One of the scariest lines ever seen on a book jacket comes courtesy of Liv Constantine’s The Wife Stalker: It says, “All She Wants is the Perfect Family…Yours.” And, we haven’t even gotten to Page 1 yet. In the latest psychological thriller from sisters Lynn and Valerie Constantine, who write under the pen name Liv Constantine, two determined women square off in a high-stakes battle for the ultimate prize–the family one wants to keep and the other wants to steal. Liv Constantine followed up their stellar breakout novel, The Last Mrs. Parrish, with the great sophomore thriller, The Last Time I Saw You. Now, The Wife Stalker has seriously upped their game. With each novel, they’re establishing their role as the ultimate genre tricksters. Twists are so smooth that the reader’s turned around without realizing they’ve moved. Perhaps the book should be displayed in the sporting goods section of big box stores, as it would take an experienced angler to catch all the red herrings. No one writes an ending like Liv Constantine, and I’m delighted they’re sharing a few insights with us.
Currents: One of the scariest things about Joanna’s story in The Wife Stalker is how the life one has built can be instantly changed, or even taken away, with no warning. What were your discussions like with each other in planning this duplicity?
Liv Constantine: You’ve definitely hit on one of the essential elements of a psychological thriller––the idea that one’s life can change dramatically without warning. And that is a scary thing when it’s random, but it’s a terrifying thing when someone else deliberately causes that change. And so, this component is definitely very much a part of our early discussions and brainstorming as we flesh out the story and begin to create the characters.
It’s a little hard to say too much without giving a spoiler but we needed to make sure the precipitating incident for change was one that made logical sense in terms of the consequence but would not be so severe as to make Joanna unlikable.
Currents: The author’s voice is critical in great storytelling. You’ve said that you don’t divide characters between you while writing. How do you write with a uniform voice, and do you think being sisters helps?
Liv Constantine: We do quite a bit of editing of each other’s work. Oftentimes one of us will write the first half of a chapter and the other will finish it or vice versa. Then we do several rounds of editing and finish it off with by taking turns doing a full copy edit. Our voice is actually similar to begin with so that definitely helps. Whether the similarity in a function of genetics or working together is tough to say—but our bet is on genetics. Also, our shared background and history is probably more help in melding our voices than we even realize. The fact that our reading tastes growing up were very similar is also helpful. A deep understanding of the characters keeps our writing true to that character, and so if we’re embodying that character, our writing will be similar. We do quite a bit of editing each other’s scenes, and there are times when we are not sure who’s written what. And lastly, we’ve written together for so long now that we can almost predict what each other’s chapters will say.
Currents: American writer Norman Cousins once wrote, “People are never more insecure than when they become obsessed with their fears.” I’d add “…or more dangerous.” In The Wife Stalker, you shine a bright light on the mental illness of obsession, and how easily it can be disguised–and become dangerous. It’s a subject you’ve explored before in your books. However, what did you learn about the darkness of this disease while researching this novel?
Liv Constantine: Obsession is the dark side of passion, and one of the things we’ve learned is that often one has little control over their obsession, and what’s worse is that they rarely perceive that they have a problem. They don’t perceive the flaws in their fantasies, and in fact take comfort in them, believing that they are fulfilling destiny. That is, as you say, one of the things that makes them so dangerous.
Currents: Both Joanna and Piper are damaged women who share more than the determination to get or keep a family. The characters are different in many ways. However, what similarities did you give them that set them on parallel paths?
Liv Constantine: Their greatest similarity is their search for the family that will bring them the love and acceptance they were denied growing up. Both women come from dysfunctional families and had strained relationships with their mothers that profoundly affected the way they relate to others.
Currents: Fan are excited that both The Last Mrs. Parrish and The Last Time I Saw You have been optioned for film development. What’s the status of these projects?
Liv Constantine: Right now, much is on hold in Hollywood due to the virus. We have an option for development of The Last Mrs. Parrish with Amazon Studios and are in the final stages of negotiating a contract for film for The Last Time I Saw You.
Currents: All women who have a sister know that there can be some, well, shall we say, disagreements. In the old Southern Sisters mysteries by Anne George, two elderly sisters are still arguing over who broke the Shirley Temple doll when they were children. What will the two of you still be arguing about in your later years?
Liv Constantine: Not an argument per se, but Valerie still tells anyone who will listen that Lynne appropriated all her Nancy Drew books, crossing out Valerie’s name and writing her own. Of course, since there is 13 years between them, Valerie was well-finished with Nancy Drew by the time Lynne was reading them.
Currents: Your first work of fiction, Circle Dance, is also based on family–and met and unmet expectations. Looking back what advice or encouragement would you give the writers you were then? And, what are you writing now?
Liv Constantine: Do more editing and spend time developing your craft. Read. A lot. Draw from the classics and contemporary works as well.
We are now in the final edits of book number four.
For more about Liv Constantine visit www.livconstantine.com