PROLOGUE AND CHAPTERS 1 - 4
I’ve said, over and over, here on my site and elsewhere, that
every novel is triggered by a “What if…” – a glimmer of an
idea in the author’s brain.
LIVE TO TELL’s opening scene—a chase through the streets of
Manhattan—was the “what if” that inspired the book, and the premise
came to me one night as I was rushing to Grand Central Station to
catch a train home to the suburbs.
What if someone were being pursued through New York and had
something important in his possession—something he needed to
quickly stash away and later retrieve? Where in the heart of a busy
city could he safely hide something without risking that someone
else would stumble across it? The answer to that question was clear
to me as I raced to catch my train home that night—Grand Central
Terminal’s Lost & Found. But it opened the door to the most
complex thriller plot I’ve ever created.
I wrote the opening scene before I knew exactly who my character
was, what item he wanted to hide, why anyone would want it, or even
who was chasing him. As I wrote, the pieces of the plot began to
gel. He was an investigative reporter. He possessed a memory stick
that would incriminate a high-powered politician. He was being
chased by the police because he had, out of desperation, committed
a petty street crime. And he impulsively concealed the memory stick
in a child’s stuffed animal.
And so, LIVE TO TELL—and Lauren Walsh—were born.
I knew, when I began writing, that this domestic suspense plot
marked a return to my “Mom-Jep” (Moms-in-Jeopardy) roots. Thus, my
heroine would be an ordinary woman—a stay-at-home-mom whose path
fatefully crosses that of my villain. I injected the Walsh family
and their hometown with plenty of characteristics that ring true
with the people and places in my own suburban New York life.
Fictional Glenhaven Park is loosely based on the Westchester County
town where I’ve lived for the past fifteen years, and I’ve used it
as a setting in a number of novels—including SLIGHTLY SUBURBAN and
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS, which I wrote as my alter-ego Wendy Markham.
I often choose to write about danger that strikes close to home,
which is supposed to be a safe haven. I can effectively build
suspense by planting the idea—in the heroine’s mind, and the
reader’s--that unseen threats lurk in the most ordinary backdrops:
a neighborhood pool, a front porch, a doctor’s office waiting room.
Thus comes the sense that there is no safe place, no escape.
The pink stuffed bunny—an object that seems innocuous enough in the
beginning-- plays a key role in the plot. As we meet and get to
know the Walsh family—Lauren, teenaged Lucy and Ryan, and five
year-old Sadie, who have been abandoned by husband and father Nick,
in the midst of a midlife crisis—the lost toy comes to symbolize
loss itself. Basically, Fred the bunny is little Sadie’s “security
blanket.” I could relate to Lauren, the devoted mom whose children
were fiercely attached to toys at various stages in their
My older son received a quilted folk art pillow when he was born,
and it sits on his bed to this day, though the pillow is long gone
and the case has been reduced to just a ragged square of fabric. He
personalized it, calling it “Pee-oh”—his toddler way of pronouncing
“Pillow”—and my husband and I still do.
My younger son was attached to something he called his “softie”—a
woven blanket depicting AA Milne’s Pooh Bear. My sister-in-law
Stacey gave it to him the day he was born. The Softie has been from
the Caribbean to Alaska, warming many a hotel, cruise ship, and
even railroad compartment bed.
Like “Pee-oh” and “Softie,” Sadie Walsh’s “Fred” is a crucial
member of the family, and Lauren will go to great lengths to get
him back when Sadie loses him. Her maternal instinct is to protect
and nurture, and we see this from the novel’s opening—with its
mundane domestic conflicts—to the end, when the children’s lives
are in jeopardy and Lauren must save them.
In the past few years, I’ve sadly witnessed many friends’ marriages
crash and burn, accompanied by the same small town gossip mill that
drives my heroine’s insecurity. It was an effective plot device:
the added pressure of having everyone around Lauren watching and
judging her—and the loss of her social circle and closest
confidants-- enhances the tension and the sense of isolation. I
liked the idea that even at home, surrounded by people, she’s alone
Building on that theme and drawing from real life, I’ve also
created scenes that portray the slower rhythm and scant population
of late summer suburban days. My own suburban hamlet becomes a
virtual ghost town every August, when summer camps end and families
depart for annual vacations. I’ve tried to capture that odd
emptiness here, but in a sinister way. Lauren no longer welcomes
the annual solitude. Particularly now that an invisible threat
begins to loom.
In creating the characters of Lauren’s adolescent children, I drew
from my own experience as the mom of a tween and teen. After
reading the manuscript, my older son asked me if I’d based Ryan—the
sweet and sensitive son transformed into a mercurial and combative
young man—on him. The answer was no—and yes. Certain scenes, like
the one on page 48, where Lauren is doling out cash for yet
another pool snack bar meal, or chasing after him with sunblock,
were inspired by my real-life daily dealings with my sons. But so
was the later scene with Lucy, who is tenderly supportive of her
emotionally wounded mother.
Another scene inspired by real life is the one on pages
51-52, where Lauren wistfully watches a young mom with her
children at the town pool. As my own children grow up, I’ve had
many a similar moment—envious of mothers who dole out goldfish
crackers to cherubic toddlers as I watch my own boys recklessly
barreling off diving boards and flirting with precocious girls in
On page 74, where we spend some time with Lauren’s estranged
husband Nick and his new mistress, I really wanted to show that for
all his faults, he isn’t entirely without a conscience. It was
difficult to find any empathy for the character, personally, but
necessary. In this plot, as in real life, the destruction of the
marriage isn’t black and white. There are grey areas. Nick does
miss his wife at certain times—but they definitely outgrew each
other. And his new girlfriend isn’t perfect. We see here and
elsewhere that he’s a weak man, and we sense that Lauren is better
off without him—and that she’s going to be just fine on her
Keep reading, and I’ll be back with insight into the next three