Back roads inspire Stamford author Wendy Walker’s thrilling new book ‘Don’t Look for Me’
As a reader or when watching TV, Wendy Walker is not satisfied to discern the clues from red herrings to merely solve a whodunit. As a writer of psychological thrillers, she wants to get into the psychology behind why a character does what she does or makes a man commit crimes. She also wants to forge deep emotional connections to her characters so readers will care about them and get wrapped up in their stories.
In her latest book, “Don’t Look for Me” published by St. Martin’s Press on Sept. 15, the Stamford-based author manages to do all that with her skill for crafting well-developed story arcs and interesting characters. While this is a work of fiction, her books are carefully researched and this one is no exception. She researched not only psychological issues like guilt, grief and the fight-or-flight response but also cold case missing persons and people that just walk away from their lives.
The main character here, Molly Clarke, is grief-stricken when readers meet her on the anniversary of her youngest daughter’s death, which she accidentally caused. Her family is unraveling, her marriage crumbling, her pain and grief constant. One night on a long drive during a storm, her thoughts are spinning and spiraling. A day later, her car is abandoned far from home and a note left behind says her family would be better off without her. She is one of thousands of people who walk away from their lives. Or did she?
Cue the twists and turns and in a split-frame narrative, readers will find themselves riding along with both Molly and her older daughter, Nicole, who gets a mysterious call two weeks after her mom goes missing. She sets out to find her, putting herself in danger.
Walker finds inspiration everywhere, usually in things she reads or from the news, but occasionally it strikes at the oddest times or places. This is her first book where an actual moment from her life inspired a book. Coming home from a soccer game her son played in some years ago, she was in the middle of a four-hour drive on Connecticut’s many twisty back roads through small towns. The game was awful with bad ref calls, heckling fans and a loss for her son’s team. Walker was upset and also processing the end of her first long-term relationship since her divorce. Pumping gas in a small station in the middle of a rural town, she spied a small road presumably heading into a small town. A random thought just popped into her head. “It was ‘Walk down that road. Walk away from everything so you can stop feeling this emotional pain,’” she said, saying it was a bizarre and fleeting thought, which she of course, did not act on but thought about it later.
“As a writer you grab hold of those moments. And you think how bizarre and where did that come from and what if somebody did that?” she said, explaining how she gave her character a powerful enough emotional backstory to make it credible she might walk away from her life.
Without giving away spoilers, readers find out Molly didn’t just walk away and is being held prisoner along with a young girl, Alice, who may hold the key to her escape. Being raised in this environment by a sociopath has scarred the girl and Molly has to choose her actions and words carefully to build a relationship with her in order to get free.
“Because it’s a psychological thriller, I wanted the reader to be with Molly in her captivity and to experience this little girl who has been held captive and her psychology is so different,” Walker said. “Her empathy is all askew, she’s not a normal child but she’s not evil. She has just not had all the things a child needs to develop normally.”
Walker’s favorite scenes to write were between Molly and Alice. As a former family law attorney and guardian ad litem, she was already familiar with the psychology of sociopathic behavior and how it can affect children. “I just knew how to write her. I knew how Alice would respond to things and the characteristics that she would have,” she said. “With Molly’s journey I really leaned in hard to the lifting of grief. For Molly, it’s not just the loss of her daughter. Deep down she feels that she has never been punished for what she considers to be her role in Annie’s death.” During Molly’s captivity, readers see her starting to move past her grief and fighting for her life and then for her daughter. “Just a lot of complexity that I tried to add along with the thrilling page-turning stuff,” she said. “I always tend to lean into the psychological element and the emotional elements too. For me I want to be emotionally connected to my characters.”
For more information about Walker and her books, visit wendywalkerbooks.com.