Author Wanda M. Morris has a new book coming out on October 25. You can read the interview below for more insight into her path to writing success. Then read her new book— the one Lou Berney calls “an absolute stunner.”
Anywhere You Run is set in 1964 against the backdrop of the struggle for voting rights and equal justice under the law. Two sisters on the run, pursued by a man with unknown motives. Thrilling is too tame a word for this powerful novel.
Sharon: We first met at the Yale Writer’s Workshop back in 2017. It was clear even then that you were destined for success. What was the most valuable thing you learned there?
Wanda: Aww, you’re so sweet to say that. The most valuable thing I gained from the Yale Writer’s Workshop was confidence and I have you and everyone else in our class to thank for that! It was because you all gave me such constructive and positive feedback that I felt confident enough to push through my writing fears. I think it’s so important that a writer have a support system in the writing community. Family will always love your writing because they love you. But it’s the critical eye and supportive shoulder of other writers who understand what it’s like to get a rejection or to get accolades and provide support on both fronts.
Sharon: All Her Little Secrets had a working title back then that I loved. Can you tell us about why you chose it, and how it ended up being changed?
Wanda: The original title of the book was The Elephant Fighter. I LOVED that title. It was based on an African proverb which states, “When elephants fight, the only thing that suffers is the grass.” It means when people with power and means argue and disagree, the people with fewer resources are the ones who actually lose. This proverb survived as the epigraph for the book. After my editor and I completed revisions, she told me, “Now it’s time to discuss the title.” My publisher didn’t think it was “thriller-y” enough. It wouldn’t signal to the reader what they might find behind the cover of the book. We bantered about a lot of titles and finally landed on All Her Little Secrets. Knowing what we know about Ellice Littlejohn, I think that title works!
Sharon: It’s hard enough for any writer to find time to write, but I’ve heard you didn’t tell your family you were writing a book until pretty late in the process. How did you manage to get anything written without anyone noticing?
Wanda: That’s true! I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book. I was so unsure of my writing skills and my ability to do something so daunting as to write a book. I wrote in secret while waiting for my kids to finish track practice or piano lessons. I wrote in the evenings after everyone was asleep. I wrote in airports when I traveled for business. As the story really started to take shape, I went to a library near my job every day during my lunch hour and wrote there. I finally confessed my secret endeavor to my husband when I had to attend a writing conference out of town, and he’d have to take care of our son while I was away. He was so supportive and impressed. Long story short, I wrote wherever I could find the time. It’s tough but it can be done.
Sharon: How does your new novel, Anywhere You Run, differ from All Her Little Secrets?
Wanda: Anywhere You Run is a historical thriller set in 1964, different from All Her Little Secrets which had a contemporary setting. From a writing craft standpoint, Anywhere You Run is told from three different points of view, whereas All Her Little Secrets was written with a dual timeline. I like playing with narrative structure in my books.
Sharon: What did you learn from the first publishing go-round with All Her Little Secrets that made writing Anywhere You Run harder or easier?
Wanda: I think when I was writing All Her Little Secrets, I was actually learning how to write a book. I had to learn about things like pacing, characterization, and tension. So, when it was time to write my second novel, I had a bit of a leg up. But it was still just as hard as writing the first novel. I still had to figure out how to translate all the ideas scrambling around in my head into a coherent and engaging story that a reader would want to stick with for hundreds of pages.
Sharon: Did you suspect that your work would debut to such acclaim? What was the first event that made you realize how much people love your books? Your “They like me” moment.
Wanda: I didn’t have a clue. I was so focused on putting this idea between the covers of a book that I didn’t think much about how it would sell. But I am so grateful for every reader, book blogger, librarian, and bookseller who read All Her Little Secrets and tweeted, talked about, posted about or otherwise spread the word about my little book baby. I think the moment that I realized the book was resonating with people was when it was selected as the #1 Pick by Library Reads last November. Librarians read ALL the books, so I considered that recognition extremely high praise.
Sharon: All Her Little Secrets is written in first person POV. With dual protagonists in Anywhere You Run, how did that change the way you approached your writing?
Wanda: It didn’t really. When I write stories, it’s like I’m watching a movie in my mind. I try to write down everything I see in that movie for the reader. When I wrote All Her Little Secrets, it ran like a linear movie, but there was so much complexity to Ellice Littlejohn’s backstory that I couldn’t really weave it into the present-day timeline, so I decided to break out her backstory and give it a separate space in the novel. For Anywhere You Run, I envisioned a cat-and-mouse chase, and I wrote it exactly as it played out in my head.
Sharon: Your plots are unique, but realistic and down to earth. Where do you get your ideas?
Wanda: I write about ideas and themes that are important to me. Interestingly, those ideas and themes are important to a lot of people. Things like women’s rights, equality, family, love, and loss are themes that resonate with all of us.
Sharon: Indeed they do. Thanks for joining us today, Wanda. And good luck with Anywhere You Run.
Wanda M. Morris is the acclaimed author of All Her Little Secrets, which has been reviewed in The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the South Florida Sun Sentinel. It was named by Hudson Booksellers as one of the “Best Books of 2021” and Wanda was named one of Fall 2021’s “Top Ten Writers to Watch” by Publishers Weekly. Her book was serialized in Entertainment Weekly and selected as a Book Club Pick by Marie Claire. Bestselling author Karin Slaughter has called All Her Little Secrets “brilliantly nuanced.”
Wanda is an alumna of the Yale Writers Workshop and Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Crime Writers of Color and serves as a board member of International Thriller Writers. She is married, the mother of three, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
As a PADI-certified divemaster, Sharon helped local dive shops with their training classes, and she has hundreds of dives under her weight belt. Wanting to share the joy and wonder of the underwater world, she wrote In Deep, her debut novel. Killer Storm is the fourth entry in the Fin Fleming Scuba Diving series. Sharon lives in Southern Massachusetts with her husband Jack and a beautiful long-haired miniature dachshund named Molly.