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SunLit Interviews

True crime planted the seed for Colorado author Carter Wilson’s psychological thriller

The real-life Slenderman stabbings sparked a visceral reaction -- so he stopped reading news accounts to focus on his story of a similar young victim's life as an adult woman

Carter Wilson is the USA Today and #1 Denver Post bestselling author of six critically acclaimed, standalone psychological thrillers, as well as numerous short stories.

He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a three-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and his novels have received multiple starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Carter lives in Erie in a Victorian house that is spooky but isn’t haunted … yet.

The following is an interview with author Carter Wilson.

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit


What inspired you to write this book?

It was 2014 and I was reading an article about the Slenderman crime in Wisconsin. Two fourteen year-old girls stabbed a third girl out of tribute to a fictional graphic-novel character. I was so creeped out by the crime that I remember having a visceral reaction to the story.

Then, about three paragraphs in, I discovered the victim survived. That’s when I stopped reading (and haven’t read any more about it to this day). I didn’t want to know any more, because I knew this was what I was going to write about. It wasn’t the crime that I wanted to focus on, but I wanted to know what that young girl, that poor victim, looked like as a twenty-eight year-old woman. I wanted to explore what her life was like a decade and a half after surviving such a brutal, bizarre, and sensationalized crime. That’s where the character of Alice came from. 

“Mister Tender’s Girl” by Carter Wilson.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

Stephen King taught me how to develop deep characters and throw them into very unsettling situations. Cormac McCarthy taught me novels can be poetic and rhythmic, especially in scenes of intense desperation. I’m heavily influenced by both authors, and will never expect to come close to either of their talent.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

I choose the opening because I love when we first meet Alice. She’s alone in her house, having dinner. Through her voice we get an immediate sense of how much an island she is and how many things still haunt her.

MORE: Read more SunLit author interviews

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Not knowing where it was headed. I don’t outline, so everything I write is a surprise to me. About three-quarters of the way through the book, all the themes suddenly emerged, having sat in my subconsciousness until then. I can’t express how satisfying it is to write without a plan, and then one unfolds without even thinking about it.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

I wrote this book entirely from the point-of-view of a 28 year-old woman, so I knew that getting the voice right was going to be important. I won’t say it was a huge struggle, but I paid more attention to Alice’s voice than I would a male protagonist. In the end, it was a very freeing experience to write in a voice that’s so different than my own.

“Mister Tender’s Girl” author Carter Wilson. (Photo by Elke Hope Photography)

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

I choose Manchester, New Hampshire as the setting; it wasn’t entirely random, but it wasn’t completely deliberate, either. Since I didn’t know anything about Manchester, I traveled out there and spent three nights in the lovely Ash Street Inn. I really enjoyed getting to know the area and the people, and it allowed my writing to come much more alive. It was the first time I traveled to a location for location-research purposes.

What project are you working on next?

My sixth novel, The Dead Girl in 2A, was released in July 2019 by Poisoned Pen Press. 

Buy “Mister Tender’s Girl” at BookBar

Excerpt from “Mister Tender’s Girl” by Carter Wilson


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