Emily C. Whitson is a mystery and thriller writer who loves to include contemporary pop culture in her writing. In her work, she likes to explore the dark side of celebrity and Hollywood glamour. Her debut novel, BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS, was just released. It has been called a "fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with GONE GIRL." Emily is here to answer a few questions.
MB: Your new book, BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS, is a bit like the reality dating show gone wrong. Tell us a bit about the book.
EW: So, BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS revolves around Ann, a successful lawyer from Nashville, infiltrating an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii. She does so in order to find her friend and sponsor, Reese Marigold, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Ann quickly realizes there’s more to this singles’ retreat than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?
Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off Phaux Island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive.
MB: In your novel, you unwind the plot from two points of view. One being Ann, your protagonist in the present and the other being Reese, Ann's missing friend, in the past. What led you to use such a narrative structure in your book?
EW: I used different perspectives, in part, as a literary technique to build suspense. Often, one character knows something that the other character doesn’t, and that dramatic irony creates tension—and hopefully keeps readers turning the page!
On a broader scale, one of my favorite aspects of art is seeing life from a different perspective. In many ways, my protagonists are foils, so I wanted to explore how their reactions to similar events differed.
MB: You have two characters in your book--Ann and Reese--who have both struggled addiction, and got through those struggles together. How much of your own life has played into the creation of these two characters?
EW: I’m pretty open about being in recovery. I’ve been in recovery for over 8 years now, so in that respect, I have similar longevity to Ann and Reese. However, everything else is pretty different. While I want to portray more characters in recovery, I don’t want to portray my own journey, as it’s much more painful when I receive critiques. Plus, it’s just not as much fun to write about myself!
MB: Let's talk about your writing style for a moment. Every writer has specific habits when it comes to writing. Some outline, some don't. Some have a special place where they write. Tell me a bit about your writing process.
EW: Right now, it’s whenever and wherever I have time, which isn’t much! If I could have an ideal day, though, I like to write in the morning after I’ve had a couple cups of coffee and wrap up around 3 p.m. I also like to take walks between chapters to get the blood flowing. I’m best when I’m at a desk, but if I’m feeling tired, I’ll write from my bed.
And, finally: I like to think of myself as a plotter, at least when it comes to major story beats, but for scenes in between, I’m more of a pantser.
MB: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
EW: I would tell myself to embrace every setback and every heartbreak. I’m a stronger person and a better writer for the obstacles I faced, and man—they make one hell of a story.
MB: Let's shift gears for a moment and talk about reading. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
EW: Hmm… this is a good question. I don’t think Angie Kim’s MIRACLE CREEK got as much attention as it deserved; it’s an amazing, heartbreaking legal thriller. I also believe Liane Moriarty’s best book is WHAT ALICE FORGOT, but it’s not nearly as well-known as her others. And Robert Galbraith’s series is maybe the best detective series on the market in terms of structure and character development, and I don’t think it receives as much recognition in the U.S. (I haven’t read the latest, though, so I can’t comment on that book.)
MB: What are you currently reading?
EW: Well, I’m doing a lot of research on the Nashville police right now for my next book, so my bedside table is filled with fictional and real-life Nashville murder stories, ha! So, let’s see, there’s J.T. Ellison’s Taylor Jackson series, Michael Bishop’s A MURDER IN MUSIC CITY, Judith Yates’ WHEN NASHVILLE BLED, and Michael Arntfield’s MONSTER CITY: MURDER, MUSIC, AND MAYHEM IN NASHVILLE'S DARK AGE.
Aside from that, I’m reading Liane Moriarty’s new book, APPLES NEVER FALL, as well as Paula Hawkins’ new book, SLOW FIRE BURNING. Those are two of my favorite auto-buy authors. Plus, both books are on the NYT bestsellers’ list, and I try to keep up with what’s popular in my genre.
Oh, and I guess I’m reading a lot of books for school. I’m getting a Master in Education from Vanderbilt University, so lots of YA books for my students, books in the canon, and books on teaching.
MB: Finally, what can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
EW: I can’t reveal the premise of my next book just yet, but I’d like to continue writing mystery novels with a focus on pop culture; I believe the two make a compelling storyline. I’d also like for Nashville to be featured more prominently in my next book—sort of a love letter to my city—which is why I’m doing so much research on crime and police in Nashville.
Thank you for taking time to talk with me. Good luck with BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS.
To learn more about Emily and her book, you can visit her website at emilycwhitson.com. You can also follow Emily on Facebook at facebook.com/Emily-C-Whitson, and on Instagram at instagram.com/emilycwhitson.
You can purchase BENEATH THE MARIGOLDS at these retailers.