After having read Lori Rader-Day’s award-winning debut THE BLACK HOUR last summer, I was equally intrigued and honored to dive into her next read, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, a mystery in self-examination, a dash through teenage angst, and a solid whodunit. Welcome back, Lori!
Leslie Lindsay: I’m always intrigued about what sparks the initial drive to write a novel. What, would you say propelled you to write LITTLE PRETTY THINGS?
Lori Rader-Day: I had read a mystery novel that was supposed to be about a character with a bad job, but the job didn’t seem that bad to me. I’ve had some dirty, menial jobs in my day, and I know lots of people who work far worse jobs than the one in that book. I really love the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, about the hard jobs and bad pay that so many Americans live with every day. I wanted to do a Nickel and Dimed murder mystery.
L.L.: I’m always so captivated by your protagonists, so much that I often think they are you. Your first book featured a professor from a lakeside university and in LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, it’s a 28 year old Juliet working at a dead-end job at a rinky-dink motel in middle America. Could it ‘just’ be fabulous characterization that draws me to Juliet (and Professor Amelia Emmet), or is there truth in the pudding, as they say?
Lori Rader-Day: I did start to think about the jobs I might have had to live with if I hadn’t gone to college or hadn’t been able to leave my small hometown. So really, Juliet is a version of a person that I might have been—except I was certainly never an athlete. But I’ve had really intense friendships like the one Juliet and Maddy had at one time—maybe a little less competitive!—so some of that emotion is borrowed from real life, too. They say write what you know, but what that really means is that you should write from your own emotional experience, and so much of your own life is transferable, if not literally what you use it for.
L.L.: And that motel, the Mid-Night Inn! Oh my gosh…loved that place! Not really. You know what I mean. In this case, I almost felt as if the Mid-Night was another character. Do you know of a motel like this? Did you do research?
Lori Rader-Day: I borrowed the location of the Mid-Night from a spot near my hometown that used to have a Holiday Inn there, but I was really thinking about some of these roadside motels you still see around Indiana and the rest of the Midwest. There was one near my grandparents’ house called the Sunset, a single row of rooms. It was long closed before I was born, I think. But the office had been turned into a diner, and my grandparents took us there for cheeseburgers all the time. I wanted a little bit of that place in the story, too.
L.L.: There seem to be a good number of books diving into the high school angst of teenage sexuality, success (or lack thereof), a backward journey through time…and a bit of self-examination. I’m thinking of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE (Knoll, 2015), WHERE THEY FOUND HER (Kimberly McCreight, 2015) AND RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (McCreight, 2013). And then there’s humankind’s shared history of ‘having been there.’ Heck, I still have high school anxiety dreams! What is it, in your opinion that makes us look at high school in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde kind of way?
Lori Rader-Day: It was the best of times and the worst of times? Oh, but not for everyone simultaneously. I didn’t have a bad high school experience, actually. I found my people and found something I was good at (yearbook staff) that gave me a role to play. I got lucky. It must be that so many people struggle all the way through graduation and long beyond—like Juliet—that high school stories are popular for writers, and a way to revisit the horrors. At least when we look back, we know we never have to GO back. It’s a safe distance from which to look at whatever went wrong back there.
L.L.: Shifting gears a bit…what’s been on your summer reading list? And what books are you looking forward to this fall?
Lori Rader-Day: A couple of titles I’m excited about (and have already read, so I can really squeeeeee about them): Catriona McPherson’s The Child Garden, out in September; Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, out in November. I’m also reading a huge backlog of stuff I wanted to read so badly I pre-ordered and then didn’t have time to read. It’s my secret shame.
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Lori Rader-Day: I am obsessed with the TV show Vera. I’m reading the book series it’s based on now by Ann Cleeves. I talk about Vera all the time. She’s just this character that people dismiss, who is frumpy and a little hard to like—and I love her. As a writer, I want to understand how Cleeves pulls off that trick. I wrote a guest post for Jungle Reds about obsession that I’m really proud of.
L.L.: What have I forgotten to ask about but should have?
Lori Rader-Day: Oh, you probably want to know what I’m working on next! My third mystery is planned for next summer with a title so tentative I’m not using it yet. It’s about a handwriting expert whose carefully revised life starts to fall apart when she consults on a small town kidnapping case.
L.L.: Thanks for being with us today, Lori ~ we so enjoyed it!
Lori Rader-Day: Thanks so much for reading and for having me!
Lori Rader-Day (Chicago, IL) is the author of The Black Hour. She has also published fiction in Good Housekeeping, where she won first place in the magazine’s first short-story contest; The Madison Review, which awarded her the 2008 Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction; TimeOut Chicago; Southern Indiana Review; Crab Orchard Review; and other journals and magazines. She lives in Chicago, where she is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter, Sisters in Crime Chicagoland Chapter, and International Thriller Writers. In addition, she is an instructor for Story Studio Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing.
[cover and author images courtsey of author’s publicist. Motel image retrived from www.suggestkeyword.com on 7.29.15]