Wednesdays with Writers: Is there a difference between justice and revenge? New York Times bestselling author of psych thrillers Lisa Unger talks about this, but also dreams, reality, starting the next project, renovating homes, and so much more in THE RED HUNTER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Red Hunter cover

One house. Two very different women. A history of abuse. THE RED HUNTER discusses the differences between justice and revenge in a way only Lisa Unger can do.

I can always count on Lisa Unger’s books to propel me to the depths of the dark and twisted minds of…well, just about anyone. She has a knack for reaching into the tangled mess of one’s life and extracting the bits that make it dark and brittle. But be aware: if rape and violence are triggers for you, then select this book with caution.

Therein lies the crux of THE RED HUNTER. It’s deep psychological suspense at it’s best. Lisa’s characters are well-drawn, multifaceted, flawed, and oh-so-relatable. 

Claudia Bishop’s perfect life with hubby in NYC fell apart after she was brutally raped in her own home. She’s worked hard to rebuild that life, and is now looking for a fresh start at an old farmhouse in New Jersey, one that’s been in her family for some time.

Zoey Drake—young and hip–but carrying around a big burden from childhood—and is caring for her elderly uncle, a retired police officer.

Neither woman knows one another but the house factors into both of their lives. So, too does trauma.

So pull up a chair, a cup of coffee and eavesdrop on my conversation with Lisa.

“One of the best crime novels I’ve read in years. THE RED HUNTER is bold and gritty but with real heart. Unger writes as only the best do, with passion and authenticity.”
—Ace Atkins, NYT bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn and The Innocents

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it’s so great to have you back. Thank you! I think this is the forth book of yours we’ve discussed. I’m afraid I’m running out of questions. But I always, always want to know what propels a writer to peel back the layers and start on a particular story. What was it for you, for THE RED HUNTER?

Lisa Unger: It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!I’m sure we’ll always have something new to talk about.

The idea for THE RED HUNTER started more than fifteen years ago.  I was in my late twenties, in a dark place, when I discovered the martial arts. I had just come through a brutal break up, my dreams of writing lay fallow. I was disconnected from myself in almost every way. The martial arts changed me, introducing me to a new version of myself, someone stronger than I thought I could ever be. I found myself, and my path forward.df1948898142fa4e9603a1bb1da2566d.jpg

After I had my daughter, I stopped practicing.  Motherhood kind of drained me of my will to fight, and I turned to yoga instead.  Recently, I took up kick boxing and some of that fighting spirit returned; and those days, how I felt then, came back to me.  That place and moment in my life was the germ for THE RED HUNTER, and for one of its main characters, Zoey Drake: a victim turned fighter, someone looking for revenge.

L.L.: Trauma certainly plays a major role in THE RED HUNTER.  So, too do the concepts of justice and revenge. What, in your opinion are the connecting dots?

Lisa Unger: After surviving a traumatic event, we have choices.  We can fold up and hide from the world, let the pain and anger over a horrific event crush us.  We can get angry, lash out and seek revenge, or justice.  Or we can allow ourselves to heal, then find a way forward, move toward forgiveness and wholeness again — whatever that means in our changed reality.

In our culture, the journey toward justice is a very important one; we depict it as the hero’s journey. And sometimes it can be that. Sometimes wrongs must be righted.  But when that journey becomes a way to hold on to pain, a way to stop moving forward, it’s just fear, a desire to control a thing that cannot be controlled.  And it keeps us from healing.

Zoey Drake and Claudia Bishop are taking two very different paths after trauma.  One seeks revenge, and the other is looking for her way back into the light, through healing and forgiveness. One path could be confused with strength, and the other might be confused with weakness. Both ways are fraught.  It might be up to the reader to decide which way is the right way. Or if there is a right way, at all.

L.L.: I have a thing with old houses. Well, houses of any kind. I’ve read somewhere that they represent story and also dreams. Things that happen in the basement, for example, have a lot to do with one’s subconscious. There are other rooms that equate to other parts of the psyche, too. Bedrooms, intimacy. Bathrooms, elimination. Kitchens, creation and family. I often have dreams of adding-on to a house and that, I’ve learned, has to do with ‘making space’ for creative pursuits. Can you give us a little more insight into how the house in THE RED HUNTER came to be for you?

Lisa Unger: That’s so interesting! I think you should follow your dreams, Leslie!  Make more room for those creative pursuits.1a352b345bf13976c4c2013af5ee62a3

A couple of years ago, my husband and I gutted and renovated our 1968 home.  Let’s be clear: we hired someone to do this work. (We’re not crazy!) But we lived in the house while it was under reconstruction. (Okay, we’re a little crazy.)  It was cathartic to watch our home, a place we’d loved for more than a decade, torn down to the studs, and recreated as something new and uniquely ours.  But it was also stressful, unpredictable, and incredibly challenging. It was not an experience I planned to write about; rather one I swore I wouldn’t repeat and tried to forget.   But then, three years later, as I started on THE RED HUNTER, another major voice in the book, Claudia Bishop, emerges.  Guess what? She’s renovating a ramshackle old farm house. And she’s blogging about it, a way of moving forward from the trauma of her past, and recreating her future.  

A house seems so solid — until you pick up a sledge hammer.  I love how something that seems as though it’s always been there can just fall away.  It makes me think that we can tear down, change, and rebuild just about anything we want in our lives — especially old ideas we have about ourselves. It takes some doing, some pain, a few mistakes here and there, but ultimately you have the power to create what you want in your life.  I love how destruction can lead to reconstruction, if you have the will and the right tools.

[You may enjoy this article in The Atlantic about Where You Live & Why it Means So Much. Also, the original source in which I *may* have read about homes/psyche HOUSE AS A MIRROR OF SELF: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home, but memory evades.]

L.L.: Each of your characters are strong, kick-ass type of women, but in different ways. Was one easier for you to write than the other? Do you have a ‘favorite?’

Lisa Unger: I felt connected to both of them.  I understood Zoey’s impulse to turn herself into a fighter and take revenge on people who had harmed her.  Even though Claudia’s philosophies are closer to mine, I still understood where Zoey was coming from.  It has something to do with her youth; it’s a young idea to think that the world is black and white, that there’s a clear right and wrong.  It’s also young to think that there’s any true justice, or payback, that a wrong thing can be made right by another wrong.  Claudia’s journey toward love and forgiveness, her impulse to claim her story, and rebuild herself and her life — those choices have a very different vibration.  I think Zoey’s impulse is more basic; Claudia’s more evolved.  I was more worried about Zoey than I was about Claudia.  But it was easy for me to 6dba74105c8b1cdfb4db7e2e4eeaae22connect with both ways of seeing the world.

L.L.: The narrative structure in THE RED HUNTER is unique in that it is not exactly linear. We volley between characters, time periods, but all from the POV of strong females. Can you talk a bit about how you made that decision, or was it really a decision? Do characters often ‘tell’ you their story?

Lisa Unger: I don’t make decisions like that.  A story evolves, tells itself though the voices it selects, in the way the way that it wants to be told.  The different voices, the time and perspective shifts — that’s just how the story came to me.  I’m not sure
it could have been told it any other way.  There was no other way for it to be told.

L.L.: I happen to be between projects now. Oh, I have ideas…but where to go with them? Do you have any tips or inspiration when starting out on the next book? Because this limbo-land is a yucky feeling. 

Lisa Unger: It’s such a personal thing.  For me, the idea for a novel can come from anywhere — a song, a news story, poetry, once even a piece of junk mail.  That spark of an idea might lead me to a fascination with a subject and a swath of research.  Then, the best I can explain it is, if that idea connects with something bigger going on with me, I start to hear a voice, or maybe a couple of voices. Then I know there’s a novel and I start writing.

The best advice I can give, Leslie, is to try not to do too much thinking.  Get out of that intellectual, analytical brain. And try to follow the ideas that fascinate you, listen for those voices, and don’t be afraid to just sit down and lose yourself in the writing. Let the story take you and don’t try to control the story.

L.L.: Any ‘Lisa Facts’ you can share with us? What’s on your mind these days?

Lisa Unger: These days I’m obsessed with addiction and dreams, perception and reality.  I’m really curious about the doorway between these two worlds we inhabit, the waking and the sleeping world and the Jungian idea that there’s not such a big difference.  I continue to be fascinated by Carl Jung and his ideas, the brain, the natural vs. the supernatural. And I’m still thinking about the main theme of THE RED HUNTER: What is the difference between justice and revenge?47720dcf954e638a97ddd2fbf6a5094f

L.L.: Lisa, as always, it’s been an absolute pleasure. All the best with THE RED HUNTER.

Lisa Unger: Always a pleasure, Leslie!  Thanks for connecting, and make time and space for that creative energy to flow!

For more information about THE RED HUNTER, to purchase, or to connect with Lisa via social media, please see:

Lisa Unger_Photograph by Jay Nolan.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is an award-winning New York Times and internationally bestselling author. Her novels have sold more than two million copies and have been translated into twenty-six languages. She lives in Florida. Visit LisaUnger.com.

 You can reach me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Simon Schuster/Touchstone Books. Author photo credit: Jay Nolan. Image of Carl Jung/dreams as well as 1968 renovated home, woman performing martial arts, as well as typewriter/writing quote image retrieved from Pinterest/no source noted, all on 4.24.17

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