Samantha Downing Chats With Us About Her Novel My Lovely Wife

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New York Family’s Parent’s Book Club December Pick is My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing. My Lovely Wife tells the story of a man and woman who meet, fall in love, have kids, and move to the suburbs. But flash forward fifteen years later, and their lives feel boring. What better way to keep their marriage interesting than to get away with murder? Follow this couple through both their all too normal and extremely unsettling life. How well do you really know your neighbors?

Samantha Downing is the author of the USA Today and #1 International Bestseller, My Lovely Wife. She was born and raised in Marin County and now lives in New Orleans, where she is furiously typing away on her next thrilling standalone.

Stay up to date with our monthly picks for New York Family’s Parent’s Book Club. Last month’s read was Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

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You wrote several books before My Lovely Wife but never published them. Were the other books thrillers as well? How did you know that My Lovely Wife was the one that you wanted to publish? 

I wrote in a number of genres over the years. My first book was a coming-of-age story, then I tried my hand at literary fiction, horror, and finally thrillers. I grew up reading thrillers because my whole family read them. We always had books by Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Harlan Coben, and Clive Cussler around the house, so it was a natural fit for me to turn to the genre I love.

It was actually a friend of mine, Rebecca, who decided that My Lovely Wife should be the one who gets published. Rebecca sent the book to a friend who knew an agent in New York, and that’s how I eventually got to my agent, Barbara Poelle. Now the book is out in the world and I couldn’t be happier that this is my first published novel.

What was your inspiration for writing My Lovely Wife, and what do you want readers to take away from the novel?    

The original idea came from a documentary about a couple who kidnapped a woman back in the 1970s. I took this idea and instead of telling the story from the perspective of the victim, I created a story about a couple who does something like this, and I wanted it to be about their marriage, not just their crimes. The violence is not explicit, the book focuses more on relationships than anything else. What I really hope is that people have a great time reading it, and hopefully it will make you laugh and shock you at the same time.

A running theme in the novel that stuck out to me was the unsettling feeling of how you truly don’t know people. Millicent and her husband are just a “normal” couple in the community, and yet the neighbors, their kids, clients, and all of the people that they talk to on a day to day basis have no idea about their secret life. Was this one of the themes that you aimed to explore in My Lovely Wife, and if so, why? 

Oh, absolutely. I think there’s a mystique about what really goes on behind closed doors, especially with people who live near us. You just never know what people do when they’re alone and I find that endlessly fascinating!

Why did you decide to narrate the story from the husband’s perspective, rather than Millicent’s?  

I loved the idea of knowing Millicent only through the eyes of the man who loves her. We only see what he decides to tell us, and we only know Millicent through her interactions with him. Essentially this is how we know people, through what we see and hear from them. We can’t ever get into someone’s head, and this is how I wanted people to know Millicent.

As disturbing as this couple is, there are times when I liked them. Millicent’s insistence on family time is commendable, and sometimes these characters are quite funny. You craft such complex characters, in that if you focus on who they are when they’re double dating with Andy and Trista, sitting at breakfast with their kids, or teaching tennis lessons, well, then they’re really not so bad. When creating this multi-dimensional couple, did you intend for readers to like them at times?

My intent was never to make them likeable or unlikeable. I wanted to present a couple who is normal 90% of the time. They have the same conversations about kids and money and their schedules that everyone else has. If they didn’t act normal and have normal lives, they never would have been able to get away with what they did. They had to be the couple you would least suspect. I also think it helped people relate to them, that they might recognize those conversations and normal moments, and that’s what hopefully makes the book disturbing!

My Lovely Wife is very much about secrets. But the big secret, the couple’s murdering pastime, isn’t the only one. In your opinion, what is the danger of keeping secrets in a family? 

One of my intentions was to show how you can’t compartmentalize your life. Actions affect other people —good and bad. The kids, for example, had no idea what their parents were doing yet both were affected by the crimes in the neighborhood. Secrets always affect the person hiding one, but they also affect others in ways we can’t predict.

I’m interested in the family dynamics presented in the novel, and how family, including the kids, Rory and Jenna, is very much focused on in this thriller. Did you know before you started writing My Lovely Wife that you wanted the kids to play a role in the story? 

I absolutely wanted the kids to play a role in the book, which is why both are teenagers. They are old enough to have their own lives, their own problems, and their own storylines. Very young children wouldn’t have been as effective for the family dynamic, or for how they react to the situation around them.

The couple starts murdering to keep their fifteen-year marriage alive and interesting. Through writing this novel, do you have any advice for parents about how to sustain their marriage in other (much healthier) ways? 

First, don’t kill anyone! That would be my first tip. I think marriages are so personal and so unique, it would be difficult to even suggest anything. It’s something that each couple really has to figure out, depending on what their interests are or what they like to do together. Some may love to travel, others might like extreme sports. I think the key is to do something that feels exciting, that makes your adrenaline pump the way it did when you first met. I think that’s the feeling couples often are chasing, that excitement of seeing someone when they walk in the room or when they call. It’s just a matter of reintroducing it into the relationship in some form. Easier said than done, I’m sure!

Your next novel, He Started It, is expected to be released this summer. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

He Started It is a book about family, in this case a group of siblings — a brother, two sisters, and their spouses—who go on a road trip across the country in order to collect an inheritance. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you know how difficult they can be. Add in your siblings and those old childhood habits, and it’s a recipe for mayhem.

For readers who enjoyed My Lovely Wife, what other book suggestions do you have? Is there another book coming out in 2019 or 2020 that we should look out for? 

Some of my favorite books from the last couple of years are The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne, The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz, Temper by Layne Fargo, The Night Olivia Fell by Christina MacDonald, and Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle. Coming up in 2020, Mary Kubica has a new book coming out called The Other Mrs. and I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy. It’s fantastic!

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