Mystery author Patrick Canning is here today and we’re chatting about his new thriller, Hawthorn Woods.
Patrick Canning is the author of three novels, including Cryptofauna (2018), The Colonel and the Bee (2018) [you can read his interview with me about this book here], and his latest, Hawthorn Woods (2020). He has also published several short stories. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys playing beach volleyball, following space exploration, and losing at bar trivia. Some of his favorite authors include Bill Watterson, Liane Moriarty, David Foster Wallace, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Welcome, Patrick. Please tell us about your current release.
Summer, 1989. Reeling from a catastrophic divorce, Francine Haddix flees San Francisco for a two week stay at her sister’s house in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois. The quaint neighborhood of shady trees and friendly neighbors seems like the perfect place for her to sort through her pain and move on with her life.
But Francine quickly discovers the “idyllic” neighborhood is hiding a number of disturbing mysteries. Behind every door and window there’s marital strife, simmering grudges, and a secret so terrible, someone will kill to keep it quiet.
What inspired you to write this book?
I knew I wanted to set a story in the neighborhood I grew up in, and since I had halcyon memories of the place, I thought it would be fun to show Hawthorn Woods as perfect (from the view of Charlie, a child), and seemingly-perfect (to the adult heroine, Francine). Beyond that I wanted to try and craft a fun, twisty mystery populated with characters that (hopefully) transcend the role of usual suspects.
Excerpt from Hawthorn Woods:
Francine sat on the edge of the tub a while longer. While she eventually managed to steady her breathing, the flow of tears wouldn’t stop. This seemed to be as good as her emotional state was going to get for the moment, so she walked quickly down to the front door.
The game of flashlight Tag had migrated to the front yard, leaving the heavily chalked driveway crowded with children until an earsplitting whistle sounded from somewhere in the backyard. The kids moaned and groaned at the communal bedtime call, but slowly disbanded.
As she watched Charlie skip happily home, Francine decided to take a quick loop around the block to try and pull herself together.
Turning the corner, she walked parallel to the Cunninghams’ backyard, where punch-happy neighbors thanked Mark and Laura Jean before wandering off in ones and twos. Among the lingering guests, Francine saw Dennis Asperski, looking remorsefully at an empty beer cooler, and Magdalena Durham, chatting with a Carol by the now dormant grill.
Francine almost lamented the lack of horn-locking between her and Magdalena that night. It seemed her lame, knock-off Nancy Drew investigation was fizzling before it had even started. So much for the distraction. No tranquil recovery. No pan-flash romance. No mystery—
In the weak light of a lamp post at the bottom of the Durhams’ driveway, a figure rose from where it had been crouching in the street and stared at her.
In the half-second it took Francine to wipe the tears from her eyes, the person backed completely out of the light and was gone.
Francine looked behind her. There were no party guests around. Heartbeat doubling with each step, she moved hesitantly toward the island of light, where a pool of red was slowly expanding on the asphalt.
The blood came from an animal. Lori’s brown goat, its fur unnaturally dark around the neck. Someone had cut its throat.
Francine put a hand over her mouth. But something compelled her to keep walking closer. Her sandals touched the edge of the light. The goat’s strange, hyphenated eye stared blankly up into the night sky. A large triangle had been lightly carved into the fur of the stomach. Small, jagged letters in blood on the asphalt next to the goat read: Get Off Our Block.
Then somebody screamed.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on a sequel to my first novel, Cryptofauna. The first book follows Jim, a young janitor working at an insane asylum in Idaho. Jim is about to commit suicide when he’s interrupted by a strange resident who recruits him to play a game called Cryptofauna, which turns out to be an absurd competition of worldwide mischief and meddling. The second book follows Jim and his friends as they enter a deadly competition called Cryptonalia. We learn a great deal more about the game of Cryptofauna and the mysterious figures behind it. I’m hoping to have it out sometime next summer.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when my first book was available to the public, though in some ways I don’t know if I’ll fully feel like a writer until I’m traditionally published (or bag a few Pulitzers, whichever comes first).
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Right now I do write full-time. I always try to get as much drafting done in the morning as possible. Editing can happen in the afternoon, and at night it’s down to administrative/marketing work since those require less creative juice (which is mostly gone by then).
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m really bad at coming up with titles. Usually it comes from someone else or it takes me many months and many balled up pieces of paper near the trash to finally settle on something.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Astronaut, Secret Service agent, chef. Sadly, I think I can rule the first two out at this point, but I’m pretty good at making pancakes so there’s always hope for #3…
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I post lots of book quotes and pictures of my dog on Instagram, follow me there and always feel free to message me with any questions—thanks for your interest!
Thanks for being here today!