WRITERS TELL ALL
"I like dark stories and always have, but not darkness for darkness’s sake": Lori Rader-Day on THE LUCKY ONE
As a crime writer, a crime reader, someone who reviews crime novels and interviews crime writers (as obviously seen below), I love a great mystery, whether this lies in the actual murder or the characters who commit crimes. I never miss a novel by the Lori Rader-Day (please see her books all out on Audible here and you're going to want to order the print version of The Lucky One here), a woman who is always changing, adapting, evolving. Each book is the previous book squared, a great mystery with a delicious plot line and unforgettable characters, always resulting in a conclusion you won't forget. Her last novel, Under a Dark Sky, absolutely destroyed me with its conclusion. She's a tough act to follow, and possibly the only author to top her own work. Enjoy this interview where Lori opens up about writing The Lucky One and how real things get--in so many ways.
Matthew Turbeville: Lori, this book, The Lucky One, is phenomenal. You’re coming off what I consider a really successful time with your last novel, Under a Dark Sky, and I see that you had real-life inspiration (perhaps a lot of real-life inspiration) for The Lucky One. Would you mind talking about the real-life inspiration and how it played a role in this novel?
Lori Rader-Day: The idea originated with a conversation with my new neighbor, an adorable young mother who announced one day that she had been kidnapped as a child. That certainly got my attention, and started the story of Alice Fine, kidnapped as a child and returned safely (as my neighbor had been, as well). I had been casting around for story ideas and considering a story among the real online sleuths who solve long-cold missing persons and unidentified cases. The story started to form from those two concepts. Later, I did some research about a missing case from my hometown, someone I had known, to see what kind of information was easy to find, what was reported, what was not reported. What was most useful about that research was really this feeling I got whenever I thought about my hometown case. That girl, who went missing at age 12 and was called a runaway, but wasn’t, is still missing. Her case reminds me that my characters are fiction, but they represent real people who have not had justice.
MT: A lot of the book deals with the elusive connections we have to the past—these things we remember, or perhaps think we remember, that may be true and may not. What’s the importance in the book about what we remember, what we remember being true and not true, and how do you think this plays out in the genre as a whole?
LR-D: Memory is elusive and faulty—we have learned in the last decade that eye witness testimony is almost entirely without merit, for instance. In our genre, so many of our stories rely on characters’ memories because they are characters with troubling pasts—story-wise, that just gives us something to work with—and because we want them to be as human as possible. Humans happen to have bad memories, patchy memories, and in the case of childhood memories, their own closely held interpretations of events they were too young to understand or to question. I try not to use flashbacks for this reason because I think flashback scenes aren’t true to how memory actually works. Real memories are fleeting, not fully fleshed-out scenes. That’s just my taste, though, not a rule.
MT: I saw a lot of true crime influenced the book, which makes sense. I was recently informed by the Jamie Mason—the brilliant Jamie Mason, I might add—that a book I was writing, based heavily on fact and true crime, needed to be toned down. Fiction often has to be more subtle than the often more unbelievable true crime. How do you feel about fact being stranger than fiction, and what influence (more specifically) did true crime novels, documentaries, podcasts, and so on have on your writing?
LR-D: Truth is totally stranger than fiction, so strange it’s hard to imagine how some kinds of crime novels will ever top what’s happening in the headlines right now. I have always had a true crime interest; I especially love true-crime books but I’ve also gotten into podcasts in the last year. When I discovered the Doe Network and some of the stories of unsolved missing persons cases getting matched with unsolved unidentified remains cases, I definitely tucked the idea of that site and its online community away. And then when my neighbor announced she had been kidnapped—true crime lived next door! Luckily, I’m writing fiction and can stretch and distort that bit of truth however I want. That was a lesson I had to keep re-learning with my next book, which is also based on a bit of history. In that case, the crime aspect of it was entirely fiction, so I had the necessary room to write the story I wanted. I just had to be careful with the characters who were based in truth. I didn’t want them embroiled in the fiction aspect of the novel.
MT: This book, The Lucky One, is so much darker than your previous books, all genius. This book though feels almost dirty to touch at points, but in the best way. I’m reading the storyline following Merrily, one of the protagonists in the novel, and at times I want to look away but I also can’t stop reading. What about the darkness in storylines is so appealing to you and to other readers?
LR-D: It’s a little dirty. I wanted Merrily to have her own online community, much like the one Alice has. It’s just…Merrily’s community wants something different from her, and provides something much different to her in return. It was pretty easy to imagine her situation and to make all the excuses she needs to make it fine. She isfine. She’s in charge of it until she changes things up and risks her safety. I like dark stories and always have, but not darkness for darkness’s sake. I don’t particularly enjoy serial killer fiction, for instance. People read fiction to put on other lives for a few hours, to live vicariously, to see and taste parts of life they don’t really want to encounter, and the lives readers want to take on vary greatly, from reader to reader and from day to day.
MT: What other books do you feel inspired The Lucky One? What authors do you feel need to be read more now, and are there any books or authors you want to give shout outs to?
LR-D: I read Deborah Halber’s book The Skeleton Crewas research for this book. It’s about the online amateur sleuth communities; about a third of the book is about Todd Matthews, one of the founders of the Doe Network. It’s a fascinating book. I also read James Renner’s True Crime Addictand Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Darkto write this book. Generally, I’m a big fan of crime nonfiction and highly recommend David Grann, Gene Weingarten, and anything by Susan Orlean (who doesn’t write crime specifically, but sometimes does. Sometimes she writes about dogs or libraries). I don’t know that I can say The Lucky Onewas inspired by any specific novels, but I learn something from a lot of my friends’ books. I would suggest Lou Berney’s November Roadfor learning about making every word count, Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picturefor how a fully realized character feels on the page. For a modern thriller, Layne Fargo’s Temper. For a modern cozy, Kellye Garrett’s two Detective by Day books. For a modern private eye books, Kristen Lepionka’s Roxane Weary series. I could do this all day.
MT: Reading this book—and without too many spoilers—you often offer ways in which women knowingly or not are able to access power they may not be aware they have. Two characters find they have much more power in their own everyday business life than they might think, and I am wondering how you think this reflects on women in today’s world, especially given the limitations imposed on these women either before, during, or after they learn the truth about power they might be able to exert.
LR-D: I can’t speak for all women, but I can speak for some of them, I guess, since that’s what I do for Sisters in Crime. I’ll just speak for myself. I’m far more comfortable in that position. In The Lucky One, at least one character has power she doesn’t realize because it was never actually given to her—she’s infantilized in a way—and another thinks she has total control until she doesn’t. She’s innocent of where the limits of her power are and how to protect herself. I don’t think I meant to speak for all of womankind when I created those two characters, but I think a lot of women might understand how the characters could allow themselves to be led along. Our default, if we were allowed to live it, would be to trust those who should be trusted, to give people the benefit of the doubt. But girls aren’t allowed to stay trusting. The world comes for them much too early and always has, and I guess that’s the book I’ve been writing this whole time, since the first one.
MT: What was the toughest struggle you had to overcome when writing this novel? What was your favorite part about writing this novel?
LR-D: For this novel, the struggle was absolutely real. My dad died between the time I turned in the first draft and when I got my edit notes back, and let’s just say that grief is not a great writing partner. It was also a challenging book to write for a couple of craft reasons. I had chosen a different point of view than my previous novels, and then also the story I imagined was complex, so I had to map it out a bit. I’m usually a writer who just sees where the story goes, but I had the good/bad fortune to understand where I wanted the story to go early in the process, but then I had go write already knowing a lot. That doesn’t sound like a problem, does it? Except what I love about writing is the discovery, and knowing too much where I’m going can make the actual writing a drag. My favorite part about writing this novel, as with any novel, is anything but drafting the middle. The revisions were fun for this one. On my final edit, I took out 5,000 words. Not mandated by my editor—I just decided I wanted to reel in Alice’s sections to be a little leaner. Merrily got more room to play; she’s a more playful character.
MT: You have a talent from writing from many points of view and in many perspectives, like first person, third person from different characters’ points of view, and so on. What do you think is the most important part of deciding a perspective and point of view, and what do you feel is your greatest strength when writing from a person’s mindset, and occupying the character’s being?
LR-D: Point of view is my pet craft topic because I think it matters so much to how the reader experiences the story. It confines the writer in how they can tell the story and reveal information, so it’s not a small decision. I like being able to get into a character’s skin, so I will probably always want to write first person or third close, so that I can let the character’s thoughts play a little and tell us who she really is. I usually find the story there. For The Lucky One, I chose to write for the first time in a novel in third person, close. That was entirely because I had two points of view who needed to tell the story, but they were two women of about the same age. I didn’t think they would sound that different to the reader. So instead I used third-person point of view and let them keep a lot of their thoughts to themselves, which was a lot of fun. It’s all about keeping myself amused or I won’t do the work.
MT: What’s your current work-in-progress about? What can we expect from the great Lori Rader-Day next? Can you give us any hints, perhaps big hints even?
LR-D: I’m finishing up my next book now, and it’s a departure. It’s set in 1941 England and 1974 England, and I’ve had to do a ton of research to write it. The title isn’t finalized yet, so I can’t even tell you much, but… it has Agatha Christie in it. Briefly. And I stayed in her summer house as part of my research. I can’t wait to see what people think of it. That’s a lie. I have a lot of self doubt about this one, so I’m nervous to see what people think of it.
MT: Lori, thank you for letting me interview you once again. I really love your books, always try and champion them, and want all readers to know they should pick up copies of all your novels and read them immediately. It’s hard not to just inhale your books, the way we can race through the pages so quickly. Thank you again and please feel free to leave any notes or thoughts for the site or your fans below. We adore you and cannot wait for this book and all of your novels to come!
LR-D: Thanks for inviting me, Matthew! And thanks for the ongoing support!