Meet Simone St. James

Simone St. James is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Book of Cold Cases, The Sun Down Motel, and The Broken Girls.

After years of writing and collecting rejections, Simone’s debut novel, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. An Inquiry into Love and Death was also nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award..

Simone spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives just outside Toronto, Canada, with her husband and a spoiled rescue cat. She is addicted to sushi, rainy days, coffee, and My Favorite Murder.

Simone St. James has been featured twice in Once Upon a Book Club. The first time was in October of 2016 in the "Spooky Mystery Romance" box which featured Lost Among the Living. The second feature was in April of 2022 in the "Unsolved Mysteries" box which featured The Book of Cold Cases.

A Conversation with Simone St. James

In December 2016, author Simone St. James sat down on an Instagram post with Once Upon a Book Club and their readers to discuss Lost Among the Living, her writing process, and more. Please enjoy the following transcription of that conversation as it was written on the Instagram comments on that day. Enjoy!

What inspired you to write this book? Was it based on someone in your family, or just your interest in that part of history?
Simone St. James (SSJ): I get asked that question a lot! It's just a part of history I find fascinating, and don't see enough books about :)

Jo was able to see Frances and her dog. Was Frances actually mad when she was alive, or just able to also see people from the other side as well?
SSJ: I do think Frances was mentally ill...possibly schizophrenic. And that affected her ability to see ghosts. But feel free to interpret differently :)

What drew you to write about the paranormal? Personal experience?
SSJ: I don't have personal experience of the paranormal, no. But the idea of it scares me, so I figure it might scare readers too. I like to explore the things that scare me, you know? :)

Do you believe in ghosts?
SSJ: I have never seen one, but I certainly believe they are possible!

Why did you choose to bring her husband back?
SSJ: Because seriously... isn't that a more exciting tale?? Better than if he was just dead. lol! Actually I knew from my very first conception of the story that he would come back. That, to me, was always the emotional heart of the book. I loved telling Alex and Jo's story :)

I'd love to know who your personal favorite character is, and why...and what gave you the inspiration to present them the way you did - i.e. their personality, appearance, etc.
SSJ: Confession: Alex Manders is one of my favorite characters I've ever written. What can I say? He's complex and imperfect :) Some readers had a different opinion, and that's fine too. I love a good discussion :)

Were there any times you wanted to give up on the story? When I write I find myself getting fed up with the story at times, and sometimes want to quit. If so, how do you get over that?
SSJ: Oh, wanting to give up happens frequently! Once you have been working on a story for months and months, it starts to feel stale to you and you wonder why the heck you ever started. Every writer experiences that! I just try to remember that I thought it was a good idea in the beginning... so I have to trust that past me had good taste, lol!

You write a lot about this particular time period, after the world war. What is it about this time period that interests you? Also your stories always deal with ghosts — how do the ghosts tie into the war and the aftermath of WWI?
SSJ: I do love the time period. However, after five books, my next book has a different time period, so I like to shake things up too :)

How long did it take you to write this book?
SSJ: The book took me about a year. That included coming up with the idea, writing, and then editing/revising it several times. It's a lot of work but I love my job :)

How much time do you put into researching the different time periods? Is it currently difficult to write a book based in the 50s compared to the 20s?
SSJ: Research does take time. But I try to use small details and not overwhelm readers with a history lesson. I read novels, diaries, newspapers, and travel books from the period to get small details right. The research is the same no matter the time period, I think.

What kind of dog was Princer?
SSJ: Princer was a mutt... a demon mutt :)

What was your favorite scene or section to write and why?
SSJ: I think my favorite scene to write was Alex's return. It was just so juicy. I actually had to revise it several times in order to get it just right :)

Can you share anything about your next book?
SSJ: My next book is called The Broken Girls, and it's already written, though it isn't out yet. It's about a haunted girls' boarding school in 1950 Vermont... and the crime committed there that resurfaces when the building is restored in modern times. And I'm working on two more ideas right now…

How do you research for your books? I would love to write a historical fiction novel some day but every time I try, I get bogged down on details in the period and feel like I can't describe things properly because I'm lacking knowledge on the little things.
SSJ: Historical fiction is a challenge that way. The best thing is to start with the characters and their story, and then figure out specifically what you need to research from there. For example, when I came up with the story for LOST I had to research the history of MI5 and MI6. That led to a few more ideas that I used in the book. It's tough!

What advice do you have for someone experiencing writer’s block?
SSJ: Writers block means that you are second guessing yourself and your creativity. You are worried about it being "good enough." The best way around it is to write to please yourself, and pretend no one else will ever read it. What do you WANT to read? What story excites you? That's really the only thing you should be writing, anyway :) Hope this helps! Writers block can be tough to get past!

What advice would you give to someone trying to write a novel?
SSJ: My advice for anyone who wants to write a novel is to think about a story that excites you. One that is exactly what YOU would read. Forget about everyone else. Tell YOUR story and pretend no one will ever read it. That's what makes writing fun and creative, and makes the book one that only you could write :)

A Conversation with Simone St. James

In April 2022, author Simone St. James responded to a set of discussion questions included in our monthly Book Club Kit to discuss The Book of Cold Cases. Her responses are available here for those who were not able to receive this box. Enjoy!

What prompted you to write this book?
Simone St. James (SSJ): I wanted to explore crime, true crime, and our ideas of serial killers, all of them from the perspective of women. Also, I like ghost stories.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
SSJ: Two years, maybe? I did several drafts before I turned it in to my editor, and two more drafts after that, so the idea changed quite a bit. Mostly I had to hone the idea and get rid of scenes and subplots that didn’t add to it. The book also has three timelines and multiple points of view, so that had to be done right.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
SSJ: I think the last two years have been a nonstop learning moment for everyone. I guess my biggest takeaway is that apparently I can turn in a book on time during a pandemic, which was something I didn’t know before.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
SSJ: If you don’t have any surprises during a two-year writing and editing process, then you aren’t doing it right. I was surprised by the first version of how the book ended, and the second version, too. I was surprised by most of the characters. I was surprised when the plot didn’t turn out to be the one I started with. I was surprised that I finished the book at all, especially during a pandemic. I am always surprised in this business.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
SSJ: A couple of hours of fun reading during which they forget the world for a while.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
SSJ: Finish the book! Most of the aspiring writers who ask me questions about publishing haven’t finished anything they could publish. Always finish the book, just to prove you can. Worry about publishing once that part is done.

Featured Books

Lost Among the Living

A gripping novel that “is the perfect blend of history and mystery, with a little paranormal activity and romance thrown in for the ride” (Suspense Magazine). Featured in October 2016.

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The Book of Cold Cases

A true crime blogger gets more than she bargained for while interviewing the woman acquitted of two cold case slayings in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel. Featured in April 2022.

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