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Nightwatching by Tracy Sierra
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Nightwatching by Tracy Sierra
Hardcover $29.00
Feb 06, 2024 | ISBN 9780593654767

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  • Feb 06, 2024 | ISBN 9780593827062

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Praise for Nightwatching:

“[Nightwatching] guarantees you will stay up, as I did, way past bedtime, tearing through pages to find out what happens, or you’ll be too petrified to sleep, or maybe both.”
—Mary Louise Kelly, NPR

“Horror meets thriller in this pulse-pounding locked-room suspense, playing off the dread (and claustrophobia) of being trapped in your home with an intruder. . . Sierra manages to integrate complex ideas about perception, trauma, guilt, and women’s autonomy…without once loosening her grip on the reader’s nerves.”

“How many of us have had the experience of hearing an old house creak in the night and wondering if it was something more? That uneasiness becomes terror in Sierra’s riveting debut. . . . What happens next falls between horror and suspense, landing with almost unbearable intensity. . . Nightwatching [is] among the best debuts I’ve read in years.”
—LA Times

“The reader is thrust into a scenario of unadulterated fear in Tracy Sierra’s stellar debut. . . To describe this novel as nightmarish contrasts with the vividness of this night, as Sierra escorts the reader beyond metaphor: Is it a nightmare if it’s real? Nightwatching is a terrifying cat-and-mouse thriller in which the creak on the stairs is an overture to a fight for survival.”
—Washington Post

“Nightwatching is one of those reads I devour: a thrilling mystery with an actual message and larger societal commentary contained within. . . Sierra’s plot is propulsive and is literally heart-pounding. . . Along the way, she raises important questions about who gets to be a victim and how hard it is for women to be believed. It will enrage you, it will scare you, and it will definitely make you want to discuss it.”

Nightwatching grows in stature and becomes not just a nerve-shredding page-turner but also an ingenious guessing game and an absorbing account of a woman’s struggle to make her voice heard.”
Minneapolis StarTribune

“The extreme tension . . . triumphs in a gripping and convincing finale. Not for the faint-hearted.”
The Daily Mail

“So terrifying that it can easily be considered horror-adjacent. . . The intense plunge into the main character’s traumatic experience feels incredibly real and immediate, and the suspense doesn’t let up until the last moments of the novel.”

“Tracy Sierra has done the impossible: changed my mind about the home invasion thriller. . . Gripping.”

“One of the most terrifyingand brilliantthrillers I have ever read. . . Gripping from start to finish.” 
—The Guardian (London)

“The most gripping thriller I have ever read. . . I was astounded at how Sierra kept up the pace in this high-wire act of a thriller, but she doesn’t put a single foot wrong.” 
—Scary Mommy

Nightwatching is just as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror story. Powerful and absorbing, it was not easy to put this book down until I finished it. In my opinion, that is the mark of an excellent story. Highly recommended.”
—Fresh Fiction

“Outstanding. . . As grippingly suspenseful as the plot is, Sierra’s first outing boasts other strengths just as noteworthy, from its transportingly eerie setting to its indelible main character, a petite, prototypical ‘good girl’ pushed to the brink by years of being underestimated, patronized, and disbelieved by men with power. The icing on the cake is the splendid ending, which feels both surprising and inevitable.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Straddling the line between psychological thriller and domestic horror, Sierra’s auspicious debut immediately plunges readers headlong into its unnamed protagonist’s waking nightmare. . . tense, emotionally resonant . . . Well-timed flashbacks add context and poignancy. Fiercely feminist and viscerally terrifying.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“I barely breathed while reading this incredibly tense, chilling thriller.”
Good Housekeeping (UK)

“Nightwatching is like nothing I’ve read before. I wolfed it down in two sittings; it’s amazing.”
—Lisa Jewell, #1 New York Times bestselling author of None of This is True

“Nightmarish—you won’t be able to look away.”
—Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

“If Stephen King and Dean Koontz co-wrote a thriller, the result would be a lot like Nightwatching. Eerily atmospheric, pulse-pounding and unputdownable, this book will keep you up at night.”
Sarah Pekkanen, New York Times bestselling author of Gone Tonight

“Very few books are as sharp, clever, and utterly terrifying as Nightwatching. Read at your own risk.”
—Chris Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of We Begin at the End

“I loved Nightwatching. It is the most gripping thriller I have ever read.”
—Gillian McAllister, New York Times bestselling author of Wrong Place Wrong Time

“I am trying to think of a book that has grabbed me by the throat more quickly. None comes to mind.”
Linwood Barclay, New York Times bestselling author of The Lie Maker

“The most gripping psychological thriller I’ve ever read. Heart-thumping and mesmerizing, a masterclass in tension and terror, it’s also a creative, thoughtful portrait of maternal fear and love–a must read.”
—Ashley Audrain, New York Times bestselling author of The Push

Nightwatching is an intense and claustrophobic thriller–it’s terrifying and unputdownable.”
—Karin Slaughter, New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of After That Night

“Few novels have affected me like this one. Nightwatching is acutely frightening and beautifully written, as tender as it is terrifying. I can’t remember rooting for a character quite so hard!”
—Abigail Dean, New York Times bestselling author of Girl A

“Tracy Sierra is an impressive new talent. Nightwatching is riveting, by turns a chilling account of a horrifying ordeal and a whip-smart snapshot of marriage, motherhood, and the female experience in a man’s world. Psychological terror at its finest.”
—Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of The Manor House

“Breathtakingly superb on every level. A proper tour de force that delivers the highest possible grip factor from first word to last, and a more satisfying resolution than I dared to hope for.”
—Sophie Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of The Couple at the Table

Nightwatching is at once a terrifying descent into my deepest maternal fears, a blistering social critique, and an elegiac portrait of what it meansand what it takesto endure. One of the most haunting, gripping novels I’ve read in a long time.” 
—Katie Gutierrez, national bestselling author of More Than You’ll Ever Know

“So tense, so thought-provoking.The definition of ‘can’t put down.’”
—Araminta Hall, author of Imperfect Women

Author Q&A

1. Nightwatching is a feminist thriller set in an antique New England home, much like your own. What inspired you to model the novel’s house after yours, and what was it like to recreate such a personal setting on the page?
It’s been fascinating to see people’s reactions to our antique house, which are always extreme and always diametrically opposed. I knew I wanted to tap into these reactions because they say so much about the different ways people understand the past. Lots of people, like the novel’s heroine and me, appreciate the sense of history and the beauty of the place. But many, if not most, people are actively bothered by the house. They’re convinced it has to be haunted, or they don’t like the reminders of the past, which aren’t always positive—history itself being complicated and often dark and difficult to face. We have a graveyard on our property, for example, just like the home in the novel, which some people are absolutely horrified by. To Nightwatching’s heroine, no matter where you go, history exists. She believes you’re never truly sure what may have happened under your feet, and that an old home simply makes past violence, loss, and history more visible. She’s also experienced loss that informs her sense that everyone is haunted by their past, and that turning away from history—your own or anyone else’s—doesn’t help you constructively move forward. While my home is of course a personal space, in a three-hundred-year-old house you understand you’re only a temporary caretaker. And I’ve certainly learned that there’s nothing more atmospheric, moody, and beautiful than an old home that is well tended. It’s a hard place to resist when it comes to creative inspiration.
2. This book begins with an epigraph by Nathaniel Hawthorne: “I have a very general acquaintance here in New England.” How did you choose this quote and how does it inform your story?

I had Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” in my head as I wrote Nightwatching. Goodman Brown never knows if his encounter with a man, who we understand is the devil, was real, the same way Nightwatching’s heroine doubts that she’s truly come face-to-face with evil and hopes that she might be dreaming. The person Goodman Brown meets in the woods is never named, just as Nightwatching’s characters are unnamed. I found that this lack of naming, of defining, was unsettling. It makes you question who people are, how you define someone at all, yet it’s oddly easier to step into their shoes. The idea that evil can exist in the everyday is such a Puritan notion, and yet we still haven’t come to grips with what Goodman Brown confronts in that story. He’s so focused on outward appearance that he’s shocked to find that people who present as normal, even righteous, can be anything but—not so different than the “he seemed like such a nice guy” phenomenon every time friends and neighbors are interviewed about someone who commits a heinous crime. The quote, where the devil notes that he’s familiar with many in Puritan New England, fits with those themes of the way evil can hide, the way we choose to believe we would know evil if we saw it—yet are unable to—and with the novel’s setting.

3. Nightwatching is a heart-pounding read, as chilling as it is intelligent. What role do you think your novel, and thriller fiction in general, can have in helping people cope with their very real fears?
Frightening stories allow us to experience fear in a safe way. I think that can be cathartic, especially for the many of us who are often anxious or who have intrusive thoughts. Certainly Nightwatching was born of my own fear of an intruder, which I think is a primal and universal one. It can also help you realize how unlikely certain scenarios truly are, and even get it out of your mind because the “bad thing” has played out. Scary stories also let us explore social issues at their most intense, which can be strikingly effective. Is The Shining, for example, scary because of the ghosts or because a husband and father turns violent and targets his wife and small child, an all too common occurrence? Would Gone Girl’s “cool girl” monologue have had the same social impact if it hadn’t been paired with Amy Dunne’s norm-shredding actions? And in Nightwatching, would we just dismiss the slights, doubt, and sexism the heroine experiences as not a big deal if what she’d experienced had been a normal home invasion, and the stakes weren’t so high? I love when an intense story makes you focus on real-world issues you never expected to encounter there.
4. What attracts you to the true crime genre as a writer, a reader, and a woman? How are you attempting to reinvent the genre in Nightwatching?

Anyone who presents as a woman is aware of physical vulnerability. We all modify our actions, appearance, and choices to avoid violence. For me, true crime offers the possibility that if I learn enough, I can avoid danger. I think that’s why women are such a huge fraction of the true crime audience. But the more true crime I consume, the more I understand that only so much is within my control. And as I get older, I increasingly understand that some of the most important things that have happened in my life have been beyond my control altogether, which I explore in Nightwatching. It’s a reality I find absolutely terrifying. True crime also, by its nature, elevates the perpetrator. Why did he do these things? How did he do them? What’s his background? The targets of those crimes, what they must have been thinking and feeling, gets lost. Survivors, understandably, often do not want to relive their experiences. And victims are often shown simply as a grainy photo and memorialized with descriptions that can feel overidealized and distant. In Nightwatching, I wanted to center the targets of crime—their lives, their experiences, their flaws, their backgrounds—in order to highlight the horror of crime and violence itself.

5. As a traditional horror novel would, Nightwatching features the threat of physical danger. But what is just as terrifying throughout are elements of psychological and emotional danger. Why did you choose to layer these elements?
I wanted to delve deep into the experience of someone being targeted by a human being with evil intent. Anyone who has experienced a home invasion describes it as a “violation.” It’s an intrusion into a place that’s supposed to be safest that shatters the very idea of safety, revealing it to be an illusion. When I first read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I remember thinking that the chapter where he describes the home invasion could have been a book in itself. The experience of each family member, their terror, their attempts to avoid violence. The anticipation is terrifying, and I could not stop imagining what it would have been like for those who went through it. And yet I’ve found that since becoming a mother, I have a difficult time mentally handling actual violence in books and film. The stakes of it are so high to me now, because you start seeing the beauty in human life in a whole new way. For me, that’s meant seeing it in everyone, not just my children. A random person on the sidewalk harmed during a movie’s car chase becomes someone’s son and brother. That murder victim dramatically posed in an opening sequence is someone’s daughter or mother. Lives far beyond those harmed have been irrevocably changed for the worse. It’s a visceral understanding of how violence erases human potential, steals away human love. So Nightwatching looks at how easy it is to destroy, and how much love, care, and time it takes to create and nurture. The novel asks what we consider powerful, what we elevate, what we consider strength or protection, and why. And it focuses on the psychological terror in the hope that highlights the characters’ humanity rather than physical harm, which can be almost too much to bear.
6. You’ve had a career as an attorney. Has your work inspired any themes in your novel?

In law school I worked in a clinic that helped survivors of domestic violence obtain emergency restraining orders on a pro bono basis. I also did an internship with the US Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes interstate crime. Both these experiences inform Nightwatching, and also informed my choice to go into corporate law—I have such respect for people who continue in family law, criminal defense, or prosecution, because it is incredibly emotionally draining and can be morally complex, yet is absolutely imperative work.
I was struck by how often survivors of domestic abuse were disbelieved by family, friends, and authorities. In my time at the clinic my clients were all women, but I think disbelief ran deeper than simple misogyny. People don’t want to believe someone they know and care about, someone they may have even welcomed into their family or friend group, could, in a word, do evil. It’s difficult to admit you didn’t see someone’s dark potential. We like to believe we live in a just world, and that bad things happen to bad people, so it can be mentally easier to blame the victim to make ourselves feel safer. I saw authorities often face behavior that didn’t comport with their ideas of what a victim should look or act like, and complex situations that were difficult to unpack. It could be mentally devastating for them that they hadn’t believed, and therefore hadn’t prevented harm, sometimes to the point that they would deny harm altogether. I’ve tried to explore those realities in Nightwatching. And I do sympathize, because I was stunned time and time again at the US Attorney’s Office with how I could chat with someone who had admitted to violent, heinous crimes and find them charming, and on the flip side, how I could interact with the target of a crime and find their story disjointed and their behavior incredibly frustrating. It’s disorienting when your instincts are off, and likewise disorienting when other people are charmed by someone you find sinister for reasons you can’t even explain. Prosecutors and law enforcement in a situation like that in Nightwatching have to follow the evidence. And I have great sympathy for the police in Nightwatching, given what I gave them to work with. I wanted readers to have that same discomfort around the way you may never know a whole truth, how difficult it can be to believe a purported victim who behaves in unexpected ways, and feel how hard it can be to accept that evil exists.
7. You wrote Nightwatching during the COVID lockdowns. Do you think this shaped your writing, and how might the story have been different if it were written during another time?

I think lockdown absolutely shaped Nightwatching. The world felt menacing in an entirely new way. Our homes became our safety and refuge, while also becoming claustrophobic. It got me thinking about the traditional role of “home” for women—both “sphere” and “cage.” Safety during lockdown also depended so much on types of protection we discount, often because they’re considered traditionally feminine. These are things like making sure your family was clean and fed, sourcing what you need as responsibly as possible, cooperation, multitasking so that you’re financially supporting your kids while simultaneously watching them, preventative actions such as mask wearing and getting vaccinated, and if anyone in your family did get sick, nurturing them. While the home invasion in Nightwatching brings to mind traditionally male ideas of protection—defending your family via physical strength or intimidation, for example—I wanted to focus on those “other” types of protection as assets. The heroine’s familiarity with her home is reclaimed as a strength. Her small size allows her to effectively hide. She protects her children by the way she interacts with and parents them in an emergency situation, by sacrifice, endurance, and by understanding that since she doesn’t have physical strength as an asset, she has to rely on other things to shield her children.
8. Excitingly, the film rights for your novel have already been sold to Scott Free Productions, Ridley Scott’s company. What hopes do you have for Nightwatching on the big screen?
I think there’s so much potential to tell Nightwatching in a creative way on film. While I certainly hope the setting is moody and atmospheric on the page, as I know from living in my own home, nothing can beat the visual and sensory experience of an antique New England farmhouse on a dark, nor’easter night. Moviemaking is so different than novel writing because instead of one person in a room, there are so many people involved in a story’s creation that you can get a breadth of backgrounds to inform it. I would love to see people with different experiences than mine tinker with the insidious prejudices in everyday life and systems of authority. In the novel I purposefully did not provide much physical description of the heroine or her children, wanting people to more easily read themselves into the book. So I think there’s a lot of freedom for a filmmaker to put someone in that role who might make you ask totally different questions than you do in the book, which would be wonderful.
9. Finally, how would you like readers to be inspired by Nightwatching?
Most of all I hope Nightwatching provides an entertaining rollercoaster of a ride! But I also hope the book causes people to reflect on why their reading experience was what it was. If they take issue with the way the heroine sees the world, why? Why did or didn’t they believe her? Why do they or do they not sympathize with the police, her husband, or even her father-in-law? I think it can be difficult to look at shades of gray, and to admit to yourself that in real life you might find yourself taking a side or drawing conclusions that make you uncomfortable. I tried to fill Nightwatching with those shades of gray, and certainly in writing it I’ve relived the many times my own instincts have been off, the way I’ve glossed over inappropriate treatment as the unfortunate norm and called that a strength, and all the times I’ve come from a place of doubt or dismissiveness because I didn’t want to admit I could be wrong or that I failed in some way. At its core, I wanted Nightwatching to be a pulse-pounding, page-turning experience that readers find themselves thinking about long after they’ve finished the novel.

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