By Leslie Lindsay
A twisty, captivating labyrinthine of grief, love, and murder in Lisa Unger’s newest psychological thriller, UNDER MY SKIN (Park Row, October 2).
She’s a New York Times and International bestselling, award-winning author. Her books have been published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold million of copies, and have been named “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, and the Sun-Sentinel, among others.
*Named one of The Best Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in Fall 2018 by PopSugar*
*Named a Best New Book by Booklist*
*Named one of The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2018 by CrimeReads*
*Named one of Fall 2018’s Most Exciting New Mysteries & Thrillers by Bookish*
*Named one of The Biggest, Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Season, Fall 2018 Best Mystery Book Pick and Editors’ Pick by BookBub*
*Library Journal 2018 Killer Thriller*
It comes as no surprise when I say Lisa Unger has been a go-to thriller/psych suspense writer of mine for some time now. Her books always engage and keep me guessing; plus her creativity and imagination, as well as her psychologically astute observations draw me in effortlessly.
In UNDER MY SKIN, Poppy Lang is grieving. It’s been over a year since her husband, Jack, was brutally murdered on his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. She was supposed to have joined him, but…
Poppy completely unraveled and ended up wearing a red dress she knew nothing of and in the hospital. Where was she during those lost days–and what happened to Jack? A year later and the case is still unsolved, but Poppy is ever the Nancy Drew. She’s haunted by his death, she’s sleep-deprived, she’s trying to move on but just *can’t.* She’s seeing a therapist, has a best friend, attempting to date, continuing to work, but when the nightmares–the microsleeps– start in earnest, Poppy isn’t sure what to believe. Plus, what’s up with that hooded man?
The mind is murky place. Is Poppy’s playing tricks on her? Is something else going on?
I found Unger’s prose utterly stunning with a dream-like lucidity. UNDER MY SKIN is a captivating, tense, complex, and thought-provoking read.
Please join me in welcoming Lisa Unger back to the author interview series.
I think this is book five for us and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have you again. UNDER MY SKIN is such a lucid examination of one woman’s grief. Can you talk a bit more about how this story presented itself to you? Was it a character, a setting, a question, a subject you wanted to explore?
I always love our talks, Leslie! The germ for UNDER MY SKIN was actually a Jungian thought that had been kicking around my head for a few a while:
“Between the dreams of day and night, there is not so great a difference.”
It’s so layered if you think about it, and it had me pondering the difference between our waking and dreaming lives, the doorway between those places, the slippery nature of perception. So, while I was researching these things, I started to hear the voice of Poppy Lang. The fact that she was in the throes of grief and the aftermath of trauma caused me to dive deep into those areas of the psyche. Our grip on reality is so fragile. Even after a couple of nights of bad sleep – as any mom will tell you – the world starts to look like a very different place. So combine that with grief, trauma, addiction and things unravel pretty quickly. And so it was all these ideas, as well as Poppy’s journey toward wholeness that drove me through the narrative.
I have to say—sleep! Dreams! Nightmares! They are such fascinating concepts. The mind is powerful. Sometimes we take information from our waking life and weave it into our dreams, sometimes our dreams reappear in our waking life. Do you remember your dreams? Do they ever inform your writing?
That’s so true. The mind can be a magician, a powerful trickster. And we know more about outer space than we do about our brains. So, as I see it, there are more questions than answers about our dreams, our perceptions and memories, what’s real and what isn’t real. I do have a very vivid dream life. And often these dreams inform my fiction. Sometimes narrative problems resolve while I’m sleeping and wake me up at 3 AM! And my best creative hours are from 5 AM to noon. I am happiest when I roll out of bed and go straight to my novel. I still feel very connected to the dream brain during that time. Once the waking mind takes over, it’s always looking for distractions! But the dream brain is always happy to keep telling its stories.
“UNDER MY SKIN is a perfectly dark and unsettling, spellbinding thriller. Told with both eloquence and urgency, Unger knows just how to hook her readers and reel them in. This book is not to be missed.”
—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL
At one point you referred to UNDER MY SKIN as a ‘Tilt-a-Whirl of a novel.’ Aren’t they all? What’s your process like? Does it vary project to project? What piece(s) in this one kept you awake at night?
So, there’s a germ, usually. A moment where I feel a little zap. Then there’s usually an obsession and a deep dive into research, as I mentioned. And then a voice, or voices. And I follow those voices through my narrative. I don’t have an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up day to day, or what they’re going to do. I certainly don’t know how the book is going to end. I write for the same reason that I read; I want to know what’s going to happen to the characters living in my head!
This one was a bit of a Tilt-A-Whirl, because like Poppy, I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t real for her. I wasn’t certain that I could I could trust her judgments and perceptions. And I wasn’t clear on what really happened during the four days she was missing. I was worried about Noah. I didn’t know what role he played in what happened to Jack, what was happening to Poppy. And I wasn’t sure I could trust him. There were lots of 3 AM wake ups with this one!
At the heart of UNDER MY SKIN is the lingering toll of grief, and how it is interwoven with love. Can you talk a little more about that please? And do tell me if you think I’ve gotten the theme wrong.
That’s true. It did evolve as a big theme in the novel, flowing purely from character; it was Poppy’s journey and I followed her passage though that dark space. In doing so, I wound up exploring how we love each other, how we cling to the past, how it can be so hard to let go. Also, how time and loss can color our memories. It’s part of a larger theme on how our experiences change and shape our perceptions. Love, grief, addiction, trauma – all these states color how we see the world, making it difficult sometimes to know what’s real.
Poppy was obsessed with finding her husband’s killer. What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Oh, I have so many obsessions! I continue to be obsessed by perception, dreams, memories, identity, and all the secret abilities hidden within our very human brains. I’m still exploring question of psychic ability – what’s normal and what’s “paranormal.” Halloween is coming up – so I’m obsessed about costumes, since that’s a big deal in our family! Let’s see: food, British television, yoga, politics, the environment, my next novel … I could go on and on!
Lisa, it’s been a pleasure. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
As usual, Leslie, you’re pitch perfect! I can’t think of a thing you missed. Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I always love answering them.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of UNDER MY SKIN, please visit:
*Read the prologue
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling, award-winning author of sixteen novels. Her new release UNDER MY SKIN is named one of the most anticipated and top thrillers of fall 2018 by BookBub, Bookish, Library Journal, Booklist, PopSugar and CrimeReads!
Her books are published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold millions of copies and have been voted “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Indie Booksellers, Goodreads, and Sun-Sentinel to name a few.
Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR and Travel+Leisure Magazine. Lisa Unger lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida with her husband, daughter and labradoodle.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Park Row and used with permission. Cover image on patio from L. Lindsay;s personal archives and can be accessed via Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]