Tag Archives: psych suspense

Wednesdays with Writers: Janelle Brown on salty snacks and trashy magazines, writing everyday while her kids are at school; identity, the dark side of motherhood, how the ending of WATCH ME DISAPPEAR was changed three times, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Tantalizing and twisty, this literary suspense is a clever meditation on what it means to be a family, to really know someone. 

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Billie (Sybilla) Flanagan, a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom goes on a solo hike in the Desolation Wilderness never to return. It’s been a year and…where is she? Picking up the pieces are her husband and 16 year-old daughter, Olive who are seeking a death certificate as she is now presumed dead (all that’s found of her is a lone hiking boot).

Olive and Jonathan do the best they can, but they are shattered, confused, broken. Jonathan is a writer attempting a loving memoir about his wife and death, Olive attends a prestigious all-girls prep school. But then Olive starts having visions/hallucinations/waking dreams of her mother. Jonathan’s concerned about her emotional stability and schleps her to doctors trying to find the source of the problem. But secrets from Billie’s past surface, leading both Jonathan and Olive the person they once shared a life with. 

Together–and somewhat reluctantly–Jonathan and Olive embark on a quest to discover the true Billie Flanagan, while at the same time, learning important truths about themselves.

I’m super jazzed to have Janelle Brown with us today to chat about her book and writing and everything in between.

Leslie Lindsay: Janelle, it’s great to have you. I find missing people stories so
fear-to-a-great-extent-is-born-of-a-story-we-tell-ourselvesfascinating. WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is such much more than ‘just another missing person.’ Can you tell us what you see as the overarching themes in this story?

Janelle Brown: This book is about the stories that we tell ourselves – about who we are, and about the people we love – and how those stories are so often subjective. We see what we want to see, and blind ourselves to things that are inconvenient to think about. It’s also a bit about the dark side of motherhood, as well as about the journey of losing and/or finding yourself. 

L.L.: How might the story have been different if it were Jonathan who went missing? Why do we have such a fascination with missing mothers and wives?

Janelle Brown:  I think our fascination with missing moms/wives has a lot to do with our notions of the mother – child bond: That it is so unbreakable, that a mother being separated from her child is so much worse than a father. (I personally don’t think this is necessarily true, but culturally that’s the common thinking.) There’s all kinds of gender norms about women being more vulnerable (both physically and emotionally) that supposedly makes it more alarming when a woman goes missing; which is part of why I wanted Billie to NOT be a vulnerable woman, but very much the author of her own fate.

It’s hard for me to imagine the story with Jonathan being missing because it would have been so different. He’s an utterly different kind of character than Billie so really it would have been an entirely new story.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? How was this book conceived and narrated? Do you plot, outline, or let the muse guide you? Do you ever write yourself into corners and think, ‘what have I done?!’

Janelle Brown:  I let the story carry me where it wants to go. I’ll start out with an idea and a rough plot outline, and my characters. But as the characters come to life they start informing & changing the story. So I often end up in places that I didn’t necessarily intend to go, and end up reshaping the book to fit the new direction.

This book was reshaped and rewritten about four times, including some very radical changes. (The whole ending changed, three times!)

“Poignant and captivating…Brown deftly peels away the layers of a loving marriage to reveal a haunting mystery and a devastating truth: that no matter how much you love someone; you can never truly know them.”

–Award-winning author Laura McHugh

L.L.: I enjoyed Olive so much—especially her visions/seizures. And also your reference to Lois Duncan novels! In fact, I just dug my old Lois Duncan books out of their 30 year hiding place and presented them to my daughter.  She loves them! What kind of research—if any—did you do to make Olive’s visions so tangible?

Janelle Brown:  Well, a lifetime of fascination with stories of the paranormal helped. (I was a huge Lois Duncan fan as a kid, and it’s evolved from there.) I also did some reading – including books by Oliver Sacks about grief & hallucinations, a lot of reading on paranormal sites, etc. I wanted Olive’s visions to feel very loisduncan.pngdistinctive and grounded in the reality of her relationship with her mother; and also be experiences that could be explained in many different ways depending on what you want to see.

L.L.: I wanted to talk about the title a bit. WATCH ME DISAPPEAR can be applied to just about any character in the book: Billie, for obvious reasons but also Jonathan and Olive. I think the important thing here is that the characters somehow grow and change. Can you talk about that, please? And did the title stay from your working title to the final?

Janelle Brown: The title came after I’d already written half of the book (after a LOT of brainstorming), and it’s something that actually grew on me thematically as I was writing the second half of the book (and then rewriting it again). You’re right, the book is about not just the physical disappearance of Billie but also about both people disappearing emotionally – from their relationships with other people, and into themselves – as well as evolving into other people entirely and losing who they once thought they were.

L.L.: What is a fact few people know about you? Do you have any writing rituals or routines? Guilty pleasures? An obsession?  

Janelle Brown:  Writing routines: I go to an office that I share with a bunch of other writers in Silver Lake (Los Angeles, where I live).  We have a great little community. I try to sit down and write every day, while my kids are in school; which isn’t always easy but I at least have my rear end in a chair and am staring at a screen.

Obsessions? Books. I read a ton. Probably too much, if that’s possible.

Guilty pleasures? Salty snacks. Trashy magazines.

L.L.: Janelle, it’s been a pleasure! Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask about but should have?

Janelle Brown: Not at all, it’s been a pleasure! (Not a guilty one, either.)

For more information about the book, to connect with Janelle through social media, or to purchase a copy of WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, please see: 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janelle Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Watch Me Disappear, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, and This Is Where We Live. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Elle, Wired, Self, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. Previously, she worked as a senior writer at Salon, and began her career as a staff writer at Wired during the dotcom boom years, working on seminal Web sites like HotWired and Wired News. A native of San Francisco and graduate of UC Berkeley, she has since defected to Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband Greg, their two children, and a geriatric lab mix named Guster.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hangouts:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Random House/Speigel & Grau and used with permission. Author image credit: Michael Smiy. Image of Lois Duncan novels retrieved from the New York Public Library website, Cheryl Strayed quote from on 10.16.17]

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 

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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

Wednesdays with Writers: Can Someone Really Reinvent Oneself? Kate Moretti talks about that; her latest obsession with serial killers, secret passages, being a ‘mix’ of plotter vs. pantser, her newest novel THE VANISHING YEAR & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE VANISHING YEAR (Atria Books, September 2016) is a stunning domestic psych suspense by Kate Moretti, one that delivers a modern, urgent, cutting-edge slightly different than her contemporaries.

How is it different? Well, for one it’s a bit rags-to-riches where other, comparative titles are not. Zoe Whitaker is living a charmed life in NYC. She has a ‘golden boy’ wealthy husband, a marble penthouse, all the fancy clothing and jewels a girl could want…but she’s not superficial; her character comes across as very personable, yet flawed–you know the girl has secrets, but what are they?

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No one knows, but five years ago Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all.

Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

The beginning pages read beautifully, I was enthralled with the world Zoe resides, her ‘secret,’ and the words Moretti strings together.

Join me as I sit down with New York Times bestselling author of four books, Kate Moretti.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to chat about your latest book, THE VANISHING YEAR. I’m always intrigued by what sparked an idea into a full-fledged book. What was haunting you when you sat down to write Zoe’s story?

Kate Moretti: The ending came to me first. Without spoilers, I wanted to write a story that centered around this idea that in a whirlwind marriage, both people come into it with a whole backstory that neither of them knows. That you can’t reinvent yourself and your past will always come back for you. Most of my books have centered around this theme, so you might say I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m hoping to move on, one day.what-dissociative-fugue-definition-healthyplace

L.L.: I want to talk about the title for a moment. My first thought was, ‘woman leaves for a year; a fugue state.’ But that’s not exactly the case. She spends a year as Henry Whittaker’s wife—(I hope I’m not giving too much away!)—but then she sort of finds herself. Did you start out with a title and build a story around it, or did the title come after?  

Kate Moretti: I usually come up with my titles around the halfway point. THE VANISHING YEAR means a few things to me. The year she was married to Henry, she slipped into being this person he wanted her to be, and she says it happened so slowly she hardly noticed it. More directly, it relates to the year she literally did vanish – from Hilary Lawlor to Zoe Whittaker nee Swanson. I liked this concept so much, that the events of one year can completely alter who you are. I played with it a little bit in the idea that Tara (Henry’s deceased wife) vanishes a bit, too. She goes from having friends, a life, a job, to being almost sequestered. It worked on a few levels for the book. Titles are tough!

L.L.: There’s so much of this story that is about finding oneself, about coming to terms with the ghosts that haunt our own pasts. Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Moretti: I think everyone, even regular, average, boring people like me, who don’t have these turbulent past lives still have regrets and mistakes and things they’ve done that they partly wish they could undo. I say partly because I’ve learned so much from my slip-ups that even though they’re painful to think about, they become such a big chunk of who I am today. I think, on some level, this theme is hugely relatable, which is why there are so many books like this! Without the confines of reality, you can expand on these mistakes and make them larger than life. I love diving into that place, where moral people do amoral things: where is that line and how hard do you have to push for your character to cross it? The best part is, all my characters are different, so I can explore this in every book, until I’ve exhausted myself.

L.L.: Some reviewers have compared THE VANISHING YEAR to a modern-day REBECCA (Daphne Du Maurier). I see that…rich husband one barely knows…phantoms of a time long forgotten (we hope), but yet there are some key differences. Was REBECCA in any way an inspiration for you?

Kate Moretti: THE VANISHING YEAR was my love letter to REBECCA. Rebecca was the first adult mystery novel I ever read and I read it pretty young, maybe 14? There was a lot I didn’t understand and re-reading as an adult, I couldn’t remember what my young self thought. daphnedumaurier_rebecca_firstBut I fell in love with the atmosphere, the slow unwinding of the plot, the reveal of Mrs. Danvers, and the final plot twist. I’d read Nancy Drew and Christopher Pike and RL Stine but nothing got me the way REBECCA did. THE VANISHING YEAR is my first real attempt at a woman-in-peril mystery. I wanted my character to be a bit sassier than the new Mrs. De Winter, I wanted my Mrs. Danvers to be unexpected, I wanted Henry to be a slight echo of Maximilian. Even the opening line was a hat tip: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again vs. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of my mother.  The plot is, of course, all very different. A few early readers caught the resonance pretty clearly and that made me happy.

L.L.: There’s a strong element of one’s family of origin in THE VANISHING YEAR, a bit about adoption, as Zoe is on a quest to find her birth mother. I think this is an important piece to discovering who we are. Yet, in the end, we’re just floating…could it be that sometimes ‘our family’ becomes not who we expect?

Kate Moretti: I think family is whatever you make it. Your family, simply put, is your people. The people you surround yourself with, not always just the people who are blood related. Growing up with a large extended family, we called second cousins aunts and uncles, we called friends of the family cousins, there was a great deal of fluidity around familial vernacular. We have good friends that my kids call their cousins, so I’m happy to see that be passed on. In VANISHING, Zoe is propelled by this idea of having a tether to the world. Henry feels very free-floating to her, she’s semi-isolated in his life, her only good friend is tired of her flightiness. She seeks out her birth mother, hoping this can bring her some much needed grounding. I couldn’t even imagine this kind of isolation.

L.L.: There are a good deal of twists and turns in THE VANISHING YEAR, plenty of seedy secrets, and a darkness that pervades. Was this intentional, or did it transpire more organically? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Kate Moretti:  I’m a mix of both. For VANISHING, I did plot pretty heavily, with spreadsheets. I think for a suspense novel, to wind all the pieces together, you either do an enormous amount of rewriting or you plot heavily and braid the plot together before you start. I do a mix. I plot, then write, then re-outline (because I always veer off), then write, then plot, then write. Repeat as necessary.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? Any chance it’s an old house with a secret 511tho7i9il-_sx332_bo1204203200_passageway?!

Kate Moretti: My current obsession is serial killers. I’m such a pleasant addition to holiday dinner parties these days! The book I’m drafting, called THE REMAINDERS, is about a woman whose mother was famed serial killer. I have to learn how serial killers work. I’m reading Confessions of a Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland, which is the untold story of BTK [bind, torture, kill; a.k.a. Dennis Lynn Rader].

I’d would really love to find that house. I live in a 150 year old farmhouse now, but through the years and various remodels (before we bought it), it’s been fairly gutted so I’m not sure there is a secret passageway. There is, however a little room. Our house has a turret, and from my attic office, you can go inside. It’s dark in there, I’ve only ever 19cov-infogallery-pix-custom6-v2looked in it. It could be haunted! [image to left retrieved from this NYTimes article on secret passages in NYC]

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Kate Moretti: I’m always happy to talk about what’s next! My next novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is out September 2017. It’s about a teacher accused of an affair with a student, who then goes missing. It’s very different from VANISHING because it’s multi-POV, more character driven, less plot heavy. To me, there are books that are building to a big surprise and then there are books that are about the journey of the story. VANISHING was building, BLACKBIRD is about the story. I love both, but Blackbird was much harder to write. I think it’s a bit more nuanced, a bit deeper in terms of relationships.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting and getting to know THE VANISHING YEAR. Thanks for popping over. And have a restful holiday season.

Kate Moretti: Thanks for having me!

For more information, to connect on social media, or to snag a copy of THE VANISHING YEAR, please see:

Kate Moretti_Please Credit Pooja Dhar at PR Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Atria Books and used with permission. Image of REBECCA retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of Confessions of a Serial Killer retrieved from Amazon, both on 12.2.16]

 

Writers on Wednesday: Shari Lapena on ‘grip lit,’ letting characters tell the story…and being surprised, what’s on her nightstand, and the runaway success of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR

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By Leslie Lindsay

Wow. I just closed the cover of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (August 23, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) last night in one breathless sitting. This is the book to pull you through the late-summer doldrums or indulge in a little ‘me’ time as the frantic pace of fall is upon us. Because this book, like others in the ‘grip lit’ category will not let you go. The pacing is brilliant and relentless, a chilling psychological thriller of astounding shock and amazement. Cover.Couple Next Door.Final

And it’s a debut.

I don’t want to give away too much—but here’s what you need to know:

  • Anne and Marcos Conti have a new baby, a beautiful townhouse, and a growing software company with the right investors.
  • One night, when the sitter cancels, instead of skipping the dinner party they’ve committed to—just next door—they decide to check on the sleeping baby every 30 minutes and bring the baby monitor.
  • In the short time between their checks, Baby Cora is snatched. Taken. Without a trace.
  • There’s a host of unreliable narrators. They all have motive.

Join me as I chat with Shari Lapena about her explosive debut, inspiring enthusiastic praise from #1 New York Times Bestselling authors like Sue Grafton, Harlon Coben, and Lee Child—almost from the moment the manuscript sold.

Leslie Lindsay: Shari, I am so thrilled to have you stop by. I just devoured THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. I mean, if I could have had it for dinner, I would have.  Did the story consume you in the same way? And why this story now?

Shari Lapena: Yes, it was a fast book to write. Right from the beginning I got caught up in the premise and I couldn’t let it go. I came up with the idea of a couple that gets left in the lurch by their babysitter, and their solution—to leave the baby at home and take the baby monitor next door with them and rely on half-hourly checks on the baby—leads to every horrible thing that follows.

L.L.: So, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR…Oh, I just can’t stop thinking about it. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? The pacing is just relentless. Was it that way for you as a writer? What was the time frame for draft one, for example? 

Shari Lapena: First I come up with a premise, or a jumping-off point, and then go from there. It has to be something that sparks a lot for me, as this was.  I don’t plan out the entire novel first—I follow where it takes me.  So here, I had a couple stood up by their babysitter, and the baby was clearly not welcome at the dinner party next door.  What do they do? The husband convinces the wife, against her best judgment, to leave the baby at home. That was enough to get me started. I knew the baby was going to disappear, of course—but I didn’t know the who, how, or why of it. But right away I had a setup, a conflict between husband and wife, and enough to propel me forward.

I deliberately set out to create a page turner. I wanted the pacing to be fast, and it felt like that for me when I was writing it. I wrote the first draft in about six months.

SS-RABB-4400-Ballerina_273x0L.L.: There are so many twists and turns and so many little pieces that just sort of ‘fell’ out into the open. Things like duplicity and deception and postpartum depression. Were these pieces carefully plotted, or did they come more organically as you wrote?

Shari Lapena: Some of it I had as ideas in the back of my head, but not carefully plotted out. For instance, I knew that I wanted Anne to have post-partum depression because I knew that would make her a more complex, interesting and unpredictable character. And I knew it would make people suspicious of her, rightly or wrongly. I don’t want to give too much away, but for example, when the onesie arrived in the mail—that surprised me. I didn’t plan for that to happen right from the beginning.

L.L.: There’s a tremendous piece by Terrence Rafferty in The Atlantic that talks of a new generation of women writers tapping into the zeitgeist, taking crime writing to new places and connecting to a huge readership. He writes that woman writers have sort of given up belief in the hero-and-villain model of storytelling, and instead, rely on unreliable narrators to provide a chilling tale. I get that. I love that. What is your general take on the ‘girl grip lit?’

Shari Lapena: That is such a hot topic these days. On the one hand, gripping psychological thrillers written largely by women are not new. Years ago we had Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. But the focus right now on “griplit” seems to be about books that are psychological thrillers written largely by women, that have a darkness to them and that explore the tensions and the potential for psychological suspense in our most intimate relationships—in our marriages, our families—and in our homes.  That seems to be hitting a nerve with readers.

“Doomy domestic thrillers are what readers want now.”

~From Terrance Rafferty in The Atlantic

June/July 2016 issue

L.L.: I understand THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is your suspense debut, but that you have other novels as well, so it’s not exactly a debut in that sense, but perhaps a ‘genre debut’ for you.  Can you tell us a bit about THING GO FLYING (2008) and HAPPINESS ECONOMICS (2011)?

Shari Lapena: My first novel, THINGS GO FLYING, is about a man named Harold who is depressed, and afraid that life goes on forever. You see, his mother was a medium and he had 51rhSiC+IkL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ghosts in the house all the time growing up, throwing the dishes, so he knows life isn’t really over when it’s over, and he just can’t face it. His wife, Audrey, is a control freak with an explosive secret. They have two teenaged sons. Then Harold’s mother comes back from the dead to haunt them and Harold finds he has his mother’s gift for talking to the dead, and if there was ever a gift he wanted to return, it’s this one. Audrey is also terrified—how is she to safeguard her secret now? If she can’t control this world, how is she to control the next one? And how will she protect her good china? Harold must figure out how to find meaning in his life, and how to come to grips with the mostly terrifying idea that life might go on forever. Ultimately he is helped by being counselled by a philosopher, rather than a psychologist, under his Employee Assistance Program.  I like to think of it as a lighthearted book about death.

My second novel, HAPPINESS ECONOMICS, is about a blocked poet, Will Thorne. He is married to Judy, a wildly successful celebrity economist. Pressured by a starving fellow poet, Will establishes The Poets’ Preservation Society, a genteel organization to help poets 4197Co1aFuL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_in need. But when Will meets his muse, the enigmatic and athletic Lily White, he becomes inspired not only to write poetry, but to take guerrilla action in support of poets everywhere, which his wife finds absolutely mortifying. Will ends up doing parkour and splattering graffiti poetry all over the bank buildings in the downtown core. It’s really a book about a clash of values—art versus commerce.

L.L.: Both sound very interesting! And before, you worked as a lawyer and English teacher. How have your previous professional experiences shaped you as a writer? And what advice might you give to those wanting to break in?

Shari Lapena: I would say that my law background hasn’t contributed to my writing particularly—I wasn’t a criminal lawyer who tapped into that to write legal thrillers. I don’t think teaching English makes a novelist either. I think it’s the desire and the disciplined effort that makes you a writer. You have to put the work in. For those wanting to break in—it’s harder than ever, but it’s not impossible. My best advice would be to write a really good story. People want a story. Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it, and find your own unique voice. Then listen to your editor.

L.L.What are you working on next? Cause I’m dying to read it!

Shari Lapena: Not surprisingly, I’m writing another thriller. I don’t want to say much about it at this point, except that it’s a page turner!

L.L.: What’s keeping you up? What’s captured your attention lately?

Shari Lapena: I’ve just started I LET YOU GO, by Clare Mackintosh. I think it’s going to live up to all the wonderful press it’s received. Before that I read and loved Daisy in Chains, by Sharon Bolton. And on my bedside table to read soon: What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan; In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware; and The Secret Place, by Tana French. And I’m lucky, I get ARCs—I have The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe and It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell. And I’m looking forward to Linwood Barclay’s The Twenty-Three when it’s out in November.

L.L: What question might I have forgotten to ask? 

Shari Lapena: I can’t think of anything.

L.L.: Shari, it was such a pleasure to connect. Just love, love, loved THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR and wish you much joy and success with the launch!

Shari Lapena: Thank you so much! It’s been a bit of a shock, how well the book has been received. It’s been a bit overwhelming, to say the least!Shari Lapena.credit Joy von Tiedemann

For more information, or to follow Shari on social media, please see: 

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @ShariLapena


About the Author:
 Shari Lapena was a lawyer and an English teacher before turning to writing fiction. She has written two previous novels: Things Go Flying, shortlisted for the 2009 Sunburst Award, and Happiness Economics, a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. She lives in Toronto. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is her suspense debut, and has sold in more than twenty-two markets.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via various social media channels, including:

GoodReads books 002.JPG

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to M. Burkes and T. Gaffney. Cover image and author image courtesy of Penguin/RandomHouse. Author image credit: Joy von Tiedmann]. 

Write On, Wednesday: Edgar-Nominated Lisa Ballantyne talks about EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, memory, PTSD, and Falling in love with character before plot

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By Leslie Lindsay 

International bestselling author and Edgar Nominee Lisa Ballantyne leapt onto the scene in 2013 with her gorgeous and chilling debut THE GUILTY ONE. Now she returns with stunning follow up EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, a tale that alternates between a kidnapping in 1985 and a present day accident that sends one woman down a path of discovery that will leave her forever changed.

Set in Scotland and England, EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is a compelling read about a cast of characters who don’t seem to be related at all in the beginning, but of course, they’re all there for a reason. When Deputy Director/Teacher of a nearby school is rear-ended in a crash near the holidays, she is struck with shards of memory that propel her back to 1985 and a haunting event that has left her fragile since. She feels she’s losing her mind, but could it just be the stress of raising kids, working, and the holidays?EveryThingSheForgot PB C.JPG

EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT explores PTSD, family connections, and is beautifully executed in a page-turning read.

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Lisa Ballantyne to the blog couch to chat about her work.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it is such an honor to have you pop by today. Can you give us a little glimpse into your first inkling with EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Was there a situation or character that sort of “came to you?”

Lisa Ballantyne: Leslie, thanks so much for having me! It’s my honor! When I first began to work on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, I was interested in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first scene of the book – involving the car crash and the strange saviour – came to me quite quickly and I knew that the burned man who rescues Margaret would be the key to her past. In writing the 1980s scenes, I knew I wanted to write about a man who steals his daughter and for the journey they undertake to be a redemptive one, spanning the whole country. I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love. The father-daughter relationship was really center stage, but so was a sense of moral ambiguity.

L.L.: I have to say…at first I didn’t really like George, but oh my, I became a bit smitten with him as the story went on. You have quite a cast of characters in this story…is there one (or two) you felt particularly close to?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am so glad that you liked George! I admit I fell in love with him too! The greatest joy for me as a writer is creating characters – new consciousnesses – that readers, and myself, can believe in, fall in love with, hate, mourn. Publishing a book and sharing it with others, is like breathing life into these characters that started off in my head. For me it doesn’t get better than that! In each book, I usually have one character that I feel very close to – who I see as the ‘soul’ of the novel – and in EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT that character is George. I saw him as a typical, tragic questing hero, struggling to escape his circumstances and ultimately himself. George’s character also works in tandem with Angus, the religious journalist that chases him from coast to coast. I hoped these characters would make the reader question morality as good and evil is turned on its head. George is a murderer, a thief and a kidnapper, and yet, we grow to love him.

    “Ballantyne weaves a fine tale of family drama, dark secrets, and the past’s effect on the present. The threads seamlessly come together in a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, finale.”

Publishers Weekly

L.L.: If you’re like me, a story you’re working on often evolves, takes a life of its own…did anything of that sort happen as you were working on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Can you explain?

Lisa Ballantyne: Yes, just like you, this happens to me too, and it’s wonderful when that happens, right? The scene where the teenage George and his loan shark father visit a debtor on a building site was an interesting one to write. It was one of the rare occasions when a character takes over and I as the writer watched the scene I was writing unfold. I knew George intimately, and I knew that he couldn’t do what his father was demanding of him. The outcome of the scene was George’s only choice and so he made it for me. Its exciting but a little strange when that happens, and it only happens when I fully understand a character.

L.L.: Which begs this next question: are you a pantser, or a plotter? Do you follow the pen or is your work carefully outlined?

Lisa Ballantyne: I’m afraid, I am not a plotter. I always start with characters and I think that if I understand them well enough, then the story will flow through their motivation. I have a lot of respect for writers who work everything out beforehand. I am sure it is a better and quicker way to write, but as with most things in life, I like to feel my way…

L.L.: You effortlessly leap between past and present narratives highlighting your characters flaws in an honest and electrifying read. Yet there are serious implications for own’s identity and memory. Can you speak to that, please?

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you so much. As anyone who has ever been close to someone with memory problems knows, memory is at the heart of self; it is the structure that holds our personalities together. The central character in this book, Margaret has very specific memory loss related to a traumatic event but it has still unconsciously shaped her choices in life. Since EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT has been published, many people have written to me to say it has reminded them of their own past traumas and how confronting those avoided memories challenged them. ‘Selective memories’ can be protective but sometimes we need to understand why we chose to forget certain things.

THE END

L.L.:, Endings can be tricky. You want a little twist, yet something inevitable, still you want it memorable for your reader. How much effort did you put into the ending of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Or did it grow organically?

Lisa Ballantyne: The ending to this book came quite instinctively and at first I was uncertain that it was going to work. Ghosts are tricky to render if not infrequent in novels, but the ghost’s manifestation at the end of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is exactly how one of my aunts described her husband appearing to her, soon after he died. It was an image that had always stayed with me and so I chose it for the ending of my novel. It seemed right that the love between my main characters would survive in some tangible way.

L.L.: What might be obsessing you nowadays?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am on a deadline to finish my next novel and I am just completing a residency where I’ve been doing literacy work with juvenile offenders, so that has taught me a great deal.

 L.L.: So, can I ask what you’re working on?

 Lisa Ballantyne: I never like to talk about the novel I am working on (to anyone) until it is finished, but suffice to say it will be mining further subjects that continue to fascinate me, such as family, the past and the present, good and evil and the question of choice.

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Lisa Ballantyne: If you forgot something, possibly you CHOSE to forget, and we should leave it buried?

L.L.: Lisa, thank you so much for chatting with is. It was lovely having you!

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you SO much for having me. It was my greatest pleasure! Good luck with your own projects and my very best wishes.

Lisa Ballantyne ap1.JPGLisa Ballantyne is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated and internationally bestselling The Guilty One. She spent most of her twenties working and living in China, before returning to the UK in 2002. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland

Follow Lisa on her Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/lisaballantyneauthor/

Write On, Wednesday: T. Greenwood talks about her fabulously compelling WHERE I LOST HER, her tenth novel but first foray into psych suspense, settings, the draw of adoption, & more

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By Leslie Lindsay whereilosther

Oh my gosh! WOW. Absolutely spellbinding. I loved every. single. minute of WHERE I LOST HER. Acclaimed author T. Greenwood tackles psychological suspense against the compelling backdrop of motherhood, madness, and infidelity.

You might think it’s a lot to bite off, but I assure you, T. Greenwood is a confident and eloquent storyteller, her prose laced with lyrical nuances, tenderness, and trepidation.

WHERE I LOST HER tows the line between yearning and imbalance, nurturing and obsession, and motherhood and infertility as one woman searches for the truth about a mysterious child.  Will Tess Waters find a lost child, or will she lose her already fragile mind?

Told completely in Tess’s first person POV with flashbacks addressed to her husband, this tandem narrative WHERE I LOST HER is an interior story with psychological thriller undertones written in a poetic, lyrical, and thoughtful manner that alternates with stripped-down narrative, a perfect combination for such an original piece.

Today, I am so honored to have T. Greenwood join us on the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Tammy! I am thrilled to have you join us today. I am always so intrigued to learn how a story comes to life for a writer. Was there a moment or event that struck you, indicating: “I have to write this?” What was your inspiration for WHERE I LOST HER?

T. Greenwood: I grew up in Vermont, and I still follow the news there regularly. A couple of years ago, I read an incredible article about someone who found a little girl at the side of the road, but before she could help her, the girl disappeared into the woods. I was so disturbed by that story I couldn’t let it go. Most books start this way for me – with a question that I want answered. I needed to write this book to find out who the girl was and who the woman was who found her. Of course, it is all fiction, but this was the initial spark.

L.L.: Adoption has long been an interest of mine, without any real impetus; I am not adopted, nor am I acquainted with anyone who is. I’m amazed at your ability to bring the experience to life in WHERE I LOST HER. Can you share what kind of research went into your narrative

T. Greenwood: My sister is adopted. She was born in Korea, and came to us when she was six months old. I was seven at the time, and I have very vivid memories of the adoption process. It’s something I haven’t really ever written about before. I also have friends who adopted their son from Guatemala, but prior to his adoption they had a Guatemalan adoption that fell through. It was a crushing experience for them, and they were kind enough and generous enough to share this experience with me. I knew when I began writing about Tess’s obsession with the lost child that there was a reason why it mattered so much to her to find her. As I dug into her past, I discovered that this was what was haunting her. The novel is very much about motherhood, about the longing for a child by whatever means.

L.L.: And the setting! I’ve never been to Vermont, but I could easily transport myself to the camp where Effie and Devin live, smell the musky ferns growing in that vertiginous forest, and the swimming hole where Plum was certain there were fairies. And of course, the place where the girl was missing. I understand the Vermont woods holds a special place in your heart—in fact, this isn’t the first story you’ve set in Gormlaith. Can you share more about that?

T. Greenwood: I have written ten novels, and eight of them are set in or around the fictional Lake Gormlaith. This lake is based on a real body of water in northeastern Vermont Breathing Waterwhere I grew up. My family still spends a month or two there every summer. Tess actually appears in my first novel, Breathing Water, which is Effie and Devin’s story. It was thrilling to revisit them again after all of these years. This fictional place has become my go-to setting. The characters and setting have developed a life of their own.

L.L.:   There are a lot of things going on in this story—but that’s not exactly a bad thing! I loved the multilayer approach, the complex characters, and thematic elements. What about writing WHERE I LOST HER surprised even you?

T. Greenwood: Everything! I have never written a suspense novel before, and so the entire process was new to me. I never outline my novels, though I have a general sense of the plot, but I found myself writing furiously to find out what happens next. I hope this sense of urgency and surprise is there for the reader as well.

L.L.: There are so many ways this story could have ended. I am sure you toyed with them all! Did you have a clear sense of where you were going when you set out to write, or did the truth sort of evolve as you approached the end? 

T. Greenwood: It became clear to me about halfway through the novel that there was only one satisfying way that the story could end. This is typically how my process works. At about the mid-point, the plot and characters convene, and the remainder of the book is then organic and inevitable.

L.L.: And a word on structure: while WHERE I LOST HER is told completely in Tess’s voice, we get a glimpse into her past. In what form did you see those brief interludes? An open letter?  A journal entry? A dream? Something else? 

T. Greenwood: This book is, in many ways, about a failing marriage. And in most instances when a marriage is failing, there is no longer any communication between the people involved. I wanted to give Tess an opportunity to communicate to Jake exactly how she felt: about him, about their marriage, about the child they lost. It’s a love letter, I think, a sort of elegy to their relationship.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

T. Greenwood: I am revising a novel called The Golden Hour, another suspense novel about a woman who finds out that a man who has been in prison for twenty years because of a crime committed against her may be released based on new DNA evidence. It’s a disaster right now, but I am hoping it all comes together. Soon.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why? Making_A_Murderer_Title

T. Greenwood: In terms of writing, I am primarily consumed by this project, but I have another one on hold. But generally speaking, I have been totally obsessed with “Making a Murderer,” the documentary series on Netflix. It plays into the book I am revising, but I am totally riveted by true crime documentaries. I have really, really enjoyed writing in this genre

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked but forgot?

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so! 

L.L.: Tammy, thank you so very much for popping by today. I just adored the book and can’t wait to read more from you!

T. Greenwood: Thanks so much for chatting.

  • For more information, be sure to pop over to T. Greenwood’s website, see her photography, learn of events, order books, and more.
  • LIKE T. Greenwood’s Facebook Author Page
  • Follow T. Greenwood on Twitter and Instagram

authorphoto2014 - Version 2Bio: T. Greenwood is the author of ten novels. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. TWO RIVERS was named 2009 Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and GRACE received the same award for 2012. Five of her novels have been BookSense76/IndieBound picks; THIS GLITTERING WORLD was a January 2011 selection, and GRACE was a selection in April 2012. Her eighth novel, BODIES OF WATER, was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist. WHERE I LOST HER will be released on February 23, 2016.

She teaches creative writing for San Diego Writer’s Ink, Grossmont College, and online for The Writer’s Center. She and her husband, Patrick, live in San Diego, CA with their two daughters. She is also an aspiring photographer.

[Special thanks to T. Greenwood. Cover images courtesy of author. Netflix series image “Making of a Murderer” retrieved from Wikipedia on 1.14.16]