WeekEND Reading: Simon Lelic on his psych thriller, THE NEW NEIGHBORS

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if the house you moved into has a story all its own? Simon Lelic talks about the ‘terrifying’ experience of house-hunting, how he wishes he kept more of his childhood books,writing advice & so much more…

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Dark, twisted U.K. thriller with undertones of paranormal and horror.

I have such a soft-spot for tales of houses and so when THE NEW NEIGHBORS (Penguin Random House, April 10 2018) came across my desk, I knew I had to read it. Syd and Jack are a twenty-something couple seeking their first home together (they are not married) and when they come across the perfect London home, they make an offer. It’s low, but the owner wanted someone young. It almost seems too good to be true when their offer is accepted. 

Once they move in, strange things start happening. For one, the previous owner left all of his furnishings, including taxidermy-ied animals. But the walls seem to permeate an odor and what’s with that stuff in the attic? Jack has been wary all along, but Syd is more nonchalant about the new place.

Told in alternating POVs of Jack and Syd in a written journal-like narrative (the characters refer to it as ‘the manuscript,’), the story can be a little challenging to follow in som regards as different perspectives color the story. But when a murder is committed outside their back door, Syd and Jack become suspects.

One begins to wonder if Syd and Jack are really responsible, is it the house, or something (someone?) else more sinister at work?

THE NEW NEIGHBORS is a tale of duplicity, a ‘he-said,’ ‘she-said’ type of read that will most definitely send shivers through, and perhaps, have you looking over your shoulder (or at least in your attic).

Please join me in welcoming Simon Lelic to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Simon, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know why this story, why now? Was there a character, event, or line that kept drawing you to the keyboard?

Simon Lelic: The main inspiration for The New Neighbors was the house-hunting process, which we’ve all been through in some form at one point or another, and as it happened my wife and I were going through it around the time the novel was written. It’s such a terrifying process – you are asked to commit a vast sum of money, and indeed your family’s entire future, on a property you only really get to see two or three times. It’s only when you’re committed, and you finally move in, that you get to discover what’s really buried beneath the floorboards…

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“A raw, tightly wound thrill ride, a nightmare scenario about a home purchase that goes horribly wrong. And then some. This is a fast-paced, intense, and creepy novel that you won’t be able to put down until you reach the end.”

—David Bell, bestselling author of Bring Her Home


L.L.: I understand this is your first psych thriller, but not your first book. How was this one different? Or, was it?

Simon Lelic: I suppose with psychological thrillers, it’s all a question of degrees. My first novel, A Thousand Cuts, dealt with bullying as a motive for murder, and you could argue that you don’t get much more psychological than that. But The New Neighbors definitely takes this up a notch, in that you are never really sure how much of what is happening is only taking place in the characters’ heads.9780143118619.jpg

L.L.: You’re a former journalist. I’ve found that many former journalists turn to writing thrillers. Any ideas as to why that is? How does your background inform your fiction?

Simon Lelic: I’ve never really thought about this before, but I guess journalism teaches you to write sparely, to make every word count, and this style of writing definitely suits the thriller genre. For a thriller to work well, you need to keep the story moving forwards. 

L.L.: In shifting gears a bit, I am anxious to talk about the house as a character. Is that how you saw it, too—as a character—or was it more of a ‘setting?’

Simon Lelic: It started as just a setting, but quickly took on a personality on the page. At least for me – I can only hope that readers will agree! I’ve always loved haunted house stories – from Shirley Jackson to Mark Z. Danielewski – and I wanted the house in my novel to loom just as large in the reader’s mind as it would if they were reading a ghost story.

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L.L.: Syd’s character is complex, vulnerable, and secrets of her family origin leak.  transforming the narrative a bit into one of violence and perhaps madness. Was that intentional or did it sort of grow organically?

Simon Lelic: Syd was always the key to the story. Without giving too much away, her character, and the reasons for her being the way she is, are fundamental to events in the book. Which isn’t to say Jack’s background doesn’t have significance too…

L.L.:  Jack finds a small box filled with childhood treasures in the attic. What item(s) from your childhood do you long for, if only occasionally?

Simon Lelic: Books! For some reason I will never quite forgive myself for, I gave away whole boxloads of books I’d loved as a kid, I think at some point when I figured I was ‘all grown up’. But now I have children of my own (three of them, all turning into avid readers) I would dearly love to be able to pass on some of those books I devoured when I was their age, many of which no longer seem to be in print.

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L.L.: What aspects of writing have you struggled with and how did you work to strengthen those areas?

Simon Lelic: Writing is always a struggle, at least in the sense that you can invariably do it better. That’s partly why I love it so. It’s a craft, and like any craft, the key to improvement is practice.

L.L.: What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Simon Lelic: I’m not sure about the best piece of writing advice I’ve received, but the best piece I can give is, be wary of what advice you follow. Find what works for you, and do it.

L.L.: What question do you get asked all the time, that I forgot to ask?

Simon Lelic: The same question every author gets asked: where do you get your ideas? And I’m glad I don’t have to try to come up with an answer!

L.L.: Thank you, Simon. It’s been a pleasure!

Simon Lelic: Thanks so much for having me. I sincerely hope your readers enjoy the book!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of THE NEW NEIGHBORS, please see:

Order Links:

244784ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simon Lelic is a former journalist and the author of the award-winning A Thousand Cuts as well as the critically acclaimed The Facility and The Child WhoThe New Neighbors is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. Simon lives with his wife and three children.

 

 

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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[Cover(s) and author image retrieved from Penguin Random House website. Couple house-hunting retrieved from usatoday.com; all on 4.18.18 ] 

WeekEND Reading: Brad Parks on his new domestic thriller, CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you went to pick up your child from daycare only to learn he has been taken by social services? That’s what was haunting Brad Park when he set out to write CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW; understanding the emotional arc of his female characters, how being stubborn is his greatest strength at the keyboard, plus Coke Zero & ice cream

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Brad Parks is back with another stand-alone domestic thriller with engaging characters, stunning twists, and chilling discoveries, this time focusing on Child Social Services, a drug bust and more. 

CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW, the latest thriller from Brad Parks, is the perfect encapsulation of everything Parks does so well—shocking twists, compelling, true-to-life characters, and affecting emotional impact.

So when the publishing house reached out to me with this one, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Plus, that cover! It’s so hauntingly typical.

After a childhood spent bouncing between foster care homes, Melanie Barrick finally has the life she’s always wanted. But one day, Melanie goes to pick up her son Alex from childcare and discovers he has been removed by Social Services.

When she arrives home, she learns that her house has been raided by the sheriff’s deputies, who tell her that they’ve found enough cocaine to put her behind bars for years.

Though she maintains her innocence, Melanie knows she will lose Alex forever if she can’t find definitive proof that someone is trying to frame her.

Parks’ first standalone, SAY NOTHING, received rave reviews from top media outlets, genre titans–including Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver–and readers alike. And CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is just as thrilling. 

Please join me in conversation with Brad Parks. 

Leslie Lindsay: Brad, I’m so thrilled to have you today. I’m always interested to know what inspired a particular title. Can you tell us how you chose to center the plot of Closer Than You Know around the child welfare system?

Brad Parks: As an upper middle class white kid, I grew up with exactly zero experience of the child welfare system. Then I spent a decade as a reporter in Newark, where child protective services was an enormous presence in the lives of many, if not most, poor families. As a political nerd, it fascinated me that in America—a nation founded by guys trying to resist tyranny—we created a system that gives government so much authority over such an intensely personal aspect of citizens’ lives. Think about it: No matter where you live, there is a state or local agency that has legal ability to take your children away from you. Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great caution and only as a last resort. But what an awesome power. Especially if it was abused. That’s the basic germ that I allowed to take root in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW that someone who understands the system could manipulate it to steal someone’s baby.

L.L.: What research did you do for this novel? Were there any differences between this book’s research into the judicial system and that of your last book, Say Nothing?

Brad Parks: I spoke with people who work for Virginia social service agencies at a variety of levels—from a former secretary all the way up to a director. They were, without exception, dedicated professionals whose hearts were absolutely in the right place. From them, I learned how the system is supposed to work. Then I spoke with, and read memoirs by, former foster kids. From them I learned how the system actually works. There are some success stories, of course. But for a lot of children, particularly those who enter foster care at later ages, the system creates as many problems as it fixes.  I also spent time hanging around Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, talking with lawyers and a judge. The great difficult there is that, unlike adult courts, trials involving children are closed. That was probably the greatest difficulty: Not having the opportunity to observe directly. I found myself asking a lot of my sources questions like, “Okay, how does this go exactly? What does this look like?”hqdefault

L.L.: This is your first novel told from the perspective of female protagonists, Melanie Barrick and Amy Kaye. Did you find writing from the perspective of female characters more challenging? How did you ensure that the tone felt authentic? 

Brad Parks: With forty-three years’ experience thinking like a guy—and none thinking like a woman—the prospect of writing from the female perspective definitely intimidated me at first. And there were a handful of scenes where I was cognizant that a woman would experience the events unfolding in a fundamentally different way. But for the most part, once I got into the story, I was amazed how little it actually mattered. In most of the situations these women faced, gender was probably the seventh or eighth most important thing motivating their thoughts and actions. There were other aspects of their personalities that simply mattered more. They were driven by their wants, their needs, their ideals, their hopes. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t writing female protagonists. I was writing human protagonists who happened to be female.

L.L.: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is your eighth novel. How is this one different than your previous stories?

Brad Parks: I always have strong feelings for my characters. But I was more attached to Melanie Barrick than I’ve ever been to any of my previous protagonists, even the one loosely based on me. There were times when I felt this horrible guilt about what I was doing to her—ripping her baby away from her, putting her through this horrible ordeal, sending her to prison. I always talk my characters throughout the writing of a novel. I found myself apologizing to Melanie quite a bit.

L.L.: You write a lot about the bond between a mother and her child in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW. How were you able to convey this unique relationship on the page so vividly? And did your own experience as a dad shape the narrative?

Brad Parks: I did a tour of duty as a stay-at-home dad with an infant. For many long hours each day, it was just me and this baby. I came to realize that a big part of what our culture calls “motherhood” is really just having another human being who is wholly dependent on you for every need, all the time. So I certainly drew on that physical and emotional experience. But I also came to understand there is another aspect to motherhood, and that’s because I watched my wife parent this same child. She wasn’t with the baby for huge chunks of the day, like I was, and yet there were ways in which her bond with the baby was undeniably closer. That really helped me flesh out Melanie Barrick, because when Alex gets taken from her, she is no longer his caregiver. But, deep in the very core of her, she is—and will always be—his mother.

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L.L.: This novel is so emotionally resonant, but also quite thrilling in that psych-suspense aspect.How do you balance the plot so they are both something the reader will ‘feel’ but also entertaining?

Brad Parks: I write by feel. If I don’t feel something, chances are the reader isn’t going to feel something. And if the reader isn’t feeling something. . . well, really, what’s to stop them from putting this down and playing Sudoku?

L.L.:  Before you were a full-time novelist, you were a successful journalist. How does that inform your work today?

Brad Parks: One year at a daily newspaper brings you into contact with enough fascinating stories and weird characters to fuel at least twenty novels. It also teaches you how to learn (quickly!) about anything at all.

L.L.: Do you miss journalism?

Brad Parks: I miss the people. The newspaper newsroom of yore was a magical place: A collection of bright, talented, irascible folks—many of them temperamentally unsuited for employment in any other industry—who spent half the morning strangling each other and half the afternoon worrying about lunch. But then somehow by the end of the day, they managed to get their act together just enough to publish the equivalent of a full-length novel, complete with pictures, graphics, and the horoscopes. And then they’d get up the next day and do it all over again. It was magical to be even a small part of the whole crazy show.

L.L.: How did you make the decision to transition into writing novels?

Brad Parks: In some ways, the decision was made for me. The newspaper business began entering its death spiral around the time I turned thirty. I came to realize there was no chance I was going to be able to ride that dinosaur all the way to retirement. I took a buyout in 2008, when I was 34, figuring it was better to jump than be pushed. At that time it was frightening. And depressing. Journalism was all I had ever done, all I knew. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under ordinary circumstances, I am far too risk-averse by nature to do something as outrageous as leaving a steady job for the uncertainty of writing novels. It took the collapse of the industry to make me pursue a dream I otherwise would have been too chicken to chase on my own.

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L.L.: Can you tell us something about your process that might surprise people?

Brad Parks: How—for lack of a better word—physical it is. While I’m working on a novel, particularly in that crucial first-draft stage, I treat myself like a professional athlete in season. I do everything I can to maximize performance: I eat right; I don’t drink much (besides Coke Zero); I try to give my brain lots of rest, whether that’s goofing off in the afternoon, or getting eight hours of sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong, I have distractions, like everyone. But my goal is to structure the other twenty hours a day so that those four hours in the chair can be as productive as possible.

L.L.: What do you think is the most important trait you bring to the keyboard?

Brad Parks: Stubbornness. It’s the gas for my writing engine, and I’d like to think I have more of it than most. When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. There was one test where you had to rearrange blocks. The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop. I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved that second-grade problem. But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am willing to bash my head against the screen until the words come out right.

“Exciting. . . Parks excels at keeping the pages turning with brisk pacing, relentlessly high tension, and a knotty narrative.”
Publishers Weekly

L.L.: Rumor has it that you’re known to break out into song during author events. Me, too but not at author events…just around the house. And not well. Everyone rolls their eyes. What inspired you to make this a trademark at your events? Were you involved in musical theater during your school years?

Brad Parks: Those rumors are malicious and false. How dare you. . . Uh, okay, guilty as charged. I was all-state chorus, did high school musicals, sang a cappella in college (yeah, I was one of those guys) and have continued to sing in pretty much any forum in which I am not muzzled by either decorum or someone’s hand. It’s just something I love to do. 

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW?

Brad Parks: To my knowledge, there’s never been a thriller that uses the child welfare system as its backdrop. And while I’m not trying to cram a social work textbook down their throats, I would hope readers come away with a more nuanced understanding of that world and some compassion for those involved in it. That’s one of the things I love about the thriller genre: It’s a vehicle that allows you to explore some weighty social issues, yet do so in a way that’s still wildly entertaining. Done right, it’s like ice cream that’s good for you.

L.L.: Thank you, Brad. It was a pleasure…and now, for that ice cream.

For more information, or to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, please visit:

Order Links:

brad-parks-smile-225-shadowABOUT THE AUTHOR:   International bestselling author Brad Parks is the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and have won critical acclaim across the globe, including stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website and used with permission from publisher. Images all retrieved on 3.15.18. Sources as follows: stay at home dad image retrieved from, newspaper newsroom image retrieved from, Juvenile and Domestic Relations court sign retrieved from,]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Ali Land talks about her time as a mental health nurse in the U.K., her ‘insatiable curiosity’ about people, female serial killers, nature vs. nurture, the stress of writing a second book, and more in her international bestseller, GOOD ME BAD ME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Is it nature or nurture? That’s the overarching question in this debut psychological thriller about a female serial killer and her daughter. 
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When I heard about GOOD ME BAD ME, I knew I had to get my hands on it. So when the publisher reached out with a gorgeous copy (seriously, this is an exquisite package), I was thrilled.

Annie (who now goes by Milly) is 15 and living with a foster family. Her mother is a serial killer awaiting trial. After turning her mother into the police, Milly must start fresh. Living with Mike, a psychologist, his yoga-loving (though emotionally absent wife) and snarky teenage daughter, Phoebe, Milly is doing the best she can to adjust to life without her mother, a new school, and a new identity.

Told in a voice-y dialogue from the POV of a 15 year old, GOOD ME BAD ME straddles the YA genre with that of a psychological thriller. Rest assured, there are many adult themes in this book; it is not a book for younger readers.

The writing is edgy and emotional. While not horribly graphic in detail (not a horror in that sense), the acts committed to children are unspeakable and could cause triggers for some. I found GOOD ME BAD ME complex, chilling, and insightful in terms of a teenage voice plagued by mental illness.

I am so honored to welcome Ali Land to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Ali, when I read that you were a mental health nurse working with children in the U.K., I was hooked. Reading and writing has always been a love of mine, but like you, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. I find the mind such a fascinating tangle. What ultimately inspired, your career in mental health?

Ali Land: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me on your blog! I had an insatiable curiosity about people and their minds from a very young age. I grew up in a boarding school and found it fascinating observing the different ways my friends reacted to the same situation. As I hit my teenage years the observing morphed into a desire to understand the ‘why’s’ – why was a person sad enough to harm themselves, why were they scared, why did one of my closest friends at school stop eating. I wanted to help. Specialising in children’s mental health felt very natural for me, being able to use stories and play and the therapeutic conversations I had with the adolescents will never leave me, in fact, one conversation in particular I had with a teenage girl formed the basis of GOOD ME BAD ME.

L.L.: I know there are plenty of memorable patients from my years as a psychiatric nurse. In fact, I’ve tried (and failed) writing a novel involving one. What inspired GOOD ME BAD ME? And what were some of your challenges?

Ali Land: Years ago I looked after a teenage girl who no longer wanted to live. Her mother had been involved in the serious harm of young children and the girl was convinced she would end up doing the same as her mother. The notion of living with a parental legacy of evil haunted me. The burden this girl, and other children I
looked after, carried, was so apparent. In addition to that I witnessed young people taking on traits of, not just the adults around them, but the absent parents too, the one’s they hadn’t seen since they were babies. Was this girl right? Can the apple ever fall far from the tree? How much choice do we have about who we become? Over the years those questions grew arms and legs inside of me and when I couldn’t hold them in any longer, the first draft of GOOD ME BAD ME was born. 

images (24)The challenges in writing the story were great. Initially I found it hard to talk about the book without crying. I worried I might further isolate children like my main character, Milly, by using the medium of a thriller to push the nature/nurture debate. The idea of using the realities of damaged young people and turning it into entertainment is something I feel very strongly about. My main priority was facilitating an authentic experience, one that would allow readers to inhabit the mind and body of a child who has a complex and disturbing past, and to illustrate that simply desiring to be good isn’t enough. I strived really hard to write GOOD ME BAD ME in a way that ensures it’s thrilling enough so readers have to keep turning the pages, but moving enough so they would want to discuss it afterwards. When readers contact me to tell me I’ve achieved that, that for me is the biggest reward.It tore out of me in five months.

L.L.: Female serial killers are pretty rare. You mention this in GOOD ME BAD ME, but just how rare are they? What kind of research did you do to write this story?

Ali Land: I don’t know that much about female serial killers other than they often operate in co-dependent relationships with men, Rosemary West and Myra Hindley immediately coming to mind. It was a conscious decision I made not to research female killers because the point of the book is that the reader’s eye is on Milly, the daughter. It’s her story. Many people comment on the fact I never name her serial killer mother but I do, only once, with the majority of readers missing it as was my intention. I view my writing as an extension of my nursing and I felt it was my responsibility to focus, not on the crimes, but on the aftermath and the teenager left behind.

 L.L.:  There are so many issues and concepts in GOOD ME BAD ME from the foster system, bullying, nature vs. nurture, mental health, suicide, and more. What do you hope readers take away from Milly’s experience?

Ali Land: Two things. Firstly, an authentic and compassionate understanding of the psychological processes a child such as Milly endures. And secondly, that although nature/nurture has always, and will always be the greyest of grey areas and even if it seems futile at points, we should never stop trying to understand or care for our young people, the product of both their environment and their genes.

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L.L.: What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Ali Land: Brexit and my second book. Brexit because, well, it’s a horrible reality that instead of the world becoming more united, the opposite seems to be happening. And my second book because 2017, my debut year, has been pretty stellar and it’s hard not to feel paralyzed by what’s next. I used to say to the kids I looked after as a mental health nurse, ‘just do your best and don’t forget to breathe,’ and I’m trying very hard to take my own advice as I begin climbing the mountain of my second book.

L.L.: Ali, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Ali Land: Not at all, your questions were wonderful, thank you, but if I may, I’d love to add this:

To all the writers out there. I did it and you can too. Read lots, write lots and never give up!

~Ali x

For more information, to connect with Ali via social media, or to purchase a copy of GOOD ME BAD ME, please see:

Copyright lauralewisphotography.co.uk Ali Land 2 0588 2AUTHOR BIO: After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali spent a decade working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia. Though a voracious reader from a young age and a keen observer of the world, it took Ali over thirty years to put pen to paper but she sure is glad she did! Ali’s debut novel Good Me Bad Me is an international bestseller and will be translated into twenty-three languages. It was short-listed for The Most Unreliable Narrator at the Dead Good Reader Awards, short-listed by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger and won Book Of The Year at Heat magazine Unmissables Awards. It’s also a New York Times Editors choice and a Richard and Judy book club pick. Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in London and is currently working on her second novel.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Flatiron Books and used with permission. Author image credit: Laura Lewis Photography. Nature vs. Nurture image from. Mental Health Nurse image from zazzle.com. Book wreath from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]

Wednesdays with Writers: Lori Rader-Day talks about her summer plans to teach at distinguished writing institutions, her latest book, THE DAY I DIED, and how it got it’s start at a writer’s workshop nearly 10 years ago, handwriting analysis, what she loves (and hates) about being a novelist and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE DAY I DIED explores the fascinating and unique aspects of handwriting analysis to help track down a killer/kidnapper told in a dark, glimmering prose. 

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Lori Rader-Day burst onto the literary scene in 2014 with her debut mystery, THE BLACK HOUR, which won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. And then her second book, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, won the Mary Higgins Clark award and was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by the notoriously cranky Kirkus Reviews.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. Now, with a new publisher, William Morrow, Lori returns with THE DAY I DIED (April 11, 2017), an unforgettable tale o f a mother’s search for a lost boy.

Anna Winger is on the run. We know she has secrets, but what exactly are they? This is part of mystery #1. The second is that there’s a 2-year-old boy missing from the town in which she and her 13 -year-old son are currently living. The sheriff calls her in, asks if she can take a look at some handwriting samples to discern where this young child is and perhaps who may have taken him.

And there’s more, too. Why is there a dead nanny in a bathroom stall? And who killed her?

Anna is working so, so hard to cover up this past of hers, the one she’s running from and trying her best to shield her son from.
But the current events with the missing child is dredging up some dark memories.

Told entirely in Anna’s POV, we travel from small town Indiana to a Wisconsin lake, from present to past, and back again. Rader-Day’s skill lies in writing so authentically about the Midwest, getting into the heads of her characters, and weaving a tangled web of possibilities.

Please join me in welcoming Lori Rader-Day back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Lori, it’s great to have you back. I always think of one of our first chats in which you told me that you could write anywhere, and that you once amassed many pages on a cruise ship. What are your summer plans this year?

Lori Rader-Day: My plans include writing, writing, and more writing, but probably not on a cruise ship. I’m teaching at Yale Writers’ Workshop (I’ll be in New Haven when this post launches) and Antioch Writers’ Workshop this summer, traveling to Mackinac Island to do a library talk and stay at the magnificent Grand Hotel, and did I mention writing?thumbs_grand-hotel-mackinac-island-americas-summer-place

L.L.: I understand THE DAY I DIED was written as a short story during your creative writing program nearly a decade ago (I’m going to come back to that soon), what was it then that was the seed for this story?

Lori Rader-Day: I needed something new to bring to my workshop, so I went to a library and trolled around for inspiration. I found a book on the shelf, facing out, about handwriting analysis and thought, “Well, I don’t anything about that.” The short story is still in the book, though it’s bookended by a new beginning, some new scenes, and about 350 more pages after the story “ends.”

L.L.: And so THE DAY I DIED didn’t become your first published book. Or your second. Sometimes I think our best ideas take time to percolate. Was it that way for you, or something else?

Lori Rader-Day: The idea for THE DAY I DIED was a good one, but it was a complex one and one that I was not ready to perfect. When I finished the first full draft in 2009, I was in the middle of a day-job career transition and I think what I needed was distance from this story. I also needed something new to write in the mean time. The new thing turned into my first published novel, THE BLACK HOUR. After I turned in LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I thought to return to THE DAY I DIED, to see if I was a good enough writer to make it what I had hoped it would be. The distance I had given it worked really well. It had been about six years by that point, and I was able to see where I’d set myself up badly. Revisions still took time, but at least my vision for the book was clear.

L.L.: I love, love the idea of handwriting analysis.[graphology]. As I was reading, I told my family about the premise of the book and got a few raised eyebrows, much like Sheriff Keller’s view of it being ‘woo-woo.’ What can you tell me about this practice? And I’d love to hear a few ‘truths,’ about handwriting styles, too. Have you ever had yours analyzed?

Lori Rader-Day:  I don’t have the training that Anna Winger does in the book; I’ve only done a little research in order to do the book. That said, I learned a few things, enough to intuit some vague ideas about someone’s handwriting. I have also had the chance to meet a couple of handwriting experts since I published the book; one of them did my Chicago launch event with me. We talked about the book a little, but then I interviewed him about his work and learned enough to do a sequel! He analyzed my handwriting for the audience, which was fun. (And he was kind, maybe suspiciously so.) One story he told that I’m fascinated by was one in which he worked with a farmer who claimed a contract with his “X” on it had not been signed by him. notebook-letter_300His X—he meant this literally—had indeed been forged, and this expert could tell just by the way the fibers in the paper showed the direction of the pen on each hash of the X. One letter, and this guy could tell that the X had indeed been forged. I’m not sure what I think of handwriting analysis when it gets into psychological attributes. I’m probably with the sheriff on this one. [there are several self-tests on handwriting on the Internet, which may be of interest. Here are my favorites. From Reader’s Digest, RealSimple.]

L.L.: Lately, I’ve been curious about life paths and how things end up. Fate, I guess. Happiness, too. And if we’re doing what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing with our lives. Big deep questions. So…how it is being a novelist? What about the job are you wild about and not-so-wild about?

Lori Rader-Day: I’m definitely doing the thing I should be doing, but even so, I know what you mean. It’s a lot of work for a person who likes to sit around and read books, so even I have my doubts. Being a novelist is both fantastic and challenging. I love the writing and I hate the writing. I love the promotions and I hate the promotions, mostly because it’s exhausting. But then I’m the one who sets up my promotions for the most part. I’m the one in charge. I should just control my calendar a little bit more, right? But it’s been a joy to travel around talking about my book and meeting new readers. Oh, and seeing friends in each city. That is a real perk.

“Beautiful prose and tack-sharp observations round out this slow-burning but thought-provoking meditation on the ravages of domestic violence.”
— Publishers Weekly

L.L.: There’s part of me that sort of kind of feels THE DAY I DIED could be a series. Do you ever think about tossing your characters from one book into a new story?

Lori Rader-Day: I’m not sure I could do it. For each book, someone says it could be a series. Sure, I could figure it out. But the writing is what I enjoy, and part of why I enjoy it is because it’s a new puzzle of character and plot. I love series books and admire those who do them well, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll decide to continue one of my characters because I love the fresh new story so much. It started when I was writing during my lunch hours at a very demanding full-time job. If the story hadn’t been new and compelling to me, I would never have finished the book.
girl-writing-stars
That said, I did get some ideas for a follow-up from that handwriting expert I talked with. Never say never! My next book, however, is another stand-alone. I love stand-alones.

L.L.: Anna is all about staying off social media, the Internet. But there’s some digging that has to be done in the story. What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Lori Rader-Day:  Hmm. I was Googling author websites this morning to a link to a book cover for a June release I added to Mystery Writers America Midwest Chapter. I’m the chapter president right now, but also apparently the web mistress. Yesterday I went through all my saved links looking for story ideas and organizing them into things I had saved for writing certain projects. I think that’s called procrastination.

L.L.: Lori, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may McGulpin-Point-Lighthouse_72dpi.jpg-nggid0273-ngg0dyn-220x190x100-00f0w010c011r110f110r010t010have forgotten?

Lori Rader-Day: Most people want to know about my next project… As yet untitled mystery set in a dark sky park in Michigan, out from Harper Collins William Morrow in spring 2018. (I’ll let you all Google “dark sky park.”) Thanks, Leslie!

For more information about the book, to connect with Lori via social media, or to order your own copy of THE DAY I DIED, please visit: 

Rader-Day_Lori-lo-221x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, Little Pretty Things, won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was a nominee for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original. Little Pretty Things was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by Kirkus Reviews andone of the top ten crime novels of the year by Booklist. Her third novel, The Day I Died, will be released by Harper Collins William Morrow on April 11, 2017. She lives in Chicago.

 

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[Author and cover image courtesy of WilliamMorrow/HarperCollins and used with permission. Other images as follows, all on 6.9.17: McGulpin Point Lighthouse Dark Sky Park  MI retrieved from http://www.darkskypark.org, image of exterior of Grand Hotel from grandhotel.com/galleries. Letter and flower from Pinterest, no source noted.]

WeekEND Reading: Heather Gudenkauf on her most personal thriller yet, who her favorite character is, why nurses aren’t boring, grit, determination, oh–and a dead body–in her new book, NOT A SOUND

By Leslie Lindsay 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf churns out her most personal, and powerful story yet with NOT A SOUND, rife with medical mysteries and a murder, too. 

Not A Sound cover
When a tragic accident leaves ER nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose anything she ever cared about: her career, her husband, and her 7-year old stepdaughter, Nora.

It’s two years after that fateful night in which Amelia loses her hearing when she stumbles across a dead body in the dense brush by the river where she likes to paddleboard–someone she knows. I don’t want to give away too much, but it goes without saying that she gets wrapped up in the murder case. Clues seem so familiar to her own, earlier accident which caused her deafness. Could the two be related?

Told entirely from Amelia’s first-person POV, the writing in NOT A SOUND is taut, emotional, fast-paced, and Gudenkauf’s research clearly shows.
Amelia Winn is strong, capable and I was definitely rooting for her. And her service dog, Stitch, who really kind of became the star, at least for me.

I’m super-thrilled to welcome Heather back to the blog couch to chat about her amazing new novel, NOT A SOUND (Park Row, May 30). Plus, it’s a REAL SIMPLE magazine pick of the month! 

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Heather! I practically devoured NOT A SOUND. It was a rainy weekend in Chicagoland and I couldn’t put it down. I might be wrong in saying this, but I felt the pace of this one was much faster than your other books. Can you speak to that, please?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie! NOT A SOUND does have a swift pace. I think I structured the novel this way for several reasons, the first being that at its heart NOT A SOUND is a thriller and the brisk pace lends itself to the tension and suspense that I hoped to achieve. Also a good amount of the novel is set along the Five Mines River and like a fast moving river, the events in NOT A SOUND tumble along at a break neck speed. timthumb

L.L.: I guess before we get too far into the narrative, I’m very curious why this story, why now? I know two things: 1) you’re partially deaf yourself and 2) your son has battled cancer. Those two things alone are hugely personal and sometimes personal things make great fiction, sometimes not. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for NOT A SOUND?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, I tend to weave little snippets of my life – locations, some small experiences – into my novels. And while NOT A SOUND isn’t autobiographical it is the first time that I included such personal topics. I was born with a profound hearing loss that was discovered when I was in elementary school. I’m deaf in my left ear which makes it hard for me to be able to tell where sounds are coming from and in noisy situations I can have a very difficult time understanding others, but most of the time I don’t think twice about it.

My son did battle cancer as a young teen and is now doing great! The entire experience was heartbreaking, painful and absolutely devastating but we also found many blessings during this very difficult time. We had an incredible medical team, family, friends and community there to support us the entire way.

I’ve always wanted to write a story that featured a heroine that happened to be deaf and I knew I wanted to explore the topic of health care and cancer in one of my novels. Writing from the point of view of a character who happens to be deaf was challenging and it was important for me to portray a deaf character accurately and respectfully – I hope I did Amelia justice.

download (5)L.L.: And Amelia! I loved her. A writer friend once said long ago (I’m paraphrasing), “Nurses as characters are boring. Nothing ever happens to them; they are always conscientious and thoughtful and busy saving lives.” I chewed on that a bit. I’m a former R.N. I don’t think of myself as ‘boring.’ I’ve toyed with the idea of a nurse protagonist, too but…well, I lived it and discounted it. Can you talk a little about your research into the nursing profession, procedures and terminology? [P.S. May is also National Nurse Appreciation Week/Month]

Heather Gudenkauf: I absolutely don’t think of nurses as boring! I grew up watching medical dramas like M*A*S*H and Trapper John, MD and was entranced by the capable, methodical nurses who always kept their cool. I knew early on that the nursing profession wasn’t for me, I get a bit woozy around blood, but I’ve been in awe of nurses my entire my life. My mom was a nurse, as was my sister-in-law. Then, of course, there were the nurses who took care of my son during his illness.

For the novel, when it came to the technical aspects of the medical profession, I definitely relied on the experts ~including a great friend who is a nurse and my sister-in-law who is a physician.

L.L.: Amelia isn’t your ‘typical’ goody-two-shoes nurse. She paddle boards and lives in a cute little A-frame on the banks of a river. She’s getting divorced. She has some demons. And then she finds this dead body. How did Amelia’s character evolve for you as you wrote her story?

Heather Gudenkauf: Amelia is definitely not a typical wife, mother or nurse. She came to me in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I knew she was going to be strong and independent, but her other character traits emerged as I wrote the novel. At the outset, Amelia is just getting her life back together after hitting rock bottom. She’s starting from scratch and finally lands a new job and gets to spend time with her step-daughter when she comes upon a grisly discovery while paddling boarding. Immediately Amelia is thrust into a mystery that threatens her own well-being and she needs to utilize every bit of her determination, grit and intelligence to survive.

L.L.: In the terms of medicine, we’re always under the impression that ‘doctor 41m+qEX4S7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_knows best.’ When we’re in the throes of a medical emergency or a grim diagnosis, we have to put our trust in the trained professionals. In fact, there’s a brand-new memoir [THE TINCTURE OF TIME] out about a mother whose infant was having mysterious strokes and she put all her faith in the medical community. Not everything turned out for the best. So if you were to complete this sentence, “Putting your trust in medicine is____,” what might you say?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love reading memoirs ~ I’ll have to check this one out. I would say “Putting your trust in medicine is absolutely necessary.” But that said, it’s imperative to listen to that little internal voice that tends to pipe up once in a while. Ask the questions, get the second opinion. It can be scary when you have to rely on the expertise of others especially in life and death situations. It’s important to feel comfortable with the care you or a loved one is receiving. Fortunately, my son received top-notch care while he was battling cancer ~ and we are forever grateful for this.

L.L.: What, in your real-life might make a plot for a mystery?

Heather Gudenkauf: Oh, wow! I live a completely boring, nondescript kind of life so I’m afraid that the extent of intrigue in my life comes down to remembering where I lay down my glasses and the book I’m currently reading!

“Twisting, atmospheric and dark, Heather Gudenkauf’s Not A Sound will draw you right into the silent world of Amelia Winn and keep you riveted. This is a thrill ride to be sure, but it’s also a gripping tale of tragedy and redemption. If you haven’t read Heather Gudenkauf yet, now’s the time.”

—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter

L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Heather Gudenkauf: I’m trying to make healthier meals at home so I Googled a recipe for fried cauliflower rice. It was surprisingly delicious!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie ~ I always enjoy chatting with you!   I do want to give a shout out to who is perhaps my favorite character in NOT A SOUND – Stitch, Amelia’s service dog. On more than one occasion Stitch manages to steal the show. He’s a loyal, loveable and excellent in a crisis!images (5)

For more information about NOT A SOUND, to connect with Heather via social media, or to purchase (pre-order, available May 30 2017) your own copy of the book, please see: 

HeatherGudenkauf credit Morgan HawthorneABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of nurse retrieved from iStockphotos.com, image of service dog retrieved from anythingispawasble.com. Image of Tincture of Time retrieved from Amazon, all on 5.19.17]