OMG, people! Lisa Unger!
My introduction to this deservedly best-selling author was through her short story, “The Twenty.” A giveaway at last year’s Bouchercon, it appeared in a little booklet that I read – and re-read and re-read, first for the sheer joy of it and then to dissect. I’ve since moved onto her novels, including the new The Stranger Inside. Whichever you start with, you’ll be in good hands. The woman is a master. (And read to the end to find out how to get a free short story.)
This fall, I was lucky enough to meet Lisa, when she came to Boston for a book chat with local star Joe Finder (whose thrillers always please). Over pizza afterward, a bunch of us crime writers talked plotting, research, and what makes our characters tick. I’m thrilled that she agreed to answer my standard five questions here, as well:
How does a book start for you?
All novels start with a little zap of interest or fascination. It could come from anywhere — a line of poetry, a news story; in the case of BEAUTIFUL LIES it was a piece of junk mail. That usually leads me to a swath of research. And the best way I can describe it is if it all that — the zap, the research — connects with something that’s going on inside me, I’ll start to hear a voice or voices. And I follow those voices through the narrative.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
I am always surprised — by my characters, by their stories. I write without an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up day-to-day or what they’re going to do. I certainly never know how my book is going to end. It’s fair to say that I’m daily surprised by the people living in my head and what they’re up to. In THE STRANGER INSIDE, there are multiple layers to both of my main characters Hank and Rain. I was surprised by their relationship, how deep it was, how unhealthy. And I was surprised by how their shared trauma drove them to such different places — and yet, in the end, how much alike they were.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
Most of my books are set in the Northeast. Though I’ve lived in Florida for nearly twenty years, I grew up all over and spent much of my early life in New Jersey and New York. That’s the area I often return to in my fiction. Or some fictional version of that area — something suburban or rural, with a big city nearby that may or may not be named. My stories evolve in a place that’s apart, real but not real, and are often set in a fictional town called The Hollows. And even when a story is not set there, The Hollows is always trying to find its way in, or at least get a mention.
What are you working on now?
I’m entering the editorial phase on my next novel which will publish in Fall 2020. But I never talk about my books until they’re completely finished. So, I’ll have to keep you in suspense for a while!
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
I’m heading out on the road for THE STRANGER INSIDE. I’ll be visiting some wonderful stores and libraries, talking with fantastic authors — Hank Phillippi Ryan, JT Ellison, Joe Finder, and Laura Lippman — and attending some excellent book conferences. So, maybe, where can readers find me? Visit www.lisaunger.com for all tour details — and free short story!
Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of seventeen novels, including the brand new THE STRANGER INSIDE. With millions of readers worldwide and novels published in twenty-six languages, Lisa Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few writers including Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie. The Edgar-nominated Under My Skin is also a finalist for the prestigious Hammett Prize. And the original short story The Sleep Tight Motel is a #1 bestselling single.
Unger’s critically acclaimed books have been voted “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, IndieBound and many others. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.