Saving Grace by D.M. Barr Genre: Psychological Thriller
Grace Pierrepoint Rendell, the only child of an ailing billionaire, has been treated for paranoia since childhood. When she secretly quits her meds, she begins to suspect that once her father passes, her husband will murder her for her inheritance. Realizing that no one will believe the ravings of a supposed psychotic, she devises a creative way to save herself – she will write herself out of danger, authoring a novel with the heroine in exactly the same circumstances, thus subtly exposing her husband's scheme to the world. She hires acclaimed author Lynn Andrews to help edit her literary insurance policy, but when Lynn is murdered, Grace is discovered standing over the bloody remains. The clock is ticking: can she write and publish her manuscript before she is strapped into a straitjacket, accused of homicide, or lowered six feet under?
With a cast of secondary characters whose challenges mirror Grace's own, Saving Grace is, at it's core, an allegory for the struggle of the marginalized to be heard and live life on their own terms.
One felony was all it took to convince Andrea Lin she was better suited to committing crime on paper than in person. As renowned mystery author Lynn Andrews, she understood conflict equaled good drama. Like her readers, she should have expected the hiccups, even relished them. What she hadn’t counted on was the accompanying agita, especially while sitting in her Bergen County kitchen, far from the action at the Bitcoin Teller Machine.
Her one job had been to place a single phone call when the money hit and tell the hacker to lift the encryption on Grace’s computer. Trouble was, her dozen calls remained unanswered until a few minutes ago, throwing their meticulous plan off schedule.
Andrea stroked the blue-gray Nebulung purring on her lap and tried to ignore the churning in her stomach. “Denver, the next time I consider helping a sibling with some crazy scheme, you have my permission to use my leg as a scratching post until I come to my senses. Agreed?”
Denver looked up, his green eyes filled with innocence, and answered with a single meow before leaping onto the table toward her plate of shortbread cookies. “
I’ll take that as a yes.” She sipped her tea, willing the sugar to sweeten the acrid taste in her mouth. The phone interrupted her meditation. No doubt a check-in from her brother, the extorter-in-chief.
“I figured you’d have called by now. Everything on track?” Joe’s strained voice conveyed his own jangled nerves. They’d agreed to be vague when communicating. In these days of Siri and Alexa, anyone could be listening.
“Finally. Took forever to get through to our friend, but she said she’d take care of ‘our project’ as soon as her meetings wrapped up. From here on out though, I’m sticking to fiction. Real-life intrigue is too stressful.”
Andrea missed Joe’s response, instead perplexed by her cats’ sudden change of behavior. Denver had tilted his head and leapt from the table; Vail and Aspen sat frozen, ears perked, staring toward the foyer. Then she heard it too, the sound of papers shuffling in the living room. She leaned forward, muscles taut, hackles raised, ready to pounce. “Joe, hold on a sec. I think someone’s in the house. I’ll call you back later.”
“Wait, what? Andrea??” Silence. The connection was dead.
After twenty minutes of weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic to travel one mile, Joe “Hack” Hackford pulled up outside his sister’s Ridgewood home. Adrenaline pumping on overdrive, he jumped from his car and sprinted toward the house. Door wide open—not an encouraging sign. He steeled his nerves and hastened inside. The living room looked like a hurricane’s aftermath, with furniture overturned and papers littering the carpets and floor.
“Andrea? Are you here?” He rushed into the kitchen, which lacked any signs of their celebratory dinner—no spaghetti boiling on the stove, no cake rising in the oven. Only the door to the backyard ajar and a shriek emanating from the next room, piercing the eerie silence. Hair stiffening at the back of his neck, he raced into the dining room where a redheaded woman stood frozen, staring across the room.
“Who the hell are you?” he growled.
The stranger remained wide-eyed and unresponsive. He followed her gaze to the floor, where he witnessed the unthinkable. His beloved sister lay in the corner, surrounded by a pool of blood, a kitchen knife stuck in her chest. Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. A trio of feline guards circled her lifeless body.
Hack’s knees turned to jelly, and he grabbed onto a chair for support, forcing back the remains of the snack he’d consumed only minutes earlier. Once the initial shock waned, he reverted his attention back to the intruder. At second glance, she did look somewhat familiar, though the woman he’d met a few weeks back—the missing heiress whose computer they’d just hacked—was brunette. Had she uncovered their con? With a bolt of fury, he reached forward and pulled the wig from her head. A thousand questions zigzagged in his brain, but only one forced its way past his lips:
“Oh my God. Grace. Oh my God. What the hell have you done?”
By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, competitive trivia player and author groupie, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.
My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they're off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won't friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.
The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I've never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed anyone at my local diet clinic.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author? I was a non-fiction writer for years, both as a magazine reporter/editor and as a corporate communications writer (brochures, newsletters, speeches, web content, sales letters, etc.). I never dreamed I could write fiction but every few years, something in me told to try and I’d take a class here or a conference there. Around 2013, I signed up for a course at the Sleepy Hollow Writer’s Center which required me to add onto my manuscript every week. I loved the discipline and eventually had 28,000 written. Then I put it aside for a few years until I met a lovely, New York Times bestselling author who took an interest in me and volunteered to send my work to his editor. That writer’s belief in me and that editor’s comments encouraged me to complete my first novel.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I play competitive trivia (Go Penguins!) and have competed in four national championships with World Tavern Trivia. So, I guess you could say I’m very trivial.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you! As the daughter of owners of a major Manhattan travel agency, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, which I then continued as a travel writer. My first trip was in 1986 to the location of my dreams—Tahiti—where I and others on my press trip witnessed Haley’s Comet at 4 a.m. and then watched the sunrise. When the sky turned the same color as the water, it was like looking into infinity. It was something I’ll always remember.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Without getting too political: Bigotry, rudeness, hypocrisy.
Where were you born/grew up at? Born and raised on the North Shore of Long Island, with frequent trips to London to see the British side of my family (my father’s side).
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day? On the beach in Bora Bora with my family and my friends, eating lobster and chocolate and listening to all my favorite music.
Who is your hero and why? My daughter, Julianne. I’ve never known anyone who so strongly believed in herself and her values and was unafraid to share them with the world. She’s defended marginalized populations from an early age and has never been afraid to follow the beat of a different drummer.
What kind of world ruler would you be? Someone who realized that there were experts out there far better versed than I and would recruit them to advise me. Someone who emphasized education and empathy above all else because only when people are educated and willing to understand each other will we ever know peace.
What are you passionate about these days?
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Walking my dog, watching mindless television, reading.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Abject neglect. (Just Kidding!) I didn’t start writing in earnest until my children were out of high school, which was partially because my first book was kinky, and I didn’t want my children hassled because of my artistic choices.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Perfectionist, funny, stubborn, creative, independent.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. My grandmother used to be so proud of everything I wrote, it practically bordered on accusing me of plagiarism (“You didn’t write that, did you?”). Considering myself a successful writer is quite a different question. I don’t know how you measure that…maybe if and when I hit bestseller status?
Do you have a favorite movie? Lots. Goodfellas, Godfather I and II, Funny Girl, Legally Blonde, Shawshank Redemption…I could go on and on.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Expired Listings for sure, but I try to write visually, so any of them might fit.
What inspired you to write this book? Saving Grace is about a woman who wonders if her husband plans to murder her for her inheritance once her rich father in Florida dies. My father lives in Florida and my husband has asked more than once about my expected inheritance. I started thinking, what if…
What can we expect from you in the future?
My next book, just finished, is a contemporary romantic comedy about pursuing second chances.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I based my favorite character, Zev, on the Hasidic men I met at my last job. They always made me laugh and so Zev provides the much-needed comic relief in the book.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Saving Grace?
The protagonist is Grace Rendell, a 45-year-old New Jersey wife and mother who is the only child of an ailing billionaire and has been treated for paranoia since she was six. Her husband is an advertising exec named Eliot who grew up poor and appears to be cheating on her. She has two sons and a father named Barrington who lives with his “chippie of the month” Caprice. Grace’s therapist is Emma Leighmann and the woman who helps her write her book is Andrea Lin, whose pen name is Lynn Andrews. Tom Druthers is the poisons expert who helps her and becomes a love interest. Andrea’s brother “Hack” and his friends also play a big part in the novel.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Actually, I rewrote this book around ten times, so I guess what I liked most is when I was finally finished.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Once Grace goes off her meds, she comes to believe that once her father dies, her husband will kill her for her inheritance. So she decides to write a novel, with the main character in the same predicament, so she can subtly expose his plot to the world without destroying her life and her family’s life if in fact, her views are a result of her resurgent paranoia and are completely wrong
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
As a Realtor, I specialized in Expired Listings. It seemed like a great title for a book where a serial killer was offing all the real estate agents in a small town.
Who designed your book covers?
Each was designed by a different artist. Kim Killion worked with a photo and concept I selected for Expired Listings, and I had a second, less graphic cover designed by Syneca Featherstone. There are two covers for Slashing Mona Lisa, one designed by Carl Graves and a second by the artist at Beachwalk Press, and for my current novel, the cover was designed by David King, the inhouse designer for Black Rose Press, again using a photo and concept I chose.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
My first editor for Saving Grace was Elf Ahearn. If I could do it all over again, I would have listened to her suggestions from the start. In the end, I used them anyway, but it took a long time for me to accept her criticisms were right on.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Prowritingaid.com is an invaluable tool.
If your book were made into a film, who would you like to play the lead? Sandra Bullock would make a perfect Grace.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
When you read the metaphors, if they seem odd or strained, remember that Grace experienced everything she knew of life from books. Also keep in mind that Saving Grace is an allegory for the struggle of the marginalized to be heard and live life on their own terms. To me, it’s about women who are forgotten by society after they’ve had their children and “served their purpose.”
How did you come up with name of this book?
Not only is Saving Grace an expression, it is also a perfect description of the plot.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I always love the funny scenes, so I love the scene that satirizes critique groups. I also love every scene with Zev, especially the one where he’s in Hack’s home and some bullies throw a note attached to a rock through the window and he holds it up to Hack and says, “I believe this is for you.”
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
A combination. There are parts of me in all my heroines: I was a Realtor like Dana Black, I was a reporter with weight issues like Camarin Torres, and like Grace Rendell, I’m a housewife and mother of a certain age who sometimes feels like no one sees me anymore.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story, or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
My characters always do things that surprise me. In Expired Listings, I didn’t originally intend for Aidan Cummings to become a love interest but once Dana saw him, there is was. In Saving Grace, Zev is a character who came from nowhere.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
It’s a unique concept, the idea of a woman who couldn’t write a book to save her life, until she had to. Not that many books out there who weaponize literature.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
No, happy to say everything I’ve written has been published, except my newest book which I hope to sell in the next few months.
Originally Hack’s story was much more elaborate and ran concurrently with Grace’s. There were elements I hope to include in a sequel.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
I had the opportunity to interview Brad Parks and ask him how he was able to make Carter Ross so likeable. You can see the interview at www.author-groupie.com, where I interview authors with a new adult fiction book just out, or one that’s in pre-order.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Ayn Rand for Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; John Steinbeck for The Grapes of Wrath; Leon Uris for Trinity; Michael Connelly’s entire Mickey Haller/Lincoln Lawyer series; Steve Cavanagh for the Eddie Flynn series; Tim Hallinan for the Junior Bender series; Marshall Karp for both the Lomax & Biggs series and the NYPD Red series; Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove; Brad Parks for the Carter Ross series, Stieg Larsson for the Millennium Series, Jo Nesbo for the Harry Hole series, and I’m leaving out a ton of others that I adore.
What book do you think everyone should read? The Bible, not because I’m religious but because the themes are everywhere in literature; the same goes for Greek/Roman mythology and Shakespeare.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was around ten, though back then, it was mostly depressing or satiric poetry.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I usually have a vague idea of my main characters before I put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard) and I flesh them out as I write. Secondary characters seem to materialize out of nowhere.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
It varies. For Slashing Mona Lisa, I did a lot of reading about body positivity and fat shaming. For Saving Grace, I did read a bit about poisons. For Expired Listings, I tagged along with some kinky friends to learn more about the BDSM subculture. And for my newest book, I read up on elder abuse. Of course, I have Google constantly open as I write, I fact check as I go along.
Do you see writing as a career?
I used to make a living as a travel trade writer. If I could make a living as a fiction writer, I’d be the happiest person on earth.
What do you think about the current publishing market? Very hard to break in, many of the agents and publishers look for derivative work instead of taking a risk on something totally original. Unfortunately, it’s those original pieces that break the mold and become groundbreaking works, but they too often are overlooked. And too many self-publishers don’t realize that they must treat their books the way a major publisher would, by investing in top editing, cover art and formatting.
Do you read yourself and if so, what is your favorite genre?
I enjoy reading psychological thrillers, romance (especially if it’s amusing, like The Hating Game) and literary fiction on occasion.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise?
Why? Silence, it’s the only way I can truly concentrate.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I don’t know how people can write more than one book at a time; I would get my plots confused. If someone can do that well, they earn my undying respect.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose? I wish I’d written Harriet the Spy or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because they were my favorite books growing and influenced me greatly. Capture a reader when they’re young and they’ll love to read forever.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
Lizbeth Salander. What a badass! Same with Katness Everdeen from the Hunger Game series.
What made you want to become an author, and do you feel it was the right decision?
My grandmother always made me feel so proud of everything I wrote. I still feel that way.
Advice they would give new authors?
Vomit out the first draft, don’t self-edit, and then make it shine in revision. Have your computer read it back to you while you edit; you’ll find a ton of errors you’d miss otherwise.
Describe your writing style. Snarky and punny at times. I always try to highlight an issue and champion the underdog.
What makes a good story?
Conflict, conflict, conflict. Keeping dialogue realistic and unstilted, leaving out any details that don’t move the plot ahead.
What are you currently reading?
I am beta-reading some manuscripts for other authors, and also Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby.
What is your writing process?
For instance, do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? I have a basic idea of where the story will start and how it will end, and the adventure is filling in the words between the two. I always write in chronological order. When I’m about halfway through, I write one-sentence descriptions of the remaining chapters in terms of what will be accomplished.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not really understanding what the story is about. If you can’t summarize the plot in 280 characters (a tweet), you should probably rethink the plot.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I am always original, which is a problem when agents and editors ask for three books like yours and I have to start scrambling for titles. I try not to be derivative.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start writing fiction much earlier and read the classics. Major in English and literature in college. And lay off the chocolate.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Anywhere from one month to ten years. I’ve done both. Currently, I write about 1,000 a day, finish the book in three months and then spend the next one- or two-months editing.
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