Vanessa Lillie has always been a fan of thrillers. After spending many sleepless nights with her young son, the Rockhurst University alum began exploring how she could place a new mother at the center of her favorite genre. The result is her debut novel, Little Voices.
The story follows Devon, a woman who’s determined to find out who killed her close friend in the midst of a difficult postpartum experience — all while a cruel voice whispers her deepest fears.
“I imagined [the main character] trying to solve a murder, but then also grappling with her identity having a child and trying to return to herself in a lot of ways” Lillie says. “And thrillers are great, because you can put pretty much any fear into it, and make it exciting.”
Apart from adjusting to her new identity as a mother, Devon struggles to adjust her small town Kansas upbringing with her affluent Rhode Island lifestyle. Lillie, who grew up in rural Oklahoma before attending school in Kansas City and Washington D.C., took a special interest in the changes we undergo upon leaving home.
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“Creatively, I like the idea of my main character not being from a place, and having to reinvent herself in a lot of ways,” Lillie says. “I love writing about the transformations that we sometimes go through in order to become the person we imagine ourselves, or the person we want to be.”
For Lillie, a lot of that personal transformation took place in Kansas City, where she studied English at Rockhurst. Just as her main character Devon initially found a place on the east coast studying law, the author’s own love of writing grew in the local cultural scene.
“I think a lot of feelings from my main character did come from my time in Kansas City,” she says. “It’s that magical feeling of finally moving in a direction that you dreamed to move in. That was a lot of my college experience, and Kansas City was a wonderful place to do that.”
There’s one thing that the author can say about her debut that not many people can — it was stabbed by The New York Times. In the article about writers untangling motherhood through horror tropes, the haunting blue Little Voices book is pictured with a bloody knife through the center.
“It was exciting, and definitely unexpected,” she says. “I don’t think it even occurred to me that it could possibly be stabbed.”