The Toronto author dishes on writing her first suspense novel, The Couple Next Door, what makes a great thriller and her literary faves.
In the same vein as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Shari Lapena's new novel is a suspenseful tale of a missing person. The Couple Next Door follows Anne and Marco Conti's desperate search for their baby girl after she's abducted from her crib while they're attending a next-door neighbour's dinner party. Full of surprises, Lapena's first thriller explores the secrets that a young couple keep—from the world, from themselves and from each other.
The Couple Next Door (Doubleday Canada) by Shari Lapena, $25.
Canadian Living: Where did you get the idea for this book?
Shari Lapena: I'd wanted to write a thriller for a long time, but I wasn't sure what to write about. Then, I started thinking, What if the babysitter cancelled at the last minute? How dangerous is it to go next door without the baby? What could possibly happen? It's a variation on the story of the woman who turns her back for a second at the ice cream truck and her kid's gone. I thought people would be able to relate to making one mistake and having something terrible happen.
CL: What makes a great suspense novel?
SL: Unreliable narration, so the reader isn't sure of the characters. You also need a story that moves quickly and has a lot of unexpected twists the reader can't see coming.
CL: How do you keep up the plot's breakneck pace?
SL: Every scene has to do more than one thing. There's no dead space. There's no filler where the book isn't working to ratchet up the tension, advance the plot or deepen the characters.
CL: Do you know all of the twists before you start writing?
SL: I have a general idea, but I don't see a lot of the internal twists and turns coming until they're right in front of me. When I do the first draft, I'm exploring and figuring out the characters. I know the basic plot, but all the minutiae spring up.
CL: Do you make a conscious effort to become a better writer?
SL: Oh, yeah. Probably the best way I do that is by reading [the work of] other writers. After I read a book I really admire, I wonder, How did she do that? I go back and pay attention when I read it again.
CL: Do you have any favourite books or authors?
SL: I love thrillers, obviously. I just read Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton and it was so well done. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison is like a train wreck in slow motion; you can't look away. In nonthrillers, I like Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins. She made me wish she would come along and write about all of the generations of my family so I can understand them better.