All Her Little Secrets, the debut thriller by author Wanda M. Moris
Author Interview + Book & Author Info
All Her Little Secrets
“All Her Little Secrets is a brilliantly nuanced but powerhouse exploration of race, the legal system, and the crushing pressure of keeping secrets. Morris brings a vibrant and welcome new voice to the thriller space.” —Karin Slaughter, New York Times and international bestselling author
Everyone has something to hide…
Ellice Littlejohn seemingly has it all: an Ivy League law degree, a well-paying job as a corporate attorney in midtown Atlanta, great friends, and a “for fun” relationship with a rich, charming executive, who just happens to be her white boss. But everything changes one cold January morning when Ellice arrives in the executive suite and finds him dead with a gunshot to his head.
And then she walks away like nothing has happened. Why? Ellice has been keeping a cache of dark secrets, including a small-town past and a kid brother who’s spent time on the other side of the law. She can’t be thrust into the spotlight—again.
But instead of grieving this tragedy, people are gossiping, the police are getting suspicious, and Ellice, the company’s lone black attorney, is promoted to replace her boss. While the opportunity is a dream-come-true, Ellice just can’t shake the feeling that something is off.
When she uncovers shady dealings inside the company, Ellice is trapped in an impossible ethical and moral dilemma. Suddenly, Ellice’s past and present lives collide as she launches into a pulse-pounding race to protect the brother she tried to save years ago and stop a conspiracy far more sinister than she could have ever imagined…
All Her Little Secrets —The Interview
Tell us about your road to publication with your debut thriller, All Her Little Secrets:
I love talking about my journey to publication although it was not an easy one because I hope it inspires and encourages other writers.
It took me 13 years from first draft to publication. I started a draft of this book and then put it away for 7 years because I convinced myself that nobody would want to read about a 40-ish Black woman who worked with really awful people. I think people want an escape when they read a book and who would want to escape to the world I had created in this book?!
I also put it away because I didn’t believe my writing was any good. I was filled with self-doubt.
Then I had a health scare a few years back and I started to look at my life differently. I’ve always loved to write, so why not do what I loved to do. I pulled out the manuscript. When I read it again, I knew it was pretty bad, but that was okay. All first drafts are bad. I knew immediately I needed to improve my craft. I began reading about fiction writing and took night classes on creative writing.
In 2015, I attended Thrillerfest, an annual conference of mystery and thriller writers held in New York City. There, I met so many authors, people whose work I read and admired and each of them was so accessible and generous with their wisdom and advice. I returned the following year and entered Thrillerfest’s Best First Sentence Contest – I was named one of the winners! It gave me confidence that I was on the right track, but I knew I needed some concentrated attention to my craft, so I applied to the Yale Writers Workshop using an excerpt of my manuscript and miracle upon miracles, I got in! Far and above, it was one of the best things to happen to my writing. I learned so much and met some really wonderful writers who helped me rethink and reshape my manuscript.
After the Yale Writers Workshop, I was ready to query agents. I did so with horrendous results. My queries either went into a black hole of which I didn’t hear a word back or I got a standard form letter thanking me but advising that the project was “not right” for them. I still felt deep down that I was on to something with this book, so I kept revising and polishing it. I queried some more. More rejections. But this time, some agents responded that they liked the premise but went on to give me specific comments about why the book wasn’t working for them.
I took those comments and poured them back into my manuscript revisions.
While on my “Journey of Rejection,” I did a really smart thing – I built myself a community of support in other writers, some more advanced in the journey and some right where I was in the journey. I came to rely on their friendship, wisdom and insight. Rejection is hard and having people to support you along the way is hugely important. I joined groups like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers of Color.
In 2018, I learned about Pitch Wars. Pitch Wars is an online mentoring program that pairs an unpublished writer with a published author for a three-month mentorship, at the end of which agents review the first page of the manuscript and may request to see the full manuscript. I worked hard during those three months with a lovely author named Wendy Heard. During the agent showcase, I got a large number of agents who requested to see the full manuscript. I knew for sure, this time, I would get signed with an agent. Again, more rejection! And while you would think I would have given up on this book, I didn’t. I knew if I just stayed with this book, I would see a breakthrough.
In July 2019, I went back to where it all started – Thrillerfest. I participated in their pitch event and there, I met a lovely woman, Lori Galvin of Aevitas Creative Management, who became my agent. She is a fierce advocate for this book and my career. But above all, she is an absolute joy to work with. I tell my friends that I think this book was merely waiting for Lori to come along.
After I signed with Lori, she gave me notes and I spent another nine months or so (the pandemic intervened and at one point I was not writing all!) working on more edits. We went on submission in July 2020 and 12 days later, we were in an auction! The book sold to the enormously talented Asante Simons at HarperCollins. Asante has been a godsend of an editor. She understood right away what I was trying to accomplish with this book. She has provided so much insight. Asante and my entire team at HarperCollins/William Morrow have been so supportive and generous. I am in very good hands.
As a corporate attorney writing about an attorney, how much do you stay true to how the legal system works and how much do you add for dramatic effect?
It was important to me to make the office scenes as realistic as possible so I relied on my knowledge of how in-house legal departments work, the demands on its employees, the budgetary constraints and liberties, as well as knowing where the “bodies can be buried” so to speak. I tried to capture snippets of life we all experience when working in corporate spaces. I want the reader to feel like they too are working long days in the office or working in cramped spaces with little opportunity to move ahead.
In addition to the crime aspect of All Her Little Secrets, your thriller also investigates race, power differentials in sexual relationships, and ethics, how do those various issues intersect in the story?
I set out to write the story of one Black woman’s experience working in a predominantly white space. The intersectionality of race, gender, power and caste systems is a natural outgrowth of living life while Black in America. Women in this society are stretched thin to be everything to everybody and Black women in particular, suffer the harshest rigors, whether it’s access to opportunity or economic parity with men. We are chastised for being too strong, “the angry Black woman,” but conversely, we tend to be the most disrespected and maligned.
Who wouldn’t be angry?
There is a moment in the book, when Ellice returns to Chillicothe, and she looks around the town. She realizes who she is and what this town had made her, not an angry Black woman but a fighting Black woman yearning to be heard, respected, accepted and protected.
I think it’s something a lot of Black women struggle with. As a Black woman there are constant reminders of your “otherness” from the time you walk into a room and count the number of other Black people in the room, to the awkward stares you get when you switch up your hair, to the butchering of the pronunciation of your name. I may be wrong, but I doubt that my white male colleagues do those kinds of assessments – counting up the number of other white males when they enter the executive suite.
But still, you feel a responsibility to stay in the room, to sit at the table. You feel responsible for every other Black person or woman who can come along behind you. For me, as an attorney, I think to myself I paid for my law degree just like all the others in the conference room or the corporate jet or the whatever white space I happen to be in. I deserve to be here. I always think, maybe my presence here will send the message that we all belong, including other people who look like me.
It’s particularly egregious in the executive suite where only 3% of executive management in Fortune 500 are Black. That’s an incredibly small number. It’s particularly sad when you think that so much of a company’s initiatives and policies are driven from the top down. People in the executive suite make the decisions and make it possible for others to make decisions. When the executive suite is homogeneous, you get homogeneous thinking out of it. And that’s not good for the bottom-line of any company.
Throughout the book, Ellice has had to learn to manage predominantly white spaces – from boarding school to the boarding room. It’s another unfortunate layer of anxiety of managing life as a successful Black woman.
Protagonist Ellice Littlejohn protects her brother as she’s dealing with a murder. What attracts you to writing about the sense of duty toward a sibling and that relationship?
I’m the youngest of seven children. I find the sibling relationship so fascinating – the fact that you can have several children all raised in the same household by the same parents and still each child is so different. And the interactions between siblings from the same household can be so different. I love all my siblings and have known them all my life and I still continue to hold them in awe and learn new things about them. I wanted to explore the bond between siblings in this book and how nothing can break that bond.
Tell us about the Women’s Initiative:
While I served as President of the Georgia Association of Corporate Counsel, we launched the Women’s Initiative.
Each year, the Women’s Initiative offers a series of programs specifically tailored to address the unique needs of female in-house counsel. The mission of the Women’s Initiative is to help female in-house attorneys define success and the ways they can achieve it through leadership opportunities, networking and other resources that will make them more effective attorneys in their organizations and their communities.
Practicing law inside corporate America can carry some unique challenges. The rapid pace to make decisions and the pressures to work harder with fewer resources can be difficult. This can be especially challenging for women who are new to the in-house practice, who may be raising families or are actively engaged in their communities. Our hope is that this initiative can help you rise to the challenge.
The only requirement of women who participate is that they must pay it forward and lift other women up so that we all become successful. Programs conducted by the Women’s Initiative focus on leadership, communication styles, mentoring and other strategic alliances.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another thriller. The as yet untitled novel is about two Black sisters who become embroiled in the murder of a white man in the Jim Crow south of Mississippi in 1964. Both women run, one to the north and the other to a small town in Georgia. What they don’t realize is that there’s someone hot on their trail, a man with his own brand of secrets and motives to find them.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Don’t give up! I wasted years, convinced by self-doubt that I shouldn’t be writing and that my writing was not any good. Don’t make my mistake. There are people out there craving what you create!
Fantastic interview! Looking forward to having you book for your next launch!
Wanda M Morris —Author of All Her Little Secrets
As a corporate attorney, Wanda M. Morris has worked in the legal departments of some of America’s top Fortune 100 companies. She is an accomplished presenter and leader.
Wanda previously served as President of the Georgia Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, in which she established a signature female empowerment program known as the Women’s Initiative.
She is an alumna of the Yale Writers Workshop and Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Wanda is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and Crime Writers of Color.
She is married, the mother of three, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. All Her Little Secrets is her debut novel.
To learn more about Wanda, click on any of the following links: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Goodreads
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite bookstores and on-line retailers.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator 2020
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020