MysteryPeople Q&A with Megan Miranda

Megan Miranda, best-selling author of All The Missing Girls, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest tale of psychological suspense, The Perfect Stranger, on Thursday, April 20th, at 7 PM. Before her visit, we asked her a few questions about the book and her upcoming projects. 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: The Perfect Stranger, to wildly summarize, is a murder mystery about friendship and identity. What did you want to convey about the (sometimes loving, sometimes competitive) nature of female friendship? 

Megan Miranda: Well, I think every female friendship has their own nuances, but in this case, I wanted to explore the type of friendship that stems from a pivotal moment in someone’s life—and then becomes idealized, in a way, in their mind. I also wanted to explore how friendships can sometimes act as a mirror, where we only see who we are reflected in someone else’s impression of us. And that the flipside can be true as well: sometimes we see what we want to see in another, believing they are who we want or need them to be.

MO: I really enjoyed the casual treatment of male characters by female characters in the novel – I would love to see more depictions of the intense, late-night bonding between women following disappointing one-night-stands. The women in this book, whether friends or relatives, seem to have far more concern for the women in their lives than the men. Even though there are male characters that play important roles in the plot, they are ancillary to the women’s stories that make up the bulk of the novel. Did you set out to focus on a world of women, more encumbered than aided by men? What did you want to say about gendered community? 

MM: I did set out to focus this story around women, mostly because of Leah’s character. The people of importance in Leah’s life at that moment are, largely, a cast of women: Emmy, her sister, her mother, the colleague she most connects with. Meanwhile, men have been more transient throughout her life. Even her father has left and started a new life. So I think she’s biased to build her trust around women. These are the people in her life who can see below the surface of each other—or at least they think they do—because of their shared experiences. I think it’s these shared experiences (not necessarily reflecting gender) that ultimately create tight connections between the characters.

“…there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.”

MO: The Perfect Stranger goes to the heart of how well we can possibly know another. We can know someone’s scent, dreams, habits – all while knowing nothing of their life story. Is to know someone to know their physical presence, their minds, or their past? 

MM: Yes, I think that’s exactly the question, and…I’m still thinking about it! When I started writing this book, this was something very heavily on my mind. I think of a theme sort of like a question to explore—not necessarily that there’s an answer, but that there’s something worth digging deeper into. Which is what Leah has to do in this story. I’d say there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.

MO: The Perfect Stranger is full of manipulative masterminds. Without giving anything away, what did you want to explore about gaslighting? 

MM: There were a few different elements on my mind here. One was to wonder if someone could become so focused on their own goals that they were blinded to what they were doing, and who they were becoming. And then on the other side, I was interested in how difficult it could be not only to recognize that this was happening to you, but also to let yourself believe it. And then, even more so—to prove it.

MO: Like quite a few writers in the mystery section, you’ve plenty of experience with other genres – how did it feel to transition from writing YA to writing crime fiction? 

MM: Honestly, the shift from YA to crime fiction felt like a natural progression, especially because my YA books were in a similar genre. My YA stories center on these big events that happen when the characters are 16 or 17 years old, and a lot of the writing process for those books involved me looking back at that time of my life in hindsight. When I wrote All the Missing Girls, the narrator was doing much the same: peering back at this big event that happened when she was 18, trying to see it with more clarity, in hindsight. It felt like taking a journey together.

“What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.”

MO: Both All The Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger have received praise for their fiendish plotting. What is your advice to mystery writers for how to really blow the minds of their readers? 

MM: For me, plotting is something that develops as I get to know the characters. It’s actually the element I tend to approach last, because the story has to feel authentic for the people and place and backstory first. I usually start with character, a theme, a setting, and start writing. For the mystery itself, I think of the beginning sections as discovering the puzzle pieces. And then the goal is to create the overall puzzle. I do try to think of the major turning points. What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.

MO: The characters in The Perfect Stranger have porous, unstable identities, sometimes bleeding into each other, feeding off each other, or transforming those surrounding. The title itself connotes a complete unknown – a perfect stranger – or the exact right kind of stranger, perfect for a purpose. What did you want to say about identity? Can we claim a solid foundation to our knowledge and opinions, or are we more defined by those who think they know us best?

MM: I love this question because this is something I was also thinking about a lot when I started, and also something I thought about in All the Missing Girls as well: How maybe we can be defined more by how others see us than by how we see ourselves. On that same note, I think we can also become different people for different friends, and our identity can shift from relationship to relationship.

I wonder sometimes how much of our identity arises from just ourselves, in a vacuum. Can we be the “perfect” stranger for someone else? Or, are we in fact “a perfect stranger,” always. A chameleon of sorts. Honestly, even after writing this book, I’m still not sure.

MO: What is your next project? Will you continue with the crime genre? (I certainly hope so!)

MM: Yes, I’m working on my next psychological suspense! I can’t say too much about it yet, as it’s still a work in progress. But it has two points of view on the events leading up to and surrounding a crime—with two different suspects. I’m really enjoying writing it!

You can find copies of The Perfect Stranger on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Megan Miranda joins us Thursday, April 20th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign her latest.

MysteryPeople Review: MISSISSIPPI BLOOD by Greg Iles

Greg Iles comes to BookPeople to speak and sign Mississippi Bloodthe concluding volume to his epic Natchez Trilogy, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 18th at 7 PM. Our reviewer Meike Alana has followed the series since its inception, and below you’ll find her take on Iles’ latest. 

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9780062311153It’s finally here—the riveting conclusion to Greg Iles’ Natchez trilogy featuring Penn Cage!  (For a quick refresher on the series, please see the overview prepared by BookPeople’s fantastic blogger Molly Odintz, aka “Mystery Molly”).

In Natchez Burning, revered town physician Dr. Tom Cage is arrested and accused of murdering his former nurse Viola Turner.  Her son believes it was a racially motivated killing, but circumstances indicate it may have been an assisted suicide.  A young reporter uncovers some new leads which suggest links between Viola and the Double Eagles, widely feared and regarded as the most hateful racist group in the state.  Iles unfolds details of the story slowly throughout the first novel and its follow-up, The Bone Tree. 

In Mississippi Blood, Dr. Cage’s trial has begun.  His son Penn continues to search for clues that could clear his father’s name, yet Tom somehow seems determined to end up in prison—even going as far as to remove his son from his counsel team.  As testimony reveals increasingly disturbing details about the past and the relationship between Tom and Viola, long-held secrets become known that threaten the safety of the Cage family as well as the Double Eagles—and the latter won’t hesitate to continue killing to keep the past hidden.

As the trial unfolds, each character relates his or her version of events.  The stories are the same, but the interpretations vary based on each individual’s unique background and experience.  What is the truth, after all, but our own perception of reality?  Rarely has a courtroom drama been as complex and riveting as Iles’ examination of Tom’s actions and culpability in the suffering and death of his former nurse.  As the novel reveals what really happened the night Viola Turner died, the reader is challenged to view issues of guilt and conscience in new and unsettling ways.

Come by the store Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM, to hear Greg Iles speak and sign the stunning conclusion to his Natchez trilogy. You can find copies of Mississippi Blood on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

 

A Brief Foray into an Epic Story: MysteryPeople’s Introductory Guide to Greg Iles’ Natchez Trilogy

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Greg Iles comes to BookPeople to speak and sign Mississippi Blood the stunning conclusion of his Natchez Trilogy featuring long-time character Penn Cage, this upcoming Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM. When I first found out we had booked him, I pumped my fist in the air. This guy is a big deal for crime fiction, and for Southern literature as a whole. Before his visit, we thought we’d make a quixotic attempt to summarize the enormous amount of content contained within each massive volume of the trilogy (without giving away any spoilers, of course.)

Iles has been known as a crime writer for some time, yet his Natchez Trilogy has elevated him to the status of a modern-day Faulkner. The three volumes together – Natchez BurningThe Bone Treeand Mississippi Burning – tell a sordid tale of small-town secrets, Southern racism, and the difficult task of achieving justice for the lost and vengeance against the powerful and guilty. Much of his work has featured Penn Cage and his family as they fight against the entrenched racism and dark secrets of their town of Natchez, and the trilogy continues the family’s epic story.

His website’s content emphasizes his position as both the conscience and the tourism bureau of a beautiful and problematic region – you can click to visit Natchez and stay in Iles’ historic building of an office, or scroll down further to read a petition by Mississippi’s most prominent citizens to remove the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi state flag. I recognized a number of crime writers on the list, but it shouldn’t surprise me that a state known for such violence in its past could be a center of writers reckoning with that violence in the present.

Some parts of his trilogy read like the best courtroom dramas, with the action of John Grisham and the powerful language of Harper Lee. Iles tells his tales from multiple perspectives and from multiple time periods, emphasizing the lingering presence of powerful 1960s antagonists into the 90s to shrink our perception of the length of history and to make more immediate the connection between the pre-civil-rights South and its modern-day, theoretically less discriminatory incarnation. As Faulkner once wrote, “the past isn’t dead – it’s not even past,” a phrase that especially rings true in the state of Mississippi, where those responsible for the pain of history faced consequences for their actions years, if not decades, after their initial crimes (if they faced consequences at all).*

Natchez Burning shifts back and forth between the 1960s and the 1990s. The sixties scenes place the brutality of the KKK and similar organizations on full display, while the nineties scenes more subtly address the lingering effects of violence too long ignored and unpunished. In the nineties, Penn Cage, mayor of Natchez, works to clear his father, Dr. Tom Cage, of murder charges after his father is accused of aiding his former nurse and lover, Viola, with her assisted suicide in suspicious circumstances. Viola’s son believes Penn’s father to have committed a racist murder, while flashbacks tell a more complex story of Viola and Dr. Cage’s relationship. Meanwhile, an inquisitive journalist gets some new leads and hopes he’ll finally be able to link the unsolved murders of a series of young black men in the sixties to the Double Eagles, the local racist group responsible for the killings.

The Bone Tree takes up where Natchez Burning left off, as Penn Cage continues to try to clear his father while edging closer to discovering his family’s secrets. The Bone Tree also expands on the vast conspiracy of the previous volume for an entirely fresh take on the JFK assassination. Mississippi Blood violently resolves the loose threads of the previous two novels while going ever deeper into the town’s secrets – including the family ties across racial boundaries that the aging Double Eagles (and many of the townspeople) will do virtually anything to keep from the public light.

Come by the store Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 PM, to hear Greg Iles speak and sign the stunning conclusion to his Natchez trilogy. You can find copies of Mississippi Blood on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

*A Washington Post review of The Bone Tree also uses this quote to describe Iles’ work, but I read that review after I dropped in the quote, so I’m keeping it.

MysteryPeople Review: PRUSSIAN BLUE by Philip Kerr

9780399177057Philip Kerr comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest Bernie Gunther novel, Prussian Blue, on Saturday, April 8th at 6 PM. You can find copies of Prussian Blue on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Philip Kerr has always excelled at highlighting the small crimes within the large crime, usually through his character Bernie Gunther’s quixotic attempts to help bring justice to individuals under the governance of the Third Reich. Despite acting under the orders of a high-ranking Nazi, Gunther gets called in to work when the Nazi leadership is in need of a professional detective to solve a crime, rather than assigning blame to a convenient scapegoat. Gunther, in each of Kerr’s works, gets his kicks and preserves his own safety by pitting Nazis against one another or in later settings, playing every side of the Cold War.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Dorsey

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana

Tim Dorsey, known for his mischievous characters and their bizarre adventures, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest novel of Floridian high-jinks, Clownfish Blues, on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM. Our Meike Alana interviewed Tim via email to give us all some insight into the weird, wonderful world of Dorsey’s novels.

Meike Alana: Your books include a lot of Florida history, but not the textbook kind–you are a master at revealing the weird and wacky side of the state.  How do you manage to unearth so much fascinating material?

Tim Dorsey: It’s simply a matter of wearing out a lot of tire rubber. I get a map and look for all of the most remote roads. It’s a labor of love driving and poking around at these places.

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MysteryPeople Review: CLOWNFISH BLUES by Tim Dorsey

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Tim Dorsey, known for his mischievous characters and their bizarre adventures, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest novel of Floridian high-jinks, Clownfish Blues, on Sunday, March 5th, at 5 PM

9780062429223Florida author Tim Dorsey has gained a zealous following for his hilarious series featuring Serge A. Storms and his perpetually baked sidekick Coleman. In Clownfish Blues, the pair’s 20th outing, the duo hit the road in a vintage silver Corvette to shoot their own episodes of Serge’s favorite classic TV series “Route 66”. (Route 66 doesn’t pass through Florida, you say? Doesn’t matter, as it seems that about a dozen episodes near the end of the series were actually filmed in Florida—a fact that only Florida history buff Serge would be sure to know.)

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Judgement, Absolution, and Crickets: MysteryPeople Q&A with Alexandra Burt

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

If you’re out and about tomorrow night, have we got a great event planned here at the store! Alexandra Burt joins us to speak and sign her latest psychological thriller, The Good Daughter (also our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for February) on Tuesday, February 21st at 7 PMThe Good Daughter follows a daughter’s search for her own, and her mother’s, true identities. The novel takes place in a small Texas town, and weaves together modern-day murders with historic injustices for a well-crafted and suspenseful tale. 

Molly Odintz: You’ve spoken a bit about the experiences that inspired you to write The Good Daughter – could you tell us a bit about the real story behind the characters in the novel? 

Alexandra Burt: The Good Daughter was inspired by the demise of a marriage I witnessed. A middle-aged woman disappears and her husband finds their house void of her belongings. There are questions but no answers and he makes it his mission to get to the reason as to why she left him. Through detective work her life story unfolds and with every passing day more secrets come to light. It becomes apparent that he knows next to nothing about her; thirteen years of marriage yet she has remained a stranger. This is not just the whim of a middle-aged woman looking to end a marriage, but bombshell after bombshell explodes and a story unfolds of victims she has left in her wake.

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