Vandelly’s debut, Theme Music (Dutton, July), centers on Dixie Wheeler, a young woman who buys the house in which her father slaughtered all his family except for her when she was a toddler.
What inspired you to write Theme Music?
I read an article about salacious murders in recent history that had left authorities completely baffled. The murders had no motive, no justification, and seemed to be nothing short of evil. One was about a man who had murdered his entire family during breakfast one morning in the late 1950s. Neighbors said they were just a normal family and that he was an upstanding member of society. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Part of me was relieved that none of the children survived. What a dark shadow to have to live under. Suddenly, everything just clicked. I already had the title of Theme Music, and now I had the story to tell.
Your novel centers on a potentially haunted house. Do you believe a crime scene can be haunted?
I absolutely believe that you can feel the presence of a horrific crime in some locations. Paranormal activity generally happens where crimes have been committed. Of course, we might just scare ourselves into believing a place is haunted, but once you believe it is, it really doesn’t matter if it’s actually haunted or not. When Dixie moved into the house where her family was murdered, it just seems likely that it would be haunted, or she may believe that it was. Horror and mystery in this case just seemed to go hand in hand.
Were you inspired by other haunted house stories?
The Shining by Stephen King and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson are the quintessential haunted house novels of all time, and I really wanted Theme Music to rise to that sort of frightening level.
There’s a surprising real estate angle, in that the house was listed as a “stigmatized property.” Where did that come from?
I was a real estate agent for a while, and I remember stigmatized properties being discussed at great length. Some states require you to divulge if a property has been stigmatized, but some don’t. I, for one, would want to know, personally. I would think twice about moving into a house where a murder or suicide took place.
What led you to become a full-time writer?
I worked as a director for a prominent media research company for 18 years. Like many, I found myself on the wrong side of a reorganization flow chart, and was offered either another role or a career transition package. I had been wanting to write exclusively for my entire adult life, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took the money and ran.