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Psychological thriller co-written by Maryland author Sarah Pekkanen lands movie deal

Psychological thriller co-written by Maryland author Sarah Pekkanen lands movie deal
Authors Sarah Pekkanen (l) and Greer Hendricks (r) co-wrote "The Wife Between Us," a psychological thriller being released Jan. 9. (Bill Miles)

Literary world cognoscenti are betting that the novel and psychological thriller co-written by Maryland author Sarah Pekkanen will be snapped up by the same readers who made “Big Little Lies” and “Gone Girl” national obsessions.

“The Wife Between Us” was co-written with Pekkanen’s former editor Greer Hendricks and will be released Tuesday. The novel-in-progress fetched six figures following a bidding war, the author said, that was touched off by the manuscript’s first 140 pages and a synopsis of the rest.

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The winner, St. Martin’s Press, committed to a first printing of 250,000 copies. Foreign rights have been sold in at least 30 countries, according to a spokeswoman for the publisher. The movie rights have been acquired by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, the same team behind the filmed version of “The Girl on the Train.” A screenplay already is in the works.

Pekkanen, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun who lives now in Chevy Chase, already is the author of seven well-regarded novels. But her eighth has the potential to achieve a new level of success. The author noted that major life events seem to come along for her every 10 years.

“I gave up journalism at 30 when I gave birth to my first son,” Pekkanen said. (She has three boys, aged 18, 16 and 9.) “I sold my first book at age 40. And I just turned 50 a few weeks ago. There’s a lot of hype for this book. I think people like seeing strong, complicated female characters.”

“The Wife Between Us” features a scorned woman named Vanessa who becomes obsessed with her former husband’s beautiful new fiance. Early reviews have touted the book’s unreliable narrator, fiendish plot twists and house of mirrors quality.

Pekkanen said that “The Wife Between Us” began almost on a whim as a writing experiment. Over the years, she and Hendricks have become close friends. When Hendricks left publishing after years of editing other people’s work, she confided to Pekkanen that she wanted to try crafting her own novel.

“I said, ‘Do you want to try writing one together?’ ” Pekkanen said. “It was a very spontaneous thought.”

Writers who co-author the same book typically alternate chapters or characters. But Hendricks and Pekkanen decided from the beginning that theirs would be a true collaboration in which they would not only mutually decide the plot, but jointly write each sentence.

Technology allowed them to sit at computers in separate locations and watch one another typing. And one weekend a month, the duo holed up in a hotel and papered the wall with notes as they worked out future twists and turns — a process Pekkanen describes as “Homelanding,” in reference to the Showtime television series.

“I’m not sure if I could have written this way with anyone else,” Pekkanen says. “It really is rewarding to think you can come to a certain point in your career and pivot and try something new.”

The experiment was so successful and mutually enjoyable that Pekkanen and Hendricks are under contract to publish a second, jointly written psychological thriller.

Not that Pekkanen is abandoning the solo part of her career. Her ninth book, “The Ever After,” about a woman who borrows her husband’s cell phone and finds nine words that change her life, is slated to be published in June.

“The Wife Between Us” will be published Tuesday by St. Martin’s Press. 352 pages, $26.99.

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