SG Redling is an American author who has written across a number of genres in her career. Her latest crime novel, Baggage – which has just been published by Thomas And Mercer – will appeal to anybody who’s convinced certain days and dates carry with them a stinking load of bad karma.
Over the years, terrible things keep happening to Anna Ray on February 17. On the day of the dreaded anniversary, Anna and her cousin Jeannie hit the town, planning to ease the pain with an alcohol-induced stupor. But when Anna awakes the next morning, fate is about to intervene in the form of two gruesome murders with eerie similarities to Anna’s violent past. This February 17th, she’s going to be a suspect…
A veteran radio presenter who lives in West Virginia, Redling is a terrific interviewee. She gives us the intel on her heroine with a haunted past and how NaNoWriMo helped her over the finishing line with her writing. And she talks about something every crime writer and reader will absolutely understand: the joy of mayhem.
Tell us about Anna Ray…
She was a great character to write although she might not be the easiest person for everyone to like. Home-schooled by two eccentric intellectuals, she’s very educated, pretty judgmental, and emotionally ill-equipped. She’s also funny in her own dark way and has few illusions about being well-adjusted.
Where did you get the inspiration for Baggage?
I never know how to answer this question. There are so many threads that come together to bring a story to life. The book began as a story about a woman with a compulsive disorder. When I started taking her apart, trying to figure out why she did what she did, I realized this would have to be a woman with a secret. Once I started trying to figure out what that secret was, I realized I had an entirely different story on my hands. For me, this kind of discovery and excavation of a character is the best part of writing. It’s nothing short of magical and it requires some faith and patience.
Anna is a complex character with a tragic background. Was it challenging to enter such a dark mindset?
The challenge was to keep her from limping through the story. I don’t want to drop any spoilers but trust me when I say that the baggage Anna is carrying is heavy. For her, however, it has taken on a sense of normalcy. Her grief is not fresh. The challenge came in capturing her fear of this dreaded anniversary and showing how she cobbles together a life around it. And she has built a life, albeit a life that many fully-functional people might question. This sounds weird but I liked being in her head. She was funny and smart and honest about the things she didn’t do well.
You’ve written in several genres over the years. What made you want to write a thriller?
In a word – mayhem. My thrillers don’t feature special skills people – SEALS or spies or spec-op killers. They feature regular people, people you know, who are just fumbling through their lives with varying levels of success. What I enjoy is taking these people we all know and putting them into insane circumstances, forcing them to discover that they are badass in their own way.
You were a radio presenter for many years – did that career give you any insights into the way people speak and act with each other?
Radio and writing are not as different as you might imagine. In both careers, you sit alone in a room talking to a (hopefully) large audience whose response you cannot read immediately. I think radio improved my writing in a couple of ways. It taught me to get to the point. It taught me how to really listen and identify people by just a few words over the phone, which improved my dialogue. And most importantly, it taught me not to think I’m clever. The audience is always ahead of me so I always need to write up to them.
How did you start writing?
I’ve written on and off my whole life but it wasn’t until I completed a NaNoWriMo in the early ‘00s that I considered trying to be a novelist. Novels are large beasts and it takes a while to get the hang of them. I always recommend people try NaNoWriMo. I’ve said this a thousand times – you learn more from dragging one craptastic manuscript over the finish line than you do starting and abandoning a thousand potential masterpieces.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
Nobody cares how hard it is. And it is hard. Sometimes you can write entire chapters in arterial blood, only to have someone shrug and say “Meh, predictable.” Readers are completely within their rights to say anything they like about your work, regardless of how much it cost you. All that matters is the final product. We writers love our anguish and I do believe the occupation requires a certain neurosis. If you want to do this professionally, however, you have to produce quality work that stands on its own merit. If you want to do this professionally and maintain a level of sanity, cultivate friendships that support you (and hide you) during the occasional meltdowns
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Impossible question to answer! Or rather, an impossible question to finishing answering. I have so many authors that I enjoy and admire. People I’ve been reading lately – Deborah Reed does such gorgeous things in her book Olivay; Helen Smith is hilarious and so very British in Alison Wonderland; Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Hilary Davidson, Christa Faust, John Darnielle, Rob Kroese, Stant Litore – writers writing all over the place but always writing in their own voice, with their own passion. I admire authors who keep putting it out there.
Give me some advice about writing…
Be brave and be wary of advice. It can be tempting when the going gets tough to throw yourself into a search for ‘the answer’ to writing. There is no answer. There’s just writing. So ask for advice, listen to advice, take classes, read craft books but if any of those things push you away from writing, dump them. Be brave and/or stupid and keep writing.
When it comes to getting published, however, listen to advice. Read and understand all you can about professionalism, etiquette, language skills, editing, etc. These are two different topics that should be handled separately.
Writing does not guarantee publication and personally I think writing toward publication is the road to madness. Writing is too much work to do for anything but love. If you can find a way to parlay that love into a career, excellent. But you have to love writing because you’re going to have to write an awful lot of stuff to get published.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished edits on my next thriller, AT RISK, scheduled for release in September. It’s a bit of a departure for me – still a dark thriller, still lots of violence, but my main character is not actually a hot mess. On the contrary, she’s breaking under the need to keep her orderly world in line. It’s not a spoiler to say that she fails at that and mayhem ensues.
Baggage by SG Redling is available right now as an ebook and in paperback, published by Thomas And Mercer.