Interview: Shawn McGuire

Welcome Shawn McGuire, author of the Whispering Pines mysteries. 

OriginalSecrets_CVR_SMLDo you listen to music when you write? 

I do listen to music. Plugging the earbuds into my ears is almost like a starter’s pistol. It’s my signal to go, write. The music coming through those buds, however, depends on what I’m writing, because each series I write requires a different kind of music. My Gemi Kittredge novella series is set in Hawaii, so I listened to slack key guitar music for those. My Whispering Pines series is set in a small, quirky village that’s populated with equally quirky residents. I find folk music, the Appalachian style, is best while writing those books. The one thing that is the same is, no lyrics. I can’t listen to people singing while I’ve got characters talking in my head!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

I love this question. It would be a chocolate-nut-fruit cluster. The chocolate would need to be very dark, to represent the secrets going on in the village. The nuts, probably almonds, would represent the “nutty” characters. I think the fruit would be dried cranberries (sweet and tart) to represent the sweet/tart characters that live there and the sweet romance going on between the main character, Jayne, and Tripp, the man helping her with her bed-and-breakfast.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?

No question, the first draft. I HATE first drafts. To get through them, I write them really fast. For example, I just finished the first draft of the fourth book in my Whispering Pines series, tentative titled Hidden Secrets. I wrote that draft in fourteen days, averaging 5,000 words per day. By the last chapter, I was writing only dialogue just so I could be done with it. Now is when my real fun starts. I LOVE the revision process. I get to really dig in and add details and setting descriptions and really bring the story to life.

What do you think makes a good story?

I was just having this conversation with someone. To me, a good story is obviously well-written with a good pace and characters that we want to root for. As a writer, it’s a story I can’t wait to get back to writing. As a reader, it’s one that I don’t want to stop reading, but also one that leaves enough wiggle room for me to have my own experience with it. I know that readers don’t experience my stories in the exact way that I do when I write them, and I’m fine with that. I love when someone contacts me with a takeaway that I never even thought of. If they want to believe, for example, that there’s magic going on in Whispering Pines and I didn’t intend for there to be, wonderful. (By the way, I’m not going to tell you what my intent was!!)

Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

In five years, I see my Whispering Pines series completed and readers still loving to read them, and I’ll be hard at work on at least one more series. I see my husband and I traveling the country in a fifth-wheel trailer. I love the thought of hauling our home somewhere and plunking down to stay for a while. I love to experience new people and places. To be able to “live” in a new community for a while, to really experience it, rather than just pass through while on vacation, sound like a wonderful adventure to me. At the same time, I need a home base as well so there will be a house on a lake … somewhere …


About Original Secrets

The Northwoods village of Whispering Pines used to be a safe haven for outsiders, but after three deaths in two months, it’s become a hotbed of murder.

Exhausted from being the only law enforcement official on duty, while also trying to open a bed-and-breakfast, Jayne O’Shea welcomes the escape she finds in her grandmother’s journals. Each entry gives her a deeper understanding of why her grandparents moved to the secluded spot so long ago. But as questions are answered, deeply hidden secrets are unearthed.

If Jayne can put all the pieces of this puzzle together, she’ll not only learn the truth behind her grandmother’s death, she’ll catch a killer whose been wandering the village for forty years.


headshot 1.1Suspense and fantasy author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then. She grew up in the beautiful Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, called the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!) home for many years, and now lives in Colorado. Shawn is a homebody and loves to read, craft, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about Shawn’s work on her website


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Ask Peggy: the climactic moment

Hello Mysteristas readers! Two weeks ago we rolled out the new “Ask Peggy” feature of the blog, and we already have our first question!

It comes to us from Ellen Byron, who is the author of the fab Cajun Country mysteries. (If you need time to pop on over to your favorite retailer and pick them up, don’t worry. I’ll wait.).

You’re back. Good. So Ellen asks:

I’ve got a question for you, Peggy. I’m breaking the story for my next book and I’m at the penultimate scene where my amateur sleuth protag has figured out who the murderer must be. (“Scene” – can you tell what I usually write?) It’s that chapter where the protag usually ends up in peril, high tension and all that. But I’m tired of doing it that way. I’m looking for an alternate to her being in peril – I already have a scene where her friend is, but with a false suspect. I was thinking this particular killer could end his own life – but why would she, an amateur protag, end up there, with or without the police? And where’s the tension?

Thoughts, Peggy Pixel?

Ellen, you may have had a breakthrough since then, but I’m gonna answer this anyway because a) I can, and b) someone else might wonder the same thing.

I completely agree with you on the need to change things up. Always resorting to “protagonist is in danger and must escape the villain” can start to feel kind of check-boxy. At the same time, this is your climax–or pretty darn close–so it needs to pack a punch.

Here are some thoughts.

An experienced author like yourself knows this to be true: plot has to serve characters, not the other way around. Force your characters to do something not true to who they are and the story won’t work. (Also, if you have stubborn characters, they may fight with you, but that’s a post for another day). Instead of forcing a reason for your protagonist to be on scene during your villain’s suicide attempt without police, is there a location where both characters would logically have a reason to be? Obviously, this also needs to be a location compatible with an attempted suicide (after all, both characters would logically be at a grocery store, but not too many suicides are attempted in the dairy aisle). So one solution is to examine your story for a shared location where both characters would be.

You don’t say why your amateur sleuth protagonist got involved in this case in the first place. But during the course of that investigation, it’s going to become likely that your protagonist goes someplace maybe she wouldn’t normally go because she has to in order to continue her sleuthing. One of those places could become your suicide location (for example, maybe she finds a note, goes to the place to follow up, and the villain is here–just spitballing).

Here’s another idea. You could use a relatively public space, like a park. The sleuth is there and sees the villain preparing to “end it all.” Then she has to act, not only because not only does she feel morally obligated to save the villain’s life, she needs to protect any innocent bystanders.

Or try this. Your protagonist wouldn’t normally go to this place. However, during her investigation she uncovers the identity of the killer. She goes to this location intended to confront him (or her), maybe by calling the police. But when she arrives (ahead of the cops, natch) the villain is preparing to “end it all.” Thus instead of confronting and defeating him, your protagonist has to save him (you know, in addition to solving the murder).

Finally, although the suicide angle offers so interesting possibilities, what if it’s the threat of another death completely? Your protagonist could unearth information where she learns another character is in peril. She rushes to the rescue and in the process confronts the villain (and saves the next victim).

Anyways, those are my thoughts. Whatever you choose, thanks for asking and I can’t wait to read the finished book!


Peggy Pixel

Guest Post: Elizabeth Heiter

Welcome back Elizabeth Heiter, who is visiting today to talk about a fabulous new project!

The Night of the Flood - finalAuthor Collaboration and a Novel in Stories

It started two years ago. A fellow blogger at The Thrill Begins (the International Thriller Writers organization’s blog) suggested that a group of us work on a project together. Perhaps an anthology. But something different, a new way to tie the stories together that would stand out.

After phone calls, a special Facebook group to chat, and a Google Doc where we could collaborate, we had an idea: instead of writing individual short stories tied together through a theme, we’d set up a catastrophe and then give each writer an hour time slot within the next twenty-four hours to set a story in the aftermath. Everything was going to interconnect, and each story would bring the book closer to a big conclusion. But each author was also going to have the freedom to use the characters and situations of their choosing.

At first, it sounded a bit like a pipe dream. A group of writers – it ultimately became 14 of us – working both independently and collectively on a novel made up of stories, while juggling their own book commitments. But the collaboration itself turned out to be surprisingly easy – most of the group already knew each other from writers’ conferences and working on The Thrill Begins, which helped.

We already had the premise: after a woman was put to death for killing her rapists, a group of activists blew up the dam in the city of Everton, PA in retribution. Based off that premise, each author picked a time slot in those following twenty-four hours, wrote a synopsis of their intended story in a shared Google Doc and got to work. Afterward, we read each other’s stories and incorporated small details into our own. Ed Aymar and Sarah Chen volunteered to edit the stories, going through for consistency issues, like how far the flood had traveled during each time frame, where the moon was in the sky, and so on.

My personal story – “The Chase” – features a police officer determined to find her brother in the flooded town – before he kills their father. After I wrote my draft, it was surprisingly easy to go through and add in small details: a bundle of drugs that waded past from Rob Brunet’s story, a random shotgun blast that might have originated from Shannon Kirk’s killer, two shadowy figures skulking toward a home with ill intentions that I imagined to be the brother-sister duo from E.A. Aymar’s story. Working in those details added to the joy of writing “The Chase,” and for readers, I hope those moments will add to the fun of the concept of a novel in stories.

This week, about two years from the time the initial concept was suggested, The Night of the Flood hit shelves! We had such a good time writing it, in fact, that there’s been discussion of another collaboration, another Google doc timeline, and more chaos and crime written in individual stories but merged into a much larger idea…

But that’s a story for another day.


Photo_Nov_LoRes_WebVersionCritically acclaimed and award-winning author ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range. Her novels have been published in more than a dozen countries and translated into eight languages; they’ve also been shortlisted for the HOLT Medallion, the Daphne Du Maurier award, the National Readers’ Choice award and the Booksellers’ Best award and won the RT Reviewers’ Choice award. Learn more at

The Night of the Flood will take you to the fictional town of Everton, with stories from criminals, cops, and civilians that explore the thin line between the rich and the poor, the insider and the outsider, the innocent and the guilty. It’s an intricate and intimate examination of the moment when chaos is released—in both society and the human spirit, and features stories by E.A. Aymar, Rob Brunet, Sarah M. Chen, Angel Luis Colón, Hilary Davidson, Mark Edwards, Gwen Florio, Elizabeth Heiter, J.J. Hensley, Jennifer Hillier, Shannon Kirk, Jenny Milchman, Alan Orloff, and Wendy Tyson, and an introduction by Hank Phillippi Ryan.


Interview: Suzanne Adair

Please welcome Suzanne Adair, author of the Michael Stoddard American Revolution mysteries!

180212KillerDebtDraftCoverMysteristasWhat made you interested in writing this particular story? Tell us a bit about your new book. What inspired you to write it?

Killer Debt is the fourth book of the Michael Stoddard American Revolution mysteries, with a projected six books total in the series. The setting is North Carolina, in the year 1781. Redcoats successfully occupied the town of Wilmington, North Carolina from January through November 1781. Nowhere in my American history classes was this victory for the Crown forces mentioned. Neither did North Carolina receive much attention when it came to the Revolutionary War—yet the occupation of Wilmington enabled the British to commandeer much of North Carolina and stall the war for almost a year. I wanted to explore this fascinating fact in fiction, in a series. Hence the Michael Stoddard American Revolution mysteries.

In addition, a number of historical events in North Carolina prior to and during the war had captured my attention while I was researching, and I wanted to write about them, too. One such event was a visit made to Crown-occupied Wilmington in July 1781 by William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Surely Hooper must have been on King George III’s “most wanted” list. Why did he go into that lion’s den? More importantly, why did the British let him leave? And how could I weave this stellar bit of history into a subplot in a murder mystery?

I’m always curious how people more than two hundred years in the past dealt with the kinds of issues that have clung to humanity all along. You know, the same old desires for money, power, and sex that fuel modern crimes we read about every day in the news. In Killer Debt, I decided to explore desperation and greed—and what happens to a man’s self-respect and sense of honor when he realizes that sometimes justice cannot be delivered unless you break the rules.

How did you get started writing? How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was in second grade. I’d been through the eye of a hurricane at home with my family. A few weeks later, I caught the mumps and was quarantined at home while I was contagious. Since I didn’t feel bad, I was really bored. I zipped through a stack of  library books. Then my mother gave me paper and a pencil and told me to write something. And after that genie was out of the bottle, I didn’t stop writing.

What do you think makes a good story? How do you incorporate that into your books?

A good story must have solid conflict and at least one relatable character.

Seems like I’m reading more and more fiction lately that has little or no conflict, as if writers are afraid of causing their characters pain. But a story doesn’t get rolling until conflict arises. A character (most often the protagonist) wants something bad enough to go get it. Then that protagonist must stand up to whatever comes her way from other characters and story elements such as weather and wild animals—anything that prevents the protagonist from easily getting what s/he wants.

Conflict in the Michael Stoddard American Revolution mystery series comes from several angles. A warn-torn setting like Revolutionary North Carolina provides exterior conflict in the form of opponent armies clashing, not to mention individual miscreants who leap in and take advantage of wartime chaos. Captain Michael Stoddard also finds plenty of interpersonal conflict from other characters while he’s investigating murders, chief among them Fairfax, a psychopathic fellow officer. Even supporting characters who aren’t enemies often provide conflict; they have their own goals, and no two people will always agree. And Michael finds plenty of conflict within himself.

Protagonists don’t have to be squeaky clean and likeable, but they must possess a few qualities that encourage readers to care what happens to them next in the story and follow along with all the conflicts. A good example of this kind of protagonist is the titular character in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ripley is a con-artist and a killer. He’s also clever, creative, and focused. As his own scheming ensnares him deeper and deeper, the reader commits to the story, invested in seeing how Ripley will extricate himself from each mess he’s made. If a reader doesn’t care what happens next, the writer hasn’t created a good story. And there’s a lot of fiction published today with zero relatable characters.

About the marketing thing—love it, hate it?

I love scheduling author events, getting out and meeting readers, giving presentations, and teaching workshops. I spend so much time by myself with just my imagination for company that I’m grateful for opportunities to interact with other people.

I love editing, too. When it’s time to edit, the difficult work—getting to The End of a first draft—is done. Editing lets me shape the story better, elevate it from mediocre to great. How exciting to watch it come together with each editing pass! And yes, I’ll kill my darlings if it makes a story better.

What I hate is the publishing tasks: selecting someone to do cover design and interior design, then following up with them to make sure they haven’t screwed up. On several books, I wound up with amateurs who’d touted themselves as professionals and cost me huge amounts of time and extra money. Very frustrating. Why make so much effort? It reflects negatively on my professionalism if I sell a shoddy looking product to someone.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Michael Stoddard is a mashup of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe (but more polished) + Martin Freedman’s Dr. Watson + Daniel Boone. And perhaps a pinch of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, without the magic.


AdairSuzanneMedResAward-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in North Carolina. Her mysteries transport readers to the Southern theater of the American Revolution, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, and hiking. Killer Debt, book #4 of her Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery series, will be released 9 May 2018 after a crowdfunding campaign during March 2018. Check her []home page for the latest information.

Web site




Book description

A slain loyalist financier, a patriot synagogue, a desperate debtor. And Michael Stoddard, who was determined to see justice done.

July 1781. The American Revolution rages in North Carolina. Redcoat investigator Captain Michael Stoddard is given the high-profile, demanding job of guarding a signer of the Declaration of Independence on a diplomatic mission to Crown-occupied Wilmington. When a psychopathic fellow officer with his own agenda is assigned to investigate a financier’s murder, Michael is furious. The officer’s threats to impose fines on the owner of a tavern and link her brother to the financier’s murder draw Michael into the case—to his own peril and that of innocent civilians. For neither killer nor victim are what they first seem.

Buy links for the Michael Stoddard series

Deadly Occupation




Regulated for Murder




A Hostage to Heritage





Meet Peggy Pixel!

Well hello there Mysterista readers!

I’ve been hanging out on the side of this blog for…a long time. Thanks so much to Mysteristas for finally deciding to give me a name. And thanks to Diana for suggesting a great one! It’s nice to be known as more than “the peeping girl.”


As any writer will tell you, giving a character a name is a risk. See, “girl in the coffee shop” can come and go. A one off. Enter stage left, say her lines, and exit stage right, never to be seen again. But when you give a character a name, you give her a personality–and it becomes so much harder to simply bring her on page, then shuffle her off when the lines are uttered.

(Liz knows all about this. Ask her about Tom Burns some day.)

So if you all think I’m going back to just being a pretty face and hanging out on the blog sidebar, well, think again.

Fortunately, along with a name Diana suggested a job for me. And the Mysteristas think it’s pretty cool, so they’ve agreed to let me give it a spin. What is it you say? Well, I am please to announce that not only am I the Mysteristas icon, I will be taking on the role of…(wait for it)

Advice columnist.

Oh, not relationship advice, although I could do a bang-up job on that, too. This is mystery advice. Maybe you’re a writer whose gotten into a tight spot with your plot and needs a bit of assistance. Maybe you’re a reader who loves cozies set in quaint British towns and you’re looking for recommendations. Whatever the question, I’ve got you covered.

Here’s how it works. Send your question to “Ask Peggy” via email to I’ll noodle through your issue and post my advice here on the Mysteristas blog.

How often? Well, that depends on you, dear Mysterista community. The more questions I get, the more regular the column. Liz tells me that the second and fourth Mondays are reserved for “Mysterista Monday” and I’m welcome to use at least one of those for “Ask Peggy.”

So hit me up! Challege me. Throw me your best questions.

The mystery doctor is “in.”


Interview: Leslie Wheeler

Please welcome Leslie Wheeler, author of Rattlesnake Hill!

perf5.500x8.500.inddWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day begins with breakfast for my cat and me—can’t start the day without it—and a glance at my local newspaper, The Boston Globe. Then if Marmalade the cat is feeling frisky, I’ll play with her a bit. After that, it’s up to my study on the third floor of my condo to write while my mind is still fresh and clear but also in touch with the dream world of my unconscious. Though difficult at times, writing is an activity that gives me great pleasure. I’m excited when ideas come to me, and a productive session leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. I’ll break for a quick lunch, then around 2 or 3 PM, my low point in the day, I’ll either go to the gym, or if the weather’s nice, I’ll take a walk around the Fresh Pond Reservoir in Cambridge, which puts fresh air in my lungs, clears my mind, and removes the kinks in my body that I’ve developed from sitting at my computer. I’ll return, refreshed and relaxed, and if there’s time, I’ll put in an hour or more at my desk. My perfect day ends with me either cooking dinner for my significant other and my son and his girlfriend, all of whom live nearby, or having dinner with my significant other at his place. Afterwards, I might watch a little TV, read a book or a New Yorker article that interests me, then it’s lights out.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression or meal?

From head to toe, the accessories you’re most likely to see me wearing are a beret on my head and patterned socks on my feet. The beret I currently sport is made of soft, dark green wool that after several years of wear fits my head of thick, unruly curly hair perfectly. I’m so attached to it I’d probably freak out if I lost it, as I have when I’ve lost previous favorite berets. I wear a beret outdoors in the fall after it turns chilly and into the summer until it gets too hot and I replace it with a cotton or straw sun hat. The patterned socks I wear come in all colors with lots of different designs. Many feature cats, but others showcase birds, fish, moose, bears and deer. The socks always give me a lift—no pun intended—when I put them on, and I feel sad when a favorite pair develops holes and I can’t wear it anymore.

What themes do you regularly revisit in your writing?

One theme I often revisit in my writing is that of parents’ efforts to control their children’s lives. In Murder at Plimoth Plantation, this is presented in a humorous manner through the portrayal of my main character’s sister-in law, Eileen, who is such a helicopter mom that she jets in from California to Massachusetts once a month to visit her daughter, an interpreter at Plimoth Plantation. In Murder at Gettysburg, the theme takes a more sinister turn that I won’t go into here lest I give too much away. In Murder at Spouters Point, an interfering older brother tries to prevent his sister from marrying a man with a questionable past. In my new book, Rattlesnake Hill, a grandmother’s incessant message of gloom and doom causes her granddaughter to approach people warily, making it difficult for her to have close relationships with men.

Another theme I’ve dealt with frequently is the way in which the past is repeated in the present. Both Murder at Plimoth Plantation and Murder at Spouters Point focus on the often troubled relationships between white people and Native Americans, historically and into the present-day, while Murder at Gettysburg, with its emphasis on Confederate reenactors, takes a hard look at how some people in this country are still fighting the Civil War. In Rattlesnake Hill the past repeats itself in the present with two romantic triangles, separated by over a hundred years, that involve members of the same family.

A third theme that as writer especially interests me is the conflict between remaining on the sidelines of life as an observer and being fully engaged. Not surprisingly, I’ve examined this conflict through Miranda Lewis, the main character of my Living History mysteries, and Kathryn Stinson, the main character of Rattlesnake Hill, both of whom are torn between detachment and involvement.

What inspired you to write your new book?

Rattlesnake Hill grew out of the deep love I developed for the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts after many years of living there, first full-time, now part-time, in a small town that’s off the well-beaten tourist track. I have often been struck by the beauty of the Berkshire landscape, but I’m also well aware of the area’s dark side in the hardscrabble lives of some of the locals.

A story I heard about local people haunted me so much that I built the novel around it. It’s a tragic tale about a love triangle that ended with a woman’s murder and her lover’s blinding. Part of the reason this story had such an impact on me was that I knew and still do some of the people involved. The blinded lover’s father did the excavating on my property and for many years plowed the driveway. I often saw his son riding in the truck with him, dark glasses covering his sightless eyes. Also, relatives of the man who did the shooting are neighbors who live up the hill from me.

In the novel, this love triangle takes place over a hundred years ago, but it’s a story that reverberates over the generations until it’s repeated in another triangle that also ends with a woman’s death. When my main character, Kathryn Stinson, plunges into a passionate affair with a man whose ancestor was involved in the long-ago triangle, and who also figured in the more recent one, the story threatens to repeat itself a third time.

If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

If I couldn’t write, I’d spend more time doing all the things I do when I’m not writing. I’d read more, travel more, garden more, cook more, go for long walks and hike more, hang out with friends more, do more home improvement projects, and continue to do events and give workshops related to writing. But actual writing is so much a part of who I am that I’d feel diminished without it. While I enjoy other activities, I’m most happy when I’m writing—when it’s going well, of course! There have been periods when I couldn’t write, and those were difficult for me. One such period occurred after my husband’s death a number of years ago. I was so overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done, including getting our son through his first year of high school without his father, that it was several months before I ventured into my study. When I finally did sit down at my computer and write, it was such a wonderful experience that I knew I had to continue.


An award-winning author of American history books and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written three living history mysteries: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. Her new book, Rattlesnake Hill is the first in a new series of Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries. Leslie’s short stories have appeared in such anthologies as Day of the Dark, Stories of Eclipse, and Level Best Books’ New England Crime Stories series, where she was formerly an editor. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she is Speakers Bureau Coordinator for the New England Chapter. Leslie divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond. Find her at her website ( or on Goodreads (


Interview: Vivian Schilling

Please give a big welcome to Vivian Schilling, author of Quietus!

Quietus coverDo you listen to music when you write?

Yes, I find music incredibly inspiring. I love soundtracks in particular with their ever-shifting movement and mood. I’m a huge fan of film composers James Newton Howard, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, and Vangelis. I find Javier Navarette’s score to Pan’s Labyrinth and Clint Mansell’s The Fountain absolutely haunting. Lisa Gerrard’s Whale Rider never fails to get me swirling through the room as I plot my character’s next move. Music adds a whole physical element and dimension to writing I often miss with mere silence.

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

I narrowly survived a car crash when I was a young girl. Though I lost consciousness, I have a vivid memory of being alone in a dark place along with the overwhelming feeling I didn’t belong there. The firemen and paramedics, even the doctors told me it was a miracle—sheer chance—that I had survived. They kept me in the hospital for days looking for signs of injury but found only minor cuts and extensive bruising. Four years later, I lost both of my parents unexpectedly within less than a year of each other. At twenty-two, I found myself questioning the seeming synchronicity of life and unpredictability of death, and my inability to reason my way through loss. I wanted to know why I was spared while my parents weren’t. To this day, I remain fascinated with the question of fate and our body’s final breath when life’s greatest mystery will be revealed.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

As in Quietus, my themes often involve a deeply conflicted protagonist in search of philosophical, moral or spiritual answers. Quietus also explores the line between life and death and questions whether modern medicine and resuscitation play a role in its balance. Other recurring themes: prejudice and the power of perspective; the psychological battle wherein man versus himself; addiction and the underlying issues that create them; and somewhere—almost always—the bond between mother and child, sister and brother.

Tell us about your main character:

Kylie O’Rourke comes from hard-working, impoverished parents, her father an Irish lobsterman, her mother a daughter of the Georgia bayou. Transcending poverty, Kylie makes a life for herself in Boston as an interior designer and is at the height of success when she, her husband, and closest friend are in a devastating plane crash. When she wakes in the hospital weeks later she finds her world turned upside down. Suddenly everything she thought she knew of her past, of her husband and of her core beliefs falls into question. Even the victory of her own survival becomes ridden with doubt.

Kylie grew almost mythical to me in the way her resilience continuously surprised me. And though she kept a small part of herself hidden, I felt I grew to know her to the depths of her soul. I actually came across a picture of her once in a magazine—a young woman exactly as I had imagined her: big-boned, tall and solid, with strong facial features, dark auburn hair and the clearest of green eyes. Not only a strong woman—a warrior. And there she was with her face turned slightly away. I couldn’t help but rip the page from the magazine, but by the time I reached home it had vanished. Somehow, even that seemed to fit Kylie O’Rourke.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a huge animal and nature lover. I love hiking through forested mountains and along the sea. I love rainy days and clear nights. I love fairy tales, mythology, a strong tale of suspense, and a well-drawn narrative set in the past or in the wilderness. I love old houses and imperfect objects. I have an ancient couch I simply can’t let go of, its wooden slats sagging to the floor. I love long stretches of time secluded in a remote place where I am completely alone with my thoughts.


Schilling headshotVivian Schilling is the author of the acclaimed novels Quietus and Sacred Prey, as well as a screenwriter, producer and director of independent films. She recently completed work as co-writer and producer of the French documentary “Bonobos: Back to the Wild” and is currently at work on her third novel.