Swanky Seventeener Kristen Orlando recently spoke with the delightful and talented Sweet Sixteener Kerri Maniscalco about her debut STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, a gothic horror novel published by James Patterson’s new children’s imprint (September 20, 2016).
Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born into a life of wealth, privilege and rigid expectations. The daughter of a British lord, she plays the role of an upper class young woman brought up in the suffocating (quite literally, corsets anyone?) Victorian era. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, Audrey Rose is leading a forbidden secret life.
Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s high expectations of how a “young lady” should act, Audrey Rose often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. Not exactly ladylike to have an unbridled passion for blood spatter, gruesome murders and crime scenes, right?
When a horrific series of prostitute murders points too close to home, Audrey Rose is pulled into one of the most infamous crimes of all time. With handsome aspiring coroner Thomas Cresswell at her side (look out for great banter and chemistry between these two), Audrey Rose embarks on a crusade to avenge the deaths of these women and take down Jack the Ripper.
While this 19th century serial killer has been written about in hundreds of forms, Kerri’s approach to this crime is fresh, thrilling and haunting. I absolutely loved following the story of these savage murders through the eyes of her sharp-minded and rebellious protagonist. STALKING JACK THE RIPPER is grisly, completely engrossing and impossible to put down.
About the Author
STALKING JACK THE RIPPER is the first in a new series and incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.
Kristen: How did you come up with the idea for STALKING JACK THE RIPPER? Did lightening strike you or was it slow burning idea?
Kerri: I’ve always loved forensics. In college I came really, really close to switching from my art major and transferring to a forensic program. In the end I took a bunch of classes with science and criminology, but I stuck with the arts. So when I was brainstorming ideas for a book that I really wanted to read, it kind of all slowly formed into this idea. I wanted to create a YA CSI featuring a teen girl like me. One who loved the science behind crime scenes and longed for justice. Then I thought of how to add tension and up-the-stakes, and considered societal restrictions.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my teen sleuth needed to be active in one of the biggest whodunits in history, and it was also the first time forensics were applied to a case with such force. The more I thought about it, the more this girl’s story was begging to be told. What would it have been like, being told the very thing you’re passionate about was off-limits because you weren’t born for it? Audrey takes norms of the day and quietly rebels against them, and I admire her strength and confidence.
Kristen: I’m fascinated by this era and its impact on class. Why did you choose to make Audrey Rose a lord’s daughter versus someone without social standing?
Kerri: This time in history was so restrictive for ALL women across ethnic and social standings. A lot of my research was really hard to conduct without wanting to throw my computer or books across the room at the suffocation that they endured not only through their binding corsets, but by society at large. You were told how to act. What was proper. How you should dress. How you should feel. How inadequate you were compared to the superior sex, etc.
Women in upper class homes had added pressure to exude this perfect Victorian image—one that the lower classes should “aspire” to be like. A proper and decent young woman should only be concerned with matters of the home and gossip and appearance. I felt it was important to show the culture of the era, and juxtapose it against a more modern young lady. What would it have been like to be told you needed to be pretty and silent, and do the “right thing” even when you longed to embrace each of your passions and assets? Audrey doesn’t judge her peers or think of herself as better in anyway, she simply wishes they had the right to be whoever they wanted to be. If they were content with the proper Victorian role, she supported them. But she is all about choice and equality.
Kristen: I absolutely love Audrey Rose. I adore her confidence and of course love a girl that pushes through the social norms and what is expected of her. She’s definitely unlike any other lord’s daughter I’ve read! Did you write any pieces of yourself into the character? Or are there any characters in the book that are based on people in your own life?
Kerri: Thank you! I never write about people I know, but I would TOTALLY be great friends with Audrey. We share a love of forensic science and I absolutely love dresses and makeup. (Dresses are ready-made outfits and I don’t have to think too much about them—just put one on and voila! you’ve got an insta-outfit.)
I also think it’s really important for people to love each facet of themselves. You can be elbows deep in viscera one minute and gushing over silk the next. You can be serious about math and science, and still gush with your friends over that boy/or girl in class. One trait doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the other. Conversely, if you don’t like any of those things that’s okay too! Living authentically is the best way to describe Audrey and I support that one hundred percent in my life too.
Kristen: There are moments in this book that really have me holding my breath. It’s filled with so many twists and turns. Have you always been drawn towards these types of stories/books/movies? Do you have a favorite?
Kerri: I have! I love books and movies that really make me question who the villain is. Even when I’m pretty sure I know ‘whodunit’ I love remaining on shaky ground and seeing how it unfolds and their reasons why. Basically anything that’s a psychological thriller with shades of horror. I’m a huge fan of Poe and all of his lovely/gray characters. I’ve always been intrigued by that psychological play on our base senses, and how fear can sometimes play tricks with reality vs fantasy. Is that branch tapping against the window on a stormy night really a creature trying to break in? Was that a lurching shadow I saw in that flash of lightning? I live for the creepy! (But only in books and movies.)
Kristen: I always love hearing about people’s publishing journeys. Can you tell me about yours? Is this the first book you ever wrote or did it take a few tries before landing a deal?
Kerri: Oh, this DEFINITELY isn’t the first book I’ve written, I have a few trunked novels that have come before it. Let’s just say my agent and I signed together on my fifth novel and we shopped two books before finding a home for SJTR. We’d come so, so close with those other novels, but the wait was worth it once I got the call that changed my whole life. Moral of the story? NEVER give up. You never know when your door is going to fly open.
Favorite color: Dark blue or black.
Favorite flower: Peonies or Lilacs
Last meal on earth: THIS IS SO HARD I AM A FOODIE… maybe chicken tikka masala or filet mignon with red wine reduction or lasagna or chicken marsala.
3 things you cannot get through the day without: water, food, books
Last great book you read: THE READER is one of my favorites—such an ode to readers and reading!
About the interviewer: Writing is one of the great loves of Kristen Orlando’s life and she’s been lucky enough to make it her living—first as a television producer, then as a marketer and now as a novelist. Kristen graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from Kenyon College. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Michael where she eats far too many snacks of cheese and Ritz crackers. Kristen’s debut novel, YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME (Macmillan, January 10th, 2017), is the first book in a YA Spy Thriller series. To find out more and read the Prologue for YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME, visit kristenorlando.com.