But Wilson has a genre, for sure. His latest thriller is The Dead Husband, which focuses on a young Milwaukee woman returning to her hometown after the sudden death of her husband. There she finds buried family secrets, the dark truth of her marriage, and a local detective determined to discover the truth. It’s what fans have come to expect from Wilson: a page-turner perfect for summer reading.
We talked with Wilson during his book’s recent launch about his work and what it means to be a Colorado writer during this literary era.
Westword: You've just launched your novel The Dead Husband; tell us a little about where the idea for this book came from?
Carter Wilson: Well, all my books usually start only with an idea of an opening scene and no clue about an overall plot, much less an ending. In this case, I pictured an adult woman standing at the door of the mansion she grew up in. She’s returning home after the unexpected death of her husband, and she needs support. But she has trepidation about returning because of something horrible that happened in that very house decades prior.
So I wrote that scene not knowing who this woman really was or what happened in the house. That’s the joy in writing: spending the rest of the book trying to solve the mystery of the opening chapter.
How does this latest novel separate itself from some of your award-winning past books (The Dead Girl in 2A, Mister Tender's Girl)? What new ground are you looking to cover in this one?
All my books are standalone stories, so I always love discovering new characters and locations. But there are two distinct firsts in this book. One, I created my own fictional town in Bury, New Hampshire, which was so much fun I’m using it as my setting for my 2022 release. Two, this was the first time I had a detective as a substantial character. I’ve always shied away from that because of the research it takes, but I have an old friend who’s a detective in California who helped me out tremendously. I’m sure I still screwed a lot of things up.
Talk a little about how you started writing. Did you have another career before this one?
I started writing, literally, on a day in 2003 when I was 33 years old. I was in a continuing-education class and was bored out of my mind, so I posed myself a murder-mystery riddle and spent the rest of the class trying to solve it. I couldn’t figure it out, and when I got home it gnawed at me, so I kept working on it. Three months later I had a 400-page manuscript, and I still have no idea how it all quite happened. I’ve been writing ever since that day, and had to learn the publishing industry from scratch.
That being said, I still have my day job. I’m a consultant for the hotel industry. That’s my advice to all aspiring writers out there: DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.
Good advice, at least to start. So what's been your experience in the publishing world today? It all seems so tightly wound; smaller publishers have more freedom, but less money for publicity.
It’s a tough balance, for sure, and my experience has been that the smart publishers figure out the best avenues for their limited PR and marketing budgets. Data and analytics are replacing traditional “gut feel” models, and there’s a surge in using social-media platforms to reach your audience. It’s still important to host events at bookstores, but think how powerful sending a free book to a reviewer with 5,000 Instagram followers can be. Unless they hate the book, because then you’re screwed.
You had a story in the R.L. Stine YA horror anthologies Scream and Scream Again — that must have been a fun gig. How different is it writing for a YA audience?
Totally fun. It actually wasn’t all that different than writing for my thriller audience, just a little less violence and language. But all the creepiness and tension remained, and I’m hoping I managed to scare a few kiddos. I actually had my daughter edit that piece, who was fourteen at the time. She would circle paragraphs and write things like “You can do better than this” next to it.
Nothing like a teenage daughter to keep a dad honest. You all live up in Erie these days, but you grew up in New Mexico. What was it that brought you up I-25 for good?
I’ve been around, for sure. After New Mexico, it was Texas, then California, then off to New York for college. Then after school, it was Pennsylvania, then back to California, then Florida, then finally I moved to Colorado 25 years ago for work. I love traveling, but I’m rooted here now. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
So what in Colorado do you find most inspiring? Scary? Mystifying? What ghosts do you see here?
I take an annual writing trip to the Stanley Hotel, which is well known for its ghosts. The have eight designated “spirited” rooms, and I’ve stayed in them all. I’ve rarely had anything out of the ordinary happen, but there have been a few moments that have reaffirmed my belief in the supernatural. That hotel is beautifully creepy.
Speaking of creepy, you mention on your website that the old Victorian in which you live is spooky but isn't haunted yet. Are you pre-planning your ghostly presence for the future owners?
I love the idea of a future haunted house. Of course, that doesn’t mean it has to be my ghost.
Carter Wilson’s latest novel, The Dead Husband, is available now. He will participate in a livestream with the Tattered Cover at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9. Register here.