MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader Day

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Lori Rader-Day first appeared on our radar with her first crime novel, The Black Houra wicked tale of murder in academia that pleased every member of the 7% Solution Book Club when discussed. Her second foray into the genre, Little Pretty Things, takes us into a high school reunion from hell as a former student athlete investigates the murder of her recently returned frenemy, and won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

In her third crime novel, The Day I Dieda handwriting expert with secrets to hide is recruited to analyze the ransom note left behind after a toddler’s disappearance. Soon, her son’s investigation into his own past and budding teenage rebellion will put this handwriting analyst on a collision course with her own past, leading to a denouement with a surprising amount of both action and heart. The Day I Died is an IndieNext pick for May and Lori Rader-Day will be here at the store to speak and sign her latest this Wednesday, May 31st at 7 PM. 


Molly Odintz: When I first picked up your writing, your voice, more than any plot point, was what initially drew me in. Your books explore ordinary settings in the most hard-boiled of language – did you set out to contrast the banality of the ordinary with the darkness that lurks within?

Lori Rader Day: I set out to tell a story and entertain myself. I never thought of my language as “hard-boiled.” That’s fun. But I do enjoy ordinary settings—Midwestern settings—being tainted by violence. Darkness within that leaks out into bad decisions and bad deeds.

I see what you mean about the hard-boiled language now.

MO: I’ve read a series of books recently exploring the instability of female identity and the dynamics between female friends – you go beyond the Bechdel Test in your latest to use a mystery to investigate one woman’s relationship, not with other women, but with herself at different stages. What did you want to explore about our changeable natures?

LRD: You are giving me a lot of credit here, but I like your interpretation. I wanted to write about a person willing herself into another identity—a strong woman character, we call them, right? But she’s so strong and so good at separating herself from the path she’d been on that there’s nothing in front of her. The future is wide open but by that, I mean it’s empty. I wanted to write about a character who is strong enough to survive the worst and then also doubt her choice.

MO: Atmospheric setting plays an important part in The Day I Died – which came first, the setting or the story? How did the setting influence the story (or vise versa)?

LRD: The story came first, because this story started as a short story. Thirty pages, forty. And then when one of my writing instructors told me it was a novel instead of a short story, I had to figure out what the story would be beyond the ending of the short version. For a long time, I didn’t know the setting would be so crucial to the plot. I know at one point I was shopping around for a location to set Anna’s hometown but then realized I knew exactly where it should be. I based the town on a place I had been vacationing for years in north Wisconsin, way up where it’s easy to disappear, which fed me all kinds of ideas about how Anna would feel about her home and about not being there.

MO: The Day I Died is certainly a mystery, but it’s also a book about motherhood, and the extremes to which one will go to protect one’s child (or someone else’s child). With May the month of Mother’s Day, what did you want to say about parenthood with your latest?

LRD: I’m in awe of people who become parents and take it seriously, like my friends and my sister. I’m no one’s mother. I have a dog. I started writing this story ten years ago, so maybe I was exploring the what-if of parenthood that I was not choosing.  Probably more likely, I was looking around at what my friends were choosing, and thinking what-if… that’s how the writer-brain works. You write what you know but you write what you don’t know, too.

MO: Without giving away anything about the ending, it seems like the theme of the story is personal change. Your main character has transformed her identity before, but the act of running has, in a way, restricted her identity into a mere alias, while those characters the reader expects to be frozen in time have actually changed significantly over time. To ask the broadest question possible, can any of us really change?

LRD: I think we can, in some ways. Just as a for-instance, I used to be very shy. I would have done anything to avoid public speaking. At one point I had given up writing for five years, just by letting time pass me by. And now my daily life is that I write fiction and then go talk to strangers about it.

In the book, I was careful (I hope) to leave some of these calls up to the reader. Anna doesn’t make these judgments, either, but she makes room for the judgments to be made.

MO: Your main character has an intriguing profession – why a handwriting expert, and what kind of research did you do to prepare your character for the role? Should I be glad I’m typing these questions to you rather than hand-writing them?

LRD: Back in 2007 when I was in my master of fine arts program in creative writing, I went to the library to troll for story ideas and came out with a book about handwriting. So handwriting was the origin of the entire story, and the character and everything else came after. I read that book and did some online research. Since the book was written, I’ve had the chance to talk to a handwriting specialist—who says I got it right, good news—but I never took any classes in the subject or anything. I feel like I’m disappointing people when I admit this. So you can send me a handwritten note and I won’t analyze it—I don’t know how.  

I can tell you that when I was deep in the middle of the research, my own handwriting suffered a bit. It sometimes still happens that I’ll be writing something and, mid-word, will get self-conscious and muff whatever I’m writing. Sometimes it’s my own signature.

MO: I’ve followed your crime fiction for a few years now, and I’ve watched your name become increasingly prominent. What did it feel like to win the Mary Higgins Clark award for Little Pretty Things?

LRD: It was amazing, of course, to stand on the Edgars stage accepting an award (the first year the Mary Higgins Clark was given out at the Edgar Awards). I was especially humbled because I had read all the nominated books. Reading Mary Higgins Clark books was part of my writer’s education growing up, so it was extra special to me for that reason.

MO: Your main character has suffered in her past, and in ways that (if I interpret the novel correctly) were known to her small town, yet her neighbors failed to provide her with assistance in confronting the brutality in her life. What did you want to explore about small town violence, and secrets that aren’t really secrets?

LRD: I’m really interested in small towns, having grown up in a few, but also small communities of any making, how they operate, how they break down. If violence and tragedy can bring out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst, or at least cause us to freeze and withdraw into the isolation that’s so easy out in the country. Oh, sure, we’ll have opinions, but we might not voice them, because we’ll have to live with the fall-out. So…isolation or making nice. That’s the Midwestern way, anyway. Maybe Texas does it differently.

MO: You can start to see the main character’s tattered past in the ways she reacts to the present, even before the reader is given concrete details about the character’s past – her stunted reaction to the kidnapping of a young child, and potential sympathy for the kidnapper, immediately makes her a more interesting character (to me, anyway). Which came to you first, the present-day kidnapping or the character’s backstory?

LRD: I started writing this story as a short story in 2007, so forgive me if the details of construction are a little hazy. I know I started with the handwriting and then gave that job to the character, but I think Anna’s backstory developed alongside her present self simultaneously. I enjoy ironies and parallels in my characters, so when I decided the story would be about a kidnapping, I went searching for ways that Anna might have encountered kidnapping before. I probably chose her backstory from there because it was the most complex. Writers like to give ourselves interesting assignments; I gave myself such a difficult assignment, in fact, that I had to put the book away and let my skills develop for eight years before I could write it the way I imagined it. And now I’ve given away all my writing secrets.

You can find copies of The Day I Died on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Lori Rader Day comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Wednesday, May 31st, starting at 7 PM. 

Bouchercon Recap, Part 3: Panel Redux

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
bouchercon-haul
My Bouchercon Book Haul

If you’ve noticed a bit of radio silence on our blog these past couple weeks, that’s because MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery, Meike Alana, and I took a road trip to the Big Easy for the “Blood on the Bayou” Bouchercon, one of the world’s largest gathering of mystery writers, fans, bloggers, agents, editors, marketers, librarians, booksellers and publishers. The breath of those titles pales in comparison to the diversity of day jobs talked about, past and present. Poison experts mingled with ex-cops, ex-cons, ex-journalists, and expert martial artists. This year’s conference, due to its desirable locale, was busier than most, so trust me when I say that the memories I’ve brought back represent a small slice of the enormous number of great experiences had over the weekend at Bouchercon.

Bouchercon exists on many levels. First, there are the official events: the panels, the awards, the signings, the book room; in short, plenty to entertain a mystery lover. There’s also plenty of behind the scenes industry action, as publishers celebrate anniversaries, authors celebrate book releases, and meetings galore happen across the city. Then, there’s that special camaraderie that only occurs from geeking out about mystery with folks just as weird as we are. That part seems to happen mainly in the hotel bar.

Read More »

Edgar Nominations Announced!

 

mwaThe nominations for the 2016 Edgar Awards were announced last week. This seemed to be the year where great minds think alike – many of the nominees made in on to our best of 2015 lists, put together by Scott and Molly. 

We want to congratulate old friends and new favorites, including Duane Swierczynski, nominated for his novel Canary, David C. Taylor, for Night LifeMichael Robotham, for Life or DeathMegan Abbott, for her short story “The Little Men,” Philip Kerr, for The Lady From Zagreb, Lou Berney, for The Long and Faraway GoneLori Rader Day, for Little Pretty Things, David Joy, for Where All Light Tends To GoGordon McAlpine, for The Woman with the Blue Pencil, Jessica Knoll, for Luckiest Girl Alive, and Adrian McKinty, for Gun Street Girl.

Congratulations all the others who made it. Best of luck to everyone and have a great time in New York.

Click here for the full list of Edgar Nominees.

Molly’s Top 10 U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2015

2015 has been an eclectic year for crime novels. Below, you’ll find historical fiction, reissues, domestic suspense, sophisticated city thrillers, and coincidentally, several books detailing the nightmarish and inescapable legacy of high school. Whether you are looking for dark and dense or light and playful, there’s a book on this list guaranteed to tickle your fancy. 


1. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hugheswomen crime writers 1940s

Hughes’ tale of an homme fatale turns the sexualized imagery of crime novels on its head, and like much of the genre, once again reminds us how to find the eroticism in death, and the violence in sex. In a Lonely Place, after decades out of print, is now available as part of the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers of the 40s & 50s.


2. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegheileen

In Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh takes us on the tour of small town life in mid-century America. Eileen, a repressed juvenile prison administrator stuck taking care of her drunk father in their filthy house, is fearful and disgusted by virtually every bodily function or urge. When a glamorous new coworker joins the prison staff as the new juvenile therapist, the two form an intense bond, liberating each from the confines of their historical context.

Read More »

Bouchercon 2015: Southern Comfort in Raleigh

Scott Montgomery and Allen Eskens
Scott Montgomery and Allen Eskens

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery gives us the low-down on this year’s Bouchercon, THE mystery convention. 

I met Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter. That will be my takeaway from this year’s Bouchercon. It made sense to meet her at this conference, held in the scarily clean city of Raleigh North Carolina. Organizers seemed to be interested in crime fiction’s past, present, and future.

Ali Karim should get credit for some of the best panels ever put together at a B-con. Reed Farrel Coleman was moderator for The Private Sector, a discussion of the PI genre that became a discussion about reality versus fiction when it came to the audience Q&A. Michael Koryta, a former private investigator, said he knows a writer is doing their work when they get surveillance right. He also suggested to research the job as if you were going into it as a profession. As detailed as it got, J.L. Abramo, author of the Jake Diamond series, put it all in perspective when he said, “Herman Melville wasn’t a whaler.”

 

Read More »

Molly’s Top Ten of the Year, So Far

  • Post by Molly

innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly

Heda Margolius-Kovaly lost her family to the Holocaust, her first husband to Soviet purges, and the right to visit her native land to her defection to the United States. She also translated Raymond Chandler’s work into Czech, and his style, combined with her experiences, are the inspiration for Innocence, a bleak and hard-boiled noir about a woman who engages in increasingly desperate acts to secure her husband’s release from political imprisonment. You can find copies of Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
The Meursault Investigation may not be shelved in the mystery section, but if The Stranger is considered “Mediterranean noir,” then I dub this post-modern redo of The Stranger, told from the perspective of the Arab victim’s family, “De-Colonial Noir.” The Meursault Investigation reads like Said’s Orientalism as a mystery novel, which to me is the best thing in the universe. Spoiler alert: Meursault did it. You can find copies of The Meursault Investigation on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Read More »

MysteryPeople Q&A with Lori Rader-Day

  • Post by Molly

Lori Rader-Day’s first novel, The Black Hour, established Rader-Day as an author to keep an eye out for and was heartily approved of by the 7% Percent Solution Book Club here at BookPeople. Her second novel, Little Pretty Thingsuses a murder case as a jumping off point to explore the nature of female competition and friendship while building to a thrilling conclusion. She was kind enough to answer some questions about Little Pretty Things. Read our review of the novel. 


Molly O: Juliet and Madeline, as their high school’s two biggest track stars, are the best of frenemies, spending all their time together, understanding each other’s experience, yet held back from true friendship by their mutual jealousy. Friendship sullied by the nature of competition, and redeemed through female community, is a common theme in narratives exploring female relationships. What inspired the particular relationship of Madeleine and Juliet? 

Lori Rader-Day: I can’t say that I’ve ever had a friendship quite like the one Juliet and Maddy had when they were young, but I’ve definitely had close friends—or I thought so, anyway—turn out not to be life-long parts of my life. And I think it’s quite easy to feel envy for people you love and only want the best for. I’ve told this story a few times already, but I got serious about writing only after a friend of mine from high school published a novel. I was so simultaneously proud and envious of him that I was spurred to action. His name is Christopher Coake. You should read his books; they’re excellent. I don’t think I’ve had a real frenemy before. I only have friends and archenemies. No one in between. That’s a joke, just in case the harsh black and white of the internet doesn’t convey it.

MO: Another theme in Little Pretty Things is the vulnerability of the young, talented and neglected. To riff off of my previous question, Madeline’s talent and beauty, through the jealousy they inspire in other women, isolate her from her peers. Why explore talent not as an asset, but as a trap? 

LRD: It’s more interesting, isn’t it? We all wish we had talent, but most pluses have a minus. And of course all the people we think have it all together have their own dark secrets. We forget it, though. We still do the thing where we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides, and find ourselves lacking, every time. I thought of Maddy as that woman who is so proud of the fact that she’s better friends with a bunch of dudes than another woman. There’s a reason for that, in my opinion. I’ll leave it at that, because I’m already going to get letters.

MO: Little Pretty Things, like The Black Hour, tells the stories of characters feeling trapped, who are released from their humdrum lives by the horror of assault or murder of someone close, and are able to reclaim a sense of ownership over their own destiny through being forced into action. Noir had been described as, “starts bad, gets worse,” but the heroines of your novels tend more towards the “stuck in a rut, experience a trauma, kick some ass, and move on to bigger and better things” model of detective novel. How do you combine noir style and feminist empowerment so nicely?

LRD: Oh, wow, my writing has never been described like that, but I love it. You’re hired. I like dark stories, but I also like stories that end well and maybe even a little hopeful. I think there must be room on the shelf for stories about women facing some real-life shit (as the character Yvonne says in Little Pretty Things) without having to go on suffering forever. I like to punish my characters, but then when they run the maze, they get the treat. I also want to write women characters who win in the end. We don’t, always, and we usually don’t win at all in crime fiction. All those nameless, trait-less dead women in crime fiction… but I digress. There are plenty of feminist crime fiction writers and feminist crime fiction characters—I don’t know that I’m inventing anything here. But I like being in that kind of company, and I think the readers I care about do, too.

MO: Noir generally implies a hero or anti-hero with an addiction, traditionally of the alcohol and cigarettes model. Lately, I’ve noticed a change in the kinds of addictions in detective novels – an addiction is, after all, anything you push too hard at and feel like you can’t live without, and you insert cross-country running into the place previously occupied by less healthy addictions. Did you set out to write Juliet as a character who drives herself with exercise rather than alcohol? Does the modern detective need to overdo at least one thing in their life in order to be a compelling, noir figure? 

LRD: Well, Juliet has given up running when we meet her and she has a new obsession, but I imagine her new twitch is the same kind of thing. She swipes things people have left behind in the motel rooms, lost objects, orphans that nobody else wants or have forgotten. She believes these things will be her downfall eventually, but she can’t help herself. It’s like a drug for her. I feel like we’ve gotten so carried away with the flaws our detectives have to have. They all have to be highly idiosyncratic at this point—seems like a very high standard to keep up with. But really we just want our detectives—all of our characters—to be real people. Well rounded, complex, troubled. They don’t have to be one foot in AA anymore. They just need to have a complex relationship with happiness, like every person you know. When the good guys are interestingly bad, a bit, we know we’re going to go on a ride, with someone else (maybe slightly damaged) driving. That’s what we pick up books for, right?

MO: As someone who has taught mystery writing, and also is now two books in to an authorial career, what’s some advice for aspiring detective novelists? 

LRD: Write the book you want to read. Read a lot and write a lot, as Stephen King says. Bad first drafts are OK, as Anne Lamott says. I just reference a lot of other people, you see. I love writing books, looking for the best way to phrase and remind people of things they need to keep hearing. Most people who want to write study all this advice like tea leaves, so they know it intellectually, but they need to hear reminders and encouragement to keep them moving forward and working. It’s a long game, and they need to hear that, too. The truth is sometimes really hard to hear but then when it IS a difficult, at least they know it’s supposed to be that way. The other best advice is to find some writers to share pages and encouragement. You just need one person, but if you can find a community, even better. For aspiring mystery writers, Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime are really fantastic places to find your tribe.

You can find copies of Little Pretty Things on our shelves and via bookpeople.com