By Leslie Lindsay
Okay…I am crazy in love with this book. Having been a Lisa Unger fan for some years, I practically *devoured* this one. CRAZY LOVE YOU (Touchstone, 2015) is a delusional love story bringing out the dark, edgy side of the first male protagonist Unger has written to date: Ian Paine. And we’re lucky—so lucky—to have international bestselling author Lisa Unger here with us today.
L.L.: Immediately, I was taken with Ian’s character, his voice, and his insights. He’s dark, he’s edgy, he’s brilliantly talented when it comes to art and writing. Yet, there’s something darker still. I read another interview Lisa in which you say you woke up one day with ‘this male voice in your head’ (Ian’s) and felt like you were out of your element. Can you talk a little about how you were able to insinuate yourself into his psyche so well?
I am not sure I insinuated myself into Ian’s psyche as much as he insinuated himself into mine. His voice, his motivations, his ideas and struggles were very accessible to me, even though his experiences are far from my own. I treated him as I do all my characters – with compassion, empathy and an open heart. When you treat people that way, they reveal themselves to you. It’s not so different with character. He was unreliable in many ways, and his world was unfamiliar to me. But over time I got to know him pretty well.
I didn’t feel out of my element with Ian per se, but with the idea that he was a graphic novelist, a world I knew very little about. I did a lot of research for that element of the story.
L.L.: Ian hails from the fictional town The Hollows in upstate NY (first mentioned in Unger’s, FRAGILE). The town has a life–an agenda–of it’s own. I’ve always been fascinated with the complexities of land/environment as a story device. In your opinion, can the environment actually become a character all on its own?
We are all intimately connected to our environment. Where we live, why we live there, what we love and hate about it says a lot about us as people. If plot flows from character — and it does– so does setting. Where a story takes place is as important as any other facet of the novel. And everything – plot, character and setting– are so intricately connected as to be inseparable. The Hollows takes this concept to another level because, for me, it has become like the other characters I have met. You’re right; The Hollows does have a personality and an agenda. And it is revealing itself to me in the same way as my characters tend to. I never intended The Hollows to become it’s own entity, a place I would have to explore and discover over a series of books. It surprised me, as my characters often do. And it’s not done with me yet.
L.L.: I certainly don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it is a gifted author who can combine so many elements–hauntings, psychological insights, family dysfunction, and psychics into the mix while still keeping her reader’s hooked and turning the pages. Hooks, are indeed one of those elusive tools author’s need in their toolbox. In fact, sometimes we need to show up with a tackle box! Lisa, do you start out with one hook and then continue to up the ante, or do you have many hooks floating around when you begin and carefully craft the whole? [In other words, are you a pantser or plotter?]
I never think of “hooks” when I’m writing. Whatever elements surface in the writing of a book flow from character. Ian certainly has a number of big issues he’s dealing with, and it would be impossible to get to know him without understanding trauma, addiction, family dysfunction, and the rift between fiction and reality. I don’t plot my stories. They evolve in the writing, and the subjects that wind up being addressed in the telling are organic to character.
L.L.: CRAZY LOVE YOU is a darn good psychological thriller but it’s also brimming with a rift of social issues: drugs/alcohol and addiction, post-partum depression/psychosis, child abuse, adult love, imaginary friends…and so it got me thinking about genre. Do you start out with an ‘umbrella’ genre of say, psych suspense and then develop a sort of microcosm of genres as you write? And in the end, does genre even matter?
Much like the concept of “hooks,” I don’t think the writer has any business thinking of “genre.” Those are marketing concepts and have no place in the creative headspace. My advice: write the story that is yours to tell; do it to the best of your ability; hone your craft; get better; do it again. Think about plot, character, prose, setting, atmosphere while you’re writing. But never try to fit your work into a mold created by others. My novels are always going to be dark. I hope they’re suspenseful enough to keep people turning the pages. There will be a deep dive into character, motivation, and relationships. But ultimately it’s up to publishers, booksellers, and readers to decide if they’re mysteries, or thrillers, or suspense, or crime fiction or whatever. I actually have no idea.
L.L.: So, I have to ask a bit about your background. In my “former life,” I was a psychiatric R.N.—I’m no stranger to family dysfunction, addiction, the darkness of depression and the turbulence of psychoses—but do you have a background in psychology, or have you always been ‘just’ a writer’ (1.8 million copies sold worldwide, by the way), or is your writing knowledge a combination of your various jobs and backgrounds?
I have always been a writer, since I was a kid. I have honestly never wanted to be anything else. I will say, though, if I weren’t a writer, I would probably be a psychiatrist. There is nothing more fascinating to me than the human psyche and all it’s various twists, turns and mysteries. So, to that end, I am constantly reading, learning, and researching the topics you mention. All my novels are a combination of my observations, knowledge, imagination, and research. And of course I rely on experts like you when I have questions, or want to spin out possible scenarios.
L.L.: I understand you write daily, you never take breaks (‘too many stories in your head’) and your ‘golden hours’ of productivity tend to be around 5a.m. to noon. And you’re the mom of a little girl. Whew–I’m exhausted just thinking about it! What’s your advice for maintaining balance?
LISA UNGER: Well, the balancing act requires daily adjustments! I used to think there was one perfect (ever elusive) formula for getting everything done every day. But parenthood, like creativity, is a kaleidoscope, changing and shifting with the light. You have to be willing to change with it. My daughter comes first; everything else has to wait until her needs are met. I don’t always get my golden hours, so I tend to think of her school week as my work week, stealing time on nights and weekends to work when need be, or inspiration has been asked to wait. And then I remind myself that it’s a blessing to have a life so full of wonderful things that I love – even when it’s chaotic!
L.L. Okay, I think I’ll stop there. Wait! One more: what happens to Ian’s father in the end?
Aw, come on, Leslie! Did you really think I was going to answer that?! The answer is in there. You have to go back and read it again! (Insert diabolical laughter here.)
L.L. Thanks so very much for popping by and chatting with us, Lisa! Couple of little plugs before we end~Lisa is working on her next book, due out in 2016 and toying with a new-to-her-genre: YA. Stay tuned!
New York Times bestselling author of
CRAZY LOVE YOU (Feb 2015)
Lisa Unger is the bestselling author of 13 novels and several short stories. CRAZY LOVE YOU is her latest release. IN THE BLOOD, now in paperback, was a 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Book, Amazon Best Book of the Month, Suspense Magazine Best Books of 2014, Sun Sentinel Best Mystery Novels of 2014 and Indie Next Pick