Jeneva Rose

On How Many Red Herrings Are Too Many, Unconventional Paths to Book Publication, and Her Novel ‘Home Is Where the Bodies Are’

Cover of Jeneva Rose: On How Many Red Herrings Are Too Many, Unconventional Paths to Book Publication, and Her Novel ‘Home Is Where the Bodies Are’

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s probably had a few VHS home movies laying around the house. I know I did, but they didn’t exactly contain the same level of secrets that Jeneva Rose’s new book, Home Is Where the Bodies Are (Blackstone, 2024), does. Three siblings make a gruesome discovery after popping in an old VHS tape, trying to find common ground and reconnect after their mother’s passing. Instead, they discover a dark secret that their mother took to the grave and have to decide whether it’s better to protect themselves or tell the truth.

As a New York Times bestselling author, Jeneva took the path less traveled to get where she is today, using a blend of grit and determination followed with some solid good luck. After ending a rocky relationship with her agent, Jeneva struck out on her own, taking a chance on a British publisher who accepted unagented submissions because she believed in her work despite having been rejected for 18+ months while on submission. By the time The Perfect Marriage (Bloodhound Books, 2020) published in 2020, she still did not have an agent, and, instead, did her own marketing on a shoestring budget, creating a promo video that she posted to TikTok that garnered more than five million views and helped sell 8,000 copies in three days. She used social media to create a viral storm that pushed The Perfect Marriage to the top of the lists.

Since then, she’s written several other books, including You Shouldn’t Have Come Here and One of Us is Dead, and her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages and optioned for both film and television. 

Basically, Jeneva is proof that determination can pay off—along with some savvy social media skills. I spoke with her by phone about her new book, her plot process (how many red herrings are too many?) and her unconventional path to traditional publishing.


Kristen Schmitt: When I saw someone share the cover of Home Is Where the Bodies Are, I knew I wanted to read it right away. The VHS tape on the cover appealed to me before I even read the summary, probably because of my childhood. 

Jeneva Rose: ’90s nostalgia. 

KS: It was! Obviously, the book became more than that once I read it and I know titles aren’t always conceived by the author, but this one acts as such a central theme to the entire book so I was wondering how close it was to the original title. 

Jeneva Rose: It was the original title for that one. I came up with it, actually, when I was writing up a synopsis for it before I started drafting. It just came to me because I was like, home is where the love is or home is where the heart ends. And then I was like, oh, the bodies. 

KS: How much of the story did you already know before you wrote that first sentence? Did you already know the ending? 

JR: I didn’t know the full ending. Before I start writing a book, I won’t write it until I can summarize it in a sentence or two. And that’s just so it has like a really solid hook. Then I know it’s easier for me to pitch it to my agent or my editor. So, for that one, I knew it was going to be about three estranged siblings returning home, and it was going to hinge on VHS tapes. Of how I had come up with the idea, I was actually reviewing my family’s home videos and there was this three-minute clip and it was just like scanning the tree line at night on our own property. And my husband came in and he asks, “What are you watching?” And I say, “Oh, these are my family’s VHS tapes…Wouldn’t it be crazy if my dad appeared on screen covered in blood, telling my mom they had to get rid of a dead body?” And he says, “What’s wrong with you?” That’s literally how the whole idea of the plot came up. So, I was still figuring out the twists and the reveals, but I knew that’s what the central story was going to be. 

KS: I love how you unpack the different characters. I’m wondering when you were writing this if it was difficult to stay organized when writing multiple points of view. 

JR: For this one, I think the only one that was kind of difficult was writing Laura in the past and then making sure she was different from Laura in the future because I feel like those two characters were the most similar, but the others were so different and they were dealing with such different things in their lives. They had changed so much that it was really easy to keep the siblings straight from one another. 

KS: Was it hard to find a voice for each one or were they all fighting to be heard? 

JR: At first, I thought it was going to be difficult with Beth and Nicole because they’re sisters. And when I wrote it, I actually had to make some changes in there because I was like, wait, this doesn’t make sense based on the experiences they’ve had and the past they’ve had and how much resentment there is. So, for those two, because Nicole has her bias and she’s struggling with her addiction, and Beth is living a life of regret about everything, essentially, they’re very different in that sense. But they’re struggling with similar demons of not being able to let go of the past and move forward. 

KS: Since the book was set in your hometown, I was curious if any of the three main characters were modeled after real people? 

JR: No, the characters weren’t. I think when I create characters, I do take little things from maybe people I know or even myself. So, like little personality traits or little quirks or little interests—stuff like that—to really develop a character. But, as a whole, I couldn’t look at one character and be like, yep, that’s this person I know. But there was a lot from my childhood and stories and stuff that I could pull and throw into the little memories that the siblings shared like the making of their own little scary movies. That was something me and my siblings and my cousins used to do. I just kind of gave that to the characters for their backstory as a fun sibling memory of when things were better for that family. 

KS: It was probably nice for you to reminisce as you were writing. 

JR: Yeah, definitely. Remembering little things that people said and throwing them in there like little nods to the past. 

KS: Well, especially if it was your hometown. I mean, there’s something nostalgic about that anyway. 

JR: I think that [for] anyone that’s grown up in a really small town, there [are] all those little things that you think are probably just [unique to] your small town like calling it “The Grove,” but there’s tons of towns that [call it] a grove or the dead end or the nature trail. A lot of early readers have said, “Oh my God, this feels like my small town,” but they’re in another state. I thought that was fun to play with. 

KS: You mentioned on social media that some of the book deals with themes you’ve dealt with personally and I was wondering if writing this book was a way for you to work through those issues or whatever you were thinking about? 

JR: Yeah, definitely. I like to draw on my own experiences when I can, and I think it comes off as much more authentic and relatable and raw. And I think readers pick up on that, especially with this one. Some of the heavy themes were grief. I lost my mom when I was eighteen and it was sudden. And then I lost my grandma, which was my mom’s mom, forty days later. But we saw it coming. So being able to write that opening scene and kind of switching the places of what I experienced was cathartic for Beth to have those moments to tell her mom how she felt before she passed. And then the themes of addiction. I have immediate family members who have struggled with addiction for fifteen years. So being able to put myself in the shoes of an addict to try and understand that was very cathartic to write through things that are complicated. It’s really a great way to work through it. 

KS: Nicole was an interesting character, especially for a thriller/suspense novel because she had a redemption arc. Was that something you were aware of while you were working on the novel or did it develop as you wrote the character and found your way with her? 

JR: None of my thrillers typically have a redemption arc. I think it was because there was a little bit of me when I’m writing that character from her point of view and thinking of my own experience with my immediate family. I wish they could have their redemption arc. And then I felt like it was earned, just in how she handled everything with the grief and throughout the book that she should have a little bit of redemption because she has an illness and it’s something that she was trying to work through and when they really figured out the root of everything and how it affected everyone’s lives, that’s why she also deserved it. 

KS: I’d like to talk plot twist. I don’t want to give away the end, but that was such a slow build and I wanted to know what’s your writing process? How do you approach planting red herrings in your plot structure? How do you gauge how many is too many and how to plant them into your plot?

JR: I think there is a sense of having too many red herrings, too many different people to point to and then, also, too few, because it just makes it too easy for the reader to guess. That’s really what thriller readers want right now—a good twist that they can’t see coming, but one they can look back on and they can see all the breadcrumbs that were there. What I try to do, since I know that readers really, really want that twist, is think about it. How I would think about it in the sense of like if this was a murder case, who is everyone that’s around that central character that could connect to it. So, let’s say the wife dies. You’re going to look to the husband first and then it’s like, oh, did she have a coworker that she had an issue with that maybe she got the promotion over her or does she have a friend that she got into a fight with? Does she have a neighbor that she’s been arguing over a parking spot with? And I think that’s like eliminating suspects, but also trying to build up a story around whatever that issue is—the murder—that you can kind of build the web and have to slowly eliminate them. I like to create one that’s very obvious, a red herring so that a reader is like, “Oh, that’s what the author wants me to think. It’s not that one.” And then I like to have one that makes a reader think that they’re very, very clever if they’re thinking that. But I want them to think that I’m showing a little bit, but not too much, and then I probably try to do a couple more just to make it so there’s enough to keep them guessing and to build out the story around the central mystery and the characters and flush them out and their backgrounds and their connections and experiences. 

KS: It’s almost like an equation. 

JR: Yeah, basically it’s like an Agatha Christie movie. It’s just not in one room or on the train. It’s all over the place. 

KS: You weren’t always writing in this genre. Why did you gravitate towards it? 

JR: Well, the first book I wrote was a woman’s fiction novel or magical realism in general fiction. Actually, it wasn’t my first published book because I didn’t get published. I eventually did, but actually the second book I wrote was, The Perfect Marriage, which was my first thriller. It was because that was my favorite genre to read. I had had the idea for that story for a long time, so I finally decided to write it. That actually was the first book that was ever published—a thriller—and that book blew up and that was kind of like, okay, now I’m going to write thrillers because I have a readership. But that novel was how it happened. I also write romance. I wrote a comedy mystery, so I dabble with others as well, but thrillers have always been my favorite genre to read and my favorite one to write. 

KS: You mentioned your first book that made it big, but it wasn’t through a traditional path. Do you have any advice for those who are seeking publication? Is it worthwhile taking the nontraditional path? Should other writers pursue that? Is the traditional path broken? 

JR: I tried the traditional path. At first, I queried. I did have an agent, and it just did not go anywhere. We had a very different working and communications style where she kind of ghosted me. I didn’t know what was normal or not in this industry. It took me like eighteen months before I decided to finally part ways. That was after talking to other authors about it and they were like, that’s not normal. It was a big learning curve. I didn’t understand what was normal in this industry. I just knew that you’re supposed to get the agent, then the publisher. When I parted ways, I had that book, The Perfect Marriage, and I just believed in it. No agent wanted to look at it because it had been out on a small submission round. 

So, then I tried querying my next thriller, but couldn’t get anything, and I realized that if I really believed in this book, I was going to have to find a different way if I wanted it out there. Otherwise, you kind of have to wait for things to turn over before you bring that book back out. I decided to just submit it to small publishers that accept unagented submissions. I knew it was a risk because if the sales weren’t there, if I got another opportunity to be in front of a publisher, they’re now going to look at those sales. And that’s a factor in my decision now. Whereas if you’re a debut, that factor isn’t there. But I did it anyways and ended up blowing it up. It took me another year to get an agent with a different project. My path is very, very different in the sense that I actually had several books without an agent and it took me selling a million copies to even get where I’m at in traditional publishing in that sense. For traditional publishing to be interested in me. I would say take whatever path that you feel comfortable taking because it took me a long time to convince myself to do it differently because so many of my author friends were like, no, no, we have to do it this way. This is how it’s done. And I wanted it that way, but I had waited so long already. I think whatever you feel comfortable with, do it, because there’s no right or wrong way in this industry. I’ve faced a lot of rejections. I think I have like 500 rejections between editors and agents. And I always say take every no as a noble attempt or not today and just keep going. And that’s the way to deal with it. Write through everything. When you’re waiting on submission. When you’re querying. Because I had several books that I could sell once I did get an agent.


Jeneva Rose is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels, including the million-copy bestselling thriller, The Perfect Marriage. Her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages and optioned for film/tv. Originally from Wisconsin, she currently lives in Chicago with her husband, Drew, and her English bulldog, Winston.

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