Not So Perfect Strangers by L.S. Stratton | Magazine | Crime | Interviews
Not So Perfect Strangers

By L.S. Stratton

Trust Where the Muse Guides You: L.S. Stratton on the inspiration for her new novel, Not So Perfect Strangers.

I never get writer’s block. It’s not some author superpower; I’ve just learned to go wherever the muse takes me. A song, a book, or in the case of my latest work, Not So Perfect Strangers, a film like Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, can become inspiration.

I knew I wanted to try my spin on the tale when I saw the movie, which was based on the 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith by the same name, about two strangers who meet randomly on a train ride and unwittingly engage in a murder pact. As soon as the credits rolled, I could see the characters in my head, the themes I could tackle, and envision the new plot twists and turns. I was shocked at how easily the story flowed.

But there is a downside of following the muse: it can be fickle. It can decide to shift tone (“I know you wanted to write a romantic comedy, but how about writing something darker?”), genre (“The story started as historical fiction, but maybe it would be better as a mystery.”), and even targeted audience (“You thought the protagonist should be an adult, but this story would be so much better told from a YA perspective.”)

That doesn’t mean that I give into every mercurial whim that comes along. My editors would go bald from pulling out their hair in frustration waiting for me to finally finish a novel if I did that. But I’ve learned in the course of my career to have an openness to a wide spectrum of stories and not be afraid to try something new. In turn, this has led me to have multiple writing identities under different names.

A Journalist in Need of Penname

When I had my first short story published in an anthology collection after entering a writers’ contest while in college, I was certain I wanted to be a romance author and only a romance author for the rest of my life.

I’d come from a family of voracious readers. I’d been surrounded by my mother’s paperback romances since childhood. When Mom wasn’t looking, I would steal those copies for myself and devour them, reading about gallant knights and hot-tempered lairds, consuming popular tropes like enemies to lovers, mistaken identities, and fake relationships as if they were decadent desserts. Over time, I decided to try to write my own romance novel and discovered my writing wasn’t that bad. Actually, according to the family and teachers who read my work, my writing was quite good. I realized I could do this professionally if I was willing to try.

But first, I had to finish college where I read even more diverse books, from literary fiction to nonfiction, and earned my degree in journalism. I then began my career as a crime reporter, but all the while the romance writing bug continued to buzz in my ear. At that point, I had a full-time job where I was using my real name in my byline. I didn’t want to show up in a courtroom or call a source and have someone ask, “Hey, aren’t you the woman who writes those risque romance novels?” So, I decided to submit and publish my romance under a new name, giving birth to my first pseudonym.

I Thought I Would Always Be a Romance Novelist, But I Was Wrong

After a few novels, I noticed that my writing style was changing. I still wrote romance but they were adhering less to the straight-forward, happily-ever-after storylines that I knew and loved. The subplots in these novels started to become more complex and consume as much word count as the love stories themselves. In hindsight, it made sense that my writing was changing now that my reading tastes had changed so vastly, but I started to worry that these new stories no longer fit into the traditional romance genre construct.

Thankfully, I had an editor who encouraged me to embrace this shift and try my hand more at women’s fiction than at romance. She saw the market opportunity with the shift, because African American romance in the U.S. as a genre was experiencing a sales decline at that time, resulting in many popular imprints shutting down.

Now, with restrictions on my creativity removed, I could let my imagination fly. I found that I got even more novel ideas. But we were aware that my current romance readers may not respond to my new style of writing or a new genre. So, we agreed to create yet another pseudonym, though my website and bio would show I was the same person and include the backlists for both pen names.

Starting My Thriller Career

At this point, I had written romance, women’s fiction, and even self-published historical fiction, but the muse had yet another surprise for me. While brainstorming more women’s fiction novel ideas, I thought of a story about three women who discover they’re married to the same man only after an attempt is made on his life. While their husband lay in a coma at the hospital, the three women unravel the secrets of his past and try to solve the mystery of who attempted to kill him and why.

This plot was not women’s fiction; it was a domestic thriller, but I told my agent and editor that I was eager to try yet another genre. When I turned in the manuscript, they both liked the result. After writing that novel, the mystery and thriller ideas kept coming, including the one for Not So Perfect Strangers. I knew it would probably mean yet another brand/new identity, but I didn’t hesitate. This is where the muse wanted me to go and I’d advise any novelist to trust the muse. Trust your literary instincts. So far, it has served me well.

(c) L.S. Stratton

Not So Perfect Strangers by L.S. Stratton is published by Union Square & Co.

About Not So Perfect Strangers:
Not So Perfect Strangers

One fateful encounter upends the lives of two women in this tense domestic thriller, a modern spin on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train that flips the script on race and gender politics.

“I’m a big believer that women should help each other, Tasha,” she says. “Don’t you think?”

Tasha Jenkins has finally found the courage to leave her abusive husband. Taking her teenage son with her, Tasha checks into a hotel the night before their flight out of D.C. and out of Kordell Jenkins’s life forever. But escaping isn’t so easy, and Tasha soon finds herself driving back to her own personal hell. As she is leaving, a white woman pounds on her car window, begging to be let in. Behind the woman, an angry man is in pursuit. Tasha makes a split-second decision that will alter the course of her life: she lets her in and takes off.

Tasha and Madison Gingell may have very different everyday realities, but what they have in common is marriages they need out of. The two women want to help each other, but they have very different ideas of what that means . . .

They are on a collision course that will end in the case files of the D.C. MPD homicide unit. Unraveling the truth of what really happened may be impossible‒and futile. Because what has the truth ever done for women like Tasha and Madison?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

L.S. Stratton is a NAACP Image Award-nominated author and former crime newspaper reporter who has written more than a dozen books under different pen names in just about every genre from thrillers to romance to historical fiction. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband, their daughter, and their tuxedo cat.

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