American Girl by Wendy Walker is a character study that begins as a murder mystery that then turns into a psychological thriller with elements of danger and twists. It is a story of good versus evil and life versus death. It about friendship and relationships between women surrounded by solving the crime of murder.
The story begins with the owner of a sandwich shop where Charlie Hudson works found murdered. Each member of the staff becomes a person of interest except Charlie who was hiding behind the counter. These people she works with have become her family, and she would go to any length to protect them.
Charlie is clever, thoughtful, resourceful, sensitive and has developed coping mechanisms for her autism that allow her to function.
The author is a master of suspense. The story has many twists and turns and readers will not want to put the book down.
Elise Cooper: Why did you take the audio book and make it into a printed book?
Wendy Walker: I worked with Audible for a novella of mine, Hold Your Breath. Once it went to Audible there were changes made to the story. The main character, Charlie, never had her condition spelled out. Readers could tell she was Neuro-divergent. This story became number one for Audible across all fiction. Since it was doing so well, I decided to revise the story sightly to make it for print. And here we are. It is an ode to a woman’s life that starts at seventeen.
EC: How did you get the idea for the story?
WW: The summer of 2019 I was at a restaurant bar with a friend. When the song, “American Girl,” came on I got up to dance. There were young people there who were flirting with each other, in their little packs. I had a lot of images in my head. I had a visceral that transferred me back to what it was like to be seventeen. As I was seeing women in different stages of life in this restaurant everything came together in a perfect storm. I had an acknowledgement on the realities of life. I thought of all the dreams I had. I became obsessed in writing a story. This was the first plot of mine that came from a character with all the other supporting characters giving life to Charlie. All the characters were written to express what I had experienced, the trajectories of a woman’s life.
EC: Why did you make Charlie autistic?
WW: I wanted to explain why she is perceptive of the world. When she narrated the story, she is analytical and a little bit dispassionate even when things around her are very emotional and chaotic. She was atypical at that age. Most teenagers at that age are consumed with their own lives, their friends, but not the adults around them. I remember thinking how the adults were irrelevant to me when I was seventeen, that parents could not understand me. I did a lot of research and spoke to specialists in the field, advocates of autism. It was really an education for me about autism. I learned how autistic people are all so different, and unique, especially the way their brains work.
EC: How would you describe Charlie?
WW: She has a good memory, good at math, but not good at relating to people. She does not like loud noises or bright lights. She concentrates, an observer, loyal, and protective. She was diagnosed at age eleven. This helps to understand why she is different. She found the diagnosis very liberating and made her divergent. She can navigate the grown-up world.
EC: Charlie had a bunch of rules, why?
WW: It is a story about an autistic girl and how any person put in Charlie’s situation would handle it differently based on their set of skills. The most important rule, “there are no rules when it comes to love.” Love is a central theme to the book. The love between Charlie and her mom, between Charlie and her best friend Keller, and between Keller and her boyfriend Levi. Love is the one thing that throws off all the predictors. It causes all the other rules to fall away.
EC: What was the influence of Charlie’s mom?
WW: She felt trapped which is why she escaped from her parent’s clutches. She tells Charlie how love would destroy her. She tries to be supportive. She was rejected by her parents. She applies the lessons of what happened to her to everything for Charlie. All her dreams were stolen and now she has no dreams. What is important to her and for Charlie is getting out of their town, Sawyer and to focus on survival.
EC: How would you describe Keller?
WW: She is all consuming and passionate. She is an idealist, fragile, and harassed by the victim. She drinks and smokes.
EC: How would you describe one of the co-workers Janice?
WW: She once had dreams. She is devoted, affectionate, proud, a worrier, and a mother figure.
E: How would you describe one of the co-workers Nora?
WW: She is resigned to life and feels pride in her work. She is a managerial type who is honest, loyal, disciplined, and a loner.
EC: What about Ian, the policeman?
WW: He was a childhood friend she was in love with. He is wound tightly and is trustworthy, sarcastic, and understanding. He is conflicted about his life’s circumstances. He has unresolved issues and is shackled to the town. Charlie wants him to get over his past.
EC: Readers feel no sympathy for the victim-correct?
WW: He is not a good person. He had a persona of what he wanted people to think of him versus his real persona. He was power hungry, greedy, lusted, and was not caring. He represents the bad things of this small town. He enjoys humiliating people and takes advantage of people. He is corrupt. He exploits his employees and takes away their dignity and self-respect.
EC: Why the phrase, “lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions”?
WW: I worked in a sandwich shop at seventeen through college. The way the sandwich shop is described in the story is based on this shop. It was a chain called D’Angelos that have been around forever and puts those items on the sandwich. I had bosses who were sleeping with the teenage employees.
EC: Next book?
WW: There will be an Audible book, an audio play titled Mad Love. I describe it as Dirty John meets the Tinder Swindler meets the psychological thriller. It takes place in a wealthy suburban town.
EC: Will this be made into a movie or TV show?
WW: It has a TV series option. All my stuff had been optioned.