Viper: A Q&A with Ren Richards

04 March 2020

She didn’t know if she loved her baby… but did she kill her?

A bestselling true crime writer, Nell tells other people’s stories. But there is one story she won’t tell. Ten years ago, she was a teenage mother with a four-year-old she found desperately hard to love. Then the little girl disappeared.

As Nell begins to interview the subject of her next book, a woman convicted of murdering her twin sister, it becomes clear that someone has uncovered her true identity. And they know that Nell didn’t tell the truth about the day her daughter vanished…

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ren richards broken ones

Ren Richards is the pen name for New York Times and USA Today Bestselling YA author Lauren DeStefano. DeStefano has published seven YA novels, four middle-grade novels and has an impending picture book but has always dreamed of breaking in to the adult suspense category.
Miranda Jewess: You’ve previous written young adult fantasy and dystopian fiction under your real name, Lauren DeStefano. What inspired you to write a psychological thriller?

Ren Richards: I have ALWAYS loved psychological thrillers. I was reading Kiss the Girls, Silence of the Lambs, and any Stephen King novel I could get my hands on during long family road trips in high school. There are so many different types of stories I’d like to write, and it just came to be that young adult was first in line. But I’m trying to make room for more genres now.
MJ: Your main character, Nell, is a true-crime writer. Do you read or watch a lot of true crime? Do you have any favourites?
RR: Some people unwind after a long day by listening to some soothing music, or cranking up a rainstorm app on their phone. I turn on true crime shows. Here in America we have a channel called Investigation Discovery – I believe there’s also a UK version as well. They cover everything from murderous spouses to cult leaders to suspicious neighbors. I’ll watch anything they air.
MJ: The character of the little lost girl, Reina, is so heartbreaking and complex, and one might say a serial killer in the making! How did you come up with her? Is she based on a child you’ve met?
RR: Thankfully, she’s not based on a child I’ve met! On social media, I’m constantly surrounded by my friends’ birth announcements and happy family photos. But then I’ll turn on the news and see that someone has just committed a heinous crime. That criminal started out as a baby, too. That’s always been something I wondered about. I wondered what it would be like for a parent to have a baby, give that baby all the love in the world, and somehow know that their baby isn’t like all the others. What would it be like to have that nettling fear that one day that baby would grow up to do something horrible? This was Nell’s reality. She was constantly wrestling with her desire to love her daughter, while at the same time being terrified of her. She felt a lot of guilt knowing that her life would have been a more peaceful place if she gave her child away, but she still had that sort of hope that her love would be enough. It just never was.
MJ: Do you have a favourite crime novel that you wish that you’d written yourself?
I don’t know that I could pick a favorite. I’m always very haunted by true crime, like The Darkest Night by Ron Franscell, or Because You Loved Me by M. William Phelps. There’s a really fine balance between telling the story but also trying to honor the real people who were affected by what’s happened. That’s something I respect about true crime authors, and something I wanted to give to Nell. I wouldn’t want to change any of these books by writing them myself. It’s just my hope that I can enter the scene and offer something that readers of all my favorite books will enjoy too.

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