Carter Wilson is a USA Today bestselling author who has written eight critically acclaimed, standalone psychological thrillers, as well as numerous short stories. He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a five-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and his works have been optioned for television and film. Carter lives in Erie, Colorado in a Victorian house that is spooky but isn’t haunted…yet.

SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Carter Wilson: I don’t outline, so I never know where a story is going or what it’s even going to be. All my novels are inspired by an idea of an opening scene that occurs to me, and then I just take things from there. In the case of “The Dead Husband,” I pictured a young widow standing in front of a massive house — her childhood home. 

She’s just returned to her hometown with her little boy in tow after the accidental death of her husband. As I was writing this scene it occurred to me that this woman didn’t really want to be back home. And that there was something very sinister about that house. That’s all I knew about the story, and had a hell of a lot of fun figuring everything out.

SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Wilson: It’s the very beginning of the book. I wanted to show your readers the scene that popped into my mind that served as the inspiration for the book. Really, all my books are mysteries to me, and my job is to solve the mystery of that opening scene.


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SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write? 

Wilson: The story is told primarily from the first-person perspective of Rose Yates, the young widow. I decided she was going to be a mystery writer, and that there was some suspicion around her regarding her husband’s death. Of course, I drew on my own experiences as a writer in fleshing out her character.

A secondary voice in the story is that of Colin Pearson, a detective investigating Rose. Now, generally speaking, I loathe research, so I usually don’t write from a point-of-view of a profession as detail-oriented as law enforcement. But I have a great friend in California who’s a detective, so I leaned on him heavily to make sure my writing wasn’t too off-base. In fact, I dedicated the book to him.

SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

Wilson: I firmly believe narratives should have a mind of their own. I am what is called a classic Pantser (as in writing by the seat of). This, as opposed to my Plotser colleagues, who can see the entirety of a story, start to finish, before they actually write it out. As a dedicated Panstser, all I ever need to do is continually ask myself one question:

What if?

What if? is the question that drives the story for me. And this question has a sibling: What does that mean? As I write, I’m constantly asking myself these two questions, and if answers pop up that intrigue me, I’ll follow new paths to see where they lead me. Sometimes they lead to dead ends, sometimes they open up new worlds. The first draft is a glorious mess when writing like this, but the real book is born out of editing.

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book? 

Wilson: The Yates family, which is central to this book, is HUGELY dysfunctional. I’d say the biggest challenge I faced was balancing the family’s love for one another with their mutual despisal. 

“The Dead Husband”

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I wanted to write about a family bond so strong that it had survived some truly awful events, and what it would take for that bond to finally be broken. I found that to be a challenge, but that’s where advice from beta readers, my agent, and my editor become essential.

SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?

Wilson: Good question. I will say that many readers like to post trigger warnings about books, which is a bit of a shame because some readers of those reviews will refuse to buy the book without any context of why that trigger warning was noted. 

Look, my books are dark, no question. But I don’t believe they’re gratuitous in any aspect. But yes, there were some strong opinions about a certain scene in the book, which I won’t go into detail about here (teaser!). And I don’t address those opinions at all. The best thing an author can do is let their book exist in the wild and let it go.

SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

Wilson: I write an hour a day, that’s it. But I do it every day, and at that pace I can get a book done in about 10 or so months. 

I pour myself a cocktail at 5 p.m. and head upstairs to a hidden nook adjacent to my bedroom. Slip on headphones, play thunderstorm sounds, and figure out what’s going to happen next in my story.

SunLit: This story forces readers to confront some difficult questions about what people will do to protect their own. How did you approach these moral quandaries?

Wilson: Nearly all my characters have moral boundaries that they’re willing to trespass given the right circumstances, and I find that compelling to write because it’s so human. But those boundaries are different for each person, and Cora Yates’s line is set very far apart from Rose Yates’s.

I try to take each character and set a breaking point for them, then start throwing adversity at them to see how they react. Sometimes I’m surprised by the result, and Logan Yates is a good example of this. Although no one would call him moral in a traditional sense, some of the most terrible things he’s done in his life were out of love for his children (twisted as that love may be).

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Wilson: My most recent book, “The New Neighbor,” came out earlier this year. It’s actually set in the same town and even the SAME HOUSE as “The Dead Husband,” but contains a totally different set of characters. It takes place roughly six months after the end of “The Dead Husband,” and focuses on a lottery winner who just lost the love of his life. While the two books are standalone novels, there are a lot of fun discoveries for those readers who read both.