Tag Archives: Tana French

The Intel: Laura Lam

authorphoto01Organised 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.

9781509818075Your 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.

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The Intel: CJ Lyons

CJLyonsbookphotoLOResCJ Lyons is the bestselling author of seven Lucy Guardino thrillers, and the latest, Last Light, sees her heroine leaving the FBI to join the Beacon Group, a firm that specializes in cold cases and brings justice to forgotten victims.

Lucy is partnered with TK O’Connor, an army veteran struggling with her transition to ordinary life and they’re soon led to rural Texas to investigate their first case: the murder of Lily Martin and her young child in 1987. The convicted killers have been behind bars for the past twenty-nine years. But who really killed Lily Martin and her infant daughter? And what price will Lucy pay to expose a truth people will kill to keep buried?

CJ is a paediatric ER doctor turned New York Times bestselling author of twenty-nine novels — her ‘Thrillers With A Heart’ have notched up with sales of over 2 million. She’s assisted police and prosecutors with cases and has worked in numerous trauma centres, on a Navajo reservation, as a crisis counsellor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac.

She’s had a fascinating career, as a medic and a novelist, and in this insightful intel interview CJ discusses her indomitable heroine, our fascination with cold cases, how she picked herself up when her dream debut ended in disaster, and the piece of writing advice that Jeffery Deaver gave her…

Tell us about Lucy Guardino…

I created Lucy because I was tired of reading thrillers featuring female FBI agents who were driven by angst, fleeing demons, fighting addiction, stalked by serial killers, or with dark, forbidden secrets, etc.–all things that would never allow them to do their job effectively in the real world.

As a woman who has always worked in a male dominated field (Emergency Medicine), I wanted to create a main character I could relate to. Someone facing the same kind of struggles balancing work and family and who felt “real.”

So, I thought, why not go as real as it gets? How about a Pittsburgh soccer mom, who has a loving and supportive family? No angst, no dark past, no addictions or demons… Just the very real need to do her job the best she can while also giving her family as much love and attention as possible.

Of course, I can’t go too easy on her, so during her early adventures with the FBI, I give her the worst possible job, tracking pedophiles and sex offenders. The fact that she happens to be good at it only makes her life more complicated because she fights a constant battle of protecting her family from her work.

How has Lucy changed over the course of your novels about her…

One of the comments I hear frequently from readers is that they love Lucy because she is so very human in the way she’s grown over the course of the series. Snake Skin, her first adventure, focused on the almost universal tension that adults face, juggling family and work. And when your work is saving lives and chasing down the worst of the worst, how can you say no?

Each novel is different, from dark psychological suspense in Blood Stained, to action-adventure in Kill Zone, to a set-in-real-time fight for her life in After Shock, and the consequences of that fight in Hard Fall. With each challenge she faces, each mistake as well as each triumph, Lucy has paid a price, and come away with a better understanding of herself.

I think the novel that best reveals this is Hard Fall, which won the International Thriller Writers’ 2015 Thriller Award. It was by far the most difficult book I’ve ever tackled, featuring a survivor of childhood sexual abuse without ever showing any of the violence she suffered on the page—instead, I focused on the psychological ramifications that impacted her life. Parallel to her story is Lucy’s own struggle with the trauma she’s suffered and the choices she faces about her own future, not just her career but her physical and mental well-being along with her family’s needs.

Last Light sees Lucy starting a new life with an organization which investigates Cold Cases – why are we as readers so obsessed with unsolved historical murders?

I think readers enjoy reading about cold cases because as humans we hate it when chaos wins out over justice. And, at least here in the US, unsolved murders remind us that there are places where killers can get away with murder — not because law enforcement is incompetent in any way, but simply because they are overworked and underfunded with huge swathes of land to cover with minimal manpower. We sleep better at night believing justice is served.

Last_Light-crop-smallYou’ve described your novels as Thrillers With Heart – what do you mean by that?

I never enjoyed the thriller novels that treated characters like they were just along for the ride or that featured gratuitous sex and violence without any emotional honesty to give them real impact. Like many authors, I’m more interested in the grey spaces between the black and white of good and evil than I am the car chases and explosions, so I created the term “Thrillers with Heart” to describe my particular brand of crime fiction. They combine the fast-paced adrenaline rush expected from a thriller with an exploration of the emotions that come from exposure to violence.

Your first publishing deal ended in disaster – tell us what happened…

My first medical thriller, Nerves Of Steel, was bought by a major US publisher in a pre-empt and seemed to be destined to be my dream debut: hardcover, endorsements from a dozen NYT Bestsellers, great pre-sales…until, due to factors totally beyond my control (cover art issues), it was cancelled a few weeks prior to its scheduled release.

Pfft, no more dream debut, no more contracts…In fact, I would have to fight to get my rights back after my original agent left me high and dry.

Plus, when my debut was cancelled, I’d already left my medical practice and so was unemployed for the first time since I was 15. But after a few days feeling sorry for myself, I realized that the best thing I could do if I wanted to make my dream of becoming a published author come true was to keep writing.

While I worked on a new book, I fought to get my rights back from that first publisher. (In fact, I went on to self-publish Nerves Of Steel, which became a bestseller, and due to reader demand has led to three sequels, Sleight Of Hand, Face To Face, and Eye Of The Storm.) It was rough going, but I kept writing.

Two weeks after I won that battle and received my rights back, a publisher with Penguin/Putnam called and asked if I’d like to create a new medical suspense series targeting women readers, along the lines of Grey’s Anatomy meets ER. Of course I said yes and sat down to write Lifelines, my first bestseller.

Oh, and just to show that karma has a sense of humor, the book I wrote after being ditched by my first publisher? Blind Faith, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list…

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

The hardest lesson for me came after that first disaster of losing my dream debut to forces beyond my control. I learned that no one — not my publisher, editor, or agent — was more invested than the success of my novels than I was. So I had to learn how to become my own champion, which meant learning the business.

As a pediatrician, I’ve never run a business, so I threw myself into learning everything I could about marketing, branding, copy writing, audience demographics, profit/loss statements, contracts, etc. Soon I knew more about my audience than my publishers!

I realized that if you want to become a career novelist, you need to take control of the business side of things because you are actually CEO of a Global Media Empire. Your publishers (I’ve worked with most of the major US publishers as well as almost two dozen more around the globe) are your partners, not your patrons. You need to be clear about what you bring to that partnership and what they have to offer and be ready to walk away from any contract that isn’t serving your readers.

When it comes to business, my mantra is: “good” isn’t good enough for my readers, they deserve “great!”

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the pictures they create and worlds they build. I love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level. I also adore Mark Helprin, Alice Hoffman, and Tana French among others.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best piece of advice for either my writing or my business came from Jeffery Deaver. We were sitting together at an awards banquet (we both won, which was fun) and I asked him what his best words of wisdom were. He told me: Never forget, the reader is god.

In other words, think about the reader with every decision.

Unsure about a plot twist? Will your readers love it?

Should you spend your time tweeting or writing the next book? Write the next book, of course—that’s what your readers want.

What will make your readers excited, delighted, and ready to tell their friends about your books?

Once you keep that vision in mind, your path becomes so much easier, profitable, and much more fun!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently putting the final polish on Lucy’s next adventure, Devil Smoke. It deals with obsession, grief, and denial, featuring a woman who has lost her life to amnesia and Lucy’s team’s efforts to help her. Of course, the twists and turns lead back to a cold case that hits much too close to home. It’s due out July 25, 2016.

***

Last Light by CJ Lyons is published by Canelo, priced £3.99 in eBook.

 

Can Anybody Help Me? – Sinéad Crowley

Can Anybody Help Me?I didn’t manage to read Sinéad Crowley’s debut crime novel Can Anybody Help Me? when it came out, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s a good, old-fashioned page-turner, powered by  the molten core of a strong ”what if’ concept.

The blurb could really do with five minutes shut-eye:

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

Crowley’s first Claire Boyle crime novel asks why we blithely release so much information about ourselves online, placing our trust in virtual strangers. The early part of the book follows Yvonne — a young mother with a high-powered media husband — who moves from London to Dublin.

She’s shattered and lonely and isolated in the new city, and begins to rely on the friendly advice and banter of the other users of the forum, and her experience is mirrored by that of the very pregnant and very feisty Guarda Sergeant Claire Boyle, whose initial cynicism about getting help online dissolves over the course of the book. I like the way that — as mothers, or mothers-to-be — the tangled family histories of both these women impact on their anxieties and relationships.

The intermittent excerpts of conversations between all the women on the forum netmammy — littered with annoying and cliquey acronyms — take on a chilling context when it becomes obvious that hiding behind one of the avatars is a cold-blooded murderer.

Can Anybody Help Me? has a very good sense of time and place, which gives it a bit of daylight between other big city procedurals. Crowley, like other Irish crime writers, makes some wry and rueful observations about the scars left on Dublin in the aftermath of the economic crash — Tana French’s Broken Harbour is a particularly interesting read on that score, if that’s something you’re interested in — and away from the sinister stuff, makes some lovely observations about the competitiveness between mums and about the Dublin media-scene. Her day job is as Arts and Media Correspondent with RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster.

It’s a crime novel which manages the tricky balance of being both chilling, warm and empathetic, and often funny. Crowley’s characters are great, her dialogue is very evocative, and she drops in a great turn of phrase whenever she needs one.

The ending feels a touch rushed, and Yvonne’s role in the narrative, so strong at first, becomes decidedly peripheral as Claire barges her way in to take centre stage, but the revelation of the identity of the murderer is genuinely surprising. Crowley’s book is a fine debut novel, and proof positive that high-concept ideas don’t have to be cold, gleaming things.

And guess what — Sinéad Crowley is going to be giving us the intel on her work later in the week. Look out for that that, so.