Wendy Corsi Staub is a New York Times bestseller among being an award-winning author of more than seventy published novels that have sold more than three million copies worldwide. Ms. Staub is a graduate of SUNY Fredonia, where she delivered the keynote commencement address in 2008 and served a three-year appointment to the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Humanities. She is also a wife and mother of a proud SUNY family!
Ms. Staub sold her first novel, the supernatural young adult thriller Summer Lightning, in her early twenties. Throughout her writing career, she published in various genres including suspense, horror, historical and contemporary romance, television and movie tie-in, and biography. She also coauthored a mystery series with former New York City mayor Ed Koch and has ghost-written for a number of bestselling authors and celebrities.
Under her own name, Ms. Staub achieved New York Times bestselling status with her single-title psychological suspense novels. Those novels and the women’s fiction she writes under the pseudonym Wendy Markham have also frequently appeared on the USA Today, Barnes & Noble Top Ten, and BookScan bestseller lists. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide and her titles are regularly selected as features for Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Large Print Book Club, and Rhapsody Book Club.
Ms. Staub is preparing to publish her latest novel The Good Sister, a thriller in which Ms. Staub “explores the complicated and delicate relationship of mothers and daughters and how the new world of communication can tear friendships and families apart.”
1. What sparked your interest in writing?
My mom (a fellow SUNY Fredonia grad) was always passionate about books. She read to me constantly, and I soon became an avid reader as well. In third grade, I received my first-ever writing assignment — an essay about Abraham Lincoln. My teacher singled me out to praise the piece and told me I was talented. I clearly remember going home from school that day to tell my parents that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. It became my goal from that moment on, and — being a bit of a Type A personality — I never wavered.
2. Did you do any formal writing in college?
Absolutely. I was an English major with a concentration in creative writing and I’m pretty sure I took every creative writing class and workshop that was offered at Fredonia — well above and beyond what my major required. I had some terrific professors and I’m actually still in touch with a few! I participated in a department poetry reading, I wrote for The Leader, the college newspaper, and wrote an original play that was produced by BFA students in the theater department. Senior year, I wrote a young adult novel as an independent study project, and I also made my first sale: a poem I’d written for a poetry class, sold to — and subsequently published in — Seventeen magazine.
There are three milestones that stand out when I look back over the last two decades. The first occurred on May 18, 1992, just after five o’clock in the evening: I got a phone call that I’d just sold my first novel. It was a young adult ghost tale, published exactly a year later by Harpercollins (they are now publishing my adult suspense novels, in a full-circle career arc). The other two milestones came in February, 2001, when my book THE LAST TO KNOW hit the USA Today Bestseller list — my first bestseller ever! And the crowning achievement was the first time I hit the all-important New York Times Bestseller List exactly two years later, in February, 2003, with SHE LOVES ME NOT. There have been plenty of other exciting highlights, but nothing has ever come close to the exhilaration of those three “firsts”!
4. What do you enjoy the most about the profession?
I make a living by exploring my creative passion ever day of my life. What more could anyone ask from a career? My childhood dream came true, thanks not just to my own drive and ambition but to everyone who believed in me and offered support back when it seemed like an impossible dream — particularly my parents, my third grade teacher, and my English professors at SUNY Fredonia.
5. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
The clichéd answer is “everywhere” — and it’s true. Plots for my books have been triggered by articles in newspapers or even People magazine, by segments on Dateline or the evening news, by snippets of conversation overheard in public places — I am basically thinking “what if…?” all day, every day, as I go about my business. People often tell me they have a great idea for me to use in my next novel, but I always respond that coming up with ideas is never an issue — the problem is finding the time to use every idea rattling around in my brain at any given moment!
6. Overall, how did your experience at SUNY help prepare you for life and your career? How did your family’s experiences with SUNY influence your son’s decision to attend SUNY Geneseo?
I’ll confess that I never really wanted to go to college. I was so set on becoming a writer — and so determined to move 450 miles away to New York City because that’s where I’d decided a writer should live — that I wanted to pack my bags and go the day after high school graduation. I didn’t think college could teach me “how to write.” Luckily, my parents had other ideas. They insisted on a college education.
Thank goodness. I not only learned more about literature and writing through my English courses than I ever believed possible, but I learned countless other lessons that have served me well throughout these twenty-five years since I left Fredonia. The writing workshops taught me how to accept and implement constructive criticism, something any published author needs to do. I got over my shyness and fear of public speaking by learning to read my work aloud in class and contribute to discussions — and it’s a good thing, because public speaking is crucial now when I do book events and conferences. I was able to land an entry-level publishing job in Manhattan with assistance from Fredonia’s career development office. And of course, I made lifelong friends to whom I remain close to this day. I travel throughout the country on my book tours, and I can’t tell you how often a fellow alum has popped up at an event to say hello!
My husband and I are both SUNY alums — SUNY Geneseo is his alma mater. Our siblings and parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have also graduated from various SUNYs from western New York to Long Island. So there’s a strong family tradition on both sides. We believe now, more than ever, that the quality education SUNY provides will open doors for future graduates, particularly through the vast network of internship opportunities and the vibrant alumni associations. My husband saw it first hand during his years as an advertising executive in Manhattan, when he personally interviewed and hired SUNY graduates. Our son has always felt comfortable in western New York, as we’ve always visited family several times a year in the Dunkirk-Fredonia, Buffalo, and Rochester areas. He narrowed the choice to SUNY Fredonia, University at Buffalo, SUNY Brockport and SUNY Geneseo and in the end, Geneseo was the best fit.
7. What advice do you have to share with aspiring authors across New York?
The publishing landscape has changed drastically over the past couple of years due to the digitalization of the industry. These are exciting times! There are more opportunities now than ever before to get your work into print. That said, be wary. There are plenty of opportunists out there who prey on aspiring writers. Remember: you should never pay to get your work published. A legitimate publisher will pay you.
Maxwell is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.