Well, I've never done anything like this before. I'm hosting two New York Times bestselling authors on the same day for a Q&A. Linda Castillo, author of the Kate Burkholder mysteries, teamed up with Lisa Unger for a seven-day blog tour. Today is the culmination. Castillo's book, The Dead Will Tell, came out yesterday. Lisa Unger's latest, In the Blood, was released in January, and will be released in paperback later this month.
The publicist told me she was looking forward to seeing how this turns out. So am I! Sometimes, I didn't ask the same questions of the authors because they didn't always seem appropriate. So, my questions will be in bold, and I'll make sure I identify the author answering the question. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about Linda Castillo and Lisa Unger!
Linda, I've been a fan of yours since I first read Sworn to Silence, but some of my readers might not know you. Would you tell us about yourself?
Linda - Whenever I'm asked that particular question I always wish I could dazzle with some fascinating background. Unfortunately, I'm just a kid from a small farming community (population 79) in Western Ohio. I credit my vivid and sometimes dark imagination to long summer days (and long and cold Ohio winters) spent in the quietude of rural life. I've loved to wire stories for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book when I was thirteen years old and I basically never stopped. I'm currently living in the Texas Panhandle on a small ranch. My husband and I have two appaloosa horses and four dogs. We enjoy camping and trail riding in rugged Palo Duro Canyon.
Lisa, there really isn't a lot about you personally on your website. Would you tell us about yourself?
Lisa - Hmm, really? I think there's so much information about me on my website that it's actually embarrassing! It's a veritable study in narcissism...all about me, my novels, my journey from aspiring writer to published author, my writing process, all my blogs about being a mommy writer, and more.
But, let's see...what else can I say about myself? I'm mom to a beautiful wild little firecracker of a girl named Ocean. My husband Jeffrey and I met at Sloppy Joe's in Key West, and have been happily married for nearly fourteen years. I have never wanted to do anything with my life but write, so I feel very blessed to make my living doing what I love. My Labradoodle Jak Jak is my writing pal; I rest my feet on him while I write every day. I am (of course) a book, television, and film junkie. I practice yoga, love to kayak, cook, and spend lots of time with my family. Oh, yeah, and I have a very dark and twisted imagination. Like, really dark.
When you hear the summaries of their books, you may think both these authors have dark imaginations. But, first, I'd like you to meet their characters. The Dead Will is Tell is the sixth Kate Burkholder novel. I asked Linda Castillo to introduce us to Kate.
Linda - Kate Burkholder is by far the most fascinating and complex character I've ever written. I learn something profound about her with every book. She was born Amish and, after surviving a traumatic event at the age of fourteen, left the fold and fled the small town of Painters Mill, Ohio, for the city. There, she earned her degree and eventually became a police officer. Years later, she returned to her hoemtown. Because of her law enforcement background and her knowledge of the Amish culture - including her fluency in Pennsylvania Dutch - the town council offered her the position as police chief. Believing she'd come to terms with her past, Kate accepted. But she soon realized the past never truly dies and she finds herself dealing with demons she'd thought were long dead. She's an outsider among the Amish and, sometimes, an outsider to her fellow Englischers. The only place Kate really fits in is with the officers of her small department. She also has an on-going relationship with state agent John Tomasetti, but he is a troubled man with a past as dark as hers. One of the things I love most about Kate is that she's able to immerse us not only in the world of the Amish, but the world of small-town law enforcement as well.
When I asked Lisa Unger to introduce us to Lana Granger, I joked with her saying, "With a new thriller out about a woman who lies, I wonder how much you're telling us the truth about yourself." But, I then asked her to introduce us to Lana Granger from In the Blood.
Lisa - Aw, come on. That's so not fair! I am willing to tell the truth about myself! But, naturally, I won't tell you a thing about Lana Granger. (Insert diabolical laughter here.) Well, not much anyway.
You're right about her, though. When I first started hearing Lana's voice, the only thing I knew for certain was that she was a liar. She had told so many lies about herself and her past that she wasn't even sure what the truth was anymore. I had this sense of her as someone who was wrapped up in a psychic cocoon. and I knew that she would begin the book as one thing, and emerge at the end as someone different altogether. But that was all I knew about her. Getting to know her was quite a journey.
I asked both authors to tell us about their books, without spoilers. First, Linda tells us about The
Linda - "Everyone knew the old Hochstetler farm was haunted." I love that line and it sets the tone for much of the book. The story is part mystery, part police procedural - and part ghost story, an aspect I really enjoyed. The premise revolves around a thirty-five year old cold case in which a home invasion type robbery went horribly wrong. An Amish father and four of his children were killed and his young wife disappeared without a trace. The only survivor was his fourteen year old son. Flash forward thirty-five years and a series of mysterious murders rocks Painters Mill. Chief of Police Kate Burkholder finds herself plunged into a cold case that uncovers secrets that have lain dormant for decades. Meanwhile, she's moved in with state agent John Tomasetti who finds himself dealing with the ghosts of his own past when one of the men charged with the murders of his family is released on a technicality. The dual stories play off of each other and share some common themes that will give readers an intimate glimpse into the pasts of both characters.
I asked Lisa to tell us about In the Blood.
In the Blood is about a young person with a troubled past and her relationship with the brilliant and manipulative boy for whom she babysits. It's about a missing girl, and the question of what Lana might have had to do with that. But it's also a deep dive into themes that have obsessed me for a long time. What makes us who we are - is it nature or nurture or some impossibly complicated helix of both? What power do we have to change ourselves? If we come from darkness, can we claw our way into the light?
For Linda - Most mysteries set in Amish country tend to be cozier than your Kate Burkholder novels. Why did you go in a different direction?
Linda - I love a high level of intensity in a novel, whether I'm writing it or reading it. I also enjoy a certain degree of darkness (okay, the darker the better.) As a writer, I like to venture into some of those murky corners where, perhaps, others aren't comfortable entering. I like to explore the shadow side of the human psyche. (yes, I scare myself sometimes!) One of the elements that really sets the book apart from others is the juxtaposition of the wholesome, Midwestern setting and the introduction of evil or a dark and unsettling storyline.
I was right! Both authors have dark imaginations. Lisa Unger has written both standalones and series. I asked what's the difference in writing them, and which does she prefer.
Lisa - All of my books begin and end with character. Some characters stay with me, demand multiple books to tell their stories. Other characters only need one book; I have a sense when the novel is done, that the story is over. (Though I have been surprised a couple of times.) I have enjoyed spending time with Lydia Strong, Ridley Jones, and other characters that come around again and again in my ficiton. Right now, I'm obsessed with The Hollows (a town that has somehow evolved into a series character) - where my 2015 novel Crazy Love You is partially set. But I am always excited about new voices, new psyches into which I can probe. I honor the voices in my head and my various obsessions. I am not sure that I prefer writing one type of book more than the other.
I mistakenly asked the next question a little differently for each author. I asked Linda, "What do you enjoy most about writing crime fiction? And, what has surprised you about the writing field?"
Linda - The idea of writing crime fiction has always appealed to me. After spending the several years writing romantic suspense, I was challenged to take my writing to another level and explore something new. I love the process of unraveling the mystery surrounding a crime, mostly homicide. I'm also a huge fan of cops. I think it takes a special individual to become a police officer and I think one of those traits is courage. I couldn't imagine doing a traffic stop on a back road in the middle of the night and walking up to a vehicle with no clue what type of person was behind the wheel. (I'm so not brave enough to be a police officer!) One thing that always sort of surprises me about writing is that I always thought the writing process would get easier. I've come to the conclusion that it never will.
I asked Lisa, "What has surprised you about the crime fiction field?"
Lisa - I was at Thrillerfest last year and Anne Rice was attending for the first time. During her address, she commented on how lucky crime writers were to be part of such a warm, supportive community. And I realized that I had really taken that for granted. The crime fiction community is really such a fun, funny, kind, helpful, and close-knit group of people. You'd think we'd all be very dark, grim personalities. But usually the opposite is true. I don't know if I'm surprised by this as much as I am really grateful for all the generous support I have received from my crime writing pals.
Like Lisa, I've seen the crime fiction community as warm and welcoming. So, I was curious to see what authors these two women read. Crime fiction? Another genre? I asked them both, "What authors do you read and recommend to others?"
Linda - How much space do we have? Since we obviously don't have nearly enough space here to list all the authors I've read and loved, I'll hit the highlights. Tana French. Jennnifer McMahon. Gillian Flynn. Lisa Unger. Lisa Scottoline. Lisa Gardner. Tami Hoag. Sandra Brown. Alex Kava. Brian Freeman. Paul Doiron. That's just to name a few...
Lisa - I worry that I am starting to get repetitive in my answer to this question. So, instead, I think I'll list some books that are on my (huge, towering) TBR pile that I am really looking forward to reading. Carla Norton's The Edge of Normal, which was just nominated for The ITW Thriller Award. Kristi Belcamino's debut Blessed Are the Dead looks to be an exciting read. And I'm in the middle of The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo. Linda is a fantastic writer, and this promises to be her best yet.
Linda did have an answer when I asked if there was something I missed that they wanted to talk about.
Linda - Just that I have a couple of projects in the works that I'm very excited about. I'm currently working on the seventh book in the Kate Burkholder Amish thriller series. And I'm also working on a standalone thriller set in West Virginia featuring a female private investigator. I'm absolutely thrilled about both of these books and very much looking forward to sharing them with my readers.
I always end my interviews with the same question. Since I'm a public librarian, I always ask authors to tell us a story about libraries or librarians. First, Lisa.
Lisa - My mother is a retired librarian! She worked at the Chester Library in New Jersey for many years. And she is a great lover of stories. It's from her that I inherited my passionate love affair with reading. I spent many a night doing my homework among the library stacks while my mother was working. I loved that hushed, well-lit place, full of every imaginable tale of adventure, love or woe, every piece of information at my fingertips. It's one of my favorite childhood memories. I can't imagine a life not surrounded by books, thanks to my librarian mom!
And, Linda - This is such a terrific question, Lesa. I love librarians and I very much rely on their expertise. As you can imagine, writing a series of novels featuring a formerly Amish police chief and based in Amish Country requires a tremendous amount of research. I owe so much of the knowledge I've amassed to librarians, particularly Denise Campbell-Johnson in the Dover, Ohio library. With each new book in the series, I go on tour in the Holmes County area and Denise is always there with her kind support and a full, fascinating itinerary, usually done on her own time. Not only does she provide me with the best research books (everything from the Pennsylvania Deitsh language to Ohio history) but she's introduced me to two Amish families with whom we've had dinner. What a treat that was! We've toured a police department and there's more on tap this year. I will never be able to thank Denise enough, for her enthusiasm, her energy, all the fun, and for so generously giving me so much of her time.
And, I can't thank Linda Castillo and Lisa Unger enough for taking time to answer questions. I do have a giveaway of their books to offer! If you'd like to win one of their books, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win The Dead Will Tell" or "Win In the Blood." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. Because this contest kicks off on a Wednesday, it's going to be a short one. Entries will close tomorrow, Thursday, July 10 at 6 p.m. CT. So, don't put off entering the giveaway!
Linda Castillo's website is www.lindacastillo.com
Lisa Unger's website is www.lisaunger.com
The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250029577 (hardcover), 320p.
In the Blood by Lisa Unger. Touchstone. 2014. ISBN 9781451691177 (hardcover), 352p.