Home Book Award With a single scene, Carter Wilson brings his thrillers to life

With a single scene, Carter Wilson brings his thrillers to life

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Carter Wilson is a USA Today bestselling author who has penned eight critically acclaimed standalone psychological thrillers, as well as numerous short stories. He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a five-time Colorado Book Award winner, and his works have been picked up for television and film. Carter lives in Erie, Colorado, in a spooky but not haunted Victorian house…yet.


SunLit: Tell us about the backstory of this book. What inspired you to write it? Where does the story/theme come from?

Carter Wilson: I don’t describe, so I never know where a story is going or what it’s even going to be. All of my novels are inspired by an opening scene idea that comes to mind, and then I take it from there. In the case of “The Dead Husband”, I imagined a young widow standing in front of a massive house – her childhood home.

She has just returned to her hometown with her baby boy after the accidental death of her husband. While I was writing this scene, it occurred to me that this woman didn’t really want to be home. And that there was something very sinister about this house. That’s all I knew about the story and I had a lot of fun figuring it all out.

SunLit: Put this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the whole book? Why did you select it?

Wilson: This is the very beginning of the book. I wanted to show your readers the scene that came to mind and served as the inspiration for the book. Really, all of my books are mysteries to me, and my job is to solve the mystery of that opening scene.

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Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

SunLit: Tell us about the creation of this book. What influences and/or experiences influenced the project before you actually sat down to write?

Wilson: The story is told primarily from the first-person perspective of Rose Yates, the young widow. I decided that she was going to become a novelist and that there were suspicions around her concerning the death of her husband. Of course, I drew on my own experiences as a writer to flesh out his character.

A secondary voice in the story is that of Colin Pearson, a detective investigating Rose. Now, generally speaking, I hate research, so I don’t usually write from the perspective of such a detail-oriented profession as law enforcement. But I have a good friend in California who’s a detective, so I leaned on him a lot to make sure my writing wasn’t too off. In fact, I dedicated the book to him.

SunLit: Once you started writing, did the story take you in unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe the treatment of a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

Wilson: I strongly believe that stories should have their own spirit. I am what is called a classic Pantser (as written by the seat of). This, unlike my fellow Plotsers, who can see the entirety of a story, start to finish, before writing it. As a devoted Panstser, all I have to do is continually ask myself one question:

What if?

What if? is the question that drives the story for me. And this question has a sibling: What does that mean? As I write, I constantly ask myself these two questions, and if answers arise that intrigue me, I will follow new paths to see where they lead me. Sometimes they lead to dead ends, sometimes they open up new worlds. The first draft is a glorious mess when written like that, but the real book is born out of editing.

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you had to face or surprises you encountered while finishing this book?

Wilson: The Yates family, which is the focus of this book, is HUGELY dysfunctional. I would say the biggest challenge I faced was balancing the family’s love for each other with their mutual disdain.

“The Dead Husband”

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I wanted to write about a family bond so strong that it survived some truly horrific events, and what it would take for that bond to finally be severed. I found this to be a challenge, but this is where the guidance from beta readers, my agent, and my editor becomes essential.

SunLit: Did the book raise any questions or spark strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

Wilson: Good question. I will say that many readers like to post trigger warnings about books, which is a bit of a shame because some readers of those reviews will refuse to buy the book without any context as to why that trigger warning was noted.

Look, my books are dark, no doubt. But I don’t believe they are free in all respects. But yes, there were strong opinions about a certain scene in the book, which I won’t go into in detail here (teaser!). And I do not respond to these opinions at all. The best thing an author can do is to let their book exist in the wild and let it go.

Sunny: Tell us about your writing process: where and how do you write?

Wilson: I write an hour a day, that’s all. But I do it every day, and at this rate I can finish a book in about ten months.

I pour myself a cocktail at 5 p.m. and head upstairs to a hidden nook adjacent to my room. Put on headphones, play thunderstorm sounds and find out what happens next in my story.

SunLit: This story forces readers to ask hard questions about what people will do to protect theirs. How did you approach these moral dilemmas?

Wilson: Almost all of my characters have moral boundaries that they’re willing to cross under the right circumstances, and I find it compelling to write because it’s so human. But those boundaries are different for every person, and Cora Yates’ line is far removed from Rose Yates’.

I try to take each character and set a breaking point for them, then start throwing adversity at them to see how they react. Sometimes I’m surprised at the outcome, and Logan Yates is a good example of that. Although no one would call him moral in the traditional sense, some of the most terrible things he did in his life were out of love for his children (as twisted as that love might be).

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Wilson: My most recent book, “The New Neighbor”, came out earlier this year. It’s actually set in the same town and even the SAME HOUSE as “The Dead Husband”, but features an entirely different cast of characters. It takes place about six months after the end of “The Dead Husband” and centers on a lottery winner who has just lost the love of his life. Although both books are stand-alone novels, there are plenty of fun discoveries for readers who read both.

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