Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of the Bailey Weggins series as well as the standalone psychological suspense titles The Secrets You Keep, The Wrong Man, Eyes on You, Hush, and The Sixes. The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, she has also written several popular career books for women; these include I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, Create the Career You Deserve, and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do. Additionally, Ms. White served as editor for the Anthony- and Agatha Award-nominated The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Her newest, Even If It Kills Her (available October 31, 2017), is the seventh book to feature crime journalist Bailey Weggins.
Recently, the author enthusiastically entertained questions pertaining to the joys of writing both series and standalone novels, balancing backstory, creating a realistic sense of danger, organic character development, and exploring the complexities of modern media.
Even If It Kills Her marks your return to the Bailey Weggins series. Why does alternating between these books and standalones appeal to you, and what do you find to be the greatest joy(s) and challenge(s) of writing a recurring character with an ongoing story arc?
I never set out to do both a series and standalones. The idea to try a standalone really came from my publisher because they thought it would be interesting for me to mix it up. I’m not sure it would have occurred to me on my own since I was pretty attached to my Bailey Weggins series and it was doing well. But I have to admit I love doing both. It gives me a wonderful chance to recharge and come back to each genre totally refreshed.
I actually have tried to apply this lesson to life. Though it can be tough, at first, to slip out of your comfort zone, mixing it up is so worth it in the long run. (Though I’m by no means advocating infidelity or lawbreaking!)
The biggest joy in writing a series is spending time with your main character. You know her, you feel attached to her, and you’re really curious about where she’s going next.
The ups and downs in her career reflect the crisis going on in the magazine business. When was the last time you saw a 22-year-old reading a magazine?
The biggest challenge is making sure each book in the series has enough “Wow” factor because the main character is already so well known to readers and there can only be so much drama in one person’s life—unless he’s Jack Reacher! You run the risk of straining credibility if you go too far, but you have to go far enough. So I try to step back throughout the writing process and ask, “Are there enough surprises, reversals, and twists? Have I scared myself when I’m writing it?”
How do you balance introducing backstory for new readers with maintaining narrative immediacy for longtime fans, and in what ways do you endeavor to achieve a realistic sense of danger despite reader expectations of a happy(ish) resolution?
I always add a certain amount of backstory in the Bailey books in case a reader is starting the series at book #6 or #7, let’s say, but I try to keep it short so it doesn’t bog things down. I also weave it in here and there so it’s not all in one big ugly lump. Bailey is a true crime writer who is single and in her thirties, but she had a short, what she calls, “hand grenade” of a marriage earlier on. So somewhere in the first 50 pages, there’ll be a reason for her to reference it because it’s shaped her a bit.
As for danger, yes, that’s tricky because people know that (haha, spoiler alert) Bailey is going to live. One thing I try to do is create scenes that aren’t necessarily life-and-death for Bailey but are unsettling or creepy for readers in a way they like being unsettled or creeped out. (Readers: you do like those kinds of scenes, right?)
In Even If It Kills Her, Bailey comes across a dead body, and it’s a scary moment not because she’s in any imminent danger but because the scene is disturbing and perhaps reminds the reader how volatile life can be. Of course, Bailey does end up in danger on occasion, but readers seem willing to suspend disbelief and worry about her even though they know she’ll probably be alive at the end of the book. I feel the same way watching all the Bourne movies again and again. (I’m a hopeless addict, and I assume others are too because those movies are on every freaking week.) I know Jason will survive, but I never stop being scared.
This story finds Bailey reuniting with a college friend, Jillian Lowe, whose family was murdered. What creative doors does revisiting the past open, and how does it allow you to organically show the evolution of your protagonist?
That’s such a great question because, yes, revisiting the past does allow you to organically show evolution. You are presenting characters as they are both now and years ago. So not only do readers see how these characters have changed, but the characters themselves—with the advantage of hindsight—may even have an awareness of the fact that they aren’t who they once were and an understanding of the reasons why.
Bailey wasn’t a very supportive friend when Jillian’s family was murdered. At 20, she didn’t know the best way to react. Now, 16 years later, she understands what possibly held her back and is willing to not only make amends but also help find the real killer.
This plot involves DNA evidence and its ability to exonerate the falsely accused. What drew you to this topic, how did you research it, and what do you hope that your fictional portrayal illuminates about factual injustices?
I have been a donor to the Innocence Project for many years, and I’m awed by the work they do. They have helped exonerate many falsely convicted people who were in prison for decades. So I think that inspired me to write about a young person who confessed falsely under duress and then went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The point of the book isn’t to make a statement, but I hope the reference to the false confession and wrongful conviction makes readers think a little.
As for forensic info, I still rely on a terrific forensic expert I met writing my first book years ago. Her name is Barbara Butcher, and we’ve actually become close friends. Isn’t that an amazing name for someone who has examined thousands of death scenes?
Your protagonist is a journalist/author-turned-sleuth. In what ways does her career trajectory allow you to explore the complexities of modern media, and how much of Bailey’s experiences are informed by your own background in the industry?
Gosh, I love this question! Bailey is a true crime journalist and author, and though I sense that readers find her job intriguing, I don’t think they’re interested in a deep dive on the business. Yet, as you suggest, John, modern media is changing big time, and I have to be mindful of all the shifts and reflect that in the book over the course of the series.
When the series opened, Bailey was writing true crime stories as a freelance contributor for a woman’s magazine. But that gig ended when circulation fell off and the editor decided to go for more new-agey content. There’s no place for Bailey at a magazine doing pieces like “10 Ways to Burn Off Stress with Bath Salts.”
Since then, she has bounced around a bit and is now mainly writing true crime books. The ups and downs in her career reflect the crisis going on in the magazine business. When was the last time you saw a 22-year-old reading a magazine? More and more magazines are folding, and others will fold, and though I ran Cosmo—a very successful magazine not likely to fold in the foreseeable future—I chose to leave at the top of my game. Plus, while I still had the chance, I wanted to experience the freedom that comes with being an author.
But here’s the good news for Bailey: in this country, we’re utterly fascinated with true crime. In the future, I see Bailey focusing on true crime websites, podcasts, and books. She’ll have plenty of options. And I’m thrilled I recently signed a contract to write a few more Bailey books, so I’ll be able to see exactly what’s in store for her.
Oops, I guess that indicates Bailey does live…
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Kate White, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, is the New York Times bestselling author of the standalone psychological thrillers The Secrets You Keep, The Wrong Man, Eyes on You, Hush, and The Sixes, as well as six previous Bailey Weggins mysteries. White is also the author of several popular career books for women, including I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do. She is the editor of the Anthony and Agatha Award nominated The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.