Writers are often told to write what they know.
Author, playwright and screenwriter Matt Witten puts a bit of a twist on that advice and instead writes what he loves to read.
“[About] 20 years ago, I read cozy mysteries all the time. So I wrote them. Now my favorite thing to read is psychological thrillers,” Witten said.
With his forthcoming novel, “The Necklace,” the former Saratoga Springs resident has penned a compelling thriller inspired by a story he read nearly a decade ago in the Glens Falls Post-Star. Slated for release by Oceanview Publishing on Sept. 7, it has been blurbed by Lee Child and has been optioned for a film by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way and Cartel Pictures.
Growing up in Baltimore, Witten started writing poetry and plays at a young age.
“When I was 17 I got an undiagnosed illness and I promised myself that if I ever got healthy again I would remember that writing was at the core of my being” Witten said. “Even during the times when I was quite impecunious I still stuck with writing. I only wavered one major time when I applied for law school when I was around 40. Just when I got into law school, with a nice scholarship, that same week my first book was accepted for publication. Then a week after that, I got an offer to come on staff for ‘Law & Order’ in Los Angeles. So my one effort to get out of writing was stymied by sudden success,” Witten said.
Since then, he has published several mysteries in the Jacob Burns Mystery series, which take place in Saratoga Springs. He’s also written for TV shows like “Law & Order,” “House,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “CSI: Miami.”
While he lives most of the year in Los Angeles with his family, they all spend the summers in Lake Luzerne, where “The Necklace” takes place.
Alternating between the past and the present, the novel follows protagonist Susan Lentigo, whose daughter was murdered 20 years ago. With help from the community, Lentigo scrapes together the funds to travel from Lake Luzerne to North Dakota to view the killer’s execution. Along the harrowing journey, she discovers evidence that makes her doubt that the convicted man was the murderer. Worse yet, she suspects that the killer is still out there.
Witten got the idea for the novel after reading a story about a fundraiser for a local woman traveling to see the execution of the man who killed her daughter. Witten was struck by that and starting building a storyline of his own.
“I was thinking she’s on her way to get retribution and maybe she meets the brother of the man or someone related and she forms a relationship with this person and then she realizes maybe she doesn’t want the guy to be executed. . . but it wasn’t really coming together for me,” Witten said.
Finally, at the suggestion of fellow writer John Henry Davis, the storyline turned from seeking retribution to seeking the truth.
He wrote the first draft of the story as a screenplay and then adapted it into a novel. Through the writing process, the biggest challenge (and biggest virtue) was “understanding Susan and why she was wrong about aspects of her life. Why she was fooled about some of her relationships,” Witten said.
Unlike many novels in that genre, “The Necklace” focuses on a town that’s struggling and on people who aren’t incredibly wealthy.
“I wanted to show the obstacles that people face in daily life that people who have more money don’t think about,” Witten said.
Along her journey to North Dakota, the protagonist faces a slew of obstacles that are tied to her financial instability.
“In any kind of novel, you want to give people huge obstacles and see if they can overcome them. But in this, I wanted to give her the economic obstacles because I think that’s what people living up in Lake Luzerne and rural America are facing now . . . that’s one thing I’ve liked about writing the book. I don’t read that many books where the hero is from rural America or economically troubled, rural America. I read a fair amount of mysteries . . . set in cute tourist towns. There’s not too many about what most small towns are like in this country, which are obviously hurting economically. So I really wanted to write about these folks,” Witten said.
Local readers will also find many familiar Lake Luzerne area landmarks — past and present — throughout the novel, including the Homestead Motel and Mollie’s Mason Jar (mentioned in the book as Molly’s Diner). The house that the protagonist lives in is inspired by the home where Witten spends his summers. Cirillo Auto Services also served as inspiration, as did The Rockwell Falls Presbyterian Church.
“It gave me great joy to put in these places,” Witten said.
Starting this week, Witten will be at several signings and events around the greater Capital Region in anticipation of the book’s release.
Here’s a look at the upcoming events and signings:
Tuesday, Aug. 10 at Hoss’s Country Store on Main Street in Long Lake
From 7-9 p.m. there will be an Authors’ Night featuring writers who live in the Adirondacks or write about the region.
Wednesday, Aug. 11 Rockwell Falls Public Library, Main Street, Lake Luzerne
From 7-8 p.m. Witten will host a reading and Q&A session as well as a book signing.
Thursday, Aug. 12, online
At 7 p.m. Witten will be in conversation with bestselling author Patricia Smiley. The event is hosted by the Saratoga Springs Public Library and held via Zoom.
Saturday, Aug. 14, Ballston Spa Public Library, Milton Ave.
At 11:30 a.m. Witten will hold a reading, Q&A and book signing.
Friday, Aug. 20, Northshire Bookstore, Broadway, Saratoga Springs
From 6-7 p.m. Witten will sign books.
Sunday, Sep. 5, Book Cabin, Lake Shore Drive, Lake George
Starting at 2 p.m. Witten will hold a reading, Q&A and book signing.
Tuesday, Sep. 14, Easton Public Library, Route 40 Greenwich
Starting at 6:30 p.m. Witten will hold a reading, Q&A and book signing.
For more information on the book or these events visit mattwittenwriter.com.