Tag Archives: Megan Abbott

The Intel: Lisa Lutz

Lutz.Dox.1 (1)You know Lisa Lutz – she’s the bestselling author of The Spellman books, about a family of private investigators. But Lisa’s latest novel The Passenger is a different beast altogether. It’s a dark, twisty tale about identity in which a woman goes on the run after her husband dies in an accident.

Tanya DuBois isn’t real, and neither is Amelia Keen, Debra Maze, or any of her other aliases. She is Amelia when she meets Blue, another woman with a life she’d rather not discuss, and thinks she’s found her kindred spirit. But their pasts and futures clash as the body count rises around them…

In this intel interview, Lisa talks about her startling new heroine, the Spellmans and about going off the grid.

She also talks about her so-called failed screenwriting career which began and ended with a mob comedy called Plan B. But wait… all is not as it seems. Since she answered our intel questions it’s been ann0unced that Lisa will be joining Megan Abbott, George Pelecanos and Richard Price as one of the scriptwriters on David Simon’s new HBO drama, The Deuce, set in the porn industry in the 1970s.

Who is The Passenger?

The passenger is the narrator of my novel. It also refers to the role she’s playing in her own life.

We’ll call her Tanya, but she goes by many names in the book. At first, all we know about her is that she’s running from something. 

Where did you get the inspiration for Tanya DuBois? 

I was interested in writing a novel about a woman who changes from one identity to the next. I liked the idea of her character being layered with other characters—who were still part of her—and the effect her near and distant pasts have had on her life.

If you ever changed your identity and tried to fly away from your troubles, how far do you think you would get? 

I think I’d get farther than most. Or least I’d stay hidden longer. I’m afraid I can’t provide any more details. I wouldn’t want to blow my future cover.

Passenger coverThe Passenger is a change of pace from The Spellman books – did you consciously set out to write something darker and grittier?

It was never my plan to write only in the style of the Spellman series. When I finished The Spellman Files over ten years ago, I immediately began writing a totally different kind of book (published as How to Start a Fire just last year). But the publisher asked if I had a Spellman sequel in me, and I did. Five books later, I knew it was time for me to move on.

I wasn’t necessarily interested in writing something darker—there are some very dark themes in all of my books. I was simply interested in writing a different kind of story. I had other subjects I wanted to explore.

You’ve described yourself as a ‘failed screenwriter’ – how did your experiences in Hollywood lead to your becoming a novelist?

I wrote screenplays for ten years; it never even occurred to me to write a novel. Mostly I wrote one screenplay over and over again. It was a mob comedy called Plan B that got made in 2000. Let’s just say after that it was hard to get anyone to read my scripts. I wrote The Spellman Files out of desperation, really. But it was the smartest thing I ever did.

I don’t think of myself as a failed screenwriter anymore. I’m a novelist. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Just a few days ago I decided to put aside the book I’m working on to start something else, which is what I should have been writing all along. I didn’t pay attention to what I was most passionate about and instead made a calculated decision that I now regret. Never write what you think you should write; write what you’re most passionate about.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are so many, but since I just finished reading Megan Abbott’s upcoming You Will Know Me, I’ll start with her. Her writing is so elegant and her stories so cutting and insightful. I’m a huge fan of Laura Lippman because, well, she’s great, but I also admire how she does something very different each time with her standalones. I loved every second of Maria Semple’s hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette. On an opposite note, I felt deeply connected to Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, which came out a few years ago.

Give me some advice about writing…

There’s a line in Barton Fink where the studio producer says to Barton, ‘We all have that Barton Fink feeling, but since you’re Barton Fink I’m assuming you have it in spades.’ Don’t try to emulate other writers. Figure out what you’re about and who you are.

 What’s next for you?

I’m starting research on that book I should have been working on all along, and I’ve got a few other things on the burner.


The Passenger, published by Titan Books, is out right now in paperback and ebook.

The Intel: Sheila Bugler

As you know, we love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Last week we reviewed Sheila Bugler’s procedural Hunting Shadows. Now Sheila tells us how she gets those pesky words out of her head and onto the page. 

Sheila Bugler_0002 copyHow has your own experience influence your writing?

I’m pretty sure all experience is an influence, although thinking about my own writing, two things seem most obvious. The first is being a parent. I started writing properly after the birth of my second child. Unwittingly, themes of parenthood, parental love and the importance of giving children a safe, secure childhood recur throughout my writing. I suspect I have a need to explore the strong emotions and vulnerability you experience as a parent.

The second strong influence is my status as an immigrant. I live in a country that’s not my own. This sounds very dramatic, I know, but in a sense it’s how I feel. I adore the beautiful part of England I now call home but I am – first and foremost – an Irish emigrant. I love my country and miss it. Writing novels with Irish characters has always been important and I suspect it will remain so for some time to come. It’s a way of connecting me with where I’m from.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

Character, although I had to think about this so the answer’s not that straight-forward. Sometimes, a novel starts with a single scene. Other times, I’ve dreamt the entire plot of a novel and that’s the starting point. No matter how it begins, though, once the writing starts the narrative is driven by the way the characters develop. Plot definitely comes second to that (although as a crime writer I do have to think very carefully about plot, of course).

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m not sure there is a typical day, unfortunately. I have a job and two kids and life is very busy. On a good day, I get up early (usually before 5) and write until the day begins for everyone else. The days I commute to London, I write on the train.

Basically, I squeeze the writing into whatever little bit of free time I can find. I long for the day I can write full-time.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

So many. First and foremost, I have a definite leaning towards US writers. Why? It’s something about the lyrical way US authors weave the amazing landscape of their country into their writing. But I adore many other writers too.

Favourite crime writers include Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Craig McDonald, Philip Kerr, James Lee Burke, Denis Lehane, Raymond Chandler (of course), Ken Bruen, Cathi Unsworth, Louise Welsh, Harlan Coben and the incredible Robert Edric who writes the best UK noir fiction I have ever read. I’ve also recently read books by Stephan Talty, MD Villiers and Derek B Miller which were all brilliant. In fact, Talty’s book was so good I wrote to him and told him I wished I’d written it. And I really do.

I also read a lot of non-crime. All-time favourite authors include Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through It would possibly be my desert island book), Kazuo Ishiguro, Alan Hollinghurst Patrick McCabe, Raymond Carver, Richard Bausch and the incomparable genius that is PG Wodehouse. I’ve just started re-reading Jeeves and it really is the most sublime writing.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?HuntingShadows

That I’m not going to make a fortune in this line of work! Also that it takes time to get anywhere. I’m not a very patient person and you really need a lot of patience to persevere with this odd occupation we have chosen.

How do you deal with feedback?

I’m pretty okay with feedback. I don’t take criticism too personally. In fact, it is impossible to survive as a writer if you take everything to heart. I went through an intense editing process with Hunting Shadows. Even though my editor is wonderful, I found the process quite gruelling. I do admit, though, that it’s now a better novel than it would have been if we hadn’t made all those changes.

I’ve also learned that all views are subjective. When I started writing, I took every piece of feedback on board and tried to change my writing on that basis. Now I realise that no one’s opinion is ‘right’ (although naturally some opinions are more right than others!). The important thing is not to take anything personally and to be sensible. Generally, if someone doesn’t like something you’ve written, your gut will tell you if they’re right or not. If something feels wrong, then it is wrong and you’ll need to change it.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

In lots of ways, I suspect. As I mentioned above, being a mother and an emigrant are key influences. But so many other things in my life feed into my writing, consciously or sub-consciously.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read lots and be realistic. You may think you’re the best, most original talent that has ever lived but the chances are no one else will think that. And even if you find someone who does share that view, it will still be hard work.

Being able to write is very special and I feel so lucky that I’ve found this thing I want to do with my life. But it’s also incredibly hard work. Mostly, it’s a grind and you have to put so much else on hold to do it…

Finally, every aspiring writer should read Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Be patient. Be realistic. Be doggedly persistent.

What’s next for you?

Working on the sequel to Hunting Shadows. It’s called Watch Over You and should be out in the first half of 2014. It’s quite a different book, full of dark, demented females. I like it but I’m not sure, yet, if anyone else will!

Sheila grew up in a small town in the west of Ireland. After studying Psychology at university, she left Ireland and worked in Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland and Argentina before finally settling in Eastbourne, where she lives with her husband, Sean, and their two children.

You can find out more about Sheila and her writing on her website (www.sheilabugler.co.uk). She’s also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/#!/sheila.bugler.1) and Twitter (@sheilab10).