An Interview Among Friends – Lori Rader-Day

Rader Day_Lori 2_bwAn Interview Among Friends
By Lori Rader-Day

When Crimespree magazine asked me to write a piece on my debut mystery, The Black Hour, I was flattered—and a little stumped on where to start. The horrors of the blank page and all that. I found myself wishing someone would send me some questions. So I asked a few of my favorite mystery writers to ask me one question apiece. These are people I’m lucky enough to count among my friends, but you’ll notice they didn’t take it easy on me…

Psychological suspense demands more insight and depth than most mysteries. In your debut novel, you’ve hit it out of the park. What drew you to this challenging sub-genre? -Terry Shames, author of The Last Death of Jack Harbin

Is that what I’m writing? My agent called it a thriller when she pitched it, and now my publisher bills it as a mystery. I’ve started calling myself a crime writer, because the only thing I can guarantee from one book to another is that a crime will occur—though I’m not sure that’s the true designation of crime fiction, is it? The problem with labels is that we don’t all fall into clear-cut categories. But if they help readers find the books they’re looking for, sure, I’ll take psychological suspense.

What drew me to the story of The Black Hour was the idea of that first day back to work, after Amelia Emmet’s life has been hijacked first by an act of violence against her, then by a long recovery that keeps her away from the job she loves, and then, finally, by public opinion and curiosity. Victims of crimes, in many ways, become the public property of the story. I wanted to see if this character could somehow reclaim her life and reclaim control of her own story.

In The Black Hour, the protagonist is judged in quite an ignorant, cavalier, and callous manner by people who don’t know her or understand what happened to her. The “blame the victim” device is a fascinating element in your book. Without giving anything away, can you discuss your ideas on this? -James Ziskin, author of No Stone Unturned

I’m as guilty of anyone of thinking I understand something because I read a single news story about it. So these callous characters who get it wrong are as much me as Amelia is, as is her overly earnest grad student, Nathaniel, or any of the people in my book.

So I don’t let myself off the hook when I say I’m interested in how crime changes how we see others, even the victims. Crime changes everything, in what little experience I have with it personally. But “blame the victim” is something that is alive and well in our society, and we only have to look at how communities rally around, say, high school athletes accused of rape and not the victims of these acts. This is an example ripped from the headlines, as Law & Order would say, not from my book, but it’s an artifact of our culture that’s interesting to me. Outraging—but interesting.

Your protagonist, Amelia Emmet, researches and teaches the sociology of crime. For you as a writer, is it more liberating to write about a field other than your own? -Susan Froetschel, author of Fear of Beauty

It was very liberating—from worrying that I would somehow invoke any of the faculty members I work with at my university day job. But really, when I was first writing The Black Hour, what I needed was resonance. I needed Amelia to have a professional’s view of violence. If she’d been a lay person to how violence works and what it looks like, she might have spent the full book crying in a dark corner of her apartment. That’s what I would do, wouldn’t you? I wanted her to be able to skip some of that stuff and get mad, but then I also thought it would be interesting to see how becoming a victim changed her mind about her work, which is all she has left at the beginning of the book. And she’s not entirely sure how her ideas have changed, as she admits in one scene—but making her an insider of sorts gave the book a tweak of irony, which keeps things fun for me.

Some writers outline their whole books, others wing it, not knowing where they’re going until they get there. I imagine the same holds true for writers and their careers. Do you have a plan for your books, and your career—or are you just making it up as you go? -Clare O’Donohue, author of The Double Wedding Ring

Interviewing for the job, am I? I’m a pantser by nature when I’m writing, so you would think that I’d be seat-of-my-pants as I built a writing career as well. But I feel as though I’ve been working toward this first novel and whatever comes after it for too long to say I’ve been winging it. I did wing it for a long time, and it wasn’t working. Somehow I wasn’t magically writing books without sitting down to do so or publishing books without having written them. The nerve of those books not to write themselves! So I decided to get serious about my efforts, and I’ve been plotting and planning a writing career ever since.

I’ve read all the books, followed all the websites, and joined Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. I still read Writer’s Digest and I get Crimespree (suck up!) and Mystery Scene at home. When I list it all out like that, I feel almost mercenary in my efforts to be a writer—but that’s what it’s taken, in my case. The good news is that I love it all so much that it doesn’t feel mercenary. I do have to say, however, that no amount of this kind of thing prepares you completely for the real life of a writer, nor does it get your books written. In a lot of ways, winging it might be a better plan.

Some writers love writing and some writers only love having written. Some writers find writing hard and some writers find not writing much harder. Where are you with all of that, and was there a change between the first book and the second? -Catriona McPherson, author of The Day She Died

I love that moment when the words start to lift off the page and fly on their own. That’s the joy in writing, for me. But that doesn’t happen every day or—let’s be honest, since I don’t write every day—every writing session. I’m relieved when I’ve written, but sometimes even then the words didn’t come out easily and I’m grumpy and wrung out from having produced them. I think the only great advice I’ve ever encountered and can confirm is that you should write anyway, even when it’s not easy, even when it’s not going well. The next day, in my experience, you often can’t tell the difference between words that came easily and words that fought you the entire way.

O-ho! The astute readers of this publication are pointing to the place where I said I didn’t write every day. I’m a hypocrite of the first order. Yes, but those days, especially when they start to stack up in neat piles around me, make me crazy. I’m itchy and finger-tapping impatient when I haven’t written too many days in a row. The only difference in my feelings about my process between the first book and the one in progress now is that I have so very many more things keeping me from writing now than I did when I was writing The Black Hour. I wish I could find a way to be a faster writer, but then I also know The Black Hour wouldn’t have been the book it is if I’d rushed it. What I love best about writing is revision. I love that chance to pull the threads a little more tightly, to layer in all the things I meant to say.

Which three books would you have to have on the proverbial desert island? -Lynne Raimondo, author of Dante’s Poison
If you take this question seriously, as I’m about to, the answer could take up the rest of your day. Whole college courses, textbooks, or smart phone apps could be set aside to the decision-making algorithms of choosing Desert Island Entertainment. I’ll just give a shot the old fashioned way.

The books you’d want on the island would be different than the ones you might call your favorites in normal life. For the island, you need bulk and complexity to keep your mind nimble long enough for rescue. Mystery novels are good for this, except that many of them are lean, quick page-turners. Not ideal. But! The Complete Sherlock Holmes, with all four novels and 56 short stories, would do very nicely. And maybe I’d take something like Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, because that is the only way I’m ever going to get that book read. It has a family tree at the beginning of the book; that is not a book I can read in a half-hour here and there. And then this is a total cop-out, but I’d take the fattest, largest quad-lined blank book I could lay my hands on so that I could keep writing. I didn’t come all this way and get on this desert island to give up writing.

Of course the desert island situation seems to always come by surprise, so I’d probably have only a tiny, thin Moleskine and maybe, if I’m lucky, a single paperback mystery with me. And that mystery would then become the bible and founding document of my new island society. I’d better start carrying around the good stuff, just in case.