Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Pivoting to the Dark Side: Unsafe Haven @LucyBurdette



LUCY BURDETTE: As you, my Jungle Red family, are well aware, I’m mostly known in the mystery world for my series featuring a food critic living in quirky Key West. Over the years, darker ideas have come to me that would not have fit in that genre. I filed away snippets of characters and plots that seemed too gritty or dark for a cozy mystery even though I recognized them as elements of a good story. For example, what if a terrified young girl handed you a newborn—and then vanished?

That's the question that lies behind the new book, Unsafe Haven which is out in ebook form today. I do not exaggerate when I say that writing this book has taken FOREVER. I think this was the first time I mentioned it on our blog.


But I have notes and emails and photos going back to 2009, including opinions from classes I took and my trusted writing pals. The one thing I knew all along was that the driving force behind the story would be teenager Addy Carl, who gives birth alone in a New York subway, and hands off the baby to an unknown woman. I'd begun to save headlines from the news that might explain Addy's actions. These were stories about young women who abandoned hours-old infants in astonishing places. (I'm not even counting Julia's character from IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER.) One newborn was left in a restroom in the Hilton Hotel in Key West. Another headline told the story about a teenager attending a dance who went to the ladies’ room because of cramps. Not realizing that she was pregnant, she delivered her baby right there, left it in the trash, and returned to the dance. Another baby was stashed in a nativity scene outside a church. What kind of girl or woman would abandon a newborn this way? These stories haunted me—I wanted to understand how a new mother might make this seemingly impossible choice. 

As I thought about writing Addy’s story, I did not picture her as a young woman who didn't care about her child. I imagined this book to be about a girl who was desperate and scared about something; so desperate that giving birth alone and pushing the new baby into a stranger’s arms felt like the best decision—the only decision—she could make in that moment. I hoped that readers would come to understand and share the agony of her choice and the fear that was driving it. 

I had also begun thinking about this second woman, Elizabeth, whose life had hit a major turning point. She’d planned a fancy New Year’s Eve wedding to her college boyfriend, but he’d shocked her by calling it off three days before the event. Everything she thought she knew about her future was suddenly turned upside down. 

As Addison, the new mother, emerges from the bathroom in a New York City subway station with her newborn, her eyes meet those of Elizabeth, the jilted bride. Addy thrusts the baby into Elizabeth’s arms and bolts. One minute later, another train, those women’s paths would never would have crossed. 

Exactly as my characters had, my writing reached a turning point. My writer brain understood that these characters and this story would not fit into the framework of a cozy culinary mystery. The challenge became whether I could tell Addison’s story in a different voice—dark, compelling, emotional, relatable—with a gritty city as the backdrop. The result is Unsafe Haven. 

I hope you’ll give it a try. You can read chapter one here.

If you read primarily in one genre or subgenre, what does it take for you to decide to veer off course and try something new?



"In a major departure from her lighthearted Key West mysteries, Burdette invites readers into the world of a chilling thriller. (Unsafe Haven is) a page- turner highlighting the problem of exploited runaways."

Kirkus Reviews

“Lucy Burdette shows us that she can write dark as well as light. Brilliantly plotted with characters we come to care about."

Rhys Bowen, NYT bestselling author of the Venice Sketchbook and the Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy mysteries

"Lucy Burdette's Unsafe Haven is a gripping rollercoaster of suspense—you will root for her characters through every twist and turn of this beautifully plotted novel."

Deborah Crombie, NYT bestselling author of A Bitter Feast

"Devastating, heartbreaking and completely immersive. This riveting story of fear and redemption, motherhood and second chances, and our responsibility to strangers is a powerful thriller proving one split-second decision can change our lives forever. Unsafe Haven has Hollywood written all over it!" 

Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of Her Perfect Life

65 comments:

  1. I loved this book, Lucy . . . "Unsafe Haven" is an amazing story, a compelling, can't-put-it-down thriller that's sure to stay with readers long after they've turned the final page.

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  2. LUCY: Congratulations on the ebook release of UNSAFE HAVEN.
    Thanks for sharing the long gestation period for this book.
    It's downloaded to my Kindle app and I will read it this month.

    I read across most mystery sub-genres, although my preferences have changed throughout the decades.
    If I enjoyed reading an author's books, I will usually (try) to read their book that is in a different genre.

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    1. thanks Grace. My tastes change too--sometimes it depends on how hard the world outside feels...

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    2. That's true, too. Some days I need to read something cozy or humorous, and other times I can read something truly dark.

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  3. Roberta, congratulations on the release of Unsafe Haven. The news stories that inspired your book are always so devastating. A particularly horrible
    one was responsible for Connecticut's Safe Haven Law. To take the questions that always surround these incidents and answer them by creating sympathetic characters in terrifying situations is just brilliant. I'm ordering the hardcover. I'm so excited for you!

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    1. thanks so much Judy! It's always easier to tackle what happened to one character that led to this moment, than to try to solve the big problem.

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  4. This sounds intriguing, to say the least! Congrats on the new release.

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  5. So many congratulations, Lucy! My paper copy is on on order. I have an idea for a darker story, myself. Not sure I can pull it off, and I'm glad you did.

    How was the contrast for you? Was it hard to immerse yourself in a darker tale, or did it feel like a welcome break from writing lighter fare?

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    1. The Key West books are definitely easier Edith, as I know the characters and the setting so well. I've always tacked a little darker than most cozies though. We will be interested to see what you come up with Edith!

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  6. Congratulations on the e-book release of Unsafe Haven. I'll have to wait until the print version comes out but I am looking forward to it.

    While I mostly read in the mystery and thriller genre, which includes most of the various subgenres, I do read science fiction novels tied into various franchises that I like such as Star Trek and Firefly. Occasionally I'll pick up a biography of some kind but that is very rare.

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  7. Congratulations on publication! I'm fascinated by safe haven baby boxes, in Ohio and nine other states, what mothers would use them and why.

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  8. Congrats, Lucy! That chapter is riveting and my copy is already on order. I can't wait!

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  9. Woohoo, Lucy/Roberta! Pub day is finally here. So happy that you can finally say it's written, and to so many accolades! Really looking forward to reading it.

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  10. Mega congrats on this book's release, Lucy! The first chapter is captivating and I'm looking forward to reading this story.

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  11. Congratulations! It arrived on my Kindle and I’ll be getting to it as soon as I finish what I’m currently reading.

    Where fiction is concerned, I mostly read mystery/thriller/suspense. I read other fiction if a review sounds interesting or if someone I know recommends something. I’ve noticed that when I’m going through a difficult time, I either choose to read something very light or something quite gritty.

    I can’t wait to read Unsafe Haven!

    DebRo

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    1. thanks DebRo! I usually trend light in hard days. Just last night started Rhys's latest, and it's perfect!

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  12. Congratulations on your book release. I mostly read cozies but will read other genres.

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  13. One of the things I have loved about the Key West series is Haley does not just eat and exchange witty remarks with her besties. You have always given the reader more to 'chew' on.

    I started reading Unsafe Haven 45 minutes ago. There will be no more house cleaning on Nome St. today. There might not be sleeping either until this book is completed. This may be dark, but dark in a very good way. Thank you for sticking with it.

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  14. It sounds like you have truly found another voice for your writing.
    And the review quotes are wonderful!
    Mazel tov!

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  15. I think a really good writer has many many lives of a writerly life within them--and I will follow them anywhere their writing leads them. Congrats on Unsafe Haven, Lucy/Roberta!

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  16. Way to go, Lucy! Will there be more trips to the dark side?

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    1. I'm not entirely sure what's next. I have an idea, but not much of a plot:)

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  18. We are all so excited for you, Lucy! And the center of UNSAFE HAVEN couldn't be more compelling. One thing I learned from my own research is the (almost always) young mothers who do this sort of thing aren't brutal and callous. Instead, they're more desperate and damaged than we can imagine.

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    1. Exactly! The one who didn't know she was pregnant did puzzle me...

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  19. This is so marvelous, and you know how much I love this book and how much I admire you. Don’t forget what this means… You are a writer. A writer! And you can delve into your writer brain and come up with some thing in a different voice with a different imagination with a different tone. It is such an accomplishment! And such a confirmation of your incredible talent. Yaay!

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  20. Congratulations Lucy Roberta! Penny Lane, Sergeant Pepper and I look forward to curling up in bed and reading UNSAFE HAVEN very soon!

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  21. Congratulations on the new book. Somehow I think I've read chapter 1 before today... Was intrigued then and till am.

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  22. Loved the first chapter--thanks for the link! I'm putting it on my wish list so I don't lose track of buying it.

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  23. Congratulations, Lucy! This is so exciting. When I stepped into romcom from mystery, I felt as if I was starting my career all over - still, do. It's always weird bing the new kid. *sigh*

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    1. thanks Jenn! Although your transition seemed seamless to ms!

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  24. Congratulations! I can hardly wait to read this --it sounds captivating.

    If I'm honest, the genres I say I like and the books I actually look back on as super enjoyable don't necessarily match. I read a lot of cozies that I love, but then there's a whole swath of them that I find too sweet and cute to stomach. I generally am not drawn to thrillers because I find many manipulative, racing from one cliffhanger to the next, yet some involve me enough that I happily take the repeated hits of adrenalin. I have begun to read a lot of what's classified as "women's fiction," but then some cross the line to either soap opera or after-school-special. There are fantasy and magical realism books I absolutely adore, but many that just seem to take too much of an investment to get into.

    I think in reality, the biggest criterion for me is characters that feel fully developed and make me care about them. With that, I can ride along on a darker story or a more frivolous one, etc. But that's a hard thing to guess as I'm deciding whether to try a book, so I rely a lot on the blurbs from authors or reviewers I know, and the writer's previous work.

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    1. This is a perfect description of what I look for as well, Susan--the characters mean the most to me when I'm reading. Thanks for putting it so well!

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  25. You could and did tell this wonderful story with compassion, understanding, and great skill. Brava!

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  26. Lucy, so thrilled for you today! That Kirkus quote is fabulous, too! You've pulled us into a darker story in the best way, with characters that we really care about. Addy and Elizabeth are wonderful and so believable. I'm so proud of you for taking the leap with this book!

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  27. Lucy,

    So thrilled for you! If the book outside my usual genre is written by an author that is an autobuy for me, then I would give the book a try. However, if the novel has graphic violence / swear words / too many women victims, then it is usually a DNF for me. Sorry about that.

    Diana

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  28. Lucy, wow! Chapter one is riveting. Addy's desperation is palatable. I felt myself pushing her along, away from those who meant her and her baby harm. You clearly can write dark well. I have Unsafe Haven downloaded from NetGalley and will be reading it very soon. Congratulations!

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  29. I haven't been able to read dark stories for months, but Unsafe Haven isn't dark in a way that makes it challenging in times like these. In fact it's a triumph of humans over adversity, a story about people connecting and helping each other. Lucy, it's terrific.

    And I read all over the place. Nonfiction. Women's fiction. I just read a political thriller that I loved.

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    1. thank you dear Hallie! John and I are listening to the Clinton/Penny political thriller as we drive. It's the perfect entertainment to make the miles pass, though it wouldn't be my choice to read at night.

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  30. Thanks for that chapter--I loved it and can't wait to read more.

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  31. I have been waiting for this book ever since I first heard about it. It's the sort of thing that calls to me. I have always been fascinated with the theme of babies and almost 40 years ago I started a book of my own. In my book a teenage girl finds a baby in a church and proceeds to pass it off as her own.
    There are too many reasons why that plot could never work today but I still think about it. I suppose it could be part of the back-story for things happening in the present. Oh well. Will definitely read this one, Lucy!

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    1. Oh my Judi, seems a shame not to use that. Somehow. A similar plot carried The Light Between Oceans a long way!

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    2. I loved that book. And even the movie! But my pot was many years before I ever read that.

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  32. I usually alternate between mysteries, mostly cozies and romances but also read some autobiographies, science fiction and fantasy. I do like Paige Shelton's Alaska series and liked Alicia Beckman's book. I might try your new book from the library. Thrillers and suspense aren't usually my cup of tea so I get enough of that from TV. I don't care for horror stories at all.

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