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Wednesdays with Writers: Getting to “know” characters, Lisa Unger talks about the dichotomy of ordinary and extraordinary, how she ‘found’ the title to INK & BONE, how writing is a delicate union of observation & imagination, of intuition & creativity

By Leslie Lindsay 

From her stunning debut, BEAUTIFUL LIES, to last year’s critically-acclaimed CRAZY LOVE YOU, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger is a force to be reckoned with.Ink and Bone

Today, I’m super-excited to welcome Lisa for her third visit and book chat. Join us as we delve into the dark world of a reluctant, edgy young psychic, the granddaughter of Eloise Montgomery. If you’re an Unger fan, you’ll know exactly who Eloise Montgomery is—we’ve met her in THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS series as well as a token appearance in CRAZY LOVE YOU. And if you’re not yet familiar with the complex, fearless, and original mind of Lisa, then it’s time to get you acquainted.

Visited by apparitions and haunted by dreams since she was just a child, 20-year old Finley Montgomery has never been fully able to control the things that happen to her, from her personal life to other psychic-related events. She moves from Seattle, WA to the fictional town, The Hollows where she lives with her grandmother in hopes of understanding and harnessing her gifts.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, I can’t believe it’s been three years! Welcome back. I’ve loved all of your books and just find them so original and fascinating. And now, INK & BONE makes its way into world…what was it keeping you up at night that lead to the conception of INK & BONE?

Lisa Unger: Has it been three years?!  Thank you, Leslie, for your very kind words and for inviting me to your blog again.  It’s always a delight to “chat” with you.

Mainly it was Finley Montgomery, the wild child at the center of this book, that drew me into INK AND BONE. With her gleaming purple Harley and her tattoos, her hot pink hair and her strength of spirit and the ghosts she’s trying to outrun.  Then, of course, there’s my ongoing obsession with a fictional town called The Hollows. And, finally, it was Eloise Montgomery, Finley’s grandmother who I’ve been getting to know for a couple of years.  Last year, I had the opportunity to explore Eloise in the e-novella, The Whispering Hollows.  The novella, spanning thirty years, and weaving in between the novels in which she’s featured, allowed me to dive into her character in a way I hadn’t before.  She’s had a number of her own books, but INK AND BONE is really an important evolution in her journey.  The novella is also where I first started to get to know Finley.  She was so compelling, so different from Eloise, I knew she was going to need her own story.  And even though there are a number of powerful voices in the novel, I think INK AND BONE is really her book.

L.L.: But you don’t have to read THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS before enjoying INK & BONE, do you?

Lisa Unger: No, definitely not.  All my books are written to stand alone. And although the novels set in The Hollows are often chain linked by character, it’s not a series in the traditional sense.  You’ll see some of the same people, their stories may evolve, and certainly The Hollows is changing.  (Of course, as the author, I have a preferred order, and you can find it by visiting my website)   But each story is its own universe, and is an experience unto itself.  No one will feel lost entering at any point.

L.L.: I understand you worked closely with John Edward, a psychic medium (and book publicist!) who specializes communicating with the dead. Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Lisa Unger:  Actually, I worked on John Edward’s book, ONE LAST TIME as a book publicist.  He wasn’t a book publicist! I was an assistant on the project, so I didn’t work with him very closely. But he definitely had an impact on me.  onelasttimehardcover
Some of the readings he did for people I knew were nothing short of amazing. I have always been curious about the idea of psychic ability, and John Edwards is clearly tapped into some other plane of existence.  But he’s also this very kind, down-to-earth and normal guy.  It was that dichotomy, of the extraordinary and the ordinary dwelling side by side in the same person, that was the germ for Eloise.  It was many years after I worked with him that Eloise found her way on to the page.

L.L.: Twenty-year old college student Finely is covered with tattoos. In that regard, she reminded me a bit of the elusive character in NBC’s THE BLINDSPOT. And your descriptions of the tattoo-ing process is remarkable. Can you share with us a bit about how you decided to give Finley these tattoos, what it symbolizes, and the research you must have done to make it appear authentic on the page?

Lisa Unger: I haven’t watched BLINDSPOT, though it’s on my TBW list! Is it good? Nor do I have any tattoos of my own!  I suppose if I were really dedicated to my fiction, I’d have gotten one. But I’m too much of a chicken!

I often have a three-pronged approach to research.  Mostly, it starts online – the whole universe is at your fingertips these days, for better or worse. Then, if I need more in-depth information, I turn to books.  And if I’m still lacking information, I’ll generally find someone to interview.  For this one, my research was all online.  I read as much as I could about download (5)the process, and watched videos of people getting tattoos, as well as a number of episodes of “Miami Ink.”  Plus, my husband has a few tattoos, so he filled me in on some of the details, as well.  If it comes up again in another book, or if Rainer has a bigger role in the future, I’ll probably find a tattoo parlor to hang out in for a while, just to keep learning more of the finer points.  Research is ongoing, a part of my life.

For Finley, there’s a deep fissure between her inner life and outer life.  She’s struggling with that split, with her abilities, with understanding herself.  Eloise worries that the tattoos are a form of masochism.  And I think that might be part of it.  But more so, it is Finley’s way of aligning her inner world with the world outside.  It’s a way she has of grounding herself in her flesh, of reminding herself that she dwells in the real world, not in the world beyond, that’s she’s solid, and in charge of herself.  Hence the title, INK AND BONE.

L.L.: And then you have Finley studying psychology—specifically, Jung—who had a ‘thing’ for the paranormal, much unlike his counterpart, Freud. Can you speak to that, please?

Lisa Unger: Jungian themes run through my whole body of work.  But it was Finley that really required of me some deep research into his life and his fascination with the supernatural.  Carl Jung was a believer.  His mother was a psychic medium, he experienced a number of synchronistic events in his therapy with patients that he felt were evidence of another plane.  He had a vivid and affecting near death experience, where he felt he glimpsed the other side – and wasn’t too thrilled to come back.  And he had a spirit guide that he named Philemon, and with whom he consulted regularly.  Unlike his counterparts, Jung believed that psychic phenomenon should be explored even though its exploration often defied the traditional scientific method.  The anomalous event, the thing that is rare, unrepeatable, or “acausal” is dismissed by science.  But Jung’s idea was that so-called psychic abilities might just be an extension of normal human ability.  At least it was something to be explored.

So I approach Eloise and Finley, and Agatha, too, in that way.  They’re just normal people, with abnormal access to energies.  There’s a rush to categorize any book that takes on these kinds of topics as “paranormal” or “supernatural” and those words have a kind of charge.  But to me, Eloise and Finley aren’t any different than any of my other characters.  They just have this different thing going on that I love exploring.

L.L.: As a writer, I’m often intrigued with structural choices authors make (and there are so many!). How did you decide to structure INK & BONE in the manner you did; Finley’s story braided with the current child abductions in The Hollows, coupled with Eloise’s journey? In fact, it seems there are a least 4 different POVs…there were lots of voices that needed to be heard.

Lisa Unger: Weirdly enough, choice doesn’t play a big role in my process. It’s not like I have something I want to say and try to find a perspective from which to say it.  All my novels weave themselves through character voice.  Sometimes it’s just one voice, sometimes it’s a few.  I hear those voices, dwell in those perspectives and have faith that they are going to stitch themselves together into a novel.  Every story has multiple facets, in fiction as in life.  Sometimes I just have access to one person’s perspective, sometimes I get to see the story from multiple angles. That was the case in INK AND BONE. 

L.L.: In many ways, being a writer is akin to being a psychic. We have to intuit our characters, their motivations, ‘see’ them in our mind’s eye, while at the same time, be especially observant of the details of life. I’m thinking your ‘only gift’ is that of a writer, but do you ever feel as if you have any intuitive abilities of your own?images (3)

Lisa Unger: I do think of myself as intuitive, as well as empathetic. But probably first, I’m a careful observer.  I listen, watch, absorb detail – in other words, I pay close attention to people and the world around me.  You touch on something interesting here.  How writing is a delicate union of observation and imagination, of intuition and creativity.  We have to inhabit our characters with compassion and an open heart in order for them to tell their stories through us.  There is a deep connection, one that goes beyond the act of the writer “creating” character.   As I experience this process, it’s more like listening to the characters who are already living in my head, trying to tell a story.

L.L.: I love how you say, you love sitting down at your desk and finding such ‘magic and joy in what pours out, that there’s no way of knowing what amazing things you’ll find. Truth be told, that’s my favorite way of writing, too. But sometimes those ‘found literary surprises’ pucker your narrative. How can a writer reconcile that?

Lisa Unger: Hmm … interesting.  How do you react when surprises “pucker” your life?  You’re either broken by it, derailed, or you flow with it and allow it to take you into whatever phase comes next.  So with fiction. Either you’re writing from an organic, authentic place where you’re letting story flow through you.  Or you’ve come to the page with a rigid idea of what you’re going to put down.  If the latter, then you’re going to be annoyed and frustrated with new ideas, thoughts, and directions because they’re taking you away from what you planned. I am not sure that’s the best way to write or to live.  Even the writers I know who work from an outline are available for the magic, the unexpected.  Because that’s the whole point.  It’s not about you, the author, what you wanted or what you thought was going to happen.  It’s about the story and, like life, we don’t always control that. Sometimes we just have to go with it.

L.L.: Oh, I feel as if I could ask questions all day, but alas, we have books to read—and write! Thanks for popping by, Lisa and best of luck on your summer tour.

Lisa Unger: We do!  Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!  I always enjoy talking with you!

For more information, or to follow on social media:

  • Facebook: authorlisaunger
  • Twitter: @lisaunger
  • Instagram: @launger

Lisa Unger (credit Jeff Unger)LISA UNGER is an award-winning New York Times and internationally bestselling author.  Her novels have sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into twenty-six languages.  She has been selected as an International Thriller Writers “Best Novel” finalist, a Silver Medal winner in the Florida Book Awards, and a Prix Polar International Award finalist.  Most recently, In the Blood won the Silver Falchion Award for Best Crime Thriller and was also named a Best of 2014 suspense thriller by Suspense Magazine.  Unger lives in Clearwater Beach, Florida with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.  Visit her at http://www.lisaunger.com.

[Author Photo credit: Jeff Unger. Cover image courtesy of Touchstone Books/Simon&Schuster. John Edward’s book image retrieved on 6.2.16 from his website, Miami Ink image retrieved on 6.2.16 from]


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