On July 5, I send another novel, Deadly Setup, into the universe. I’m getting ready for the two questions writers get asked most frequently: What’s your story about? And what inspired it?
In answer to the first question, Deadly Setup is about seventeen-year-old Samantha (Sam) Hunter, the daughter of a New England heiress, who goes on trial for the murder of her mother’s fiancé. Sam knows she’s been set up, but by whom?
Both before and after the murder, Sam’s relationship with her mom is strained. Prior to his death from cancer, her dad begged Sam to “take care of your mother for me.” Sam has tried, but her mom is strong-willed and impulsive. She seems unable to listen to Sam or offer the love and acceptance her daughter so desperately wants.
Despite growing up in an ultra-wealthy home, Sam feels abandoned and rudderless. When she compares her home life to that of her boyfriend, she readily admits she’s jealous. She longs for a loving family.
I’ve been thinking about where this character comes from. Looking back, I knew kids like Sam in Greenwich, Connecticut where I lived from sixth through twelfth grades. Greenwich is a fabulously wealthy community. Whereas my family lived in a modest apartment in the downtown area, I hung out with kids who lived in mansions and had every material advantage. What struck me about some of my friends was how lonely they felt at home. Their parents were often traveling, attending charity events, or in the case of my closest friend, moving in and out of residential treatment for alcoholism.
I didn’t know the words then to describe what my friends were going through. But in retrospect, it seems to me it was emotional neglect. Sam suffers from that as well. Her dad had been the loving parent and anchor in her life, but he died when she was twelve. Ever since, she’s been trying to parent herself, as well as her mother.
Another recollection: As a kid living downtown, I used to ride my bike to the local stationary shop. I remember looking at the celebrity magazines on my visits there. For weeks, splashed all over the covers were shocking headlines about Cheryl Crane, the daughter of the actress Lana Turner. She was accused of killing her mother’s gangster boyfriend and went on trial for his murder.
I don’t know whether the idea of Sam going on trial for murdering her mother’s fiancé was inspired by Cheryl Crane, but I do know her story stuck with me.
So did all the Perry Mason shows I devoured. Courtroom dramas fascinated me, and Sam’s situation gave me the chance to write one myself.
And of course, Sam finds a lot of solace in playing piano, and in my own life as a dancer and now writer, the arts have meant such healing and joy. A writer friend once turned to me and asked, “Are all of your books about people in the arts?”
I thought for a moment and said, “Yes.” Not only is it the world I know, but it’s the world which in some ways, saved my life when all else was falling apart.
But that tale is for another day. Meantime, I’d love for you to take a look at Deadly Setup when it comes out!