Saturday, June 11, 2016

Weekend Guest -- Lisa Black

I'm delighted to welcome Lisa Black to Type M as our weekend guest.

Lisa has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa's latest book came out in April.

In her post, she shares a behind-the-scene look at her writing process.

Take it away, Lisa.


…has always sounded like a bad idea to me, sure to leave you written into a corner at some future point just as hitching a ride on a lonely stretch of road with a shaggy looking stranger in a panel van is a foolproof way to wind up dead in a ditch somewhere. I’m a plotter. I’m not at the extreme end of the plotter/pantser spectrum but I am definitely along that half of the line. I have to know how the story begins, how it ends, who the killer is, why they kill, and just about every other major incident that will take place, and I need to know all this before I begin writing.

And so that was how I began to write Close to the Bone, I had my setting and my characters and in the second chapter my forensic scientist character is creeping around her workplace (a morgue) in the wee, dark hours of the morning looking for a killer who has left her coworker in a puddle of his own blood on the first floor.

My agent didn’t like it. She didn’t think it was suspenseful enough. I pointed out: Dark. Empty. Building. Killer on the loose. Personally known victim. Lots of blood. If that’s not suspense then what the heck is?

In a burst of sullenness I sat down and churned out a few pages of a scene that had been rattling around in my head for years, in which a man decides that the worst of the worst criminals should be put down like rabid dogs, but humanely, compassionately. After all, they can’t help what the circumstances of their lives have brought them to. So he wines and dines them, and in the midst of a pleasant conversation he puts three bullets into their skull.

She liked it.

So of course I had to have a female forensic investigator who notices similarities among outwardly different crimes. But I had no idea what to do beyond that, except that, at some point, these two would have to come in to contact with each other. To which I’m sure you’d all say, well duh.

Somehow I managed to get through the book without a plan. Then it was time to write the sequel. I had an idea about this wealthy, sprawling family that turns out to have disproportionate amount of sudden death twining about its tree. I started it on New Year’s Day; I thought that gave the process a nice air of orderliness. By January 6th I realized it wasn’t going to work—too much backstory, too much plodding through individual histories. So I sat in a lawn chair and told myself that I needed a better setting—something alive with tension and immediacy and real danger.

A newspaper, I decided. If people turn up dead at a newspaper, is it because of a story they wrote? Or didn’t write? Or were going to write? Or is it for another reason, some personal conflict that has nothing to do with a story at all? I dove in and loved studying up on the changes in the news industry over the past twenty or so years, and I love the result, but the fact remains that I decided that course on an impulse—something I hate with the same passion gardeners reserve for aphids.

But sometimes you just have to go wherever the whim takes you.

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