Please welcome Ann Redisch Stampler, author of How to Disappear and other works.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I’m on a lush tropical beach with my family and a good book and a spiral notebook and a pilot pen. It’s a swimming beach with warm water and just enough surf – not too much to snorkel but enough to keep things interesting. It’s perfect weather to take a long hike along the sand. And as the sun goes down, great food, great conversation, and beautiful local music.
This is, I realize, not a going to magnificent museums and walking through the streets of Paris, zig-zagging across the Seine bridge after bridge kind of day. I had that day recently with my husband, on his birthday, including one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten, and culminating in a glorious concert at Notre Dame. Okay, that was pretty spectacular.
But grow up on the coast and spend even a small part of your childhood in the tropics and, well, you can’t take the beach out of the girl.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
I have these diamond stud earrings that my husband gave me some years ago and I feel half-naked without them. I do play around with big, fun earrings sometimes, but those diamond studs: perfection.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
I don’t think that there’s a particular book, but the wide range of books made me realize how many possibilities there were, how many different ways to tell stories well, how much freedom to write the way the author chooses to write.
Do you listen to music when you write?
My emotions can be greatly influenced, even hijacked, by music. If I write listening to it, the music can sometimes determine the tone of what I’m working on, and this isn’t a good thing. The reader gets nothing but words and I have to stay very mindful that I’m putting exactly what has to be there on the page, as opposed to having music lead me there, or, worst case, away from there.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
How to Disappear would be a big box of mysterious Belgian chocolate candies, dark and light, without a map to let you know what each one contained. Truffle? Raspberry cream? A shock of mint? You’d have to bite into each one to know what it contained, whether you’d be swirling your tongue in cream or biting down on crunchy bits of hazelnut, whether the next bite it would be a familiar treat or a complete surprise,
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m fascinated by the notion of being on the run, having to step away from your ordinary daily life and change radically and immediately, to be cast out into the world without any of the support you’ve taken for granted until that moment. The wit and resourcefulness it takes to get by.
Also, I love unreliable narrators, sparring between adversaries, cat and mouse stories, road trips, and mysteries you think you’ve got figured out until the next twist, and the twist after that, and the twist after that.
And as I wrote How to Disappear, that old suggestion to authors that they write the book they want to read came to me, and I realized that that was exactly what I was doing. My favorite elements of mystery and thriller writing were in there, and I savored every minute of shaping this story.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
This is my first mystery/thriller, and it explores the dark side of human nature, how far people will go if pushed hard enough to step off the edge of the moral universe and into the unknown. It’s much more twisty and psychologically complex than anything I’ve done before.
But as dark as things get in my books, I’m writing for teens (although with a crossover readership, certainly) and so far, there’s always been an element of hope, and the sense that no matter how badly you screw up, there’s always a glimmer of hope and the possibility of some sort of redemption. Other decisions that can be made and new directions to take.
Tell us about your main character.
There are two main characters in How to Disappear, narrating alternate chapters.
Nicolette Holland is a small-town Ohio cheerleader whose life seems pretty much perfect – sweet stepfather, great friends, popularity, success in her small pond – until you scratch the surface. And, oh yeah, she’s on the run from a murder she might have committed. At very least, something terrible happened in the woods near her house, and she’s feeling guilty about it — trying to figure out where she stands in terms of the Sunday school precepts she grew up with, and how many of them it’s okay to ignore if that’s what it takes to survive.
Jack Manx is the son of a Las Vegas mob figure who’s spent his whole life trying to distance himself from the family business. He’s a good kid, a strong student, a loyal friend, a superb athlete, and a compulsively good citizen, but his pedigree still scares the heck out of people. And, admittedly, sometimes his temper flares, and there are one or two things he’d just as soon keep hidden. But everything he believes about himself is thrown into question when he’s blackmailed to track down Nicolette and end her…or else.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
[I can’t really do this one without giant spoilers because unpeeling the layers of each character and discovering his or her true motivations and essence is at the center of the story.]
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I grew up on classic mysteries and the glorious Nancy Drew. I would love to exhume and dine with Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, and all those ladies who wrote as Carolyn Keene. Oh! I’d like to invite one living writer, the fabulous John Le Carre, who has been around and writing long enough to become a classic during his own lifetime.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a thriller based on real-life events so dark that I’ve also been turning out the lightest, fluffiest confection I’ve ever written just to stay sane. And then there’s this mystery set on the Equator. So we shall see…
Ann Redisch Stampler is the author of the young adult novels Afterparty and Where It Began as well as half a dozen picture books. Her work has garnered an Aesop accolade, the National Jewish Book Award, Sydney Taylor honors, the Middle East Book Award, and Bank Street Best Books of the Year mentions. How to Disappear (Simon Pulse, 2016), is her first young adult mystery/thriller. Before she became a full-time writer, Ann worked as a lawyer and a therapist. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband Rick.