Monday, January 10, 2022

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent novels include The Better Sister, The Wife, optioned for a feature film by Amazon, and The Ex, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel. She is also the co-author of the bestselling Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark. She currently serves as the President of Mystery Writers of America and is the first woman of color to be elected to that position. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal law and lives in Manhattan and East Hampton.

Burke's new novel is Find Me.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I often have a working title without being committed to it. It would be crummy treatment of a human, but I’ve come to accept that you don’t owe a title any loyalty. Sometimes a title really sticks. I have a book called The Better Sister, for example. From early concept to publication, the title never shifted. But I usually mull a title over for months.

The working title of this new book was The Girl She Was for a very long time. In fact, it’s being published in the UK under that title. Readers might have girl-title fatigue, but in this instance, the word actually fits. Hope Miller cannot remember who she was or where she came from prior to her sudden appearance fifteen years earlier in a small town in New Jersey in an overturned SUV. The doctors assumed she’d eventually regain her memory, but she never did and had to make a new life for herself under an assumed name. When she vanishes fifteen years later, the search for Hope also means a search for the truth about who she used to be and what brought her to that town on her own. Find Me, in contrast, is filled with action and uncertainty. It also has a nice double meaning. Hope’s best friend, Lindsay Miller, is searching for Hope, but that also means finding the truth about what led to Hope’s sudden appearance fifteen years ago in a small town, with no memory of who she is or how she got there.

What's in a name?

I change character names so much that even I get confused sometimes about where I eventually landed! When I first started Find Me, it was based on the west coast, and the car accident occurred not in New Jersey, but in Yreka, California. Forced to choose a name for herself other than Jane Doe, the woman from the accident chose the name Rika as a little joke (“Why, Rika?). When I decided to move the story to the northeast, I moved the car accident to a small town called Hopewell. It made sense that the townspeople would start calling her Hope.

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

Um….very? Or at least, teenaged me would be surprised to learn that she became a novelist at all. When I was a teenager, my father was a novelist without a publisher whose earlier books had gone out of print. As someone who wanted an actual steady income, I definitely didn’t want to be a writer. I ended up going to law school, and yet here I am, nearly two decades into a writing career. I’m clearly not very good at predicting the future.

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

To me, beginnings are harder, because so much is still unknown. But I change a lot, beginning to end. I change it all. I think any writer had to be willing at least to revisit every choice. I spend at least a year getting to know these characters and their arcs. With Find Me, I knew the big part of the ending, which I obviously can’t describe. But I knew Hope’s backstory and how it led her to the east coast. I knew the big twists that connected Hope to some other characters that readers will get to know along the way. But the friendship between Lindsay and Hope caught me off guard. In fact, when I started the book, the woman who went looking for Hope was a different narrator altogether—a victim’s advocate with the police department who took Hope under her wing after the car accident. But when Hope’s friend Lindsay became such a devoted and loyal bestie, she also became the primary narrator.

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

I believe some small part of me is in every single character I create, even the so-called bad ones. Most importantly, I think to be a good writer, one needs to be exceptionally empathetic. It helps to be able to know how someone is feeling, even if that someone isn’t you. Like me, Lindsay is a lawyer by training and, in her case, by trade. She’s intensely logical and single-minded. That determination comes in handy when it feels like she’s the only person who cares that Hope is missing.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The social issues I care about have a way of finding their place in my pages. Though my work certainly isn’t known for being squarely about class or race or the inequities of the criminal justice system, the observations are there for readers who want to see them.
Visit Alafair Burke's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

The Page 69 Test: Angel’s Tip.

The Page 69 Test: 212.

The Page 69 Test: All Day and a Night.

The Page 69 Test: The Ex.

The Page 69 Test: The Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Better Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue