Emma Flint Slays in Little Deaths

It took me a while to read Little Deaths by Emma Flint.  Perhaps because of the time period.  I don’t normally read books that aren’t set in the modern day unless they’re by Laura Lippman or Megan Abbott or other authors I trust frequently.  I am so disappointed—not in this book, which was absolutely stunning, but that I waited so long to read this fantastic novel.  This book, loosely based on a true story, is anything but boring, predictable, or dull.  I did, in fact, read it all in one sitting—one very long sitting, staying up all through the night while my partner constantly asked me to go to bed.  It was that haunting.

Little Deaths, like many of Megan Abbott’s books (or all of Megan Abbott’s books, really, and most of Laura Lippman’s standalones as well) is based on a true story—did a woman actually kill her young son and daughter? From the beginning of the novel, we know that things do not bode well for Ruth Malone, and the novel goes on to chronicle the trial she endures for—and I won’t spoil anything—perhaps murdering her own children.

Stories like these are often complicated.  I come from South Carolina, where Susan Smith drowned her own sons in the ‘90s, when I was still a child.  There are many women who experience or commit several crimes, often enduring post-partum depression or other issues that drive them to a point of madness or simply utter confusion and loss.  Flint manages to portray all sides of the situation with such agility and fierceness that the reader is forced to question everyone, and even sympathize with a would-be, might-be child murderer.

Image result for emma flint little deathsThere are so many things incriminating Flint’s protagonist, this woman who has had her own hard life and now must face an even tougher outcome. Yet the book flows effortlessly, never weighing the reader down too much with too much gravity or sadness, always reminding the consumer that this is the woman’s story, not the child’s story, and that the woman at the center of the book is, in many ways, a victim of the times she lives in and her situation.

I do have one problem with this book, and it may seem juvenile. I wish it was longer, and that is purely for selfish reasons. I did not want this book to end. Little Deaths, a play on words, a play on my heart, is a book I wanted to continue on forever, just so I did not have to part with the characters or, even more frankly, the writer Flint’s beautiful style. She can at once be so matter-of-fact and also lyrical it puts many other authors to shame.

If you don’t trust me in regards to Flint’s stunning novel Little Deaths, then perhaps refer to the numerous nominations and praise it has received, the stunning responses of fans from around the globe who truly love this book.  I rarely close an article by saying this—and yet, with so many great debuts coming out this year, this phrase may become a favorite of mine—I cannot wait to see what Emma Flint produces next.  She is a writer of superb talent that is virtually unmatched by beginner writers, someone who should be revered and read widely.  She is a writer who understands women, various time periods, and all of the emotions and contradictions of the human hearts.

Read Little Deaths.  Read it now.

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Laura Lippman: An Interview with One of the Biggest Names in the Industry

Matthew Turbeville: Hi Laura, it’s so nice to have you here with MysteryPeople.  We love your work and are in awe of your newest book, Sunburn.  I know you said it might be your favorite book you’ve written so far—what’s your second favorite, and what’s your least favorite book? Also, what makes these books your favorite or your least favorite?

Laura Lippman: I cringe a little bit thinking about my early work. I think I leaned a little too hard into certain jokes. There’s a recent television show that I’m obsessed with precisely because of that same tendency. (I won’t name it because I know one of the writers on it.) I am who I am. Unlike some other writers I know — Megan Abbott is an obvious example — I wasn’t anywhere close to fully formed when I started publishing, although I was no youngster. But I don’t know how I would have gotten to the books I ended up writing without writing those early books.

My least favorite book is always the book I’m working on, but it’s also my favorite. It’s very much like being a mom.

MT: I’ve loved your books for the longest time.  Can you explain where you got the idea for your first novel, Baltimore Blues, and how it evolved into one of the greatest P.I. series of all time?

LL: I was dating a young lawyer with a horrible boss. One icy November night, my boyfriend was late meeting me and I was worried about him. I called the office — this would have been 8 o’clock or so — and his boss screamed at me. (I found out later my boyfriend was chasing a FedEx truck down the street, trying to make the last delivery of the night.) I later remarked, “One day someone is going to kill your boss and there are going to be so many suspects it will be impossible to solve.”

We began to talk about how this might make a great mystery novel. He saw himself as the lead, the wrongly accused associate, with a female sidekick who helps to prove his innocence. I thought, Well, I’m the writer. I think it should be a story about a young woman who investigates to help her friend.

MT: I know one thing that’s important to you is the rise of women in crime fiction and how important it is that women and other minorities are contributing to this genre.  Who are your favorite women writers—as well as other minorities? How do you suggest we further expand and make room in the genre for other marginalized groups?

LL: I’ve mentioned Megan. My other favorites include Denise Mina, Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books, Alison Gaylin, Alafair Burke, Lisa Lutz, Attica Locke, Ivy Pochoda. Boy, that’s a really white list, though. And awfully heterosexual, to the best of my knowledge. Crime fiction really needs to have some different voices.

But then, I think we all have to challenge ourselves to read outside our comfort zones. I like to read about people with whom I identify. But by “identify,” I don’t mean race/sexual orientation/age. I like to read about people who are unsure and looking for answers. Probably one reason I became a crime writer.

MT: You’ve won more awards than I can count.  Do you have a favorite award that you’ve won, one that feels more special to you than the rest? I know you tied with Megan Abbott at one point, which seems like an honor on both of your ends.  What author would you give an award to if you had the chance?

LL: Tying with Megan was pretty great. But I have to say, the first award I won, the Edgar, stands out in my memory. It was so early in my career and it made my novel-writing career feel quite different from my newspaper writing career, where the bosses did not see me as someone who could win the field’s top prize.

MT: I love your matter-of-fact storytelling.  You are very to-the-point and no-nonsense, and your prose is really beautiful in its own way.  No one is writing exactly like you.  Where did you get the influence to write this way? What books were important to you, and remain important, in determining the influence of your writing style?

LL: My prose style is probably the result of reading far too many articles aimed at teenage girls trying to make the most of their assets, beauty and style-wise. My prose is not naturally beautiful. It just isn’t. I read enough poetry to know that I don’t write the kind of words that make readers almost startle from the glory of the images and the sounds. But I try to exploit whatever merits are there. It’s funny, I’m answering these questions after a morning of writing a passage about an older woman who absolutely owns her unconventional looks, who compared herself to Diane Vreeland. I think that’s how I feel about my prose. It’s mine, it has a distinctive style. Possibly one that involves in wearing mostly black accessorized with some very good pieces of Bakelite or Ippolita.

And even as I write these words, I kind of regret them. Because we live in this rah-rah branding world where being honest about one’s work isn’t always productive. I know writers who go around, humblebragging about how great they are and I see this become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their “brand,” if you will.

MT: You often teach classes, or workshops perhaps, involving new and emerging writers.  What is your favorite method of teaching? I know once you mentioned to me that your process is very visual.  Can you describe that?

LL:  I love doing one-on-one manuscript consultations because it’s like the movie version of psychotherapy. People come to me for a two-hour session and some of them, most of them, leave feeling “cured.” I use colored cards to show them a text-free version of their book and all sorts of insights pop out. Balance of POV, the shape of the story. There’s also an aspect of play to it and I think we should never lose sight that storytelling is fun, it’s something we do when we’re children. I had a very large collection of small stuffed animals from the Steiff Co. when I was a child. (I still have them and I am NOT a hoarder, nor particularly sentimental.) I played elaborate games of make-believe with them. And my sister and I played a version of Barbies that was very much influenced by the soap operas my mother liked.

MT: I know you often reference or base your novels on true crime stories.  This is fascinating to me—you take something so real and make it your own, and bring out the beauty in these stories, even in their most horrifying situations.  If you could tackle one true crime in a novel, what would it be?

LL: It’s not a crime, but I wish I knew the mystery of my mother’s father, who was divorced from my grandmother by the time my mother was a year old. There was this terrible silence around the story. My mother waited until her own mother had died to find him and then she declined to have any relationship with him. She has half sisters she’s never met. I don’t think it’s scandalous in any way, just a young marriage that didn’t work out. But it’s interesting to me that, as a family, we tacitly agreed not to speak of it and not to probe it.

MT: What is your favorite crime novel of all time? Are there any books or authors you think are overrated? Are there authors you find yourself returning to again and again?

LL: Can I claim Lolita as a crime story? I know, it’s a stretch, the kind of stretch that I normally hate, but it does play with a lot of the genre conventions. If not Lolita, then Mildred Pierce, which is barely a crime novel at all, although there are some disreputable accounting practices.

There are a lot of authors I think are overrated. I just don’t read them.

MT: I very rarely find that white authors can write about race in a new and “woke” way.  Yet, with you, you’re able to tackle almost any subject with an objectiveness and understanding that is refreshing and encouraging.  How do you go about investigating your novels, and doing research beforehand? What do you think helps you be so objective and thoughtful? How do you feel about other authors who have tackled issues like race, homophobia, sexism—things outside of themselves? Who does it best, and who would you like to see improve?

LL: I’m not going to claim I’m woke. But there’s this interesting conversation right now, in which some white/binary writers want to say, “How dare you suggest there are any limits on the imagination,” when the only thing anyone is suggesting is that writers are going to get called out for doing it poorly. I spent a few moments today wondering if I should describe a character’s weight, or if I was being a bit of a fat-ist, if the detail added something or simply reinforced certain stereotypes. All that said, it’s not for me to say who does it best, just that I’m thinking about it all the time. Sunburn identifies almost no one’s race — Polly, who has the titular sunburn, is clearly Caucasian — and there are actually three African-American characters hidden in the text. I thought that was kind of cool, but the writer Steph Cha politely challenged me when I mentioned it, said perhaps the way to go is to make sure that all skin colors are described. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m willing to try and willing to fail. But isn’t that the essence of writing? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing across the board?

I am slightly unusual because, growing up in Baltimore, I was often in the minority growing up. That’s a valuable experience. I encourage people to seek it out.

As for research — I do it as I go. I don’t believe in deep dives beforehand. That’s a form of procrastination I can’t afford, personally. I support myself through my writing. If I don’t publish, I don’t get paid. But even if someone paid me a sum that allowed me to work five years on a book, or I had a freak hit that sent so many royalties my way I never had to worry about money again — I don’t think I would change much. I like to get things right. I like to make stuff up. Once I know what I want to make up, it’s easier to get things right. Does that make sense?

MT: If you could suggest one of your books to President Trump, which would it be? Which of your books would America in general learn the most from?

LL: I would give President Trump the magical book from Seven Day Magic by Edward Eager and hope that he gets stuck in it, as Barnaby almost does, staring into a reflection that shows him his every flaw and defect, for an eternity.

I’m not sure I have anything to teach America, but I think my most overtly sociological novel is No Good Deeds, which is based on the all-too-real premise that it would be really easy to have a conspiracy that’s dependent upon killing young black men, because almost no one would notice or care.

MT: What do you think is the most important piece of advice or mantra an author can live by?

LL: Read well.

MT: How do you stay in the mind of one of your best protagonists, Tess, who is the subject of your Tess series? How have you stayed in her mind for so long? Is it like second-nature now?

LL: Tess and I agree on almost everything, although I think she needs to cultivate impulse control. She is my very satisfactory invisible friend and I am always happy in her company. It helps that we have several shared experiences — newspaper life, motherhood.

MT: I think my favorite book of yours is either Sunburn or After Im Gone.  What inspired After Im Gone? I remember when you announced your idea for Sunburn on social media—I believe you maybe got the idea in the shower? What triggered it?

LL: After I’m Gone was my husband’s idea. He lobbied for years. But I didn’t see my way into it until I flipped it, decided to focus on the women left behind, not the man who left and where he was. For a long time, it was going to center on what happened when the youngest daughter showed up at High Holiday services in a fur she couldn’t possibly afford. Clearly, the book changed a lot.

MT: What advice do you give to new and struggling writers?

LL:  Persevere. It’s hard, I know, in this climate, and it probably seems very easy for me to give such advice. In hindsight, I had a relatively painless passage from unpublished to published. But it never feels easy, I don’t think.

MT: What are you writing next? Our readers are likely dying to know.

LL:  A historical novel, assuming we all agree that 1966 is now in the history books. It’s about a 30-something housewife who leaves her husband, much to everyone’s amazement (including her own) and then decides she wants to be a reporter.

MT: Laura, thank you so much for joining us at MysteryPeople.  It was such an honor and a privilege.  We love your work so much, and especially Sunburn, out February 18.  P.S. I adore you and your work.

LL: Mutual, I’m sure.

All Too Real: The Power of Voice and Sisterhood in Julie Buntin’s Marlena

Marlena by Julie Buntin made my top ten list for 2017 and with good reason.  Marlena, Buntin’s debut novel, is anything but a beginner’s work.  It is filled with wisdom, finely crafted, and utterly heartbreaking in the best of ways.  This is a book I have read countless times, one of those books I turn to for comfort and solace even if sometimes they hold exactly the opposite of this.  Buntin’s novel is a miracle and a masterwork, and the reasons behind this are both incredibly obvious and entirely elusive.

The novel revolves around a woman named Cat, who now lives and works in New York City, but once lived in a podunk town in Michigan where she was forced to struggle to get along with a dysfunctional mother and a less than satisfactory life.  Eventually—well, almost immediately—Cat meets Marlena, and a beautiful but terrifying friendship begins.  It is known from the beginning that Marlena will die.  It is known from the beginning that her death will be tragic, and that it will haunt Cat for the rest of her life.  It is known from the beginning that this is not a happy story, and perhaps these are the reasons I consider it a genuinely real crime novel: the fact that this book is filled with the inevitable darkness that envelops us all, the ways our mistakes come back to haunt us, and of course, you know, there’s crime in the novel.  So, there’s that.

Buntin is a master at writing.  Her prose is lyrical, and there have been several sentences I have read again and again (having read the book maybe six times now easily since its publication last year) where I have said, aloud, to myself or my partner, “I wish I had written that. I wish I could write that. Write like this.” It’s true. I wish I could write as effortlessly, as flawlessly, as Julie Buntin. There is no doubt this novel was years in the making, but it feels as effortless as a quickly jotted down diary entry (that has been meticulously planned, scrutinized and understood again and again to perfection).  The perfection of the prose is not off-putting or unfortunate in any way.  Instead, it feels like a woman trapped in a past that is imperfect, telling her story in the most brilliant way possible.

How many stories have we read about young women and their friendships gone wrong? Megan Abbott has a novel coming out this year (and Abbott has praised Marlena, if that’s not a reason to purchase it alone) about a friendship turned upside down by a crime.  There are, of course, numerous—maybe innumerable—other novels, including other books coming out this year.  But Marlena stands out to me in a way similar, but different, than Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand.  It is a divine examination of a friendship gone wrong, a love lost—not necessarily a romantic love, not necessarily I say again, but something more profound.  An instant in one’s life that has changed this woman forever, and that she can never get back, and never be unchanged by.

Similarly, I cannot be unchanged now that I have read Julie Buntin’s beautiful book.  Cat’s voice is as alive as the voice in my head.  Buntin’s first novel more than delivers: she excels, she succeeds, she is the Superman of debut novelists.  I do not regret a single time I’ve read Marlena again and again.  The most beautiful part of the novel is how genuine and authentic the novel feels, like this is a true story—and who knows, there may be lots of truth to it.  No, I take this back—any book this real, this alive, leaping from the pages, has to be based on some experience Buntin or any other remarkable writer has felt in his or her life: we are lucky to have Buntin to express this truth for us.

Top of Her Game: Alafair Burke’s The Wife

There comes a time in every prolific author’s career when one has to ask “Is there any way for this author to get better? To improve upon their most recent work? To actually write something better than this?” For some writers, they go downhill after their peak—other authors only rise, never reaching that peak exactly (see wonderful examples like Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Alex Marwood, and Megan Abbott).  The question now is: has Alafair Burke reached her peak? I sincerely doubt it—a writer of her talent can most likely reach unimaginable heights—yet it is incredibly hard to fathom Burke improving upon her most recent masterpiece, The Wife.

Burke kicks off the year in the grandest fashion, with a book that will compel you to the very end, even without a murder in its very beginning.  From the moment the book begins, we know that Burke’s protagonist has committed perhaps the ultimate betrayal—that against herself, lying for her husband’s defense. I have read this book countless times, as I tend to do before beginning a review, and it never ceases to amaze me—the language is fluid and nearly flawless, drawing the reader in.  The narrator, while incredibly deluded and not necessarily the picture-perfect definition of a feminist, is incredibly relatable.  The book speaks to the issues of our times, many of them dealing with women, rape, infidelity, and the permanence of love.

From the very beginning of the novel, I was roped in.  The reader is startled by the way Burke can transform the most mundane scenes into something extraordinary, ripping out incredible portions of her character’s psyches in ways you would never expect.  I was floored again and again as revelation after revelation was revealed, chapter after chapter.  The book is such a quick read that, when finished, I felt compelled to start it over immediately, unsure if I had finished the novel or just begun.

This is not to say the novel is without a conclusion.  Boy, does it have a conclusion.  Alafair Burke is a master at revealing tiny little secrets that are actually big explosions, unraveling and unraveling her characters and plot until, once untangled, the reader is finally able to uncover the truth.  You think you know the truth from the beginning, and then you might change your mind in the middle, and then be completely floored by the end of the book by the smallest, slightest turn of the story: this is how The Wife works.  And I’m not afraid to call it a new masterpiece of the crime genre.

This past award season, Alafair Burke was nominated for the Edgar for The Ex, which works as a sort of companion novel to The Wife.  They feature similar characters, they are placed in similar settings, but these novels are completely different (and equally brilliant).  Here’s the only issue: this is the year of the female crime writer.  So while I would say that Alafair Burke has the Edgar in the bag, with masterpieces like Laura Lippman’s Sunburn and Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand being released soon, it’s hard to tell which author will come out on top.  What’s amazing about the crime community is: no one cares.  Each of these authors are improving daily, each new book proving that the preceding novel was only a precursor to something much more amazing and fantastic than the book that came before.  And Alafair Burke proves this beyond a doubt.  From the very beginning, you are hooked.  From the very beginning, you are roped in.  And it’s all Alafair’s fault.

Burke’s newest novel is mind-blowing, spine-tinglingly good and awe-inspiring in ways that very few authors can aspire to be.  Pick up this book and find yourself lost in it.  Pick up this book and hours later, wonder where you have been, and how you got there.  This is the magic that Alafair Burke works in The Wife, which may very well be the Book of the Year.

Matthew Turbeville’s Most Anticipated Books of 2018 (and 2019, too!)

This year is filled with a vast and exciting list of books both by great, established authors and also newcomers to the genre.  Needless to say, this is a year for mystery fans, and a year to celebrate mystery authors.  With long-awaited returns from some of the greatest authors, as well as those who continue to put out books steadily year after year, 2018 is promising to be brilliant when it comes to crime fiction, even if the rest of the world may seem a very drab.

Note to reader: This is not a comprehensive list.  The mystery world is, well, a mystery, and there will be many more wonderful surprises for readers throughout the years that have not been announced or readied yet. However, each of the books on this list are guaranteed to be a good time.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn—January 2

This is one of the most hyped and talked about books of the year, mixing literary genius with Hitchcockian elements that will keep you well up into the night.

A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis—January 2

Order this book while you can! It is not to be missed, and hailed from greats like Alison Gaylin and others as the book of the year.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey—January 9

A newcomer to the genre and perhaps one of the most exciting series debuts of the year.  Much hyped and much talked about.

The Wife by Alafair Burke—January 23

Burke holds nothing back in this new novel, which many consider her best.  If you were a fan of The Ex, an Edgar nominee, don’t hesitate to preorder this novel.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner—January 30

The sequel to last year’s remarkable Unsub, this time supposedly set in Texas, will no doubt be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.

A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong—February 6

A nonfiction crime book about a supposed rape that was believed to be a lie—but might not be.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper—February 6

The sequel to Jane Harper’s The Dry, plenty of people are promising that this follow-up will more than satisfy the readers of her debut novel.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman—February 18

It’s Laura Lippman.  She took a pseudo-year hiatus to work on this novel.  It’s a masterpiece.  And it’s Laura Lippman.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott—February 20

Friends traveling around Europe experience danger and intrigue in this new novel.

 I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara—February 27

Tragically, McNamara passed away before this book was finished—but many are already claiming it’s one of the greatest crime books ever, and that McNamara might have caught the killer had she lived to see the day.  A must read for true crime addicts.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington—February 27

Based on the title alone, we should all be reading this book.

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin—March 6

Gaylin’s latest and one of her best, a not-to-be missed triumph about youth, the dangers of love and ecstasy, and the powers of redemption.

Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver—March 6

Copenhaver’s long awaited and much anticipated debut novel, which chronicles decades, encompasses many different styles, and is a fascinating and absorbing read all together.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan—March 27

Mangan’s book is the talk of the town, and is likely not one to be missed, considering the early praise it has garnered (as well as the movie deal already in the making!).

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin—April 17

It’s Julia Heaberlin, and she’s back with a novel that will surely blow us away.

 Blackout by Alex Segura—May 8

The fourth book in Alex Segura’s series, this is not one to be missed by a master of the detective genre.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll—May 15

I still obsess over Knoll’s debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive, so there’s no doubt that The Favorite Sister is in my top list of books to read this year.  I cannot wait to get my hands on this book that will surely be electric with life and passion.

How It Happened by Michael Koryta—May 15

A standalone from Koryta that comes highly recommended to me from several greats.  Surely not to be missed.

Trigger Switch by Bryon Quertermous—June 5

The third book in Quertermous’s trilogy—preorder immediately, people.

 

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott—July 17

How can a beautiful friendship go wrong? Only crime can tell.  Also, it’s Megan Abbott.  I would read her grocery list. 

The Disappearing by Lori Roy—July 17

Lori Roy has a new book coming out and I cannot wait to get my hands on the ARC.  This is her first set in the present day, and the multiple-Edgar winner will surely not disappoint—she never has.

The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott—July 18

Jeff Abbott blew us out of the water last year with his book Blame, his first attempt to write primarily (and successfully so) from two women’s POVs.  This is his follow up, a brilliant book about a woman’s search for the person—or persons—who took her mother from her.  How is that not appealing?

Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger—August 21

I have loved William Kent Krueger for the longest time.  This is a long, ongoing series, so do your best to get caught up now.

New Crime Novel by Lou Berney—Sometime in October

LOU BERNEY HAS A NEW BOOK COMING OUT! This is his follow-up to The Long and Farway Gone, and if it’s anything like its predecessor, it will not only not disappoint, but blow your mind.

Among the Wholesome Children by Sarah Weinman—Early November

Sarah Weinman does not disappoint, with her articles, anthologies, everything.  This is her book based on the real-life case that inspired Lolita, and man am I excited.

But waittheres 2019 too

There are also a few books to be excited about in 2019, which we are already anticipating hungrily.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is releasing another book, following her Sherlock Holmes collection of stories and the Edgar nominated Jane Steele, which I still can’t stop dreaming of.

Also, there may be another book by Alex Marwood in 2019, as well as definite entries from the brilliant Steph Cha and Amy Gentry, and so I couldn’t be more excited. Let’s just keep reaching for the future people.  In the literary world—in the crime world—it looks bright.

Please comment if you have any additional books youre looking forward to.  MysteryPeople staff are experts at recommending, reviewing, and understanding the genre, but there are always books that slip under our radar, and wed love to hear more from you! 

Points of View: Q & A with Alison Gaylin

 Alison Gaylin is one of our favorites, and she was kind enough to answer some questions from our contributor, Matthew Turbeville. Below is their conversation about her writing. 

Matthew Turbeville: Hi, Alison! It’s so nice to get to talk.  I’ve wanted to pick your brain ever since a friend turned me on to What Remains of Me.  How did you get the idea for If I Die Tonight?

Alison Gaylin: Hi Matthew! Wonderful to talk to you as well! A couple of years ago, there was a hit and run incident in my area involving two boys from rival high schools. My daughter was younger than them, and what fascinated me was the way the story took on a life of its own among that younger crowd – how many false details were being spread about the incident that seemed to become “truer and truer” the more often they were repeated. So that was where the germ of the idea came from. I wanted to write something set in my area, and I had all these ideas for characters (Pearl, I’d come up with a long time ago, but she was a character in search of a story) so I used the idea of a hit-and-run in a small fictional town and took it from there.

MT: How do you manage such a large and varied cast of characters? It seems like it would be hard to keep up with so many personalities as a writer.

AG: Yes, there are a lot of characters (I always wind up doing that!) But to me, it’s not the amount of characters but the amount of points of view that pose the challenge. I decided I was going to tell the story from four distinct points of view: Pearl, Connor, Jackie and Amy (with one more POV toward the end.) Each character has a number of other characters within her/his particular world (with many overlapping). Since these points of view were all so different in my mind, it wasn’t that hard to keep track.

MT: Did you know the ending to If I Die Tonight before you began writing the novel?

AG: I knew what everyone’s secret was, and what really happened on the night in question. But I didn’t know how it would wind up playing out and how all those secrets would all be revealed until late in my first draft.

MT: What is your writing process like?

AG: I tend to write a lot late at night, and then make it coherent in the morning. And since I have a family and a day job (I work three days a week at a magazine) I’ve learned to write wherever and whenever I can. A lot of What Remains of Me was written on buses and trains. I still get a little carsick reading certain pages.

MT: Were there any characters you were particularly attached to? Any characters you didn’t like?

AG: I was probably most attached to Pearl. I had the idea for her backstory a long time ago, so she’d been in my mind the longest. But I also really enjoyed writing Jackie because, as the mother of an only daughter, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be raising boys. I liked writing all the characters, though. Finding that shred of humanity in an otherwise “unlikeable” character is really rewarding.

MT: You’ve approached many taboo areas in your writing: incest, rape, pedophilia, etc.  Is it hard for you to write about these topics?

AG: I think it’s harder on my editor than it is on me! I tend to write about things that make me scared or angry, and I think it all comes down to betrayal. No matter how taboo or shocking the turn of events, I’m really just writing about betrayal over and over again.

MT: What books inspire you to write the way you do? Who are, in specific, your favorite female writers today?

AG: Oh, I have so many of them, many of whom have also become great friends. Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott write wonderfully complicated, fascinating characters. Alafair Burke and Lisa Lutz write such compellingly paced stories that I can’t pick up one of their books unless I can afford to lose an entire day to reading. Also Alex Marwood, Katia Lief (now writing as Karen Ellis) Wendy Corsi Staub, Lori Roy… honestly I have too many favorite female writers to name!

MT: How do you write so prolifically? Where do you find the time to write so frequently and with such ease and grace? As a fellow writer, I can’t help but be a little jealous.

AG: That’s so nice of you to say. But honestly, the only way I can finish anything is to realize that the first draft is going to be the absolute worst piece of trash anyone has ever written. The good news is, trash or not, it will be finished, and when something is finished, you can always improve it. I should have said this in the writing process question, but really, my writing process is 80 percent heavy rewriting.

MT: Your last book, What Remains of Me, was up for numerous awards.  How does it feel to know that fans and critics alike adore your work? Do you feel the need to cater to a certain audience?

AG: I was thrilled that What Remains of Me got so much love! But I think my only concern as a writer is to write the best book I can. If I Die Tonight takes place as far from Hollywood as you can get, and though it’s told from multiple points of view, it has a pretty straightforward timeline (unlike What Remains of Me, which goes back and forth). I like trying something a little different with each book. It makes it less boring for me (and hopefully for readers too!)

MT: What Remains of Me and If I Die Tonight are so very different.  How do you jump not necessarily between genres, but between totally different books with such ease? Your whole bibliography seems so vast and completely different.

AG:  I think that, while the settings and characters of my books do tend to be completely different, it’s harder for me to let go of themes. The idea of an outcast teen being made into a boogeyman plays out in both books (Kelly by the press, Wade by his peers on social media). Also, the idea of how the powerful (wealthy) use the powerless, how callous human beings can be to each other and how we never really know those closest to us are prevalent themes in both books. (You can definitely find those themes in the Brenna Spector books, too!)

MT: What advice do you give to new and emerging writers? How did you break into the business?

AG: Be persistent, but don’t be inflexible. And read! If an agent or publisher gives you constructive criticism, use it. Rewrite. I had an agent for my first book, and she sent it around to a bunch of publishers, most of whom said they liked the characters but not the plot. I took it back, read around 100 crime fiction books, and over the course of about five years rewrote the book from page one. I then sent it out again, got a new agent, and sold the book. (It was called Hide Your Eyes, and it was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel.)

MT: Do you have a favorite work of yours? What book are you most proud of?

AG: I think I’m always proudest of the most recently published book, and most horrified by the work-in-progress.

 

Compact Genius: Laura Lippman’s Sunburn

This book is by far the most delicious book of the year, and not because of all of its vivid descriptions of foods and eateries.  Sunburn is something you enjoy slowly, when you take it in it’s like breathing it in, a delicate treasure to truly ponder over and think about.  I have already read the book three times and it has yet to fail me with its twists and turns and its dramatic conclusion, not to mention the oh-so-human element that makes up most of Lippman’s writing.  Lippman is a master storyteller, but a master at understanding humans, too, and this is clear now more than ever in Sunburn, her return to glory after two years since the fantastic Wilde Lake.

Releasing February 18, 2018, this is a book to be anticipated.  Each Laura Lippman novel is a treasure, something to be pondered over and wondered in, as with a favorite of mine, After I’m Gone (which I’ve admittedly read countless numbers of times).  The story revolves around Polly, who has just deserted her family on a vacation and may have an even darker history than she’s let known.  Her torrid romance and another crime that occurs—that of a house fire, with a solitary victim—puts Polly in the spotlight of the novel, along with several other mysteries revolving around her existence.

This book is not just fun.  It’s a masterwork.  Based around the writings of Anne Tyler and James M. Cain, this is hardboiled noir at its finest.  Ms. Lippman has admitted that this is perhaps her favorite book yet, and it’s easy to see why.  Sunburn is nothing is not a rollercoaster of fun and emotional suspense.  Her language is cutting and sharp, as precise and to-the-point as Cain at his finest, and the book is reminiscent of both Mildred Pierce and The Postman Only Rings Twice.

Don’t let the rollercoaster of fun fool you: this is a heartbreaking (and, simultaneously, heartwarming) novel.  It will rip you apart.  Which is part of the fun of engaging in a reading experience with Laura Lippman.  She always knows how to tug at those heart cords one by one, and she knows exactly when and where to pull the hardest, and for what reason.  There is, like in most of Lippman’s books, a revelation in the final moments of the book which is perhaps the most delicious moment of the entire novel, in which the whole truth of a part of the novel, and a greater truth at that, is revealed in its entirety. This is sure to stick with you well into the night after you stay up reading the novel, desperate for its conclusions.

If you’re anything like me, you will re-read this novel again and again.  There are Easter eggs and clues and twists that you will miss the first time around, and with such a short and compact novel, that is certainly a feat.   Lippman’s newest novel is not a book to be taken lightly, no matter how many Best Beach Read articles she makes this year.  Lippman has redefined what it means to be a noir writer in the twenty-first century—especially a woman writer—and she has done so with ease and precision and love. Here’s hoping you love this book as much as Ms. Lippman does (and as much as I did—again and again).