Books

Local author pens Lexington-based murder mystery and 'Stranger Things' prequel

Gwenda Bond's novel and podcast series, "Dead Air," will take place in Lexington. She's also penning a "Stranger Things" prequel.
Gwenda Bond's novel and podcast series, "Dead Air," will take place in Lexington. She's also penning a "Stranger Things" prequel. agervasi@herald-leader.com

Fans of Gwenda Bond know her for her young adult literature or her novels reimagining Lois Lane as a teenager. But the local author’s two new projects are reaching out to new audiences.

Bond’s first work without any elements of fantasy or science fiction is an e-book and podcast pairing about a college journalist digging into an old murder case, available this August.

"Dead Air," co-written by Bond, Carrie Ryan and Rachel Caine — Ryan and Caine are New York Times best-selling authors and young adult fiction veterans, though "Dead Air" is for an adult audience — follows the story of Mackenzie Walker, a UK student whose titular late-night radio show reopens the seemingly-solved case of a wealthy horse farm heiress’s murder. It is the first of Bond’s stories to be set in Lexington.

Although the novel is co-written, Bond was the one who brought the idea to Serial Box, which she described as “HBO for reading.” The service releases fiction in weekly installments, and the novel’s 10 chapters each take about 40 minutes to read, the length of a typical TV episode with commercials.

In addition to the weekly chapter releases, available as an e-book and an audiobook, episodes of the main character's podcast, "Dead Air," will be released on all major podcast services, and its plot will intertwine with the book. Bond encouraged subscribers to listen to both for a complete understanding of the story.

All Serial Box serials are co-written, to emulate a TV writers’ room, and Bond traveled to New York City for her first collaborative story.

“Writing a mystery is really hard, but it’s even harder when you have three people,” she said.

Gwenda1
Gwenda Bond shows a photo of herself celebrating with other writers during the production process of Dead Air. Angela Gervasi agervasi@herald-leader.com

The group outlined all ten episodes in three days and worked with a podcast consultant provided by Serial Box. Because the story is set in Lexington, Bond got to work in real descriptions of local places and portray a more complex version of Southern culture than what is typically available. Local landmarks like Woodford Reserve will appeal to Lexington listeners, who Bond hopes will have a "special joy" hearing their hometown in fiction.

The serial explores the interaction between middle-class Lexington and wealthy horse-racing elites. It also touches on themes like the opioid epidemic from a Southern perspective.

Bond said she was interested in the ethics of crime reporting and how journalists work in an age where they are often mistrusted. Student journalist Mackenzie Walker makes deliberate choices in how to report the newly opened murder she investigates, which subscribers can experience for themselves with her podcast.

The story will be released weekly beginning August 1. While the pilot is free, listeners can subscribe to the season or buy each episode as it is released.

Bond's next project, which will not be released until next February, is a prequel novel to the hit Netflix show "Stranger Things." The novel will follow telekinetic preteen Eleven's mother as a test subject in the CIA's Project MKUltra, a series of historical experiments from the 1950s meant to develop mind-control techniques through the administration of hallucinogenic drugs to test subjects, as well as hypnosis and sensory deprivation.

For the series, which is now in production for Seaon 3, Bond said, "It’s a fascinating jumping off point. "

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