1. Can you tell us a little about your latest book, Fragile?
It's difficult for an author to summarize her book. I can tell you what it's about ... but it will take 400 manuscript pages! Loosely based on an event from my own past, FRAGILE is set in a fictional town called The Hollows. Maggie Cooper is a family and adolescent psychologist, and her husband Jones is the lead detective with the small Hollows Police Department. When their son's girlfriend Charlene goes missing, the disappearance eerily echoes a horrible event that occurred in The Hollows when Maggie and Jones were in high school. The Hollows is the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else, and people rarely leave. But beneath the peaceful surface, there are buried secrets and ugly memories. As the truth about what happened to Charlene is revealed, another truth, something Jones has spent his whole life trying to hide is clawing it's way up from the grave. This is crime fiction, of course. But it's also an exploration of the bonds of family and community, the power of memory, and the fragility of life.
2. What was the hardest part of Fragile to write?
This story has tried to find its way out for a number of years. It has turned up in other partials, but was never able to resolve itself into a novel. Because I write without an outline, I was far into the narrative before I finally realized what it was about. And I realized that I had been trying to write this story, in way or another, for twenty years. No novel writes itself, but FRAGILE was a story that flowed very naturally. I was very in tune with my characters, their various trials, their secrets. I was living in that fictional town. I don't recall one aspect of the story as being harder than any other. It was difficult getting to the place where I was able to write it, but once I was there, I found the telling very organic.
by Lisa Unger
It's interesting that the novel most inspired by an actual event is probably the book for which I did the least amount of research. I usually do a great deal. Generally, on any given topic, I start with the internet, move on to books, and finally find someone who's willing to talk with me. Those layers of research are important to me, allowing me a three- dimensional knowledge of my topic. But with FRAGILE, which is so much about the power and impact of memory, I did far less. I didn't want the book to be about the actual event from my past, just the essence of it. I had a fear of exploiting the memory of a girl who met a horrible end, of causing anyone any more pain. So I didn't explore the past, research the real-life case ... I just relied on my very foggy memories to tell a story that was personal to me.
4. How do you typically write? Do you plot it all out beforehand or do you just let the story pour out?
Every novel starts with a character, a voice. I write without an outline. I have no idea what's going to happen day-to-day, who's going to show up, what they're going to do. I certainly don't know how a book is going to end, though I have a general idea of the direction I'm moving. I write for the same reason that I read: because I want to know what's going to happen.
5. Do you have a favorite place to write or “must haves” while writing?
I am happiest in my office, in the early hours of the morning. But other than that, because I wrote for so long in the nooks and crannies of my life, I can write anywhere. Once I'm in the zone, the world just fades away. Of course, as a mother, there's not a lot of uninterrupted time anymore. But I generally work in the morning, while my daughter is in pre-school. And if I haven't accomplished my goals for the day, I write again when she sleeps.
6. Do you have much say in the title or covers of you books?
The cover has everything to do with the fabulous art department at Random House/ Crown. I have never seen a cover from them that I didn't love. I think if I didn't love something, I would have a voice at my publishing company. But ultimately, I defer to their judgement on these matters. The cover, and even the titles, are a marketing concern. For example, my original title for Sliver of Truth was The Ghost. But the folks at Random House wanted something different, so my editor and I obsessed about it until we came up with the title that ultimately wound up on the book. But all of the other titles have been mine.
7. Is there anything that has surprised you about writing, publishing or touring with your books?
Because I worked in publishing for many years before becoming an author, the writing life didn't hold a lot of surprises for me. I knew that my first book contract was just a beginning, that it was harder to succeed as a published author than it is to get published in the first place. I knew that I would have to work as hard as anyone trying to create a successful career. I knew the realities of the book tour (though I didn't know anyone else who had done it with a nursing four month old!). So, in many ways, I was uniquely prepared for the life of an author. In writing FRAGILE, on the other hand, I learned that as a writer, you can have ambitions to tell a story but not have the talent or the skills to tell it well. I think that I needed to write eight novels before I was the kind of writer who could write FRAGILE. And I think I needed to grow up a little to tell that story.
8. Do you have a favorite author/book or one that you always recommend?
I have had such a love affair with books, that I could never choose one favorite. For writers, I always recommend On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, or The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The book I'm most looking forward to at the moment is Laura Lippman's I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. It releases on Aug. 17 and I just can't wait. She's one of the writers I most admire.
9. You have written many essays either about your pregnancy or your daughter, Ocean, but what is your favorite activity to do with her?
I really love doing everything with Ocean -- kayaking, swimming, traveling, going to the movies. She such a funny, fabulous, little stick of dynamite; she makes everything we do more interesting! Of course, stories are a very important part of the day -- the ones we read and those we make up together. We are currently writing a book. We came up with the story together and we're working on the illustrations -- I draw, she colors! It is a hilarious process and she is a rigorous editor, as well as a natural storyteller. If I had to pick a favorite activity, that would be it.
10. Is there anything else that you would like my readers to know?
In conversations with a number of different librarians, I heard that at libraries across the country, new book budgets are being slashed or eliminated. Several librarians have written to me to say that they can't offer my book, or any new book, to their patrons because there's simply no money to buy them. I want your readers to know this because I hope they'll do one or all of the following: 1) Donate new books to the local library 2) Support the Friends of the Library 3) Write to their local government to demand that our library budgets be left intact. Meanwhile, if you know of a library who would like to carry my book but can't afford to, please have them connect with me at www.facebook.com/authorlisaunger and I will happily donate one.
There you have it! I am about halfway through this book and I am loving it! Look for my review in the next few days.
I am lucky in that our public library is very well supported by our community. We are actually getting ready for a renovation which will add a second level and a dedicated teen area. I am a Friend of our library and hope that you are too, or will become one. I think that is wonderful that Lisa would donate her book to a library that couldn't afford one!
You can also connect with Lisa at her website, her blog - Notes from the Margin, or on Twitter.