Gwenda Bond talks Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds and unveiling the history of Eleven’s mother


Gwenda Bond, author of the first official Stranger Things novel, discusses the journey of writing Eleven’s mother’s story.

When Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds debuted this February, we were gifted with a detailed history of Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven (or in Terry’s eyes, Jane). This being the first official Stranger Things novel, you can imagine how hungry fans (as well as we) were for any and all revelations about Hawkins, Eleven and more.

Before we got our hands on Suspicious Minds, we had some but not enough information as to how Eleven gained her powers or how her mother became involved with Dr. Martin Brenner at Hawkins Lab. In season 2 of the hit Netflix series, it’s revealed to Eleven that she isn’t the only child with unique powers.

She meets Kali, or subject 008, and learns that dear ol’ Papa — aka Dr. Brenner — experimented on adults and children to unlock these mysterious abilities. Kali reveals to Eleven that one of those adults was Eleven’s mother, and that Terry befriended Kali while both were experiencing untold horrors at Hawkins Lab.

With Suspicious Minds, we go back in time to gain more insight into these stories, all through the eyes of Terry and her friends Alice, Gloria and Ken.

As fans eagerly await the third season of the hit Netflix series, they might appease their Stranger palates with this Q&A we recently had with Suspicious Minds author Gwenda Bond. We discussed her creative process for the novel, including creating a girl group we’d love to tag along with anytime.

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds has been out since early February. What is your reaction to all of the reviews for it so far?

I’m relieved and happy so many people seem to have read the book I hoped I wrote. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous reactions of Stranger Things fans — they are such a welcoming, enthusiastic fandom.

Since this is the first official Stranger Things novel, we’re curious if fans of the show have reached out to you to share what they think about the book?

Daily! My Instagram messages and comments and Twitter mentions and inbox are full of them.

What were your major inspirations while writing Suspicious Minds? Books, comics, shows, music?

The biggest inspiration is the show itself, obviously, the way it mixes in all those things you mention. I did go back to some of the formative influences for the show; I grew up in a similar time and place to the Duffer Brothers and I always say we share a lot of the same pop culture DNA. It was one of the reasons I felt like I could take this on. I immediately reread all Stephen King’s early books and then immersed myself in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s research and music as much as possible. Some things naturally emerged from that, like using The Lord of the Rings as a touchstone much the way D&D is in the show. And the rest came from getting to know the characters.

Some reviews have likened aspects of your novel to our current political climate — especially considering the lab’s attempt to control the lives of black, LGBTQ and women’s lives. Add that with Brenner’s forceful tone that what he is doing will protect America? That gives us chills. Did today’s headlines and what is going on over in D.C. influence or impact your writing at all?

Honestly, the parallels draw themselves. It’s built into the history. My editor and I agreed immediately that we had an opportunity in the political climate of 1969-70, that exploring it would resonate with today’s readers. I wanted the book to reflect the actual history of the period and the people most affected by it. It was very important to me that Terry have a friend group of her own and that the book wasn’t showing us all this through the lens of straight white men (which is how I think we often get stories of the Vietnam era).

When it came to revealing elements such as why Terry named her daughter Jane, or Alice having early sightings of the Demogorgon, were those your creative decisions? Or were you given details that had to be weaved in but you’d decide when and where?

The Duffer Brothers and Netflix were incredibly generous in giving me freedom to tell the story I wanted to. Both those things were ideas I had — along with Eleven/Jane’s father — that I pitched in the outline stage. We had a staff writer on the show, Paul Dichter, working with us closely as a consultant to make sure everything fit the vision of the show. It was a great collaborative experience.

Friendship plays a huge part in the Stranger Things storyline and we see that in the novel too, but with a female twist. The Fellowship is heavily female and diverse, with Terry being a white college student, Gloria being a black, gifted biology student, Alice is an engineering wiz, and then the enigma that is Ken. How did you come up with each of these characters?

I love them all so much. Unusually for me, these characters really emerged almost fully formed on the page. I still remember writing the elevator scene with Alice, when she and Terry meet, and just feeling like I knew her right away. She and Gloria were among the first ideas I had for the book, thinking about who Terry might meet at the lab. Alice was initially inspired by Bloomington’s most famous movie, Breaking Away, which is why she comes from a family of stonies, aka limestone quarry workers. And I did consult a comic book historian friend about which comics Gloria might have been reading (he generously sent me a long list of options, but early X-Men seemed perfect). Ken was added later in the outline stage, because I felt like something in the group dynamic was missing. I wanted them all to be fully realized and distinct.

We love that this group is primarily female — was that a decision you had before fully fleshing out the characters?

I’ve been dying to write a girl gang/squad so it was decided at the same time as I started creating them, really. I’m so grateful that Netflix agreed with this direction.

Upon finishing Suspicious Minds, I immediately thought there needs to be some kind of prequel to the show featuring Terry and the Fellowship. Would you have interest in seeing these characters on screen? (or perhaps… is there a plan for that already?)

I’d obviously love that — I did structure the book partly to feel like a season of television with the longer chapters. But no plans that I’m aware of. Cross your fingers.

Finally, what do you hope people take away from Stranger Minds: Suspicious Minds?

I hope it enriches their experience of the show and appreciation of Terry’s hero’s journey. And also, always have your own Fellowship and each other’s backs, because their are real-life Dr. Brenners out there.

Next. Everything you need to know about Stranger Things season 3. dark

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds is available now. Netflix’s Stranger Things returns to Netflix for its third season on July 4.