Delving into psychological suspense thrillers with Shari Lapena

I discovered today’s author when her novel, The Couple Next Door, hit shelves last year and my Twitter feed took off with readers raving about the twisty psychological tale.

When I found out that Shari Lapena and I would be on the same panel at this weekend’s Bouchercon in Toronto, I thought it’d be a great idea to sit down and find out more about her writing habits, latest release A Stranger in the House, and what’s next for this Canadian author.

Shari, welcome to the blog!

Shari Lapena author photo

What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre after working as a lawyer and English teacher? What do you love about the genre that keeps you going back for more?

I’ve always loved reading thrillers and mystery novels. I grew up on Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Daphne DuMaurier, Patricia Highsmith and so on. I love psychological suspense most of all. I’d always wanted to write a thriller but I found the thought of it a bit intimidating—all that plot to figure out! But I approached it with an open mind and I’m having a lot of fun writing in the thriller genre.

Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?

I usually start with a premise that excites me and that has a lot of potential to go in a lot of different directions. Then I see where it leads me. I find the characters take on a life on their own and surprise me and drive the story forward. The writing itself seems to generate the ideas. When I’m about half way through I can start to see where it might be heading, but I won’t be sure which direction is the real one, or where the final twists are until I’m almost at the end. Of course, once I’ve finished writing the first draft mostly by the seat of my pants, there is a lot of work to do.

What does your writing space look like?  Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?

I have a desk in front of the window of my bedroom. I would love to have my own office but I’m afraid the house isn’t big enough. My next house will have an office in it! I don’t have any pre-writing rituals. I believe in discipline and sitting down and getting it done.  The one thing I do though, always, is reread and revise what I was working on the day before first. I find that gets me “in the zone” and I can work from there. I also find that it’s best to work on the book every day; if I take a few days off it’s harder for me to get back into it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena book cover image


In the lead-up to last year’s publication, The Couple Next Door, did you have any idea how phenomenal readers’ responses to it would be? What was the best thing about that part of your writing journey to date?

No, I had no idea. That is, I had no idea that the book would find an agent and so many publishers so quickly! There were pre-empts and bidding wars.

Once all that craziness happened, I wasn’t as shocked that the readers liked it, but you never really know until the readers decide if a book really works or not. The best thing---that initial feeling that the publishers felt they’d found a “big” book.  It was an exciting time! Especially after having written and published some “quiet” books.

How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets, especially when you have to do so much travelling to promote your books?

That is very tough. It’s especially tough given all the social media these days, and all the interruptions, especially if you’re on contract to do a book a year and you’re promoting other books while trying to write your new one. I sometimes try to write when I travel, but it often is just not possible. So basically, when I’m home, once the kids go out the door for the day, I answer my emails and then I get to work until the kids come home. But if I need to, I will often work evenings and weekends. And there are always events to do. So it’s pretty busy.

Your website events page is chock-full of book signings and writing festivals – what do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?

I haven’t really had much relaxation time since The Couple Next Door was published. A Stranger in the House recently came out, and I’ve just now finished the first draft of my next thriller. But when I can, I go to our farm in the country where we are trying to restore an old Victorian farmhouse. It’s hard work, but a change is as good as a rest, and we love it out there.


What can readers expect from your latest release, A Stranger in the House?

It’s another page-turning, suspenseful read, from what I gather. It’s different from my first, but I’ve been reassured that it still has that “one-sit read” quality that people loved about The Couple Next Door. It’s about a husband who discovers that his wife has things she’s not telling him, and someone has been going through their house when they’re not home. It’s twisty!

A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE by Shari Lapena Book cover image

What have you got planned for the next 12 months?

Well, I have to rewrite my third book many, many times, so it can be published next summer. By the spring I will be starting book four. I have a lot of events at home in Canada—I’m especially looking forward to Bouchercon this weekend.

Also, I’ve been invited to Black Week in Istanbul in November, which I’m really excited about! It’s a festival for crime novels held in the Pera Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming once lived and wrote. And I’m going to the Literary Festival in Dubai in March, which should be quite an adventure.

Finally, where can we buy your books?

Pretty much anywhere. I get people sending me photos of my books in shops all over the world, from Bali to Saudi Arabia. But really, anywhere you can buy books, and especially airports.

Shari, thank you so much for joining me on the blog today!

You can find out more about Shari and keep in touch with her here:


Twitter / Instagram: @sharilapena

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