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Uncommon connections mark Wendy Corsi Staub's career

Author holds up her diary and Abraham Lincoln essay at Tulsa Library
Author holds up her diary and Abraham Lincoln essay at Tulsa Library
Layton Isaacs

New York Times bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub appeared in Tulsa Tuesday at Hardesty Library. Her appearance marked the release of her latest suspense novel, The Perfect Stranger, which is about sinister twists in the world of blogging. Staub’s last novel, The Good Sister, dealt with cyberbullying. Her next book, Black Widow, will be released in February 2015 and deals with the shadowy world of online dating.

Staub grew up in a small western New York town among a tribe of her relatives. She describes herself as being the best library customer in the town: “I would read my way down the bookshelves of the children’s section.”

She recalls the obsession she developed for Abraham Lincoln in third grade and how her parents took her to Washington, D.C. and Springfield, Illinois so she could learn more about him. She wrote an essay about Abraham Lincoln and after reading it, her teacher Mrs. Pizalati told her she was talented in writing. She decided then that she wanted to become a writer.

The day after graduating from college with an English degree, Staub had a friend drive her to New York City to pursue career goals. She began working in publishing as the secretary for the textbook division of a publishing company. When she tired of that, she began temping and also worked in bookstores to learn more about the business.

A friend of a friend told her to contact someone who lived in New York and worked in publishing. Gamely, Staub called the woman, Lucia Macro, and got an invitation to come up to her office. Once Staub was in her office, Macro gave her advice on how to find an apartment and doctor, and gave some career suggestions, too. Years later, Macro is the head editor of Harper Collins and Staub’s editor for all her books.

As Staub worked in publishing, she began sending manuscripts through a rented P.O. box and pseudonym. Her colleagues rejected the manuscripts right and left until one day when someone dragged her to their office and asked “Are you Hillary?” She admitted she was. The colleague told her what she had submitted was good, but not what the company was publishing.

Staub interviewed for what she thought would be the perfect position for her and was sure she would get it. She ended up being the second place candidate for the job, but asked if she could send a proposal for a book. That is how her first novel, Summer Lightning, got published.

When the young adult market dried up at the time, she tried her hand at writing for adults. After some tinkering with verb tense, she found the voice she wanted to use. Now she is best known for her suspense novels which take place in suburban settings.

One day Staub gave an interview to promote her writing and mentioned Mrs. Pizalati and the influence the teacher had had on her life. Someone who caught the interview knew Mrs. Pizalati and where she had retired to in Florida and called her. That night, the retired teacher called the bookstore where Staub was appearing. They renewed their relationship.

The author found that she was able to build relationships with people in publishing by ghostwriting. When Staub was pregnant with her first child she wrote a book for late New York Mayor Ed Koch. The baby and the book were due the same day. Her mother told her not to worry because all the family babies had been born late and Staub wouldn’t have trouble making the deadline, but the baby came early. She got a call from the editor overseeing the book. The person asked if she had received the flowers sent to her. After verifying the flowers had made it, the person reiterated that the book was still due on the pre-set date.

After a while publishing, Staub was asked to write for the audience of readers who loved Bridget Jones’ Diary. Because she didn’t think the books would sell well, she opted to use her husband’s last name, Markham. But she was surprised by how well her romances were received.

When her publisher decided paperback books would be her best niche, Staub initially felt demoted. But sales took off. When her first paperback novel hit the USA Today bestseller list, she called her husband and told him to quit his job. Luckily, he didn’t.

Staub’s husband was eventually able to quit his job and now he does all her marketing. He has been a stay at home dad for their two boys because half of the time she has to travel to promote her books in one way or the other. They decided to make the most of Staub’s travel and have taken their children to all 50 states during summertime on various book tours.

Staub writes three books a year for her publishing contract, which comes to about 300,000 words total per year. When she’s not traveling she writes seven days a week, close to 14 hours per day. She writes one draft for each book. She uses a calculator to divide the number of words she has to write by the number of days she will be home. “When it is Wednesday I know whether or not I am going to make my word count by the end of the week. I don’t sleep if I am behind.”

Reflecting on the nearly 80 books she has written, Staub says, “You never know when a book will strike a chord, so you have to be true to your own vision.”

After the author lost her mother to breast cancer in 2006, she began looking through old things and found her Abraham Lincoln essay in her baby book. She showed the audience the essay and the diary in which she wrote her first desires to become a writer after Mrs. Pizalati’s encouragement.

After years of sending letters and gifts, Staub’s third grade teacher passed away. When she passed, she willed a piano, a set of glassware and a framed collage of all of Staub’s book covers to the author. The collage hangs in the writer's living room now.

Staub’s career has been marked by many uncommon connections and readers have benefited greatly. Now, the author says she “loves connecting with readers by Facebook.”

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