Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Lisa Black

Lisa Black is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner, beginning her forensics career at the Coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and then the police department in Cape Coral, Florida. She has spoken to readers and writers at numerous conferences and is one of two Guests of Honor at 2020 Killer Nashville.

Black's new novel is Every Kind of Wicked.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The first book in the series was called That Darkness, from a quote I ran across in the Bible that seemed to describe Jack Renner perfectly: “But if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matthew 6:23) I like my titles to have something in common—though my publishers have never been crazy about this habit—so all the titles in the Gardiner-Renner series are from the Bible. For this one I had picked Before Destruction, from “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) I thought ‘pride’ spoke to Jack, his pride allowing him to decide who lives and who dies, and also to how the villain’s pride plays into what they do—and ‘destruction’ definitely describes a scene at the end. But the publisher thought it sounded too much like a military thriller, so they suggested Every Kind of Wicked, from: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” (Romans 1:29) Which also describes my villains to a T.

What's in a name?

I am obsessed with names. My given name is Elizabeth, which has about twenty possible nicknames (one of which is Lisa, which my family has called me since birth) and I have burned through most at various phases of my life. But of course as a child I hated it and wanted something else, beginning with ‘Rosie’ after a pretty saloon girl on my favorite show, The Wild, Wild West. (Watching a rerun as an adult, I realized that Rosie was actually a hooker, but at 7 that went right over my head.) My character’s last names come from my favorite authors: Evelyn James for P.D. James, Theresa MacLean from Alastair MacLean, and Maggie Gardiner from Lisa Gardner (though spelled differently). I have always liked the name Maggie, not for any particular reason, and in high school I thought ‘Maggie Michaels’ would be a perfect pen name. (I’ve never used it, though. Too romancey.) Jack is a name that springs from some unknown well because I use it a lot, and Renner came from my current celebrity crush Jeremy Renner. (Oh, those eyes.)

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not too surprised, I don’t think. It’s full of action and science and every once in a while, a dab of humor, and that was exactly what I wanted to write in high school.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are the worst. I rewrite the first chapter ten times and I’m still never satisfied with it. There is so much you need to do right at the start, establish the characters, the settings, where they are in their lives, what their current major issues are, what the book is going to be about and what they’re going to have to try to do. It’s really impossible.

Endings are pretty easy for me, probably because I know how it’s going to end and have the scene pictured in mind before I even begin.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Maggie has my job, a forensic specialist for a police department, but there the similarities end. She’s younger, divorced, and a workaholic. I am none of those things. The outward similarities make people think that she’s my avatar in this series but…I’m not Maggie. I’m Jack. We have the same thought patterns in many ways. I’ve never felt as close to a character as with Jack.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Places inspire me more than, say, paintings or music. I love huge, sweeping buildings and monuments, wide-open spaces with stunning views. That’s why it’s important for me to be able to picture every place in my book, even if it’s something I’m making up. Since Cleveland is my home town I can close my eyes and feel the sidewalks and the hundred-year-old stone walls and what the air is like at different times of the year. This book opens up in the dead of winter at the Erie Street Cemetery, which has graves dating back to 1826. I used it in their first book together, and I liked the idea of bringing Maggie and Jack full circle.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (July 2020).

The Page 69 Test: Every Kind of Wicked.

--Marshal Zeringue