UNDER A DARK SKY
Only in the dark can she find the truth . . .
Since her husband died, Eden Wallace’s life has diminished down to a tiny pinprick, like a far-off star in the night sky. She doesn’t work, has given up on her love of photography, and is so plagued by night terrors that she can’t sleep without the lights on. Everyone, including her family, has grown weary of her grief. So when she finds paperwork in her husband’s effects indicating that he reserved a week at a dark sky park, she goes. She’s ready to shed her fear and return to the living,
Only in the dark can she find the truth . . .
Since her husband died, Eden Wallace’s life has diminished down to a tiny pinprick, like a far-off star in the night sky. She doesn’t work, has given up on her love of photography, and is so plagued by night terrors that she can’t sleep without the lights on. Everyone, including her family, has grown weary of her grief. So when she finds paperwork in her husband’s effects indicating that he reserved a week at a dark sky park, she goes. She’s ready to shed her fear and return to the living, even if it means facing her paralyzing phobia of the dark.
But when she arrives at the park, the guest suite she thought was a private retreat is teeming with a group of twenty-somethings, all stuck in the orbit of their old college friendships. Horrified that her get-away has been taken over, Eden decides to head home the next day. But then a scream wakes the house in the middle of the night. One of the friends has been murdered. Now everyone—including Eden—is a suspect.
Everyone is keeping secrets, but only one is a murderer. As mishaps continue to befall the group, Eden must make sense of the chaos and lies to evade a ruthless killer—and she’ll have to do it before dark falls…
- William Morrow Paperbacks
- August 2018
- 416 Pages
“Fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None will be riveted by Rader-Day’s latest psychological thriller, which makes you question who you really know and trust and whether you should be afraid of the dark.”—Library Journal, Starred Review
“A brilliant concept, brilliantly told!”—Jeffery Deaver, New York Times Bestselling Author
“I don’t know a writer who captures better the insecurities and damaged and damaging relationships of ordinary women.”—Ann Cleeves, New York Times Bestselling Author
1. Eden finds solace in photography. She sees her life as if though the lens of a camera, coming in and out of focus, and in snapshots. Why do you think this helps her make sense of her world?
2. When Eden first arrives at the park, she’s hoping the trip will help her reconcile with the death of her husband. How do you think her anguish affects her initial judgments of the characters she meets?
3. The residents of the sky guest house are burdened by the histories of their college relationships, and the kind of people they used to be. Have you ever felt the pressure of continuing a friendship with someone you’ve grown apart from?
4. Eden says that Malloy “died perfect.” How does a person’s death change our perspectives of their lives and legacies? Do you think recognizing a loved one’s flaws makes it easier or harder to move on?
5. Throughout the story, Eden sees the group react in different ways to the loss of Malloy. How does experiencing the grief of the group change Eden’s understanding of her own grief for Bix? How does this change Eden?
6. What do you think of the question Eden’s sister asks her: “There’s a slim line between believing in fate and letting your life be decided for you?”
7. Before speaking to Cooley, Eden had never told anyone the full truth about what really happened the night Bix died. Do you think Eden was trying to protect Bix’s reputation, or herself? How might things have been different for Eden if she’d revealed the truth earlier?
8. We see many different versions of Bix through Eden’s memories of their relationship. How does your impression of him change throughout the story? Do you feel any sympathy for him?
9. Did the identity of the culprit surprise you? Whom did you most suspect throughout the novel, and why? Who do you think is the most at fault?
10. Do you have any irrational fears? Do you have any suspicions about where they might stem from?
Q&A with author Lori Rader-Day
Q: How did you decide to write about a dark sky park?
A: I had never heard of the term “dark sky park” until I saw a notice somewhere about a new one being designated. I was immediately intrigued, since location—especially a location in the Midwest, which I’m partial to—is such an important factor in crime fiction. There’s so much story potential in a setting that is created to be dark. I did a little online research about dark sky designations and learned about light pollution from the International Dark-Sky Association’s website, www.darksky.org. I also searched online to see if anyone had written a murder mystery set at a dark sky park. At the time I started writing it at least, no one had. When I saw that you could stay at a guest house in one of the parks, the story started coming together.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this book?
A: For the year I worked on Under a Dark Sky’s first draft, I didn’t have time to visit the park I had chosen as the model for the fictional Straits Point International Dark Sky Park. That park, Headlands International Dark Sky Park, is situated way up at the tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The long drive and then the winter kept me from visiting. Instead, I relied on Google maps, youtube.com videos created by the park and visitors, and night-sky research materials like National Geographic Guide to the Night Sky: A Stargazer’s Companion. Over the summer of 2017, I was invited to speak at the Mackinac Island Public Library about my third novel, The Day I Died, and I jumped at the opportunity to finally make the trip. I was able to add a few last-minute details to the book because of that visit. Unfortunately, the night my husband and I visited the Headlands Park in person, it was a little cloudy. All the more reason to visit again!
Q: Why did you write about a widow?
A: One of the things I try to do as a writer is write about things that challenge me because I don’t want to write the same book twice. I don’t tend to design characters and their flaws before I start writing. All I knew about Eden when I started writing was that she was a young widow, because that gave me a chance to talk about something I feared, and that she was afraid of the dark. I made that decision for Eden not knowing exactly how it fit into the larger story because of a fascinating essay I read once by Gene Weingarten, “None of the Above,” collected in The Fiddler in the Subway, about an American who did not vote. Casually, Weingarten reveals deep in the essay that the man who has never voted, among his many characteristics, is afraid of the dark. To me, that said more than pages of exposition could about that person. Of course in nonfiction, Weingarten could simply drop that fact. In fiction, I had to investigate it.
Q: Why do you write about social issues, like post traumatic stress disorder, in your work?
A: Crime novels are the social novels of our time—as Dickensian as you can get in 100,000 words. However, I would never advise someone to write a novel based on an “issue.” That smacks of manifesto, and that’s not what I like to read. Most people in the mystery section of a bookstore would agree. But when I started writing my first book, The Black Hour, an issue cropped up. And then when I wrote my second, Little Pretty Things, another issue showed up. What happens, I think, is that when I spend as much time with a novel as I have to in order to finish it, I start to bring things I care about to the page. As I write and perhaps especially as I revise, these things I care about that helped me make my word count start to coalesce into what an English lit course might call themes. The trick is to make sure the themes never take over fully. I want the story and the characters to do the work, as a reader and as a writer.
Q: You write about characters other than the traditional cops, lawyers or private investigators we find in so many other mystery/thriller novels. Why is that?
A: Can I be honest? I’m not a cop or a lawyer. There are already some great books in which these characters get a chance to solve crimes. How can I compete with that? The research I would have to do! I’m not the kind of person who reads instruction manuals. I’d rather get started writing and then find out where I need research to get me through, what kind of expert I need to be.
But even more honestly, this is the kind of book I like to read. I do like a Tana French police procedural; I love Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge series. But what I love most is a mystery led by a person with a regular job, a regular life. To me, it’s more interesting imagining what a crime will do to a tranquil, mundane life than to try and imagine a crime that will shake a career cop. All this to say that one of these days, I’d love to write a P.I. novel or a spy novel. I might try a historical at some point, too. Like I said earlier, I don’t like to write the same book twice.
Q: Someone once described your work as “dark stories with heart.” What do you think that means?
A: That person got me. I think that phrase resonates with my work pretty well, because the stories are dark (this time, literally), but because the story is often told by a character who relies on humor and who travels an arc into a better understanding of themselves, the stories also bring some light. The heart comes from the characters. What I’m hoping is that readers fall in with the characters and want them to pull through toward a fulfilling ending, maybe even a happy one.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: The Black Hour’s premise came from working on a gossipy university campus. Little Pretty Things came from my wondering what I might have done for a living if I had not gone to college. The Day I Died’s focus around handwriting analysis came from one of my writing professor’s insistence that work was an interesting writing topic. She was right. Under a Dark Sky came from my discovery that there were such places as dark sky parks, and from that scene in the prologue, which really happened to me, once, when I was driving with my dad. I see novel ideas like that kid from The Sixth Sense saw dead people. The problem is which idea has legs, which idea stands alone without me having to dedicate ten years to research? Which story is my story to tell?
Musical Playlist for Under a Dark Sky
From the Author
I always make a playlist for my books, but not as a marketing tool. I actually do write to music. Many writers say they can’t listen to songs with lyrics while they write because the words are distracting, but I find that music, even with lyrics, helps me focus and get work done. Songs have to do some of the work for me to be on the list; just liking a song isn’t enough. Here are the songs that helped me write Under a Dark Sky:
“Twilight” by Shawn Colvin
“Twilight is the loneliest time of day,” Shawn Colvin sings. In Under a Dark Sky, Eden is a photographer, trained to watch the light upon surfaces and subjects. Since her husband died, she has folded the activity of her life into the daylight hours, and she’s always aware of what time it is and how far off the dark is. It’s a countdown to twilight, though most hours are just as lonely to her.
“Tompkins Square Park” by Mumford & Sons
“I only ever told you one lie/When it could have been a thousand/It might as well have been a thousand.” A lot of liars populate Under a Dark Sky, but Eden has been prepared for them by her husband’s betrayal.
“Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by Stars
Not a spoiler, but he is. “Live through this/And you won’t look back.”
“You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen
I saw Springsteen play this on Saturday Night Live and was devastated. It’s from his 9/11 album, The Rising, so it’s a devastating song among many devastating songs. The lyrics go: “Coffee cup’s on the counter, jacket’s on the chair/Papers on the doorstep, but you’re not there.” This song reminded me while I drafted Under a Dark Sky that Eden’s life as a widow was still new and surprising to her. This song is what heartbreak sounds like.
“Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” by Silversun Pickups
Each playlist has one or two songs that turn out to be thematically or musically—or both—important to the book I’m drafting. When I find that song, I put it on repeat and listen to it over and over as I write. It might technically be considered hypnosis, I don’t know. For Under a Dark Sky, this was the song, along with “The Yawning Grave” by Lord Huron (see below). I don’t want to know how many times I listened to these two songs writing Under a Dark Sky. I wouldn’t tell you if I knew. You might worry for me.
“Sleeping Lessons” by The Shins
This is just a good song with a fortuitous title for a book about a character with insomnia.
“24 Frames” by Jason Isbell
I’m a big fan of Jason Isbell. Twenty-four frames per second is supposedly the rate of a film reel, but maybe we can say that Eden’s photography gets a call out here.
“Screen” by Brad
“Well you’ll never know just dark this screen could be.” I have been listening to this song since 1993. I don’t know where it fits into the story, but it does.
“The Night We Met” by Lord Huron
This is simply a beautiful song. The chorus reminds me of Eden’s predicament when the book starts, and how shattering it is not to have Bix in her life, despite his flaws. “I had all and then most of you/Some and now none of you/Take me back to the night we met.” And of course I had to show how Eden and Bix met.
“To Be Your Honey” by Gemma Hayes
This song was used in a commercial that a friend shared on Facebook, and while the commercial was lovely, what I needed immediately was to hear this song in full. I offered a bounty on social media for the person who could track down the title and artist, and was soon shipping a signed book to the winner and enjoying an addition to my playlist. The hushed voice of this song helped me write the scene at the motel between Eden and Dev. The lyrics: “I’m not scared of the dark/But I’m terrified of those who don’t see it.”
“Afraid” by The Neighborhood
[NSFW] This song has a creepy vibe that helps with darker scenes. I wonder what I would write if I listened to Broadway tunes.
“Planets” by Joseph
Nothing wrong with a little planetary inspiration when you’re writing about the stars.
“Reflecting Light” by Sam Phillips
Every playlist has to have a waltz. That’s not a rule; it just happens. This song is a bright spot in this list. This is the song used in Gilmore Girls when Lorelei and Luke first dance. I knew you’d want to know that.
“The Yawning Grave” by Lord Huron
If you haven’t noticed, I really like Lord Huron. This is the other song that helped shape the book from the very beginning. I have listened to this song more than any one person should listen to any piece of music, possibly more than the band itself. “Darkness brings evil things oh, the reckoning begins,” go the lyrics, but it’s really for me about the dark tone of the song. Have you ever heard of people talking about synesthesia, where they taste or hear colors? I get as close to understanding that as I’m able when I say that this song sounds like the book I wanted to write. (“The Yawning Grave” is the second waltz on this list. Apparently I like waltzes.)