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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

In her debut thriller “Salthouse Place,” Filipina-American author Jamie Lee Sogn sets out to explore cult-like groups and toxic friendships in her novel about the wellness industry. This book has so many twists and turns that I didn’t see coming! Sogn does an excellent job at keeping readers engaged in this psychological thriller narrative while simultaneously teaching her audience how to navigate toxic relationships and reveal what a true friend is. 

The novel focuses on the events that follow a fateful day ten years ago, when three teenage best friends spent the day at a lake drinking, gossiping and soaking up the sun, but only two of the young women made it home. The mystery of what happened to fifteen-year-old Zelda (Zee), whose body was never found, continues to haunt Delia Albio a decade later. When she receives an email from Cara, the remaining friend in the trio from whom she’s been estranged all this time, she can’t resist the pull of the “life-changing” news in the message. Hopeful for answers, Delia travels home to see her old friend. But Cara is gone by the time she gets there, sparking another mystery. Where did she go? Is her disappearance in some way linked to Zee’s from ten years ago?

When Delia learns that Cara has become deeply involved with a women’s wellness empowerment group called Artemis Wellness, she sets out for the retreat property on the Oregon coast in search of her friend. Delia hopes this trip will reconnect her with Cara and mend wounds from their traumatic past. Instead, what Delia uncovers is a possessive group with a dark agenda that is willing to protect its secrets at any cost.

Jamie Lee Sogn grew up in Olympia, Washington in a Filipino-American home. She studied anthropology and psychology at the University of Washington and received her juris doctorate from the University of Oregon School of Law. She is an attorney who writes contracts by day and fiction by night. Though she has lived in Los Angeles, New York City and even Eugene, Oregon, she currently lives in Seattle with her husband, son and Boston terrier.

For this Author Spotlight, I asked her questions pertaining to the major themes of her novel along with how writing a character she always wanted growing up has impacted her as an adult. 

Why focus on female friendships, with an emphasis on toxic ones, in this book?

When I look back at my female friendships in high school and even college, I think about how intense and close we were. Women can have a very strong kind of friendship, where it’s a kind of love, even when platonic. And I think when you’re younger and aren’t sure of your place in the world or even your own identity, the intensity of a female friendship can be both a safe place and a pressure cooker for disaster. I wanted to explore that intensity and how far these girls would push each other.

Toxic friendships can be hard to recognize when you’re in them. I liked the idea of Delia looking back at a pivotal moment in her life as a teenager, with her two best friends, and thinking about their friendship from a new angle as an adult.  

You said you wanted to include a biracial Asian American protagonist and wanted to explore what lures people into a cult. What was this writing process like, since you wanted to intertwine many aspects into your debut? 

When writing this novel, I didn’t have a strict outline or even a synopsis for where it would go. The very first chapter and the very last chapter were the first pieces I wrote and then I had to figure out how to connect the two. I set out to explore how people get pulled into cults and communities, but also how someone might behave if they knowingly went into a cult-like community. I wanted the main idea to be the need for belonging and how far we will go to achieve it. 

However, I also wanted to do this from the point of view of a Filipina-American character. I rarely ever see thrillers written with this kind of protagonist, and so I thought it would be interesting to have the main character’s worldview painted by this cultural background. I didn’t necessarily set out to have so many intertwining themes in the novel, but they kind of grew naturally from the situations my characters found themselves in and I’m so glad they did!

What is your secret to writing so many plot twists that make the novel entertaining yet not overbearing with information?

When I began writing this book, I actually had no idea what some of the twists would be! I only started with one key twist in mind and then things kind of fell into place around that one once I began really plotting. Once I was done with my first draft, a big part of keeping track of all the plot points was reverse outlining, where I went through my already completed draft to make sure I had hit all the major plot points I wanted or needed. This was a great way to see if I was missing something crucial or if I had given way too much information in one chapter, for example. 

Then of course, I had critique partners read early drafts and give constructive feedback on what they felt was working or not. On the manuscript I’m working on right now, I’ve become a strict plotter, so the hope is I can see everything connecting as I go into the drafting and not have to look back and fix things after the fact!

The only time you decide to include another media form into the book is with Sage’s diary entries. Why did you decide to include them? Why didn’t you include Cara’s?

For me, Sage was such a fun and fascinating character. She was an antagonist, but I think she’s also sympathetic in a way. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have all these women following her, right? So, as I was writing her character, the question of her backstory arose and specifically, what in her past would lead her to make the choices she makes in the novel. Sage’s diary entries were included to give the reader a peek into her past and show the dynamic between her and Everett, even as teenagers. 

I felt Cara’s journal entries weren’t necessary because we get so much of the history of the trio of girls from Delia’s flashbacks. Additionally, I wanted to keep it to Delia’s story as much as possible.

What’s something you learned about yourself when writing Delia’s character?

Delia is a very sarcastic character, and she keeps people at an arm’s length, due to her past trauma. In writing her, I made her very skeptical on purpose since I knew she would be knowingly going into this cult-like community. What I learned about myself is that I would 100% be tricked into joining a cult- I’m nowhere near as skeptical as Delia and would be lured in with a free weekend retreat in a heartbeat.

Congratulations Jamie on your debut! “Salthouse Place” is definitely one of the most memorable books I have read this year so far. Thank you so much for answering my questions. I adored how you tackle serious themes such as racism, sexism and toxic relationships in a thrilling way that keeps readers wanting to turn the page. I wish you much success on your novel, which has already received much praise, such as being longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize

Many thanks to Kathleen Carter from Kathleen Carter Communications for sending me a finished copy of “Salthouse Place” and extending this interview opportunity. I devoured the book in two nights and still can’t get some scenes and lines out of my head. Hope to work with you on more titles. 

Lastly, I’d like to give a final thanks to Kasey Goldenberg who was my editor for the Author Spotlight series since I first transferred to Her Campus NYU. Initially, she helped me ease into the transfer process and volunteered to edit the series. Now, I’m excited to announce Ellie Brown will be taking over as my editor! Without the support of either of them, I don’t know where this blog series would be, so thank you. 

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.