Genre Hopping with Joanna Schaffhausen

Edith/Maddie here, pleased to welcome our first guest for a new feature on the blog. Each month on the third Thursday we will invite an author who writes in a genre none of the Wickeds is currently published in to talk about their work and their writing, plus other fun questions.

I love Joanna Schaffhausen‘s work and am thrilled she agreed to be our first guest in the feature. Joanna, who lives in the Boston area, writes hugely successful books categorized as serial killer thrillers, police procedurals, and crime thrillers. Her Ellery Hathaway series has been described as having heart-pounding suspense, and her latest one, Every Waking Hour, comes out next week. She’s giving away a signed copy to a commenter, too (US only)! So let’s see what she has to say.

E: What drew you to the genre you write?

J: I have been writing mysteries since I was watching Scooby Doo and learned how to hold a pencil. I liked the puzzle aspect and still do. In grade school, I used to write whodunnits for class assignments and put the solution upside down at the end. As an adult, I appreciate the way crime stories can illuminate different aspects of human society. What is often revealed isn’t pretty, but I still hope that the long arc is bending toward justice.

E: What sets your book apart from what is out there?

J: I think the characters are the memorable part of any book. We authors are told there are only seven basic plots, right? The people who live the adventures are the fun, differentiating aspect. The two characters who anchor my main series, Ellery Hathaway and Reed Markham, are loosely inspired by two real people involved in the Ted Bundy serial murder case: Carol DaRonch and Robert Keppel. Keppel had been working homicide for just one week when he caught the Bundy case, and it changed the trajectory of his career. Carol was eighteen years old and shopping at a Utah mall when Bundy, posing as a police officer, abducted her. She escaped and became his first known living victim. Every time the Bundy story is retold, which it is in books, television or film every single year, Carol has to relive this event that happened to her when she was a girl. Bundy’s been dead for decades but he still follows Carol everywhere.

In my books, Ellery also escaped a serial killer at age fourteen when Reed, a green FBI agent at the time, rescued her from captivity. The media still hungers for the story even decades later. How Ellery and Reed cope with this and form their own paths is the backbone of all the stories.

E: Your characters are deep and richly written. What are you currently writing?

J: I am not actively writing at the moment, but I am gearing up to start the second book in my new series. I tend to spend a lot of time researching and thinking about a book and then I write them in a 60-day burst. 

E: Yay – somebody else who writes a book in two months! Do you write a series or standalones? Why?

J: So far, I’ve written series. Every Waking Hour is the fourth book in the Ellery and Reed series, although it can be read as a standalone. That series begins with The Vanishing Season. I have a new series starting this summer with Gone for Good, about a rookie female detective in Chicago who has a cold-case serial murder land in her lap.

I like series because you can grow the characters over multiple books, exploring different aspects of them. You can deepen the relationships. It’s like returning to visit an old friend.

E: I feel the same about writing series – and reading them. What are you reading right now?

J: I am reading Watch Her, the latest Hester Thursby novel by Edwin Hill. I love Hester and her found family, and Hill creates such layered, rich characters.

E: My copy of Edwin’s book is on its way! What is your favorite deadline snack?

J: I like to slice up an apple and have a little bit of peanut butter for dipping. The apple satisfies my sweet tooth and the peanut butter provides protein.

E: That’s a favorite combo of mine, too. Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?

J: I don’t have any life credo other than “When you can choose to be anything, be kind.” But I think when it comes to writing I like this one: “A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.”

E: And yet she persisted! Favorite writing space?

J: I write from home, and it’s a good thing I do because that’s where I’ve been for the past year. We have two offices in the house and neither is mine. My husband, who has also been home, needs one for work because he has frequent meetings throughout the day. My daughter needs the other for online school. So, I write in the bedroom, propped up with a laptop. I usually write alone so it has been a challenge to figure out how to do it with everyone so HERE all the time.

E: That’s quite the challenge. What do you see when you look up from writing?

J: Usually a basset hound. My dog, Winston, lies next to me when I am working. Sometimes on top of me. I am constantly wiping nose prints from my screen.

E: Everybody loves Winston! Thanks for joining us today, Joanna.

Readers: What’s the range of genres you read? Are there any you won’t go near? Also, Joanna will be by to answer questions, so ask away. She’ll send one US commenter a signed copy of the book!

Joanna Schaffhausen is the author of the award-winning Ellery Hathaway series as well as the forthcoming thriller Gone for Good. She has a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain―how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. Previously, was an editorial producer for ABC News, writing for programs such as World News TonightGood Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and basset hound Winston.

64 Thoughts

  1. I generally steer clear of horror, erotica, and anything to do with torture. Otherwise, I’ll give anything a try unless there are three or more grammatical errors in the first paragraph.

    1. I read a little horror, but not much. In general, I find real life plenty horrifying without having to bring in the supernatural. But in my writing, I am more interested in the aftereffects of the crime. Most of the violence in my books takes place “off screen.”

    2. I don’t read much horror either. In general, I find real life plenty horrifying without adding the supernatural to it. But, a good story can pull me in regardless of genre!

  2. First off, I think this new feature is a great idea. Introducing the Wicked readers to books outside of their usual genre is never a bad thing. That’s how I have found a number of books that I might not have read if they hadn’t been unsuspectingly thrust upon on me.

    Next, picking Joanna Schaffhausen as the first featured author for the feature is blindingly perfect. The Ellery Hathaway series is absolutely fantastic. Last year’s ALL THE BEST LIES was so darn good that it made my Top 10 book list…and it was very high on said list.

    I didn’t “discover” Joanna’s books until THE VANISHING SEASON was out in paperback and the NO MERCY book tour was being done. I met Joanna at a signing on the Cape (a big THANK YOU to Titcomb’s Bookshop!) and have been a fan from that point. The Ellery Hathaway series comes complete with incredible characters and outstanding storytelling. And I’m eagerly awaiting EVERY WAKING HOUR so I can dive into the next Ellery/Reed adventure. Oh, and I’ll be in line for the GONE FOR GOOD book as well!

    To me, Joanna’s books are considered must-read material. If you don’t, you are missing out on some of the best the thriller genre has to offer, period.

    As to what types of books I avoid, I don’t read horror novels. Books or movies of that genre have never really interested me. In the mystery/thriller genre, I do admit to having trouble reading stuff termed “psychological thrillers”. There are exceptions of course, but I find that I like my storytelling in as linear a manner as possible. The gaslighting or game playing that seems a big part of this particular genre subset tends to annoy more than entertain.

    Beyond that, I read most anything. I love cozies, I love serial killer thrillers. I’m into police procedurals, legal and medical thrillers. I love books with male or female leads. They can be set in the present or the past. I like some science fiction and some fantasy. I like comic books as well. Tell me a good story and the genre matters less than the story itself.

    Oh and one more time, just let me say that the books of Joanna Schaffhausen are like the author herself…they ROCK!

    1. ::: waves at Jay ::: You are such an amazing cheerleader, Jay! Thank you for all your support. I am definitely with you that a good story matters more than the specific genre.

  3. Congratulations on the upcoming release of “Every Waking Hour”!

    Although Joanna Schaffhausen is a new to me author, I’ve already liked her Facebook page and can’t wait to get to know her better through the opportunity to read her books, which sound amazing. I’d love to start with “Every Waking Hour” which definitely sounds like a book I would love to read. Love the cover from the bright up front woman walking away from us as if walking toward the light to the faded out but yet so many detailed background.

    I love to read just about any genre except Sci-Fi. I just can’t seem to get into that one and steer away from it. I also don’t care for books with explicit romances (the mind can see it better if allowed to work on its own) or foul language (an expression that’s rarely used and feels natural maybe but never nothing that is common or on every other page). I do love mysteries of all sorts which gives me a chance to figure out the clues and the whodunit to see if I can figure it out before the big reveal.

    Thank you for the wonderful chance to win a copy. Shared, but hoping to be the very fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thanks, Kay! A new book is always so thrilling. Nothing better than holding that first physical copy. It always seems like magic to go from an idea in your head to a printed book you can hold in your hands.

      I also like the whodunit aspect of mysteries. I try to figure out the solution ahead of the sleuth! 🙂

  4. I’ll read pretty much anything except for erotica and bodice rippers. I like the new guest author feature because I’m always looking for new books to read.

    1. Hi Sandy. I’ve been known to read a bodice ripper in my day (ahem) but I’m mostly a mystery/thriller gal at heart. I, too, am always on the lookout for new authors!

    1. Hi, Sherry! Thanks for having me! 🙂 I don’t outline so I like to write everything down quickly so as not to forget it once I’ve figured it out! Are you a pantser or a plotter?

  5. I seem to be on par with the crowd here. I’ll read anything but horror. I would love to read Stephen King because he’s a master, but I haven’t read any of his except On Writing. I’ll read YA if someone has assured me there isn’t too much teenage angst in it (I get enough of that at home- ha) and I’ll avoid psychological thriller when my husband is traveling for work. I will not hesitate to put down any book that isn’t well-written. I’ve added Joanna to my TBR, thank you!

    1. Hi Shanna! King’s “On Writing” is excellent and filled with lots of helpful advice. I’ll read happily across most genres, although mystery/thriller and general contemporary fiction are probably my most common. One YA title I really liked was “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson.

  6. Welcome, Joanna! I don’t actively avoid any genre, but I tend to seek out a few favorites. As long as the story captures my interest I’m in!

  7. Always great to meet a new Author! I loved reading your questions and answers. Your book sounds very good!!
    I enjoy reading, mysteries and suspense books.
    Yours is one I definitely would love to win and read!😊 Thank for spending your time with us!!! Have a wonderful day!!

  8. I was fortunate to read an arc of Every Waking Hour. The characters were so good I am getting the previous books in the series. The mystery/story was good with different layers that all came together in the end. The writing was so good I read this book in two sittings. (This might have been the only “thriller” to make me cry.)

    1. Aw, thank you, Julie! I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. It would probably make me sniffle too except I know what happens in Book Five. 😉

      1. I had one-sentence summaries for five books when I sat down to write the first one. The summary for book five was: Coben says he will give up the location of more victims if Reed will bring him Ellery. So, I’ve always known that much. I knew a bit more by the time I got to Every Waking Hour, but a lot of the specifics, I figured out by writing it. 🙂

      2. I am so excited to read book five, as well as books 1-3. (Yes I read the fourth book first.) I love your writing, story and characters – those are the three things that dictate how much I enjoy a book!

  9. My mother was a big reader of mysteries and science fiction and I grew up in a house filled with books. I love reading mysteries of all kinds, although psychological thrillers are probably my least favorite. The series starting with Vanishing Point sounds like one I want to start reading, so interesting to find out that the protagonists are based on real people!

    1. It’s “The Vanishing Season,” Judith–and you will be glad you’re reading it.(From a reader who is one step away from the “I don’t remember the title, but the cover is blue” crowd.)

    2. Hi, Judith! My parents are both big readers too, so our house was filled with books while I was growing up. I probably started reading adult titles around the age of 12, and mysteries were always my favorite.

  10. This new feature is terrific – thanks! Erotica, Horror and YA (I’m too old to enjoy their angst and “meanness”.) Your books sound fascinating and going on my TBR list.

  11. Growing up with books in the house was wonderful. My father read science fiction, and non-fiction and my mother read fiction. I read mysteries, sagas, historical fiction but do not read horror or paranormal. Your post was fascinating and enjoyable.

    1. Hi, Anne! I agree, so wonderful to grow up surrounded by books. Sounds like you had a lot of great ones to choose from.

  12. I really enjoy mysteries and thrillers/suspense but I’ll read about anything that interests me. Romance and YA are the only ones I don’t really get into.

  13. Genres is a bit of a new concept for me. I had no idea there were so many subdivision in fiction. I just recently discovered Historical Mysteries and Cozies. As a kid, I read mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy. Which were pretty broad at the time. In middle-ish age I read alot of Romance. Then I hit the Mysteries. Mostly I will read anything. Cereal boxes included! I tend to stay away from true crime and psychological suspense/crime. I have way too good of an imagination, and there are things that will stick with me to my deepest regret. I hate to sleep with the light on! As I have aged, I sometimes just want to cry, because there are so many wonderful books I realized I’m never going to get to… 🥲. That one reason I so enjoy The Wickeds, lots of wonderful suggestions!

    1. Ha! I definitely remember reading cereal boxes at the breakfast table. I, too, will read pretty much anything as long as it has a good story. I wish there were more hours in the day available for reading!

  14. Love the new feature. Joanna, I recently began reading your books and was struck by the layering of the characters and the blend of characterization and dialogue…a few questions: how do you distinguish your books as being thriller vs. suspense? and what challenge or technique do you have/use to make your characters as real as you do rather than them seeming to be superficial?

    1. Hi, Debra, and thanks for reading! I think my books walk the line between mystery and thriller. Mysteries tend to have a “whodunit” aspect and there is usually a procedural format. Clues are uncovered and followed to reveal the perpetrator. My books tick all these boxes. Thrillers often have a clock on them. There is a race against time aspect and the stakes are often higher than finding the solution to a single murder. They have action sequences and the main characters are liable to face real danger. My books pretty much tick these boxes too. They don’t move fast enough or have huge enough stakes to be out-and-out thrillers. They are too gritty to be traditional mysteries. Does this help at all?

      Thanks for your very kind words about my characters! Growing them over a series certainly helps to add layers. If I had a simple trick for making people seem real on the page, it would be that old chestnut about how everyone is the hero of their own story. Secondary characters often exist to aid or hinder the main characters, but they don’t know that. 😉 They have their own motives, interests, quirks, etc., that just happen to intersect with the protagonists.

  15. Hi Joanna! It’s nice to meet you. My range of genres are historical fiction, thriller, mystery and I’ll throw in a cozy mystery too. I stay very clear of erotic romance. A little light flirty romance is fine but too much I will put the book down. Those things can stay private behind closed doors. 🤷‍♀️😊

    1. Hi Nancy! Nice to meet you, too. I like all the same kinds of books that you like, although I don’t mind explicit romance if the sexy stuff adds character. If it’s just “tab A and slot B” kinda stuff, that’s boring. 😉

  16. It’s “The Vanishing Season,” Judith–and you will be glad you’re reading it.(From a reader who is one step away from the “I don’t remember the title, but the cover is blue” crowd.)

    1. Thanks, Mo! Yes, the first book in the series is “The Vanishing Season.”

  17. Your books sound good, although I’m trying to judge if they would be too dark for me. I do venture out from cozies every so often, but even then I don’t like to go too dark.

      1. Thanks for the testimonial, Edith! Good to have an outsider’s perspective! 🙂

    1. Hi, Mark. It’s always so hard for me to judge whether my books are too dark. I would say they are minimally gory, considering they have a serial killer as the backdrop. There’s also a fair bit of comic relief in all of them and the endings tend to be of the “justice restored” variety. But the crimes feel crime-y and the characters are walking wounded, so…I dunno. 🙂

  18. I almost always find exceptions to the “genre I will not read” rule if they are imaginative, compelling, and well-written. Case in point, I avoid serial killer novels! Unlike Joanna’s series (which I started to read because she is a fellow New England crime writer), too many serial killer novels I’ve read focus on bizarre murder methods or killer “signatures” with interchangeable victims and token characters. As others have said, Joanna creates layered characters and thoughtful plots and themes. Great new feature, Wickeds!

    1. Thanks, Mo! I agree that the story is always the most important aspect. If I find the plot compelling and the characters interesting, then I will read pretty much anything! My main turnoff from some serial killer fare is the gore factor. I don’t need scenes of people being tortured to death. But the existence of serial killers, how some people get to a place where they hunt other people for sport, that is interesting to me. Where do they come from? How do we stop them? Why, as a culture, do we find them so fascinating? Lots of story potential there.

  19. Wow, these books look fantastic! Thank you for the introduction to a new author. I read a wide range of genres but avoid horror. Joanna, I see you have a doctorate in psychology; how often do you draw from that background when working on your charaters? Thank you for the chance to win and congratulations on the new book!

    1. Hi, Abigail. Yes indeed, I draw a lot on my psychology degree when writing the books. I had to study abnormal psychology, criminal psychology, serial killers, and profiling as part of my degree. All that research comes in handy!

  20. Your book sounds very intriguing and I love the book cover! I love reading mysteries, suspense, thrillers, but not too, too scary ones. I like different genres, I also love historical fiction, contemporary suspense , mystery romance. I love anything that has to do with forensics or serial killers . Thank you for the chance of your awesome sounding and looking book. I also love to read book series and standalone also. Have a Great week and stay safe.

    1. Hi Alicia! Nice to meet you. I like reading all those same kinds of books. I would not classify my stuff as “too scary,” but my MIL would probably disagree. 😉 I would say my closest comparison author is Lisa Gardner. Does that help?

    1. Hi, Dru. Yes, for me it’s about story. Do I want to find out what happens next? Then I’m in. 🙂

  21. Congratulations on your release which sounds intriguing and thrilling. Reading has been my major form of entertainment ever since I could read. It allowed me to enjoy so many books that are unforgettable whether classics, historicals, mysteries and science fiction.

    1. Thank you, Laini! I’m with you–I had my own library card at age two! Books have gotten me through some tough times over the years.

    1. Thanks to you and the Wickeds for having me, Julie! I admire you all so much! 🙂

  22. I try to stay away from horror and erotica. I have been enjoying reading cozy mysteries lately a lot! Your books sound great. Will add to my TBR pile!

  23. The genres I like to read are: cozy mysteries, mysteries, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, and historical romance.

  24. Sounds like a very good read. I like the idea of the genre hopping in this blog.
    Since you seem very present Edith, it’s great to see that you are very active and happy since your hand surgery!

  25. Police procedurals and revisiting prominent cases are intriguing. The characters look interesting and mysteries are my cup of tea.

  26. Police procedurals and revisiting prominent cases are intriguing. The characters look interesting and mysteries are my cup of tea.

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