The fourth psychological thriller from Zoje Stage, Mother (Thomas and Mercer, March 2023) It is terrifying and claustrophobic, but it is not, as Stig vividly expressed in the author’s note, documenting the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. The story of a mother and daughter having a complex relationship, confined to a home, with an unspecified pandemic as a backdrop, isolation creates turmoil that leads to horrific violence.
When Grace buys a house, then loses her job, it seems logical that her newly widowed mother, Jackie, would move into the house. They share a difficult past, with memories of Grace’s twin sister, Hope, who had cerebral palsy and died when they were both. Children, the catalyst for Grace’s nightmares and her descent into madness. What is real and what is not?
Mother Psychotherapy begins with reading a file containing information about Grace, his new patient, and the crime scene found by police when they were called to her home: “Blood oozes from the walls,” Steg wrote. “Over-killing was not uncommon in crimes of passion, where love and hate generated a frenzy of mixed feelings, deep and personal, but Ninety-one stab wounds? “
Insanity wafts into Grace’s explanation for her mother’s murder: “I had to do it. She was contagious”-[Grace’s] Salute as she opened the door to let the police in. A mist of decay spread out like a poisonous cloud, causing the uniformed officers to lie down. How did she live with the bad smell? And why?”
Stage told me that she never made a conscious decision about writing in a particular genre, but that she “was always drawn to dark stories where something weird was going on. I love reading page-turners and always felt I should write the kind of books I like to read.”
In late 2019, she was talking to her agent, Stephen Barbara of InkWell Management, and told him about being in her mother’s apartment and her thinking that “if we lived together, none of us would get out alive.”
Stig remembers Barbara’s reaction: “What a great concept—do it! You’re so good at dealing with moms and nieces,” referring to Stig’s 2018 best-selling appearance. baby teeth, about a couple with a mute child who, although seemingly a lovable girl, is bent on destroying her mother. And two other novels on stage delight with the fear factor: There’s 2020 Wondersabout a family leaving New York City only to discover something ominous lurking in the woods behind their new Adirondack ranch, 2021. step awayHiking the Grand Canyon turns into a version of hell.
Stage says her real idea of Barbara’s suggestion was that if she wrote it, “the mother and daughter characters should be so far removed from the reality of my mother and I without any relation to real life. I didn’t want to be in this prime space.”
She started writing in April 2020. “At that moment, we didn’t know what we were into,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about the pandemic, but it crept into the book. I was thinking about claustrophobia to live with someone and stay haunted by your past, and your past is showing up physically in your life.”
Stage adds that she “loved writing chapters where things get derailed, and nightmares.” The book took a year and a half, while she says, “I usually have a draft in three to four months.” “I learned important things from this book: taking time, knowing my voice, and being important.”
The idea of twins evolved from the idea of sisters. Stig has a sister who is very close in age, and says that “people thought we were the same but internally very different.” She wanted the sister’s death to be “a long-term trauma to Grace and her mother.”
Barbara says he was in Los Angeles eating lunch at Cavatina’s at the Sunset Marquis in 2019 when he got a call about Stage looking for an agent. “I knew her work and was excited to hear that she was looking,” he recalls. “Zoje has such a talent for dark family stories. We spoke on the phone, and I signed on with her in August 2019.”
manuscript Mother It was ready in fall 2021 and Barbara sent it out on a large scale. “I felt Mother It was something special.” “It was deep with real energy, creepy and unsettling.” Note that there was a lot of interest and good feedback — as well as hesitation about the fact that it’s an epidemic novel.
But Liz Pearson, senior editor for acquisitions at Thomas & Mercer, was excited from the start. “Liz totally got it,” says Stage. “I totally understand.”
When Pearson received the order from Barbara, she “dipped it in,” she said. Bring Pearson Mother For the acquisition team and a few weeks later he secured a contract for global English rights.
“It’s unusual for a deal to go through so quickly or to have the bandwidth to spend time with one book, but it happened with Mother“ Pearson says. “The book is stimulating, timely and fun to read. Is the dream/nightmare sequence real or not? I love puzzles and thrillers, the darker the better. Books that have a scary element but are fast paced and characters driven.”
Barbara says, “What we loved about Liz was that she saw Zoje as a career, not a single book. She saw the future and potential of Zoje. At first she wanted a two-book deal.”
Originally a filmmaker—she’s “written, directed, and produced many zero-budget films,” according to her autobiography—Stage says she was initially intimidated by the idea of writing a novel but realized that meant wearing all the hats now, “I’m a lifelong hookah. “
I leave you with one picture that stayed with me: Grace playing paper dolls with Hope, who says her doll needs a handbag—something small and soft. “Cut your earlobes,” she told Grace. “It would be good.”
A version of this article appeared in the 11/14/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly Under the title: Just the two of us