Sarah K. Stephens is the author of three novels and a developmental psychologist at Penn State University. Her writing has appeared in LitHub, The Writer's Chronicle, Hazlitt, and The Millions. Aside from The Anniversary, her books include the psychological thrillers A Flash of Red and It Was Always You. Sarah lives with her husband and children in Central Pennsylvania. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Anniversary.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Anniversary is about.
The Anniversary features Mary and Jackson, a young couple honeymooning in an isolated cabin in the Poconos after a whirlwind romance. As the days tick by, and Jackson’s devotion transforms before Mary’s eyes into something more sinister, Mary realizes she is totally isolated with a man she barely knows. Can Mary save herself before her husband loves her to death? Because on this honeymoon, the views aren’t just gorgeous. . . they’re to die for!
What inspired you to write about a couple on their one year anniversary?
In the case of Mary and Jackson, they spent most of their first year of marriage separated and have just been reunited. The one-year mark for a married couple is a sort of liminal time—you’re not really newlyweds anymore, and you’re also not very seasoned at marriage yet either. I thought it’d be interesting to examine how this unique time in a relationship could be affected by other, more sinister, factors interfering with the trust and intimacy between a couple.
Tell us more about Mary. What makes her tick?
Mary is a successful, independent businesswoman whose life has been irrevocably scarred by the death of her father and the resulting rejection she experienced from her mother. Despite all Mary has achieved in her life, at her core she continues to struggle with trusting others and believing that she is deserving of love. It’s this insecurity that has led her down heart-breaking, and sometimes dangerous, roads in her love life. . .
What, would you say, is so scary about coming to realize that you might not really know the person you are married to?
Loving someone requires vulnerability, and I think a natural obstacle for many people in building intimacy with someone else is not being willing to risk that vulnerability. In The Anniversary, I wanted to play with the opposite issue—what would happen if you opened yourself to love, like Mary does, only to realize that you may have made a terrible mistake by taking that leap of faith.
Why did you pick a remote cabin in the Pocono Mountains of PA as the backdrop for your story?
Because it’s the honeymoon capital of the Northeast! And the perfect combination for a thriller—luxurious, romantic, and secluded.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a pretty avid baker. I can make macaron, croissant, and cakes galore (although I have yet to master sourdough—it’s a tricky beast).
The book contains a lot of twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
I always start out with an outline for each novel and promise myself I’ll stick to it, but then I get to writing and it all goes out the window. That’s what I enjoy most about writing thrillers—there are twists and turns you encounter in your characters and your story even as you’re creating them. It makes for a very enthralling writing experience.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
My publisher, Bloodhound Books, includes authors in the cover selection. They sent three sample covers to me, and in discussing it with our PR team we all landed on the same one. I love the imagery of the gift—because what is love if not a gift to the person receiving it?—but with the dark ribbon adding an element of menace to the cover.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Human beings are complex creatures. I’m a developmental psychologist as well as a writer, and in my novels I love creating stories that demonstrate the different sides each person holds within them, both dark and light, kind and selfish, loving and damaged.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love hearing from and interacting with readers. After you’ve spent so many hours crafting a novel, hearing from readers who have enjoyed what you’ve created for them is absolutely thrilling. There’s no better feeling.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
I teach at Penn State University, so I typically write on an academic calendar. I usually set writing goals for myself during my winter and spring breaks, and I always push for an intense writing period during the summer months when I’m not teaching.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
Right now 1000 words a day is my typical writing goal, and if I end up above that I feel accomplished. Writing a novel is such a long-term process, and breaking it up into smaller, manageable goals is the only way I can make it seem surmountable, especially when I’m in those first few chapters.
What are you working on right now?
My next thriller, ISOLATION, will be published by Bloodhound Books in December 2020. It focuses on a family in quarantine on their luxury estate, without enough food, an abundance of personality disorders, and a body on the stairs. I started writing this novel as more of a catharsis during the sheltering in place this Spring, and it grew into something else.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Please follow me on Twitter (@skstephenswrite), Facebook (@sarahkstephensauthor), and Instagram (@skstephenswrite)—I love interacting with readers online! Readers can also read more about my novels on my Amazon or Goodreads author pages, or check out my website: https://sarahkstephens.com