As a writer, I’m always thrilled when a character shows up in my head, demanding that I write a story about her.

“The point is that you breathe life into these characters who show up and agree to talk to you,” says Maddie Dawson, author of The Opposite of Maybe, “and then—just like with the real humans you raised—there comes a time when you have to listen to them.

We read to be intrigued, delighted, and to find out what happens next—and sometimes, it turns out, writers are just as surprised as readers by what our characters decide to do.”

When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers.

It all started the previous summer. A violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.

Summer House with Swimming Pool is a controversial, thought-provoking novel that showcases internationally bestselling author Herman Koch at his finest.

If you could lay all HeLa cells ever grown end-to-end, they’d wrap around the Earth at least three times, spanning more than 350 million feet.

There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It’s the late 1940s and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty.

Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her—a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine. Beneath the photo, a caption says her name is “Henrietta Lacks, Helen Lane or Helen Larson.”

A heartfelt and exceptionally human novel about the best mistakes a person can make.

Jonathan and Rosie have been together so long they finish each other’s sentences—so when he (finally) proposes and asks her to move across the country with him, everyone is happily surprised.

But when things suddenly unravel, Rosie sends Jonathan packing and moves back home with Soapie, the irascible, opinionated grandmother who raised her. Now she has to figure out how to fire Soapie’s very unsuitable caregiver, a gardener named Tony who lets her drink martinis, smoke, and cheat at Scrabble.

Oh, Joan of Kent, the Fair Maid of Kent, such a romantic story!

“Here’s the question that nagged and nagged until I just had to take it on,” admits Emma Campion, author of A Triple Knot.

“If her marriage to Prince Edward was so happy, why did Joan choose to be buried with her first husband, Thomas Holland, a mere knight for most of his life, Duke of Kent only at the end (for just a matter of months)? Why would she give up being buried beside her beloved Edward? A royal burial?”

I filed away these stories, fascinated by the deception and heartache hidden within seemingly normal lives.

“[My years working as a private investigator] proved invaluable when writing my new novel Until You’re Mine,” says Samantha Hayes, “although it wasn’t until many years after I left the job that I was ready to write my experiences into novels, weaving stories around the matured ideas.”

“I like to think of my books as “real-life fiction,” making my readers think: What if this happened to me? What would I do in that situation?”