By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
A small town girl working in her local bookstore dreamed of going to New York City to become a published author. Years later, as a New York Times bestseller, she returns to her hometown to sign copies of her latest work, surrounded by friends, family and fond memories at that same store where she learned what she needed to become successful.
Wendy Corsi Staub, a Dunkirk native, will come to the Book Nook on Saturday, Oct. 6.
This premise sounds as if it were torn from the pages of a novel, but it's not a work of fiction. It is the story of Wendy Corsi Staub, Dunkirk High School and SUNY Fredonia alumna, now with more than 75 published novels and numerous awards to her credit. Staub will be at the Book Nook in Dunkirk on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 4 p.m. for a signing featuring the first two books in her new psychological suspense trilogy, "Nightwatcher" and "Sleepwalker." She calls the opportunity "a rare gift" - a chance to reconnect with those who knew her long before anyone outside of Western New York would recognize her name.
"I tend to get very emotional when I step into the Book Nook, not just because it's a walk down memory lane and the store is filled with familiar faces, some I haven't seen in decades - but because I'm overwhelmed by the warm, positive energy that comes from all that support and enthusiasm," Staub said. "Every person who steps forward with a book to be signed thanks me, and when I do so in return, I hope they realize how much it means to me that they've gone out of their way to be there."
THE BOOK BUSINESS
It was Staub's job to rearrange the shelves at the Book Nook, where she worked during her college years in the 1980s, and it was there in the special section featuring titles that had "snagged the coveted spots" on the New York Times Bestsellers list that she set a new goal.
"I made up my mind that I no longer just wanted to become an author - I wanted to become a New York Times bestselling author," Staub said. "Selling my first novel six years after I left Dunkirk reinforced that dream, though I wouldn't see it come true for another decade."
"I couldn't be more proud of Wendy," said Patty Donovan, who now runs the bookstore, along with her husband, Richard, that was established by her parents, Philip and Louise Pelletter. "We had heard that sort of aspiration before from many other people who worked for us through the years. But Wendy was different. She wanted to know the ins and outs of the publishing world, and she started by learning the inner workings of an independent bookstore."
The staff became a second family to Staub, who affectionately referred to the late Philip Pelletter as "Mr. P."
"He always teased me about my crazy fashion choices (hey, it was the '80s and I was in college!) and loved to regale me with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about books and authors," she recalled.
Donovan explained that as an employee, Staub learned what customers wanted and book buyers for the store looked for when they placed orders with the publishers. She discovered what type of book cover designs are likely to attract customers to them, which publishers are likely to get behind their authors with marketing, and what book genres sell best. Staub regards her experience as an important stepping stone in her career.
"I was already passionate about the creative side of writing, but this experience taught me the business of literature, allowing me to see books as product, not just as art," Staub said. "That's crucial for anyone aspiring to make a living as a novelist."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After fearlessly making the move to New York City at age 21, Staub held several different jobs. Among her many positions, she worked as a book editor for a Manhattan publishing house and an account coordinator for a major advertising agency (located in the Chrysler building) before her first book, "Summer Lightning," was published. Even though she was many miles away, Staub never forgot her roots as she turned out one page-turner after another, maintaining her close relationship with her parents, Reginald and the late Francella Corsi. She lost her mother to breast cancer in 2005.
"She attended every Book Nook signing when she was alive, and now, it means the world to me when people who knew her show up to introduce themselves to me - long lost cousins or friends, former colleagues, or often students she taught at Holy Trinity or School 4, now grown up, who tell me they started reading my books because of her," Staub said. "Now, of course, my proud pop, Reg, is still out there doing his part to let the world know about his daughter, the author!"
Staub's books have spanned many genres, from suspense to romance, penning women's fiction under the pseudonym Wendy Markham, and a successful series for young adults, "Lily Dale," a setting her hometown readers are very familiar with. The series is in development for television, though progress has momentarily stalled after pilot rewrites and two different scriptwriters, and there are other projects in the works to bring Staub's work from the bookshelves to the screen. She is currently writing the first book, "The Good Sister," in a new trilogy set in Buffalo and its suburbs, in a fictional all-girls Catholic High School called Sacred Sisters.
"Local readers will recognize many real places amid my fictional landmarks," Staub noted.
Adult suspense is where Staub's heart truly lies. "Nightwatcher," the first installment of her new trilogy, took place in the backdrop of 9/11, capturing the shock, paranoia, and tension of New York City on that day. "Sleepwalker" is set in the suburbs 10 years after the attacks, following a young Nebraska beauty who moved to the city with dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. Married to her neighbor who tragically lost his wife in the Twin Towers and living in a quiet Westchester suburb with their three children, everything begins to unravel as the Nightwatcher killer returns. Women in their peaceful town start dying, just as they did 10 years ago.
Staub took inspiration from her own life for her latest series.
"I live in the New York City suburbs and once worked in the Twin Towers, so the Sept. 11 attacks hit close to home," she said. "That morning, my husband was in his midtown office and I was on my way to a meeting in lower Manhattan. That night, we were safely home under our own roof, but I couldn't shake the 'There, but for the Grace of God' feeling, or the knowledge that all around us - among our friends and relatives and colleagues and neighbors - lives had been shattered in an instant. That climate of fear, that vulnerability, spoke volumes to someone who writes about terror for a living."
The author was struck by reports that the crime rate in New York City dropped drastically in the days immediately following Sept. 11, and discussion by mental health experts on the triggering effects a catastrophic event might have on anyone who had already been mentally and emotionally unbalanced.
"The 'what if' mechanism in my writer's brain went into overdrive and a premise took shape almost immediately," Staub said. "But it was all too raw to write about at that time. I waited a decade before revisiting the idea, and it blossomed into a full blown trilogy."
The final book, "Shadowkilller," opens following the bombshell twist at the end of book two. It will be released in February 2013.
A WARM WELCOME
"At each milestone along the way to her current bestselling author status, Wendy has kept us apprised," Donovan said. "I clearly remember the day she called to say she was to have her first novel published. We were all so excited for her! And in 1993, 'Summer Lightning' became the proof positive that Wendy Corsi Staub was on her way to becoming a household name in the world of bookselling."
The Book Nook hosted a signing when "Summer Lightning" released, which was a big success.
"So many people came out to support Wendy, cheer her on, and buy the book," Donovan said. "It was the beginning of a huge contingent of fans of Wendy Corsi Staub here in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area."
With her hectic schedule promoting her books and writing new ones, Staub doesn't get to visit as often as she'd like. This year, she has spent less than 72 hours in Western New York on two whirlwind visits.
"The older I get, the more aware I am that time flies quickly and you don't get to go back to the good old days," Staub said. "So for me, signing at the Book Nook isn't just about promoting books; it's about coming home again, both literally and figuratively; about recapturing precious moments in a time and a place I cherish."
After her many accolades, Donovan said that Staub has stayed grounded and unaffected, a sentiment many of her fans have echoed after meeting her at a signing.
"She's still the same sweet, focused, unassuming person she was then," she said. "She's a wonderful person and a true friend. Fame has not changed her and her small-town upbringing has served her well over the years."
To learn more about Staub and her latest books, visit www.wendycorsistaub.com and www.wendycorsistaubcommunity.com, where the new video book trailers for "Nightwatcher" and "Sleepwalker" can be found, as well as links to interact with her daily on Facebook and Twitter.
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