Organised crime, a sinister cult, psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming. Ingredients guaranteed to give any rollercoaster futuristic thriller an extra kick.
In her first mind bending thriller for adults, Laura Lam takes the lid off a supposedly perfect city – and discovers decay and corruption.
False Hearts is set in a near future San Francisco and follows twin sisters who were born conjoined at the heart. They were raised by a cult which banned modern medicine, so had to escape in order to have the surgery to separate them. When one of the twins, Tila, is accused of murder and police suspect involvement with a powerful drug, her sister Taema makes a deal with the authorities to impersonate Tila in order to prove her innocence.
It’s a fascinating premise from a fascinating author. Laura was born in the late eighties and raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. After studying literature and creative writing at university, she relocated to Scotland.
In this terrific intel interview, she talks about her conjoined twin heroines, her counterculture upbringing — and the difference between writing YA and adult thrillers…
False Hearts has been described as Orphan Black meets Inception – tell us about the near future you have created in False Hearts…
It’s set roughly 100 years from now, though I don’t give a specific date. The United States has fractured as a result of tension from climate change reaching a tipping point: Pacifica (California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii), Atlantica (East Coast), the South, and the Great Plains. San Francisco in the future is obsessed with perfection. Everything is transient—ordered from replicators only to be recycled.
People do not age thanks to excellent gene therapy and walk in flesh parlours where they can walk out with a new face. Crime is nearly gone, and anyone who is prone to being a criminal either becomes addicted to the dream drug Zeal, or is frozen in stasis. There’s still underground crime through the mob, called the Ratel. Poverty is almost gone, wars are pretty much a thing of the past. At first glance, it looks perfect, but everything has a price.
Who are Tila and Taema?
Taema and Tila are twins who were born conjoined at the chest with a shared heart. They were raised in a cult called Mana’s Hearth outside of San Francisco, where Muir Woods is now. This cult is cut off from modern society, frozen in 1969 technology. When their shared heart starts to fail, the twins know they need to escape, but the leader of the cult doesn’t want to let them go that easily.
False Hearts features drugs, conjoined twins, shared dreams and cults – what kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I read a lot of nonfiction and watched documentaries on cults and conjoined twins. I also have identical twin nephews (not conjoined), so I observed their relationship to each other. I researched a lot about neuroscience, specifically how memories are formed and how drugs affect the brain. I looked at concepts for futuristic architecture, food production, and tech. Research is one of my favourite aspects of writing, as I end up learning a little about a lot of things.
Your own parents were hippies in San Francisco – did your upbringing influence your writing, do you think?
It did, and I see it more now that the book is finished and I’m looking back. My parents both went to art school and encouraged creativity in all forms. We went to the library all the time, spent a lot of time outdoors. They were pretty laidback parents; as long as I told them where I was going and what I was doing, they were usually fine with it. As a result, I didn’t break their trust. Once, my dad said if I ever wanted to try hallucinogenics, he’d get some for me and stay sober and we’d go into the woods and he’d made sure I had a nice trip. I never took him up on it—sort of wish I had now, as it would have been great research.
My brother and I were raised in a religion called Religious Science or Science of Mind, which is like a hippie gnostic branch of Christianity. I went to church camp every summer and winter in the redwoods of California, and it was right out of Mana’s Hearth. Religious Science is nothing like a cult, but I did borrow certain aspects for the cult in False Hearts.
False Hearts is your first books for adults after writing YA – did you approach the writing any differently?
I was able to swear and have more sex and violence on the page, maybe, but otherwise I don’t think my approach was particularly different. The main change is my main characters have more baggage and are more jaded than my teen characters usually are.
How did you start writing?
I’ve wanted to write as soon as I learned it was an actually a job people did. I started writing a terrible (TERRIBLE) book when I was fifteen about fairies and cat people, then sort of put it aside. In my undergraduate degree, I studied English and Creative Writing, so that forced me to actually finish things and put it out for critique. I seriously started writing for publication at the tail end of 2009, after I moved from California to Scotland, and just kept at it. I had my first break with Pantomime, my intersex magic circus book, through Angry Robot’s open door in 2012.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
You can’t control anything but the words. You can’t control if your book sells or what the advance is. You can’t control a lot of aspects about the marketing. You can’t control if something sells in translation or gets a film option. You can’t control how many bookstores the book will get into, or how many people pick it up and buy it. Literally all you can do is keep your head down, write the best books you can, and always try to improve.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Robin Hobb is my favourite author—her prose, her world building, and the way her characters get under your skin is incredible. If you haven’t read her, start with Assassin’s Apprentice. She’s also just a really lovely person and very supportive of new writers. I also really admire Margaret Atwood (amazing prose in varied genres), Tana French (excellent crime), Neal Stephenson (for worldbuilding), Patrick Ness (so clever), and countless others.
Give me some advice about writing…
Put your butt in a chair and your hands on a keyboard, and figure out what works for you. No two writers will have the same process or approach writing the same way. Everyone will have their own career path. The most important thing is to work at it regularly—not necessarily every day, but regularly enough you’re producing and finishing stuff at a rate you’re happy with. Be really stubborn—that’s a good character trait in writing.
What’s next for you?
I’ve False Hearts out in June, and then the paperback re-releases of Pantomime and Shadowplay near the end of the year. The third book, Masquerade, will finally be out in March 2017, and then right after that I have my next thriller, Shattered Minds, out in June 2017. After that, who knows? I’m writing other things, but what happens with them is out of my hands!
False Hearts by Laura Lam is published by Pan Macmillan and is available now in hardback, priced at £12.99.