Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Kerry Hammond caught up with Lori to ask her some questions about her writing and her books.
Prior to publishing your debut mystery, The Black Hour (which won the Anthony Award in 2015 for Best First Novel), you had several successful short stories under your belt. But getting a book deal for a full-length novel must have been a dream come true. Do you remember where you were when you got the news that it would be published?
Pretty sure I was at work! All my good news came during working hours, so my co-worker would often get the news first. I had to share immediately, of course, and then I might think to call my husband or email my best friend.
Your books always delve into the human psyche and what motivates people to do what they do. Are there lines you draw to places where you won't take your characters, or will you take them anywhere as long as it advances the story?
I would never make a point of view character harm an animal. I’m probably very unlikely to have a character harm a child. I get how some writers won’t “censor” themselves or set limits on themselves, but I don’t think I would want to read a book like that, so why pretend that I would ever write one? It would have to be a very compelling reason to make me change my mind.
In your most recent book, The Day I Died, Anna Winger is an expert on handwriting analysis. What kind of research did you have to do on this topic to write her character successfully?
For research on Anna’s work, I read a few nonfiction books on handwriting analysis and then felt my way a bit when I actually show her analyzing. My audience isn’t professional handwriting analysts, or people who want to learn it, so I didn’t spend much time on being instructive there. I was much more worried about getting right some of the aspects of domestic violence that the book covers. I was also worried about the police work. It’s not a procedural, but I didn’t want anything to be distractingly wrong. I had a friend who works in a small-town Indiana sheriff’s office read the book to make sure I hadn’t written anything too outlandish from that perspective.
Most writers are also voracious readers. Whose books would we find on your bookshelf?
I love Tana French, Megan Abbott, Catriona McPherson, James Ziskin, Charles Todd, Inger Ash Wolfe, Clare O’Donohue, Lisa Lutz, William Kent Krueger, Jennifer Kincheloe, and of course Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, and Josephine Tey. I could go on for days.
In addition to your writing, you teach creative writing courses and workshops. What one suggestion would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer?
Join the association for the type of writing you do. For mystery writers, join Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime. Yes, now, even before you have a book done. You will get a lot of help along the way if you join now—so much help that you’re likely to get published faster, and you’ll have fans when you do. If you can’t afford memberships right now, then find or start a writers group. Writing isn’t a lone act or at least it doesn’t have to be.
Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.