Katie explains her method of writing bestselling mystery novels saying, “The twist always comes first, and the characters follow. When I start to write, I don’t have an outline or a plot. I throw the characters together and let them interact, almost as if I’m watching a movie. Sometimes, as I see it happening, I don’t even know who the villain is. It’s a mystery, and if I surprise myself, I know I will surprise the reader!”
Katie’s parents, Jack and Mary Sise, were both from upstate New York, and Katie and her 3-year-younger sister Meghan and 6-year-younger brother Jack grew up in Loudonville. “I started writing short stories when I was 8,” Katie recalls.“ I had an imaginative inner life, with fairly developed scenes and characters. Usually there was an element of magical realism in each story, with enchanted forests and characters with special powers. In elementary school I wrote a ‘how-to’ book on ‘How To Make Your Parents Let You Have A Dog’…and we got a dog! As I got older, I got into the habit of doing some writing every day – always fiction. I’ve always been into storytelling. Mostly short stories. But I’d never published a collection or anything like that. I went to the public high school, Shaker, in Loudonville, and then went on to Notre Dame, and majored in Film, Television and Theater. I wrote and acted in plays. I would read the script and rehearse until I felt like I knew the characters inside and out. It was good training for being a fiction writer.”
Katie continues, “When I got out of college I moved to New York City. I took acting classes and tried being an actress, but I didn’t really like auditioning and didn’t land anything significant. I would audition all day and write all night. I needed to make a living, so I took a job bartending – and shifted to writing all morning and working all night. Then I took a job at a boutique, and I started making jewelry and selling it there, and it took off – and it was back to writing in the morning before I went to the boutique, working in the boutique during the day – and then making the jewelry at night. I did a piece for Target and I sold pieces to actresses like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. Then I landed a job hosting TV style segments, including a regular gig as an HSN Jewelry Style Consultant – and, you guessed it, back to writing at night. …By the end of my twenties, after writing about 4 hours a day, almost every day, for a decade, I felt like I’d finally learned how to write.”
“I met my husband, Brian Sweeney, in high school and we started dating at the end of high school and during the beginning of college. But I went to Notre Dame and Brian went to Fordham, and after we broke up, we weren’t in contact. Two years after college we ran into each other in New York City, and we’ve been together ever since. He spent a short time on a trading desk, and then went into hospital administration. Now he’s an executive at Hospital for Special Surgery. We were married on New Year’s Eve 2006, in Loudonville.
We moved from New York to Bedford in 2014, when our oldest son, Luke, was three, and our second son, William, was seven-months-old. Four years after that came our twins, Isabel and Eloise, Being a mom is my pride and joy,” Katie says with a warm smile.
“I met my husband, Brian Sweeney, in high school and we started dating at the end of high school and during the beginning of college. But I went to Notre Dame and Brian went to Fordham, and after we broke up, we weren’t in contact. Two years after college we ran into each other in New York City, and we’ve been together ever since. He spent a short time on a trading desk, and then went into hospital administration. Now he’s an executive at Hospital for Special Surgery. We were married on New Year’s Eve 2006, in Loudonville. We moved from New York to Bedford in 2014, when our oldest son, Luke, was three, and our second son, William, was seven-months-old. Four years after that came our twins, Isabel and Eloise, Being a mom is my pride and joy,” Katie says with a warm smile. “Right before Luke was born, I ghost wrote three New York Times bestsellers which were mystery novels – that I’m not allowed to say anything more about. But it was so exciting to get paid to write and to learn the craft of writing and plotting novels, even if I had to do it under someone else’s name, and I really believed writing them would help me learn how to be a good novelist. I’d written a non-fiction how-to titled Creative Girl: The Ultimate Guide for Turning Talent and Creativity into a Real Career, published in 2010 by Perseus/Running Press, but I’d have to wait to get my fiction published under my own name.”
“Then in 2011, when Luke was five-months-old, a literary agent named Brenda Bowen, who’d seen the three ghost-written books, proposed that I write a romantic comedy ‘about a girl who could get any boyfriend with an app – and I wrote The Boyfriend App while Luke napped,” Katie continues…
“It was so exciting to write under my own name, and I loved incorporating the magical realism element I’d loved as a child. I had a tech consultant to teach me what I needed to know about apps and coding. …And it was really well received!
So, in 2015, I wrote The Pretty App, a companion to The Boyfriend App, about an app and a beauty contest that spins wildly out of control. Next came a standalone contemporary novel called The Academy, about a sheltered fashion blogger banished to military school to learn honor and discipline. All three of these young adult books were published by HarperCollins Balzer + Bray,” Katie says with a measure of pride, but clearly leading up to the part of her career she’s most excited about. “Then, in 2018, I wrote We Were Mothers: A Novel, published by Amazon Publishing/Little A, which is a suspense novel about three seemingly perfect couples whose lives turn very dark over the course of one weekend. And, in 2020, I followed that up with Open House: A Novel, which was also published by Amazon/Little A, and which is about an art student who walks into the woods and is never seen again, her death remaining a mystery that haunts her bucolic university town and her family. And my most recent novel, another mystery, called The Break, just published in 2022, also by Amazon Publishing/Little A, involves a new mother, named Rowan, who has a traumatic birth, and when she returns home from the hospital with her beautiful newborn she can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong. She accuses her sitter, June, of harming her newborn, but when she looks down into the bassinet she sees her daughter sleeping peacefully. Days later, June disappears, and Rowan is implicated. Rowan must put her mind together and face dark truths to get to the bottom of what’s really happening.”
Katie certainly has an audience! Her novels have been included on best-of lists by Good Morning America, The New York Post, PopSugar, Parade Magazine, PureWow, and Zibby’s Book Club. The Library Journal commented about Katie’s writing: “Sise displays a sly sense of pacing; nearly every chapter unveils a new plot twist, keeping readers hooked.” And Publishers Weekly said about Katie’s newest novel, The Break: “With this white-knuckle journey, Sise shows her mastery of suspense.” Katie admits, “Knowing so many people are reading my stories is the greatest reward! I love when readers email me!”
“I was very close with my Grandma, who passed when I was 19. She was extremely supportive of me and of my artistic endeavors. The way her entire being would light up – for me – gave me my start. And my Dad, who’s a really dynamic and kind hearted man, is one of nine Irish brothers – all storytellers! I feel like my storytelling comes from them. I guess I’ve got the gene,” Katie says lightheartedly. “And I like being a writer! I like that the reader doesn’t see me and, unlike in a real-life social setting, that I don’t have to personally win the reader over. The idea that the reader just gets to see what I put in the pages has always appealed to me. I try to write a thousand words a day, and while my character and plot development is pretty eclectic, my process is pretty mechanical. I do a lot of rewriting, and I can’t really predict how much time each day’s work will take. …But when it’s time to pick up the girls at nursery school – it’s time.”
Further to our feature on Katie, B&NC Mag is proud to publish a new mystery in six parts, titled ‘THE BEDFORD OAK’. Below, you’ll find the first volume, and the balance of the story coming in installments in each 2023 issue of B&NC Mag and available onnline as well. It’s our version of a hit Netflix series – without the binge marathons:
On the night of James’ funeral, hours after the services were over and my parents and I had driven silently across town from James’ parents’ house on Pea Pond to ours on Hook Road, I slipped quietly out the front door of my childhood home.
“Claire, let me come with you,” my mother said from the front steps, her voice choked from crying. I turned away, unable to look at her. “I’ll be all right,” I called back over my shoulder, which was a lie. I hurried down the driveway, my flashlight’s beam scattering over sticks and pebbles. “I need to be alone, Mom,” I said, and this was true. I absolutely needed to be alone to do what I was planning to do.
She let me go. I trekked down the meandering dirt road past stone walls and stoic colonials, welcoming the icy chill against my skin. I’d felt numb talking to funeral guests all afternoon at James’ parents’ house. Even though James and I had been teenagers in this town together, so many of the guests were family from far-flung places I’d never been, strangers who kissed my cheeks and told me a story about James I’d never heard before.
I kept walking along Hook, trying to forget the guests’ stricken faces. When I got to the wild meadow where Hook meets Cantitoe, I took in the sight of my beloved Bedford Oak and felt like I could finally breathe again. She was a grand dame of a tree, a mighty white oak who had watched my town and its characters unfurl from the early 1500s. I climbed carefully over a stone wall and crept across the frozen grass to stand beneath her magnificent wingspan, one hundred and thirty feet from tip to tip. The ends of her mossy branches tapered until they looked like a woman’s fingers scraping the starry winter sky. I drove past the oak every time I went to my parents’, but I hadn’t been this close to her since the Christmas before last, when James and I ran to the end of Hook and clamored over the stone wall at nightfall.
The January wind hurtled through the naked brush behind the oak like a strangled shriek, and I thought of how warm James’ hand always felt in mine, and the way his very being settled me. I imagined the weight of his body against me, and the things he would say if he were here with me now. I closed my eyes and conjured his face. I could see his golden-brown eyes, and the way he always looked at me like he had a secret.
Really, I’d been the one keeping secrets. James and I had known each other since he was seventeen and transferred into Fox Lane High School. I’d told him so many things about my childhood, and by the time he proposed on the end of a concrete pier near our West Village apartment, I’m sure he thought he knew all there was to know. But I’d never told him about seeing ghosts when I was a little girl growing up on this street, and how the air cooled when the ghosts slipped through the wallpapered walls and drafty windows of our old home. I never told him how at first, I was scared of the ghosts, but then I was hooked on their visits and always wanting more. I never told James about the ghosts for the very same reason I never told anyone, which was because I had a deep, unsettling feeling that my time with the ghosts was way too strange, dangerous even. I knew I was guilty of doing something wrong, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. It was something about the way the ghosts entered my bedroom in the dead of night, as quietly as they could, like we were doing something illicit no one could find out about.
“Claire,” one of them might whisper into my ear. And then a see-through hand would wrap its fingers around my shoulder and shake me. “Claire, it’s urgent we speak to you,” a ghost might say. Sometimes I thought I was dreaming, but other times I knew for absolute sure that I was awake.
“Yes?” I’d say, rubbing my eyes. “What is it?” But they were always so vague, speaking in riddles and nonsense. They’d busy themselves in my room, sifting through my school papers and rearranging things. Once, a tiny ghost called Gloria alphabetized my doll collection by first names, and in the morning when I woke up, dozens of my dolls sat smiling at me exactly the way Gloria had left them.
I waited for the ghosts to come of their own volition, but I also called on them myself when I was flush with loneliness. Lying against my sheets with the pearly buttons of my nightgown catching moonlight, I’d stare at the spidery cracks that ran across the ceiling. I’d invite the ghosts the way you’d summon a friend in the classroom: with whispered words and glances that begged come closer.
And they did. In my upstairs bedroom, the ghosts gathered like guests at a party with wispy hair and cliché see-through bodies. Sometimes they seemed pleased to come, but other nights they stared at me as though I’d done something very wrong. Sometimes I worried that my summons had interrupted whatever important business they’d been doing, but sometimes I interpreted their hollow gazes to mean something else entirely: a warning of sorts. Beware, they sometimes tried to tell me, watch out, but I could never really understand what they were trying to warn me about, and when I asked them, they didn’t give me specifics. I was a child, only able to consider my present life; I never imagined they might be trying to warn me about something far into the future.
But what if the ghosts were true seers? Was it possible that their warnings all those years ago were always about the night last week when I made the catastrophic mistake of leaving James in a bar in New York City with our friends, never to see him alive again? Even if the ghosts could speak and had tried to caution me about that fateful future night, I’m not sure I would have understood. Could I really have fathomed the existence of a person named James whom I would love so deeply, or grasped the immensity of our impending doom? Maybe I would have dismissed the warning as silliness, and maybe it was better that the ghosts never tried to explicitly spell out the fate that awaited us. It might have killed me to have known what was coming for James, and then to not have heeded the warning correctly enough to stop it. As it were, James would be alive if it weren’t for me and what I did.
I couldn’t remember precisely when the ghosts of long ago stopped their preternatural visits to my bedroom, but it was swift and sure, over as quickly as it had started. Crushes, friends, and parties in old cellars replaced them, and I felt confident that those unearthly nights were buried and shelved, something I could look back upon like a longstanding childhood game played with cousins, imaginary though not entirely fictitious, the kind you never realize you’re playing for the last time. But now that I was standing here at the end of Hook Road, looking for James among blazing stars that had already burned out, the ghosts were all I could think about.
James is gone.
I knew this deep in my bones, a streak of cold that wasn’t only the winter night. It was a familiar chill, one that started in my fingers and toes and spread like a rash over my skin, and I knew it wasn’t only the grief of being out in the night alone without James. It was the same feeling I used to have as a little girl, right before the ghosts would come. It was me standing on the edge of something and peering over it, expectant and ready.
The oak towered above me with arms twining toward the heavens. James wasn’t coming back, not in the spring when buds opened like candy unwrapped, or in the summer when my family splashed around the pool at the club down the street where James and I had planned to get married, and not in the fall when the leaves of the oak protested their death with fiery reds and oranges until they dropped onto the cold earth. I grew up with the town lore that circling the Bedford Oak nine times would bring one of the town’s spirits back to life. As preteens, my friends and I gathered around the tree, making it as far as eight circles around her trunk, but always chickening out before we dared circle it a final time. We’d race back to my house, breathless with the thrill of how close we’d come, and terrified that we’d miscounted and let loose a rogue spirit who would chase us home and haunt us forever. We could never fall asleep on those nights.
I was terrified of the lore as a preteen, but now it brought the promise of possibility. What if James could come back to me in spirit form, just for a night? No fair God or human could really deny me that, could they?
An animal cried out and I shivered. Creatures were here in this meadow with me, owls and foxes, coyotes and cats. I knew this from growing up surrounded by woods, gorges, and the Bedford Bear who ambled his way into homeroom stories and blurry photographs. And it was dark here at midnight, so very dark, the Christmas lights long gone and houses silent and sleeping with reading lamps turned off for the night. But I could still make out the tall grass and my beloved oak tree spattered in starlight, and I wondered what could happen if…
Really, what did I have to lose?
My breath came faster as I took a few steps toward the tree. I stared at the mossy patches on her branches, and the mosaic of gray and brown bark on her trunk. I thought of the lore and yearned for it to be true. And even though my body had started to tremble, still I began to circle the oak because the natural wilderness of this town was in my blood, and I was unafraid of a dark country night. One heavy snow boot in front of the other, crushing frozen grass beneath me, the hair on the back of my neck standing at attention. One time around, and then two.
I sidestepped rocks and ducked beneath a branch as I slowly circled, thinking about my bedroom filled with ghosts, about my friends and I trailing this very path around the oak, always stopping short of nine times. I passed the plaque that declared the tree’s historical significance for being alive at the time of the signing of the Constitution. I thought of James in that bar, the way his smile went crooked when I started to leave, the way he tilted his beer and locked his gaze on mine. I thought of his friends lined against the shellacked edge of the bar, and then I thought of them bearing the weight of his shellacked casket this morning as they carried it down the aisle in a church that smelled like frankincense and myrrh.
Four times around the tree, then five.
My mind went quiet as my body gathered fury, my long, inky hair growing wild in the wind and my fingertips icy cold. A lone car passed me on Cantitoe Street, and I wondered if anyone saw me, if anyone could ever possibly know what I was doing, what I was hoping for, what I needed to happen. How could they? I was shrouded with darkness, quiet with everything I wanted this moment to be.
Six times around the trunk of the oak, seven, eight.
I didn’t hesitate as I circled the final lap. Nine, nine, nine, I whispered to myself, the same thing we would chant to each other as kids, the very thing we had all been too terrified to do. The word disappeared on the frosty air as I took the final few steps back to the low-hanging branch that marked my start.
The wind quieted and my hair settled in tangles against my coat. I wrapped my arms over my chest and waited. I’d become oddly patient in the days since James died; there weren’t the same things to wait for anymore, and I hadn’t come up with new ones to be antsy about. It was a middle space, a quiet moment between worlds, as if both James and I were transitioning together between our old life together and our new reality of him gone. I wasn’t as lonely as I should have been, and I was nervous that meant James was somehow still here with me, hovering between the earth and Heaven, scared to truly leave me. Maybe that’s what made me so sure the whole outlandish thing with the Bedford Oak would actually work, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t even a little surprised when the outline of something crept from behind the tree.
“James?” I whispered.
The temperature dropped even farther, until the tip of my nose prickled in the cold. I swore I saw something or someone emerge, almost like a watery figure that changed the way the scene looked behind it, making the grasses and meadow blur. It was about my size, and I was pretty sure it looked more human-like than animal, but I wasn’t entirely certain, so I stayed very still.
“Come to me,” I said softly, my heart thrumming.
Closer, closer came the spirit, and in the moonlight, I saw it wasn’t James. It was a woman, barely older than me, transparent like the ghosts from all of those years ago in my bedroom. Her sharp features were visible as she trod carefully over sticks and rocks, a nightdress covering her skinny limbs and catching on the breeze. She reached out her shaking arms and I could see the bones of her hands uncurl. I could tell she wanted something, something she seemed sure I could give her.
She opened her mouth to speak.
…to be continued