Eight months ago, forensic investigator Theresa MacLean lost her fiancé in a bank robbery gone wrong, and she’s had trouble concentrating on her work ever since. But now a particularly difficult case may just be what she needs to regain her focus by demanding all her skill, intelligence, and attention.
Jillian Perry has been found dead in the woods, leaving behind a husband of three weeks and a young daughter. The police can’t determine how she died—her body shows no visible marks, and the autopsy reveals nothing suspicious—and the leading theory is that she purposely wandered into the forest and succumbed to the freezing weather. But something doesn’t feel right to Theresa, and she can’t let it go.
To complicate matters, a former boyfriend of Jillian’s unexpectedly petitions for custody of the daughter. Obsessed with Jillian, he also suspects foul play in Jillian’s death, and now he and Theresa believe Jillian’s daughter may be in danger of meeting a similar fate. With a child’s life at stake, Theresa must search for evidence of murder—evidence that doesn’t seem to exist—before it’s too late.
If you missed part 1 of our interview with mystery-suspense author Lisa Black, click here, then come back. Today Lisa talks about writing close to the bone–how her smart forensic fiction imitates real life; how her stories evolve; killer publicity efforts; overcoming modesty and more.
Interview with Lisa Black, Part 2
Q: Where do your ideas come from? Do you find yourself mulling over real cases, reading through newspapers for bizarre scenarios, coming up with alternate means of murder, etc…? (I did hear the idea for this book was sparked by a real-life case – true?)
LB: No one knows where ideas come from. I think they creep out of a soup of fantasies, history, TV shows. So I’ll have a few ideas of what I want to do. Then everything else comes from working out the logistics—I want to do this, but why does that happen? How does she find that clue?
The germ of an idea for this book came from a case I worked on in Cleveland where this woman worked as an escort—which sounds a little seedy to most people. But she also had a devoted live-in boyfriend, a young daughter, a nice enough little house in a nice little suburb. She went missing. To date, her body has never been found. That was twelve years ago. We always suspected her last client killed her, who was not someone she knew, he just called the agency and she was up, but we could never prove it. So I started with this idea of a working, stable escort who disappears, but then my story goes in its own direction.
The other half of the story I got from a medical examiner’s investigator in Fort Myers. Everyone knows I write now, so people at work are always saying, this would be a great plot, this would be a good character. So I was at an autopsy one day and he looks at me over this opened body and says, I know a great way to kill someone because it wouldn’t leave any trace at all. It was a case I worked in Miami and I’m writing a paper on it for the medical investigator’s journal. So of course I said, tell me more, and that became Evidence of Murder.
Q: How did you approach writing this novel? Did you plot it out entirely ahead of time? How long did you work on it, from concept to finished product?
LB: I’ll write a book in about 5 months. Then another two for further drafts, and then I send it to my agent. It will be weeks or a month or two until she reads it, then we’ll go back and forth two or three times with her suggested changes, and then repeat that process (only longer) with my editor.
And yes, I plot them out entirely ahead of time. I have to do that.
Q: What might people be surprised to learn about your process?
LB: That I don’t outline in much detail. I should, but I don’t.
Q: Do you leave your outline “fuzzy” purposefully, to give yourself room to make changes here or there?
LB: No, I’m just lazy. I’m not afraid to make changes so it’s not that I find them restrictive. I’m just lazy and impatient. If there’s something I haven’t quite hammered out, I tell myself I’ll figure it out when I get there. I do, but I’d much rather have it figured out in advance.
Q: Did any particular part of the book give you trouble, and, if so, what did you do to overcome it?
LB: Trying to make not finding evidence exciting. So I tried to make her actions a little nervewracking, send her down some dark hallways so she could worry about what might jump out.
Q: Which moments provided the most satisfaction for you, and which is your favorite scene?
LB: I enjoy describing what I like about Cleveland, and I enjoy the oddball characters.
I like the second-last chapter, but I can’t explain why without giving the ending away.
Q: Who or what inspires you? What’s on your keeper shelf?
LB: Jeffrey Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Somerset Maugham.
Q: What are three things you’ve done to publicize your novel that you’d do all over again?
LB: For the last book (Takeover) I rented placards for a month on the rapid transit (subway) line. No one reads more than commuters. I did a virtual tour by guest-posting on other writers’ blogs that was a lot of fun and not as hard as I expected, because you can do it in advance. And I attended the Thrillerfest convention, which was a lot of money but well worth it.
Q: What was the best part of attending the convention? How did it surprise you?
LB: Everyone was so friendly. My publisher had a cocktail party and a signing at The Mysterious Bookshop and my editor not only attended my panel but had me sit next to him at the banquet. I also surprised myself by doing a whole lot of homework in advance and tried to memorize most of the attendees and something about them so I could make the most of any opportunities for conversation. I’m not much of a ‘joiner’, but being armed in advance I could actually go up to total strangers and start talking to them. And (being lazy) I didn’t want all that preparation to go to waste, so that gave me an added prod.
Q: What is it about the publishing industry that you wish you’d known before your debut was published?
LB: Modesty will get you nowhere.
Q: Are you shy by nature? Did you find it difficult to be “out there” with your book? What did you do to overcome it?
LB: I told my mother last month, “The problem is, Mom, you taught me to be modest, and now I’m in two occupations where that is not an advantage.” I don’t think of myself as interesting, but I need to make myself believe it so that other people believe it and want to read what I’ve written. I don’t think of myself as wildly intelligent, but when I’m testifying in court I need to give the impression that I am fully confident in what I say (because I am–I just feel funny sitting there listing credentials as if I can’t get enough of myself). Plus, I don’t find my daily job terribly exciting because I’m used to it, so when it’s mentioned I’ll say things like “It’s not really that glamorous,” and then my agent yells: “You have to GLOW when you talk about your work.” And, as always, she’s right. Everybody is interesting in certain ways. You just have to remind yourself of that. And I’m sure that’s tougher for women, because we’re usually taught to be modest and accomodating and to let everyone else talk first. (And I love that about us. But sometimes, it’s not helpful.)
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about the publishing business?
LB: That it’s a business. Your publisher is doing this to make money and you want them to, because then you do too. But that’s not only what I mean, I also mean to treat every relationship like a professional. Be friendly, but also be prompt and reliable and respectful of other people’s jobs.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
LB: Read what you want to write. Don’t try to write like someone else, though learning from them is great. Get good critique partners, which may take some time to find someone who will really stick with you, people who know something about writing and will be honest. You don’t have to take their advice, but it will let you know when you should take another look at something.
Q: What’s next for you, and Theresa MacLean?
LB: Trail of Blood, coming September 2010, in which Theresa recognizes a pattern of deaths as the reincarnation of a series of unsolved murders from 1930’s Cleveland (which actually happened).
Thanks so much, Lisa, for a great interview! Readers, learn more about Lisa and her work, including how to purchase Evidence of Murder or any of her novels, at her website.