Psychological Thriller Inspired by Her Family’s Experience with Stalker

Adjunct faculty member Sandra Miller.

By Marlon Pitter

For Sandra Miller, an adjunct faculty member in the English Department, the successful release of her latest book is a story three decades in the making.

Miller’s novel “Wednesdays at One” is a psychological thriller that draws from her family’s personal experience with a stalker nearly 30 years ago. The book has become a USA Today bestseller, receiving critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, “Good Morning America,” BookTrib magazine and Apple Books.

Miller’s writing journey to this point wasn’t always smooth, however.

After graduating from college, Miller worked as an editor and literary agent, but she knew she wanted to publish her own stories rather than edit other people’s work.

She spent several years teaching English in Japan and Luxembourg before returning to the United States to earn her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She wrote a literary novel that got an agent but never sold to a publishing house.

“There is a lot of rejection for people whose ambitions are to publish a novel,” Miller says. “You can stay the course, or you can give up with those early, hard rejections. And I never gave up.”

Despite some early struggles, Miller persisted in writing essays, short stories and journalistic pieces for various publications. One of her essays was turned into the 2005 short film “Wait,” starring Kerry Washington.

Following up on her 2019 memoir, “Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure,” Miller began writing “Wednesdays at One” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With her children living on their own, Miller took the lockdown as an opportunity to craft the story she’d been holding on to for decades.

“In the summer of 2020, I had the quiet and the focus to write this novel,” she says. “I wrote 1,000 words a day, every day for three months, sold the novel the next year, and a 30-year dream came true.”

Reflecting on the success of her latest novel, Miller discussed the book as well as her future in writing.

Q: What was the inspiration for “Wednesdays at One”?

A: It started 29 years earlier when my husband and I were dating. He's a psychologist, and one of his clients began to stalk him. It became a four-year stalking ordeal that would really test our family.

The book is not my husband’s story, but from the experience, I took away an idea: What if there was a psychologist who did something terrible in his past, and suddenly a woman – not a client – comes into his office and starts talking about this thing that he did? What if she knows things about him that she shouldn't know?

This idea really intrigued me, and I think it has been with me for those decades. I tried to work with it in various formats, and I audited a fiction writing class with Andre Dubus at UMass Lowell when I was teaching. I showed some of my early pages to Andre, and it was from the perspective of the woman who goes into the office, not from the psychologist’s perspective. Andre read the pages and he said, “Honestly, this gets really interesting when you start telling it from the male perspective of the psychologist.”

I filed that away for a few years, and when I went back to this idea during the pandemic, the story almost wrote itself. It just poured out of me. It had been in me for so long, and it just came out almost fully formed. That's why I was able to write it so quickly, but the story began 29 years earlier with that stalker.

Q: Who is the target audience for this book?

A: It's a kind of thriller, but I'm calling it a literary thriller. I think the audience is somebody who loves a really fast-paced read, but they also appreciate the literary sensibility of well-developed characters and good writing. That seems to be the sweet spot.

Q: What were your expectations about the launch of the novel?

A: I felt very confident about this book. I signed with an indie publisher called Zibby Books. It was started by two women who said they want to “shake up the publishing industry.” The (publishers) said, “We are going to promote your book, and we are going to get it out there. We're going to connect with independent bookstores. We're going to send it to all the places that it would go if it were with one of the big presses.”

I felt very confident. I took a chance on this press, and they have delivered. I trusted them with a book that I believe has a lot of potential.

I was driving to New Jersey for some book tour events when (my publisher) called and said I was on the USA Today bestseller list, which is crazy for a small, relatively new press. I was 68 out of 150. I couldn't believe it. I was so over the moon, and it went to show that her idea for starting this press (was good), which was about creating community amongst the authors, and not competition. High tides lift all boats. All of the authors, we support each other. We get a lot of support from marketing and publicity, and the formula worked. We created a bestseller. It’s been really rewarding, because I was extremely proud of this book.

Q: What are your plans going forward after the successful launch of this book?

A: I’m taking it in. I'm enjoying the journey that I've waited for a long time, and I'm trying to be in the moment a little bit more. I have a very robust book tour. I've been all over New England, New Jersey, New York. I'm heading down to Manhattan, and I'm also working on another novel.

I'm also at a point in my life where I'm thinking about … what I want to do with the next stretch of years. I know it's going to involve writing, but I'm also thinking about other ways that I can be of service or put some energy into thinking about how I can be effective in my community around environmental issues.

My children are both grown and flown. They're both living in Manhattan now, and it's fun to be able to think about what the next stage of the journey is and not be too tied down to it having to be one thing or a specific type of book. I'm doing some life exploration right now.