fingertips.
And that’s where Next Day Gone came from. At least the full-size novel version of it anyway.
Anyone who read Acquainted With Butterflies, a collection of short stories, personal essays and poetry I put together and published a while back, might recognize Paige and Drew. Almost three years ago, I took part in several writing challenges over the span of about five months. Artist at Work was a short story that came from one of the prompts my writing group came up with. It’s about a murder at a boarding school located outside of Asheville, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When it was published the first time, it was barely 2,000 words long, and it resembled little of my previous work. It was a bit dark, a bit scary. Those who read it were surprised by it … everyone except Maya. I rarely surprise Maya. She knows me too well for that.
Almost everyone who reviewed Acquainted With Butterflies wrote that Artist at Work should be made into a novel. I loved reading that but didn’t give it much thought back then. I had other projects going on at the time. But I kept hearing the suggestion, and the more I thought about Winston, a fictional boarding school for kids in seventh through twelfth grades, the more I thought it might be fun to make Drew’s story a much bigger one.
And it was my chance to write a YA thriller just for Maya.
Then my mind started working, and those 2,000 words became the seed for a story that wound up spanning seventeen years, and when Maya and I were looking through pictures for the cover, I stumbled across the perfect one. A girl. In the leaves. I wasn’t sure at the time which girl she was, but I knew she couldn’t have been more perfect, and Maya and I sat down, and we picked out the font and color and did the whole layout in less than thirty minutes. It was a done deal then. The story started consuming me, and I couldn’t think of anything else.
There’s so much wrapped up into this story. So much more than the casual reader—or even someone who might know me pretty well—might pick up on. I used names from Maya’s childhood. I borrowed from people she knew, authors she loves, characters she’s read over and over again. The teenagers I created; Willow, Edie, Drew and Paige … Maya is in all of them in some form. Each character holds something I’ve seen or felt throughout her lifetime. I love each and every one of them.
And before you ask … the answer is yes. I died inside when Willow was murdered. That was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever created, and I’ll be honest … if it didn’t hurt you at least a little bit, I’m a miserable failure. As awful as it sounds, I hope you hurt.
I can’t choose a favorite book. They’re all a little like children, and I love each novel and story I’ve written for a million different reasons. They each have their own personalities and quirks. They all have things about them I find endearing. I still feel a bit euphoric over all of them because I put so much of myself into each tale I tell. Right now, though, as is often the case with each new release, Next Day Gone is the one I’m most fond of. I’m still mourning the loss of Willow and Paige. I can still smell the leaves falling from the tall oak trees as I climb the Crabtree Falls trail, and I can feel the air flowing through the partially open window of Little Blue as he climbs the windy Blue Ridge Trail. This one is still with me, and it feels like it’s going to stick around for a good long time.
I will always be fond of this one. This one will always be special because this one is for Maya.