Houston Author Ashley Winstead Reunites Secrets and Lies

by K. L. Romo on August 2, 2021 in Entertainment, What I'm Reading,

Welcome to Duquette University’s 10-year reunion, where things will go terribly wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

In her debut novel, In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, Houston author Ashley Winstead explores how returning to a college alma mater with something to prove can have devastating consequences.

Authror Ashley Winstead holds a Ph.D. in contemporary American literature from Southern Methodist University and a B.A. in English and Art History from Vanderbilt University. She lives in Houston, TX, where she drinks red wine and dreams up novels. Courtesy photo

Thirty-two-year-old Jess Miller is the youngest partner at her prestigious NYC consulting firm. She’s come a long way from the reticent Duquette University student she was just 10 years ago. Now, at her college reunion, she can’t wait to flaunt her success and show everyone the new-and-improved Jessica.

The Friends

But from the minute she steps onto campus, her plans come undone as Jess’ college posse hijacks her agenda. Her college friends—the East House Seven—reunite and slip into their former roles. Mint, Caro, Frankie, Coop, Heather, Jack and Jess were always together in college. Mint was the silver-spooned rich boy whose family worshipped money, Caro was the consistent one—the pleaser, Frankie was the jock football player, Coop was the bad boy who had no money, Heather was the perfect socialite, and Jack was the adorable one.

Jess’ plan to show everyone how she’d changed is foiled from the start.

The Murder

Heather’s murder in February of senior year once again takes center stage. Her brother, Eric, is now an administrator at Duquette and vows to piece together what led to his sister’s death, using the reunion to do it. Ten years ago, someone stabbed Heather in her dorm room 17 times with a pair of scissors.  Everyone but Jess believes Jack killed Heather, though the police couldn’t prove it. But Eric is certain someone else is to blame.

As Homecoming Weekend proceeds, the group uncovers 10-year-old secrets and finds that none of them is who they pretend to be. Eric reveals that each of the friends had motive and opportunity to kill Heather. But only one of them is the murderer.

Chapters alternate between now and the group’s college days, primarily narrated by Jess. Holding true to her intent, Winstead writes “about power, ambition, complicity, and love in the modern age,” taking readers into the heart of an unlikely group of friends, trying to impress each other while concealing their true motivations.

Inspiration and Human Nature

We talked to Winstead about inspiration, empowerment, and what makes people tick.

Her inspiration for the novel was “getting punched in the gut by failure.” She used her envy of other writers and despair at not being published to create a character experiencing those feelings. Add in her disappointment at her own 10-year college reunion and Winstead had a story.“Envy and despair are such uncomfortable feelings to admit, let alone hold in your head, that it occurred to me I should explore them—good thriller subjects are the ones where thinking about them is like touching a live wire: white-hot discomfort.”

In her debut novel, In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, Houston author Ashley Winstead explores how returning to a college alma mater with something to prove can have devastating consequences. Photo Luis Noble

Winstead imagined a character whose entire life was shaped around her refusal to abide rejection. “I wanted to write about how dangerous that was, but also how common, especially for us type-A overachievers.”

The SMU alumna knows that people have a desire to impress former classmates at a reunion. It’s human nature.  Yet, as Winstead’s protagonist discovers, “No matter how carefully you’ve set the scene and arranged the players, reuniting with people from your past rarely goes the way you expect.”

Besides being an addictive and entertaining thriller, In My Dreams includes several messages Winstead would like readers to consider. “A central lesson is that you don’t have to accept the way the world works. You can reject the rules of the game that aren’t serving you, instead of contorting yourself to fit

More About Ashley

“I write romance as well as thrillers, and my debut romance, Fool Me Once, is coming out in March 2022 from HarperCollins. I have a PhD in English, I was a model in an early Tesla ad, I once sued the man who would later become my husband (it’s a long story), and my favorite meal is wine and a charcuterie board.”

Cover photo courtesy Raíssa Letícia on Unsplash 

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Twitter: @klromo, Instagram: @k.l.romo