"Wayward Girls is a story for the times we live in now. As women of all ages demand equality and fair treatment, the shadow of the past looms larger than ever and must never be forgotten. It's a compelling read with characters who stay with the reader long after the book is finished." ~Carolyn Haines is the USA Today and multi-award-winning bestselling author of over 80 novels.
"Wayward Girls" is a portrait of brave sisterhood, infused with beauty and exquisite pain. Your heart will melt with every turn of the page." ~Laura Benedict, Edgar-nominated author of the Bliss House novels and The Stranger Inside.
"Wayward Girls delivers suspense, emotional depth, social commentary, and a gripping story. Grab a copy, a box of tissues, and the phone number of your oldest friend, because you're going to want to talk about this one after you turn the last page. It's a terrific book." ~Mary Anna Evans, award-winning author of the Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries, and assistant professor of creative writing at University of Oklahoma.
"Emotionally-charged and skillfully written, Wayward Girls is a poignant and heartrending story about trauma, its lifelong hold on one's psyche, and the need for self-forgiveness." ~Kelly Stone Gamble, US Today Best-Selling author.
Q & A with Claire & Penny ~
Q: Let’s see, you
and co-author Penny Koepsel have a new book coming out, Wayward Girls (Red
Adept Publishing 2021). Please tell us a little about the book, and how it came
Girls is a blend of women’s fiction/suspense and psychological thriller in
which two women return to the site of their old boarding school on the eve of
its demolition and relive the trauma of what happened to them as students
there. It is inspired by a true story of tragic events that took place in a
Texas wilderness school in the seventies, but our book is 100 percent fiction.
Penny and I both attended the same Florida boarding school but different years,
so we never met as students. However, when alumna began to connect for a
reunion, an English teacher we both adored recommended that we meet each other,
and so we started emailing. Once we were at the actual reunion, everyone was
telling stories and we decided to write a book.
Q: Tell us a
little about yourself and how you started writing.
CLAIRE: I spent many
happy childhood hours on the porch listening to my kith and kin tell stories.
This infused me with a love of storytelling, which translated into reading
books and then writing books. I started writing short stories and poems in high
school, studied creative and nonfiction writing in college, and have gone from
PENNY: I began
writing short stories in elementary school.
They were typically immature love stories about unrequited love or
loss. I still have one, typed in brown
ink from my father’s office.
Occasionally, I accompanied him to his office on weekends. It was always so much fun. I sat at his secretary’s desk and used her
typewriter to write short stories while he sat in his office and worked.
Q: What are some
things you enjoy when not writing?
walking in nature, photography (especially of nature).
PENNY: I have several
passions other than writing that include rescuing and fostering animals,
working in my garden, and my career as a school psychologist. My two dogs I rescued, could never find a
home for them and cannot imagine life without them. They give me so much love and companionship. Working in my garden affords me peace, time
to think, and experience gratitude for my blessings in life as I sit outside at
night, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the beauty.
Q: What is
something about you that people would surprise people?
CLAIRE: For twenty
years I lived in a homemade house in the woods in Georgia in an intentional community
of environmentally conscious folks who wanted to get back to the land. Not, you
understand just in the country, but in the deep, deep woods. UPS would not
deliver to our house. My husband Bill and his friends built the house by
themselves. Happiest years of my life.
PENNY: That I used to
work for a railroad company; I started out as a stenographer, but later became
weary of office jobs and applied for a job as a freight inspector and a foreman
in the shops. I was told I could not apply as I was a woman. I replied that I
had the seniority and they had to let me apply.
I applied, got the positions, and had to learn how to drive fork lifts,
open box car doors, inspect damaged freight and box cars, drive a truck, and be
assigned some of the worst areas to travel to such as the docks, refineries,
warehouses. My last position there was a
janitor working from 4:00 PM to 1:30 AM so I could do my undergraduate in
English and Psychology during the day.
Q: Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
CLAIRE: Not at the
moment, though I have been a newspaper reporter, a lawyer, a college teacher
and an organic blueberry farmer.
PENNY: Yes. Working as a school
psychologist, making even the tiniest difference in the lives of children,
their families, and ultimately society is so fulfilling. It can be extremely sad and frustrating at
times, but helping to make the difference in one child is huge. I retired a few years ago, but contract back with
a school District part-time. I love
it. It made my gazillion years of college,
internships, research, and dissertation writing worth it.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
CLAIRE: From my own varied experiences,
from reading newspapers, stories my friends and family tell, and my
PENNY: I think most of them stem from
something I experienced in life be it first or second hand. Perhaps something I learned about from the
news, or from someone else. I was a shy,
quiet, and reflective child and spent time paying attention to others. I have
always reflected on my experiences, my feelings and emotions and tactile
Q: Do you have a go-to first reader after
you feel your manuscript is ready?
CLAIRE: Yes, Mike Lehner, who has been
my friend since high school. I trust him to be honest.
PENNY: Kate Birdsall with Red Adept
Publishing did our line editing and was a joy with which to work.
Q: Is there a particular author or book
that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
CLAIRE: Barry Hannah and Thomas
Rabbitt, who were my creative writing professors in grad school, were both a
tremendous influence, albeit in different ways.
PENNY: As a child, books like Little
Women, Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Shirley Temple books. I could envision the characters, their
feelings and emotions. Lying on the hearth in front of the fireplace as a
child, being catapulted to another time and place was memorable. I learned that books were friends that could
take one on an adventure to a different time and place.
Later in life, I discovered Jefferson
Bass. Jefferson Bass is the writing team
of Dr. Bill Bass and Mr. Jon Jefferson. Their “Body Farm” series is a poignant
example of being a voice for those who cannot share their story. Jefferson Bass
masterfully unravels and delicately re-weaves what the victims could not do. The
first book of theirs that I read made such a lasting impression, and they have
been role models for me as I strive to be a voice for those less fortunate in
both my writing and my profession.
Q: Can you tell us about your challenges
in getting your first book published (or this book?)
CLAIRE: I had tried and failed for
three years to get an agent for a couple of serious legal thriller manuscripts
when an agent said my stories should be “more fun.” He rejected the manuscript
but gave me that great advice, which I took to heart and wrote a funny legal
thriller about an eccentric woman attorney. Even before I finished it, I
entered the first chapters in a legal fiction contest in which a HarperCollins
vice president was involved. Those chapters won first place and led to a
four-book run with HarperCollins. Thus, my first book, Skinny-dipping
(2004) was the result of listening to good advice and winning a contest—and
three years of steady rejections.
PENNY: OMG – don’t know if we have
enough time in this blog (LOL). It was time-consuming, discouraging at times,
exciting at other times, eye-opening, sobering, and amazing. We have an amazing agent, Liza Fleissig with
Liza Royce Agency. She supported and
encouraged us throughout the entire process, during those times we were so
confident, and again during those times when we were discouraged and ready to
throw in that proverbial towel. We also
have an amazing publisher, Lynn McNamee.
We could not be where we are today without either one of these
phenomenal women. Thank you both so much.
Q: What are you working on now?
CLAIRE: These days I am working on
another book with some of the same characters that appear in The Smuggler’s
Daughter (Red Adept Publishing 2020).
PENNY: Marketing Wayward Girls.
Thinking about brushing off a manuscript I began working on a few years ago and
trying to breathe new life into it.
Q: Is anything in your book or books
based on real-life experiences?
CLAIRE: Oh, yes. As I had been a
practicing attorney in Florida for years, I naturally used some of my own
real-life experiences in writing my legal thrillers. The Smuggler’s
Daughters is loosely inspired by the infamous (in its time) sinkhole
murders in Florida.
Girls is a work of fiction, but some of the events were loosely based on
actual events experienced by children and adolescents at private schools,
wilderness schools, boot camps and other facilities after being sent there by
parents, guardians, or the courts.
years after graduating from the private school in Florida, I read a local
newspaper article about the death of a female student in a Texas wilderness
school. A school psychologist was originally accused of the murder, and there
are documented accounts of the death and subsequent legal proceedings. I communicate with a former student who
attended the same school when the student died.
She shared some of the horrors they experienced. I visited the isolated
area where the school was located, walked around the area, closed my eyes, and
felt the hair raise on the nape of my neck as I imagined the horror the
and I both attended the same private girl’s school, though a few years apart
and never met. We were blessed to have
had an English professor, Jesse Mercer.
Jesse lit the flame of creativity in me, encouraged me, and was such a
source of support for me. When I graduated from the school, I lost contact with
Jesse for decades. However, I never
forgot him and thanked him in the acknowledgements section of my PhD
dissertation. I was able to locate and contact him in 2004. We remained in contact for a few years. I
sent him a copy of my dissertation with his acknowledgement and he sent me
copies of books he wrote. We remained in close contact on a regular basis via
email, phone calls, and cards until he passed away several years later. He
encouraged me to contact Claire, told me she was an author, graduated a few
years after I did, and that he thought we would enjoy meeting each other and
had a great deal in common.
I contacted her, and we did have a lot in
common. We became friends over the
internet and phone calls. A multi-year
reunion was being scheduled the next year and I flew to Florida and Claire and
I drove to the reunion together. Sometime over the reunion weekend, we decided
to write a book about a murder of a student by a school psychologist, at an
exclusive girl’s school, the rest is history and breathed life into Wayward
Q: Do you have a
favorite chapter or scene?
CLAIRE: There is a
scene in Wayward Girls where Jude, one of the main characters, has a
panic attack after some shattered glass triggers a PTSD flashback when she is
breaking into her old boarding school’s building. Her dog, Carson, a Rhodesian
ridgeback, who is based completely upon a friend’s dog (also named Carson),
rescues her. The strong connection between Jude and Carson is one of my
favorite scenes in any of my books. The very real Carson, and his person,
Sally, and I went through a serious hurricane together a few years ago. I can
attest to Carson’s steady, calming nature.
There were several. However, sharing
them might be a spoiler and I do not want to do that. I also have scenes that were extremely
important, yet difficult for me to write and to read. Again, no spoilers here either.
Q: Do you have a
CLAIRE: Jude in Wayward
Girls. Maybe Carson is a tie with Jude for favorite character.
Probably Camille because I can relate to her.
She was shy, analytic (to a fault at times), athletic, a tomboy and a
dare devil. She was involved in school activities both academic and athletic
and dreamed of being a writer someday.
Q: What would your
job of choice be if you didn’t write books?
CLAIRE: Book review critic for a newspaper.
Exactly what I am doing now – providing psychological services to
Q: What was the
most unique research you had to do for a book?
CLAIRE: I do extensive
research on all my books, which is how I have come to know about forensics,
weapons, specific real-life murders like the sinkhole murders, drug smuggling,
phosphate mines, and a lot of esoterica. Perhaps my most unique—or certainly
the most troubling—research involved what became a full-scale obsession with
researching crimes against teenagers which take place in wilderness and other
boarding schools targeted toward disciplining “wayward kids.” It’s horrific and
such abuses continue to make headlines even today. During the research phrase
of Wayward Girls, Penny and I both read trial transcripts, government
documents, books, newspapers and other media, and spoke with people who had
been students at the wilderness school in Texas. It was exhausting emotionally.
That would have to be all my research and my dissertation “Recidivism in a
Short-Term Crisis Stabilization Facility.” I worked for a community mental
health agency and was “on call” one night a week and one weekend a month to respond
to psychiatric crises in hospitals. We also rotated from our on call/crisis
intake and screening position to our day treatment facility and provided group
therapy, individual counseling, relaxation therapy and whatever else was
needed. I became aware of the recidivism
of certain clients/patients and their mental health disorders. That was my
hypothesis for my research and dissertation and the most unique, long term and
Q: Do you have any
advice for aspiring writers?
CLAIRE: Read. Read.
Read. Join a critique group. Take writing classes, online or in person.
Consider journalism classes which will teach you to get to the heart of the
story in a hurry. Persevere.
Don’t give up. It is okay to set aside
your writing at times, but pick it back up again. Do not expect your book to
automatically be published the first time.
If it is, you are lucky. When it is critiqued and edited, do not be
insulted. Keep trying, especially if it
is your passion. Have a mentor who can
help you, be your sounding board, your cheerleader, your counselor, and your
voice of reason.
Q: What are the
downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
CLAIRE: The best
parts—meeting people. I have met so many wonderful writers and readers who have
enriched my life. Downfalls include carpel tunnel and back aches from hours at
I like beginning with positives so I’ll first mention the best parts. Writing is truly my passion. I feel inspired
to write and afterward enjoy reading the fruits of my labor, albeit I am my own
toughest critic. My downfalls are just
that – being my own toughest critic, being a bit obsessive compulsive at
times. I also vacillate between spending
too much time at the computer vs. having to make myself get back and write
again. I spend hours on end sitting at
the computer, reading, re-writing, sometimes doodling detailed designs on a
piece of paper. I need to work on time
management and multi-tasking between being a wife, mother, providing
psychological services, taking care of my fur babies, and pursuing my passion
for writing. Taking time for one’s self
is important as well. Meditation,
self-reflection, relaxation, enjoying life and time with friends and family can
easily be overlooked when trying to juggle too many plates in the air without a
Q: Is there
anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
CLAIRE: Thank you. And
thank you again.
Thanks to all of you who followed us on Facebook, blogs, emails, and supported
us during our long journey to publishing Wayward Girls. It was
definitely a long journey, but the fruits of the labor were worth it.
you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or
getting it published that you’d change?
a new author of fiction, there was so much to learn. Because I have no point of reference, I
cannot answer this appropriately and defer to my co-author, Claire Matturro,
who is better qualified to answer this.
With the exception of a couple of short stories and poetry, I have
primarily been published in journals, and a PhD in Psychology dissertation.
How do you market your work?
Since this is my first experience at marketing, my close friend and co-author,
Claire Matturro has assisted me in “learning the marketing ropes.”
Favorite band or music?
I can’t identify just one, but some of my favorites include: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Yes, ZZ Top, Lynyrd
Skynyrd, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Guess Who, The
Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Shawn Phillips, Shake Russell – I could
go on and on and have probably overlooked some who have made an impression on
me over the years.
Favorite book and/or movie?
Elementary School: it would have been a close race between Nancy Drew, The
Bobbsey Twins, and Little Women.
and High School: Atlas Shrugged, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley
of the Dolls, The Hobbit, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Erle Stanley Gardner,
Little Women (can’t name just one).
Years: I’ll mention those authors in whose books I read and was transported to
another time or place and fueled my love of psychological thrillers and
mysteries. Jefferson Bass as I mentioned above. These are not in any special
order as I adore all of them. Michael Connelly,
James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Jodi Picoult, Alex
Michaelides, John Sanford, Johnathan Kellerman, George Orwell, Delia Owens,
Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Claire Matturro, All my Red Adept Publishing
author family members. I know I have
inadvertently forgotten someone and I apologize immensely.
Place you’d like to travel?
We lived on Maui for 3 years when I accepted a job with the Hawaii Department
of Education as a school psychologist. I
loved living on Maui and have returned several times. The Aloha spirit remains
forever. My dream place to travel would
be to Ireland, Scotland, England, and ferry over to France. My husband and I
were going to fulfill this dream over the summer, but COVID-19 threw a wrench
into our travel plans.
To connect with Claire and Penny:
Penny's social media:
Claire at boarding school (wearing white skirt):
Penny at boarding school (wearing shorts):