Valerie & Lynne Constantine, THE WIFE STALKER

Valerie & Lynne Constantine, THE WIFE STALKER

Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Lynne and Valerie Constantine. They are the duo behind the pen name Liv Constantine. Their debut thriller, The Last Mrs. Parrish, was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection, a People magazine Book of the Week, a Target Book Club selection, and is in development for television. Their second book, The Last Time I Saw You, was published by HarperCollins and is also in development for film. Now they’ve just released The Wife Stalker. I’ll tell you a little bit about each one of them. Lynne Constantine is an internationally best-selling author who write conspiracy thrillers under the pen LC Shaw and also, of course, psychological thrillers with her sister under the pen name Liv Constantine. Are you following me still? I hope so. Lynne is a former marketing executive and has a master’s degree in business from Johns Hopkins University. She lives with her family and two large dogs in Connecticut. Valerie has a degree in English literature. Early in her career she served as a White House assistant in the President’s Scheduling and Advance Office planning presidential trips and travel and has visited over forty foreign countries. She has a degree in English literature, which I already said, so ignore that. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband.

Welcome, to everybody, for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” all your different names and pen names and whatever. I’m here with Lynne and Valerie Constantine, known together as Liv Constantine who wrote The Wife Stalker. Welcome, guys.

Female Voice: Thank you.

Female Voice: It’s great to be here.

Female Voice: It is.

Zibby: Let’s start with this pen name situation. Okay, go.

Valerie Constantine: With the pen name situation, Lynne and I actually wrote a book quite a while ago together. We used our real names, well, of course our maiden names, Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. When we got the publishing contract with HarperCollins for The Last Mrs. Parrish, we went to lunch with our agent and with the editor. One of the things that we talked about that day was, what were we going to do in terms of names for the book? Of course, the first thing we said was we want it to be Valerie Constantine and Lynne Constantine. They said, “That’ll just take up too much room on the cover. We don’t think so.”

Lynne Constantine: And they were worried about, sometimes it could be off-putting to readers to see two names on a book. They just felt like a lot of times it looked better and less confusion to have one name.

Valerie: Then we said, why don’t we just use our initials? We’ll make it LV, L for Lynne, V for Valerie, LV Constantine. One of them said, “Mmm…”

Lynne: Initial fatigue.

Valerie: There’s initial fatigue, which there was when you think about —

Zibby: — Oh, my gosh.

Valerie: What a great expression, right? Whoever heard of initial fatigue?

Zibby: I have not heard that expression before.

Lynne: There were all of those for a long time. There were all of those initials. They’ve come back too.

Valerie: Right, and then it stopped a bit. We looked at each other and I said, why don’t we just take those two initials and we’ll put a vowel in between them? How about Liv? They both said, “Oh, great. We love that.”

Lynne: We liked it.

Valerie: That’s how Liv came about. I’ll let you talk about your other name that you hide behind.

Lynne: It could be that we’re in the witness protection program.

Zibby: I know. I’m wondering what’s going on.

Lynne: We can’t really say. So then when I decided that I wanted to write this conspiracy thriller series which is quite different from what Valerie and I write because we write psychological thrillers, we talked about names for that. I agreed when they said Lynne Constantine is so similar to Liv Constantine. The worry was that if people picked up The Network book, they would think it was another psychological thriller and be disappointed. You want to give readers, obviously, what they’re expecting. Then I was going to use my dog’s name, Grayson.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Lynne: I thought, well, maybe Grayson.

Valerie: And then Parker, the other dog.

Lynne: I have another dog. I thought he would be upset. Then they said, “Why don’t we do initials?” Initial fatigue was over. LC is for Lynne Constantine. Shaw is an abbreviation of Openshaw which is my married name. That’s how that came about, LC Shaw.

Valerie: We still have lots of options for other names for other books.

Zibby: Not to keep talking about this, but why wouldn’t you just be Lynne Openshaw?

Lynne: It just didn’t sound that exciting. I don’t know. Even my husband’s like, “Don’t use Openshaw. Shaw sounds better.”

Zibby: All right. Okay. Whatever. Well, it’s working. Whatever is going on, the marketing is working. I think the pen names are fantastic. You just don’t hear about pen names as often as I feel like in the past.

Lynne: You’re right. My husband jokes and says, “I don’t know who I’m sleeping with tonight. Who are you?”

Valerie: would be pretty exciting for him, though.

Zibby: What is The Wife Stalker about?

Lynne: The Wife Stalker takes place in Westport, Connecticut. It is about a woman whose husband is just coming out of a deep depression that has affected their marriage. She thinks that it is because he is getting healthy. What she doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that it’s the woman running the retreat and health center that’s making his spirits perk. They have two small children. When he leaves her for Piper, she begins to look into Piper’s background and is horrified to discover a wake of dead husbands in Piper’s past. She has to try to save her family before it’s too late.

Zibby: I am never letting my husband go to a yoga and wellness retreat ever. Let’s just back up before we started changing all of your names to when you even began writing. What made you start writing? Why these two different types of books, the psychological thrillers and the other?

Lynne: We’ve always been big readers. Val and I are thirteen years apart. We didn’t really grow up, necessarily, together. We did, but we were in different stages and generations.

Zibby: Same parents?

Lynne: Same parents. We have two brothers in between. Then when I became a teenager is really when we got close. My mother and her sister, we all used to read the same book. We’d go to the library and pick a book out. We would talk about it. We were reading a lot of ethnic fiction at a time, a lot of stories of Chinese, Italian, Irish.

Valerie: Jewish.

Lynne: Jewish. Later, I guess I was in my twenties at that point, maybe, and you were in your thirties when we wrote Circle Dance, we were talking. We said, you know, there are no books about Greek families. Neither of us are married to Greeks. We knew our children really were not going to have the same experience we had growing up. Our grandmother was gone at that point.

Valerie: All of our grandparents were from Greece.

Lynne: We said, then let’s write it. I went and bought a book called How to Write and Sell Your First Novel.

Valerie: Lynne buys how-to books on everything.

Lynne: Any problem, I’m like, okay, let me go to Amazon. It wasn’t Amazon then, probably. I read the book. We began writing. We were working. We would get together once a week.

Valerie: At night.

Lynne: There was no internet or email at that point. We’d print our pages and go over them weekly. Then I think after about a half a year, six months, we said, let’s just take a week off from work. Valerie brought her huge desktop over to my house. We worked and worked. We finished it. We thought were going to be on Oprah.

Valerie: It would be everywhere.

Lynne: We eventually got a small publisher, a Greek publisher. It came out in 2000, I think so, because I think my kids — 2000, right, when I had my twins. Then I moved to Connecticut.

Zibby: What were your day jobs at that point?

Lynne: I was working in banking. I was a vice president of marketing. I was with Citibank. Then I ended up with a couple other banks.

Valerie: I was working in ministry for a large church.

Lynne: Then I moved. We did a little bit of marketing with it. I homeschooled my kids for five years. That took all my creative energy. I really had none left at that point. What are we in? I never know what year we’re in because we’re always ahead with the books.

Valerie: We’re in 2020 now.

Lynne: I think it was around 2014 I went to ThrillerFest. My kids, they were in school at that point. I decided that I wanted to finish the thriller I had begun, which was The Network that is now out. I told Valerie about it. I told her, “You’ve got to come.” I got very inspired at ThrillerFest just meeting all the writers and going to the classes. I finished my book. Val came with me the next year and said, “I think I’d like to collaborate again.” We began writing together again at that point.

Zibby: Why did you homeschool your kids? With the coronavirus looming and the thought of the schools closing and having all my kids here, I’m like, oh, my gosh.

Valerie: Lynne had twins.

Zibby: I have twins too. My oldest kids are twins.

Lynne: We were in Maryland at the time. When I had them, most people were putting kids in private school. I was in a mom’s group, and another woman was telling me she was going to homeschool. I started looking into it. My primary reason was I liked the idea of the bonding that you have with your children, of them being more reliant on you in those early years than their peers. A lot of the research said what ends up happening as a five or six-year-child goes into a classroom of twenty, they maybe get ten minutes of individualized attention from the teachers, so their peers’ opinions become really paramount to them. The research showed that a lot of children who were homeschooled at an early age were less impervious to peer pressure when they were older. I wanted to give them a classical education. I wanted to do more Living Books and that sort of thing.

Zibby: So then you bought How to Homeschool Your Kids?

Lynne: I did. We went through tons of curriculum. It was great. There were obviously ups and downs. I don’t know about your twins, but mine fought a lot. That was the hardest part.

Valerie: Are your twins the same sex, or are they different?

Zibby: Boy, girl.

Lynne: Same. They’re very different. That was hard. There were just times I was pulling my hair out, like, okay, you’ve got to get along. It was good. I don’t regret it. They think I kind of ruined them for math, but they’re doing okay now. The rest of it is good. They’re close now. It was a good time, but it was not easy.

Valerie: It was difficult then and very time-consuming.

Lynne: It was. Then my daughter, turns out, has dyslexia. That’s why we went through a ton of reading. Then that was what happened. She needed to go to school. Then he was by himself. He wanted to go. Now they’re both in college.

Valerie: And doing well.

Lynne: Yes.

Zibby: Wow. Now you’re a smash-hit author. It all worked out great. How do you two come up with the ideas for all your books?

Valerie: That is one of the most fun parts. Don’t you think? Usually, we’re traveling when that happens. That’s just the way it’s happened, maybe because that’s the time that we’re together and it’s just the two of us. Lynne isn’t at my house with family around or I’m not at hers. Just Lynne and me —

Lynne: — And some wine.

Valerie: A couple glasses of wine. We just start talking about maybe a common circumstance or something that happens all of the time. Then, how could we change that or turn that on its head? It really evolves over months. We usually talk about the next book when we’re at the very end of the book we’re working on. We started last night to talk about the next book. We’re heavily in the midst of book number four. It was really difficult. We just couldn’t. Because our heads are so in this place right now, we couldn’t go to the next place.

Lynne: Sometimes it’s organic. It’s not always sitting down to say — for The Last Mrs. Parrish, I happened to be visiting Val at the time. We had written another book that we put in the drawer before Mrs. Parrish. We were just talking about these women who target rich men for the sole purpose, not because they fall in love with them, but because they want the lifestyle. We were saying, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if instead of it turning out the way they wanted, this happened? We looked at each other and said, that’s what we have to write.

Valerie: That’s the book.

Lynne: We knew the twist from the beginning with that one. Then the next book that we wrote, the twist changed. Actually, the killer changed in our book on a second or third round. It’s different every time. I think our process has evolved as well. We used to be more strict about assignments. Now I might be writing and then I’ll say, all right, I’m bored of this. I’ll email and say, you want to finish? She’ll do so and vice versa. It’s become a lot easier.

Valerie: A lot more collaborative, I think.

Lynne: Definitely.

Zibby: I’m always so impressed, how do you get your writing style to be — how does it come together so perfectly? You can’t tell when one starts.

Valerie: That’s kind of amazing, actually. We must have similar writing styles at some level. When Lynne said she’ll begin writing a chapter and I might end it or vice versa, and so our writing is completely interspersed with each other’s. Then when we edit, that really brings a whole nother level to it that makes it mesh even more.

Zibby: It’s always like you’re both perfect ghostwriters too because you have that same skill set where you can emulate someone else’s voice. You have to both somehow — or find a middle ground or something.

Lynne: It’s true. It’s funny because when we’re in the middle of a project, too, we even begin to think alike. Crazy things, we’ll try to come up with a character name. Sometimes we’ll have the same thing, or an idea. We’ll say, we think they should be…, and we’ll both say twins at the same time. It’s a little magical sometimes.

Zibby: Do you ever fight over anything?

Lynne: A couple times, we’ve had disagreements. I think that’s gotten better because instead of having a set opinion, we bring things to the table and say, let’s discuss. What if this? What if that? It’s not like, I think it should be such-and-such. We’ve had a couple times. Then we would take it our editor. We don’t say whose opinion is whose.

Zibby: I like it. That’s good. Neutral third party, key.

Lynne: We hope that we win.

Zibby: What was it like when The Last Mrs. Parrish got picked as a Reese’s Book Club pick?

Lynne: Amazing.

Valerie: That was amazing.

Zibby: Take me through the whole —

Valerie: — You can.

Lynne: We were touring. It was November, I think. I can’t remember, October/November.

Valerie: It was November.

Lynne: We were in Annapolis at a book club. I got a phone call from our agent. She said, “Do you and Valerie have some time to talk to Emily?” Emily’s our editor. I was like, “Are we in trouble?” She’s like, “No, no, no. Everything is fine.” She said, “Call me.” We went back to Valerie’s house. Her husband was sitting there. We were around the kitchen table. We were on a landline. We each were on one. They said, “Are you sitting down?” We said yes. They said, “We’ve been picked for Reese Witherspoon.” Screams of joy. Her husband is looking at us like, what? They said, “But listen, you can’t tell anyone.”

Valerie: There was like two weeks lead-time before it was going to —

Lynne: — Or more than that. I think it was like a month.

Valerie: Was it that long?

Lynne: Yeah. They said they don’t want anybody to know. You can’t even tell your husbands.

Valerie: And don’t even google her.

Lynne: Collin, my brother-in-law, is a doll, but he’s very loose-lipped.

Valerie: He cannot keep a secret.

Zibby: This is your husband?

Valerie: It’s my husband, yes.

Lynne: So we hang up the phone. He says, “What? What?” I was like, “They’re going to do an article about us.” He just looked at us like, okay.

Valerie: You got awfully excited.

Lynne: It was really exciting. We were bursting. We couldn’t wait to share it or tell anybody. Every day we were waiting for the announcement.

Valerie: It was amazing. It was thrilling, absolutely thrilling.

Lynne: Shocking. We had no expectation or no idea that that was even a possibility for the book or whatever. I was just getting to know how to do Instagram. She actually did a story. I said to my daughter, “What am I supposed to do?” She’s like, “You have to like it, Mom. Send her a message,” which I did. She wrote back to me. I was so starstruck like a teenager. I’m like, “What do I answer?” She’s like, “Do a little heart. Do this.” It was really exciting.

Zibby: Did you ever meet her?

Lynne: We did not. It was close to Christmas, so they said she didn’t have time. Maybe one day. We love her.

Valerie: We’re grateful.

Zibby: What happens after — I want to talk more about the book, but when you become a Reese’s book pick, they ask you to put the little logo on your book?

Lynne: Yes. It has the seal. Now Barnes & Noble has all of them, which is wonderful.

Zibby: I saw that last night.

Lynne: They have them all on a table of her picks.

Zibby: I took a picture of that. I have to post that. That was really neat.

Lynne: They’ve been great. We’re part of the Hello Sunshine family. It’s just a huge honor. We love them.

Zibby: Aren’t your books in the process of being developed, one for film and one for…?

Lynne: Yes. Mrs. Parrish is in development with Amazon. We just wait for news for that. It takes a while.

Valerie: It takes forever.

Zibby: It takes forever.

Lynne: Then we have an option for The Last Time I Saw You for film. Again, can’t make an announcement, but there is an actor attached to that.

Valerie: An actress attached.

Lynne: Then hopefully, something will happen with The Wife Stalker.

Zibby: Let’s talk about The Wife Stalker, which was really great. Did you come up with this? I was wondering because the villain, question mark, in the book is this size-two yoga aficionado, wellness center woman. I wondered, did they see a woman like this and wonder what was going on? What’s her backstory? Did that start anything? Did I just make that up?

Valerie: You made that up, but that’s kind of a good story if you want to go forward with it. No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to talk about it without sort of giving it —

Lynne: — The twist, when we were discussing that — we don’t intentionally, I don’t think, but maybe we do — it seems like all our books have two female protagonists. It just has ended up that way. Although, the next one doesn’t. We’re breaking that. When we were talking, Valerie made a joke. I said, what if she’s…, and she said something. Then we said, oh, you know what? Maybe that would work. That’s what we ended up — then we said, how would we do that? That’s how it went along. I think we’ve all known the Pipers, those beautiful —

Valerie: — It’s like the cheerleaders in school. They’re the perfect people. They’re happy. They’re nice. It’s sort of like, wow, how did you get all of that?

Lynne: Right, but nobody’s really perfect, so then that’s looking behind.

Valerie: We certainly don’t mean anything mean toward yoga instructors.

Lynne: Absolutely.

Zibby: No, not at all. I’d love to a be a yoga instructor. How cool would that be? Then you contrast her a bit with Joanna, who’s Leo wife and the mother of kids and blah, blah, blah. Then Joanna’s dealing with her own issues with her mother, which I found very interesting. I just wanted to read this passage because I feel like this should win the award for the best guilt trip in literature that I’ve read, and I’ve heard a lot of guilt trips in real life and everything. This one took the cake. Joanna’s mother breaks her leg and needs lots of help at home. Joanna says, “I have to get home to my kids soon.” Her mother’s not having it. She’s like, “I took care of you for your whole life, and you can’t sacrifice a few weeks of yours for me? You care more about that hotshot lawyer than your mother. The children have sitters and their father. They’ll be fine.” Then she says, “Fine, Joanna, abandon your mother. Just remember that I gave up my career for you. I stayed home with you when you had mono. Remember? For six months I couldn’t work, and they gave my promotion to someone else. Who knows what direction my life would’ve taken if I’d been made a manager of my company instead? I lost my job. Your father left us for that woman and her daughter, and I took care of you after he was gone even though you were already eighteen. I could’ve kicked you out like a lot of parents do when their kids come of age.” Then Joanna throws up her hands and just says, “Okay. I’ll stay. I’ll stay.” That was awesome. Where does this come from? Is your mom like this? Where are these guilt trips? Do you give these guilt trips?

Lynne: Our mom was wonderful, but she could pull a guilt trip occasionally, definitely. Our grandmother, for sure, she was a great guilt-tripper.

Valerie: I’m highly susceptible to be guilted into things.

Lynne: Our children, as we all know as mothers, they can do the guilt trip. They’ll wrap it around in something they need that’s really critical to their survival and their well-being if you don’t do it. Then ourselves, I guilt-trip myself. Don’t we all do that? Not being a good enough mom or not being a good enough daughter, and being Greek.

Valerie: That just comes with the territory, absolutely.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I loved that. I also found it interesting, Leo, the hotshot lawyer, just Joanna’s husband, in the beginning had been battling depression. I found it interesting the way you treated that and the way Joanna treated it with kid gloves, almost like, you’ve had this. Did you do research on this? How did you come up with that element of his backstory?

Lynne: I have a good friend who is a clinical psychologist. I always talk to her.

Valerie: We use her a lot, actually.

Lynne: Right, run things by her. I’ve known people with depression.

Zibby: You could do a triple pen name. Get her name in there too.

Valerie: Exactly, right.

Zibby: Sorry, go on.

Lynne: She’s always in the acknowledgements, Carmen. We do run things by her. We read a lot about whatever personality disorder, not that that’s a disorder, but in other books, any kind of mental health issue to try to know about it.

Valerie: We do research on that, for sure.

Zibby: There’s a quote in the book referring to marriage. It says, “It’s not magic. It’s love. It’s believing in the power of love and the powers of our years together.” How much credit should we give to the past when we’re debating on the future? Everybody who’s been married has all this past. When does the past become in the past versus when it can stop affecting your decisions about whether or not to go forward? What do you think?

Lynne: I think weighing everything. Obviously, if someone’s in an abusive relationship or something that’s harmful, then I don’t care how many years you have together. You have to look at how that’s affecting now. I think also depending upon if it’s a transitional thing — we all go through our ups and downs in all of our relationships. If you can stick it out, if it’s something that can be worked through and I think if you have a lot of good years together, it’s worth it. No matter what, you’re going to get into a relationship. You’re going to be faced with problems in that relationship as well.

Valerie: I think that’s true. Then I think there’s also the situation where maybe the past and what you’ve been going through is not a good thing. There’s such a fear, often, of leaving something that you know and something that feels familiar even though it’s painful and moving into the unknown. Then what a lot of psychologists would say is that you really won’t leave a situation that’s painful until it’s so painful that the fear of the unknown seems less painful to you. I think that can be a really difficult thing for people who are in a bad marriage, in a bad relationship, or even with family that might be toxic or where they were in abusive situations. We do tend to want to stay in what’s familiar and what we know and what feels safe even though it’s not safe because out there is scary.

Lynne: It’s true even in a job or anything, whatever scenes. I think, too, there’s a tendency to not want to make the “wrong” decision as opposed to saying, it’s not necessarily right or wrong, it’s just different. The only way to know is to try. I definitely think fear can —

Valerie: — It can really stop you.

Lynne: It can stop you at times.

Zibby: Did you read a book called How to Write a Psychological Thriller?

Valerie: No, we didn’t know we were writing a psychological thriller, actually.

Lynne: When we wrote Parrish, we thought it was just —

Valerie: — We thought it was women’s fiction. That’s what we intended it as, women’s fiction. When we got an agent and we signed our contract, she said, “This is a psychological thriller.” We said, really?

Lynne: She said it sort of goes over. The nice thing, it’s both. As you know with Parrish, there’s no murder in Parrish. Then we graduated to murder in the next.

Valerie: Started killed people.

Zibby: Got to work towards something. Maybe you can write a little thing called How to Write a Psychological Thriller. You could add your two cents into the how-to genre since you’re so familiar with it, maybe a little giveaway on your website or something, people sign up for your mailing list. I’ll just stop with the ideas. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Lynne: Lot of advice.

Valerie: Lots of reading, reading, reading, and reading classics in addition to modern fiction and whatever. I think reading the classics is always helpful.

Lynne: Really studying the craft. For me, I remember when I first started, I was worried about taking any writing classes because you think, naïvely assume, that’s going to change my voice, but it’s really important. I worked in Westport with a small group called Write Yourself Free and this man, Patrick McCord, who was amazing. For two years I attended workshops where there were only eight of us. You’d bring your writing in. They didn’t critique. I think that sometimes that can be tough when you have other people that are just as green as you are. He would give good advice. I really learned how to embody, or I hope so anyway, my writing through those workshops. Then attending ThrillerFest, there’s all the craft classes. You’re going to find some advice that you agree with and some that you don’t. I think continuing to write, practicing, having a good mentor. We’ve learned a ton too through, we have an amazing editor at HarperCollins. We have learned so much working with her over the years, each book. As a new writer, I think a lot of times they’re finished and they’re submitting, and they don’t know what they don’t know. I know that was the case for us. The other thing is, if you can, to find a good editor before you try to find an agent. To just take it that next step can really make the difference.

Valerie: To go to the next level, definitely. I think often people think of editors as the ones who go in and they fix punctuations and they maybe change a word here or there or they fix spelling, but there’s so much more to the editing process. They’ll talk about story development. Maybe this should be placed — instead of being in the first third of the book, maybe this should be halfway through because that will increase the tension. What is this person thinking when he says that? I’d like to know what the emotions are. What does she think when he says blah, blah, blah back to her? Now when we’re writing — in fact, I was reading one of Lynne’s chapters and I wrote, why? The editor’s constantly in our head too. Hiring a freelance editor for Mrs. Parrish was incredibly helpful for us before we submitted it.

Lynne: It was. We actually hired her just to do a quick line edit before we did. She’s terrific too. We’ve worked with her on other books. She just pointed out one thing that she felt cut the tension in the middle of the book. Over the course of an hour, we talked about it. We said, what if we just stopped it here and moved this over here so the reader doesn’t know what happens until — which is what we did. I really wonder if we hadn’t done that, if it would’ve been picked up as quickly as it was. You’re so close, you can’t see it. That’s the other thing. The editor can see things or make those little things that really aren’t little things.

Valerie: I would also say just keep persevering. Do it every day. Don’t give up. If that’s really your dream, just keep doing it and doing it. If you feel like you’re stuck on something, put it away. Put in the drawer and start something new. Also, get a book called Rotten Rejections and read the rejections.

Lynne: It might be out of print, but I’m not sure.

Valerie: You can even find it online, the rejections that amazing classics and best sellers got. You do have to have a thick skin.

Lynne: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, someone wrote and said, no one wants to read about birds. They’re just all in this .

Valerie: And Animal Farm, nobody wants to read about animals anymore. Obviously, they read the books.

Zibby: Interesting. Thank you both so much for coming on. Thanks for braving the traffic to get here and schlepping all the way in to do this in person. I really appreciate it.

Valerie: Our pleasure.

Lynne: We’re happy to. Thank you.

Valerie: Thank you so much.

Valerie & Lynne Constantine, THE WIFE STALKER