Have you read Baggage yet? If you love suspense, you really should. S.G. Redling kindly answered a few of my questions about the book, so please give her a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a bit about Baggage and what inspired you to write it?
Baggage is a story about the damage grief can cause and the weight of keeping secrets. My original intentions for the story were completely different. I planned on writing about a woman who becomes obsessed with a game of chance. When I tried to bring her to life, I realized this was a woman with a secret. Once I unearthed the secret, well, that became the book. As a writer, this kind of organic evolution is what I live for.
What makes Anna Ray a compelling character? Why will readers root for her?
Hopefully readers will be interested in Anna for the way she has adapted to this enormous, gaping wound that sits in the middle of her reality. She’s very funny and intelligent and, while she doesn’t exactly deal with life successfully, she has a bravery about her, a willingness to look at herself honestly. She’s also not in this alone. Her relationship with her cousin Jeannie has a lot of weight to it for better or worse.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
Baggage didn’t require a great deal of research. It’s an emotional book. I checked my police work with a detective who lives in my city; I brushed up on some art movements. The story is set in the fictional town of Gilead, WV, at the fictional Eastern Allegheny College. These were based on the beautiful campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV, where I was a guest lecturer one summer. On my first stroll across campus, I knew I would use this setting.
The process for Baggage was based less on procedure, more on figuring out how someone would cling to their sanity and try to build a life around a painful and ugly secret.
Of course I always wanted to write! Didn’t everyone? Every reader, at least. I have been telling myself stories for as long as I have known words. I was in my twenties before I had the audacity to try a novel and it took twenty years for that audacity to morph into daring to get published. Stories, however, were always with me. I was the youngest of four kids and I was kind of a weirdo. I liked being alone. I liked being in my own head. The first story with any real structure I can remember putting together happened one summer. Maybe I was eight? Nine? My friend Chrissy and I created characters and then spent the summer sending them on adventures. We used china animals on a Clue board as our pawns.
If memory serves, we did this for quite a few years. There’s a better than average chance several of the adventures were lifted from episodes of Scooby Doo and Fantasy Island. I admit to nothing.
What authors have inspired you the most?
I have never met a female author who didn’t start with Nancy Drew. Now, I remain inspired by all the people who keep putting their stories out there. This is no gig for faint of heart.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
What a great question! Of course I can’t only name one. My top picks would be Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Ruins by Scott Smith. All of them had me gasping at the end in shock.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
There’s a reason the same answers come up to that question – read widely, write a lot, be brave. Those are the basic requirements for being a writer. There’s one piece of advice that I don’t see enough, however, and that is to be prudent about showing your work. Lots of advice is given about having thick skin and getting your work out there and learning to roll with the punches. There’s truth in that but when you’re just starting out, you’re not obligated to show your work to anyone. It can be crippling to write with the world looking over your shoulder. You have to write an awful lot of crap before you start writing well and that crap is nobody’s business.
This may sound strange but I recommend writing a lot and putting it away. Let it build up like a verbal compost heap. Come back to it later, when you’re really doubting your ability. Look at those early pieces, the ones on the bottom of the pile, and see how far you’ve come. You’re allowed to write badly if you’re striving to improve.
It looks like you’ve had some amazing experiences abroad! Where would you like to travel to that you haven’t yet been? What’s been one of your favorite travel destinations?
Oh, I love traveling. I’m addicted to that sense of bewilderment when you land in a foreign airport, jetlagged and a little drunk from airplane wine, when you can’t figure out where you are and you’re wondering if you have made a horrible mistake, and then that sweet moment when you decide to be brave and make decisions and set out on your journey. It never gets less thrilling.
I’m hoping to travel more into Central and South America. I had really hoped to celebrate my fiftieth birthday on Easter Island but life had other plans. It’s still on my list. My old college roommate recently relocated to Tblisi so that sounds like a perfect reason to have a reunion. Plus I’m currently possessed by the desire to go on another cross-country drive. There is so much to see in the US that I really suffer from an embarrassingly long travel list.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up edits on the next thriller, coming out in September. The title is still undecided. Now, however, I’m in that heady and terrifying dream state that occurs before starting a new book. It’s emerging in the strangest ways and I have yet to figure out how I’m going to wrangle the beast but I’m really looking forward to it. It feels big and weird and full of mayhem. I’m ready to face-plant myself into a mess like that. Talk to me in a few months and I may be singing a different song but for now, I’m loving it.
Over the years, terrible things keep happening to Anna Ray on February 17. First, there was the childhood trauma she’s never been able to speak about. Then, to her horror, her husband killed himself on that date.
A year later and a thousand miles away, Anna tries to find solace in the fresh start of a new job in a new place. She takes comfort in her outspoken cousin Jeannie, the confidant and best friend who’s there whenever she needs help. On the day of the dreaded anniversary, Anna and Jeannie hit the town, planning to ease the pain with an alcohol-induced stupor and then sleep…
When Anna awakes the next morning, she thinks she can put one more February 17 behind her, but fate is about to intervene in the form of two gruesome murders with eerie similarities to her violent past. This time, however, she won’t be an abandoned daughter or a grieving widow. This time, she’ll be a suspect.