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Unsettling garage sale was impetus for novel
SUZI WEINERT doesn’t spend a lot of time wondering what path her life might have taken if she hadn’t visited a fateful garage sale in Pennsylvania years ago.
The Lake of the Woods resident did go, getting an unsettled, off-putting sense from its rural and deserted nature. For reasons Weinert said she didn’t really understand, the feeling stuck with her.
In an effort to sort out and dispel that feeling, the Orange County mother of five decided to sit down and write about it.
The result was her first book, “Garage Sale Stalker,” published by Barringer Publishing at the start of 2011.
Now, in a twist that has her truly gratified, The Hallmark Channel is turning the 351-page thriller about a woman who tracks down a killer from a yard sale connection into a TV movie. And it’s possible that the film will be turned into a regular Hallmark series featuring the book’s fast-thinking heroine, who hails from McLean in Northern Virginia.
That’s where Weinert just happens to have spent 25 years with husband, Don, after he retired from the Army as a brigadier general.
“I didn’t write her to be me, but in creating a character, you can’t help but draw on your own experiences,” Weinert said.
Yes, she’s been a lifelong reader, especially of mysteries, and has written things for herself through the years. But the unsettling garage sale is what kicked things to the next level.
It didn’t hurt that this Army wife who moved 11 times in 21 years knew garage and yard sales all too well.
“When the Army moves you, there’s a very specific, limited amount of personal things they’ll allow,” said Weinert. “Everything else went to sales.”
And when the Weinerts would arrive and set up new households in spots that included California, Germany and the Philippines, the ubiquitous sales helped outfit them anew.
What better place then to have her book’s protagonist, Jennifer Shannon, stumble across the twisted and tormented bad guy?
“Garage Sale Stalker” would take her years to write and then another year or two to edit and have published.
Part of the journey was charted out, though some twists came as she wrote.
“Some days, it would be five or six straight hours of writing,” Weinert said. “Others, when life got busy, none at all.”
Some time went into research, including a 10-week “police citizens academy” class in Fairfax County that included a 12-hour ride-along. Other time was spent with doctors on questions of medical accuracy or seeking input from Childhelp, a group devoted to traumatized children.
Weinert, herself involved with that group, said that was one reason the book touches on child abuse and its effects.
“I wanted there to be a reason why this killer does what he does,” said the author, who used real-life crimes to pull some of the details of her villain’s actions.
Though Weinert’s success sounds almost dreamlike, her devoted husband—who’s served as reader, business manager and “roadie”—notes it came from years of hard work. That work includes years of writing and then rewriting with book editor Carol J. Greene, who Weinert met at a writing convention, and then the search for a publisher.
Since it came out, Weinert and a host of family member helpers have done book signings and meet-and-greets in spots ranging from Stafford County to California.
“I have a converted dog carrier that has wheels and will hold 26 books,” she said with a grin. “We’ve got this thing down pat.”
Weinert notes that the movie deal was a wonderful bit of serendipity.
A copy of her book found its way from daughter-in-law Denise Weinert in California to a friend of hers from grade school, Katy Garretson, who produced “Frasier,” “Reba” and other shows.
Garretson liked the book and showed it to her then-fiancée, now-husband, Jonathan Axelrod, who is involved in television production.
He agreed and hired well-known writer Ron Parker. The three of them pitched their vision to Hallmark, which said yes to a movie.
Weinert said the money for the movie rights was “nice” and “considerable,” though “not exactly like winning a lottery.”
She said a more substantial payday could come from the sales a movie and possible series could generate for this book and two follow-ups in the works.
“The Hallmark series would be icing on the cake,” she said, wondering who might be found to play her Jennifer character. “If it’s a big star, it could really take off.”
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415
GARAGE SALE STALKER By Suzi Weinert, (Barringer, $15.95), available at major booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.