How far should a Jewish mother go to protect her family? Samantha M. Bailey tackles themes of obsession and dark secrets in her new thriller

Samantha Bailey knows what to blame for turning her generation into incredibly nervous parents: social media.

It’s a subject that’s been on the best-selling Canadian suspense novelist’s mind as she promotes her second book, Watch Out For Her. Published in April, it explores the issue of how far a Jewish mother will go to keep her family safe. 

And that includes stalking the babysitter, using nanny cams, and even spying on her neighbours.

Bailey, 48, worries about the safety of her own two teens more than she thinks was common while growing up in Toronto herself.

“I had no cellphone. If you got yourself somewhere, you got yourself home,” Bailey said, during an interview at her virtual Canadian book launch held April 26, 2022 by the Prosserman and Schwartz/Reisman JCCs in Toronto. “I went the opposite way.” 

She feels that social media has been a blessing, but also a curse that have given Gen-X parents quite a bit of fear.

Fear because today’s teens are putting themselves out there into the public sphere on TikTok and other social media platforms—where even people who they don’t know are watching them, and know where they are.

“I think it causes us to want to protect them more,” Bailey said.  

Samantha M. Bailey, Canadian suspense novelist, is a Toronto-based author. (Photo by Dahlia Katz).

Motherhood and identity

Published by Simon and Schuster in both Canada and the U.S., Watch Out For Her explores themes like these. It also looks at how motherhood can challenge a woman’s sense of identity. 

This was familiar ground, since Bailey wrote her latest novel during the pandemic—on deadline to deliver the manuscript while in lockdown with her family. 

The book’s main character, Sarah Goldman, undergoes psychological angst after she abandons her burgeoning passion for photography to focus solely on raising children.

Bailey didn’t start off with this outline for Sarah. But everything morphed because of the pandemic, when the author could no longer juggle her own career running an editing company and writing novels, with volunteering on the parent council at her kids’ school. 

“I lost all of the space and time of my own. Everything began to meld together. I didn’t know when I was a writer, when I was a mother—or when I am supposed to find time for me at all?”

First female Canadian Jewish character in a suspense novel

Woman on The Edge, published in 2019, was a USA Today bestseller that Bailey sold to publishers in 11 countries. Set in Chicago, that book delved into women’s issues like postpartum depression, infidelity, and the wellness industry.

 The new novel is different because it is her first to present a Canadian Jewish family at its centre, something that Bailey felt was very important to do as a way of letting certain readers see themselves represented in fiction. 

“For Sarah, it’s a part of her identity, like being a mother, like being a photographer,” Bailey explained, referring to another editorial decision that evolved over time.

“She just was Jewish. It’s just how she came to me. And my characters do come to me. I can see them in my mind. I can hear their voices. I know who they are.”

But she didn’t make the Goldman family’s Judaism a key part of the plot. Bailey wanted to avoid having to be an ambassador for her community and explaining the definition of what being Jewish means.

Also, her own Jewish upbringing was relatively unique. Bailey’s father is Rabbi Michael Stroh of Temple Har Zion, on Bayview Avenue in Thornhill, north of Toronto. Her mother Celia was a publicist, but is now retired. 

And while Bailey can now boast that her work is widely read, it came after several unpublished earlier manuscripts, which she keeps somewhere in a drawer.  

Finding Lucas, her first book, came out a decade ago. Promotion included doing a talk to a small audience at her father’s synagogue. But with a “chick lit” style that now reads as dated, she’s glad that it’s no longer on the market, except on Amazon

Carving out a new identity and name

Back then, she billed herself as Samantha Stroh Bailey, but she’s now published only with the surname shared with her husband. It’s a way to feel a separation between her public and private life.

Being a published author also means not wading into controversial topics on social media—like, say, the Israel-Palestine conflict:  “It doesn’t feel safe for me to do it.”

Instead, she sticks to enthusiastically celebrating the success of other female writer friends, including Torontonians Rebecca Eckler and Marissa Stapley. Bailey also makes a point of acknowledging any book clubs discussing her work, or readers who talk about the books online.

She’s even had a fan, Jennie Shaw of Jennies Nails and Tales, create a set of press-on nails for Bailey to wear—whose designs draw from the book covers.

But readers also wonder how this bubbly writer can turn out novels with such dark and twisted plots about paranoid murderers, mental illness and betrayal. Bailey says the process helps hash out her own troubling thoughts—describing herself as a true Gemini. 

“Since I was young, I have been fascinated by the dark and gritty. I don’t want to live it myself, but I love to find out why people want to live it, what draws them to this darkness.”

Writing about Canadian locations in a time of restricted access—even within her own hometown—was a different challenge altogether. She’d take drives to suburbia, or go on long walks with her rescue dog, Jasper. (She also Googled a lot, becoming an expert in navigating the photographic maps and images.)

Bailey’s follow-up to Watch Out For Her will be about women seeking a different life than what they currently have—and the risks and dangers that come along with that. 

For contractual reasons, she can’t reveal more. But she can promise at least one thing about this next thriller. 

“It is dark and twisted.”