It’s hard to believe it was a year ago (to the day I think!) that I first had Lisa Regan as a guest on this blog. I had just read her debut novel, Finding Claire Fletcher, loved it, and wanted to know more about her work. During that interview, I learned Finding Claire Fletcher was an e-Festival of Words nominee. It ultimately won best heroine and runner-up for best novel! Since then, Lisa has published Aberration and most recently, Hold Still. I’m thrilled to have her back to talk about writing, book marketing, and her latest work, Hold Still.
I feel incredibly awesome! The response I’ve gotten to all three books has been beyond anything I ever imagined–especially after being rejected by so many agents and publishers over the years. It is really heartening to see how positively readers have responded to my work. Validating, really.
Some authors are incredibly prolific and I would have to count you in that group. How do you stay “on schedule”? How many hours would you say you write a day?
Well I think it’s a bit of a misconception that I’m prolific. What no one realizes is that all three of my books were already finished before my first one was published. I actually wrote the first draft of Hold Still in the summer of 2011. Then it went on the back burner for nearly two years. Then last year I took another look at it–it needed a ton of work (hours and hours) before it was in any kind of shape to be read by another person and that took the Spring, Summer and part of the Fall of 2013. So I’m really not all that prolific. I have started several projects but I haven’t finished a new project in over two years now. I am about 40,000 words into one project but that’s a project that I had started in 2006 and when I picked it back up last year, it already had 30,000 words so I didn’t add that much to it. My goal for 2014 is to finish a first draft of something–fortunately, first drafts usually only take me a few months. I have no writing schedule. I have a full-time job and a family. I have to write whenever I can. I was finding it really challenging in the last two years to find any time so what I do when I really want to make headway with something is put myself on a 100 day challenge. For 100 days I commit to writing something every single day, even if it is only one word. I have a notebook that I carry with me all the time and whenever I have ten or more minutes, I’ll pull it out and write until something interrupts me. I find the best time to get work done is at night after my daughter has gone to sleep–but then I have to find a balance because that is the only time of day I get with my husband. The 100 day challenge helps. If I write for a half hour or an hour a night while I am on a challenge, I feel pretty good. Most of the time, however, everything I write ends up getting written while I’m in line at the post office or waiting in a doctor’s office or sitting in my car waiting for my husband to come out of the Home Depot. It gets harder when I actually need to be seated at my computer to work–and that’s when I’m revising. Nobody wants your attention until you’ve got the lap top out in front of you. LOL. The bottom line is that I squeeze in writing whenever I possibly can. Otherwise, nothing would ever get written.
Since you keep a notebook handy, do you do most of your drafts longhand?
Yes, all my first drafts are in longhand.
Many authors struggle with balancing writing and marketing. What is your approach?
This is really hard, especially when you barely have time to write to begin with. In 2012 and early 2013 I was killing myself trying to be on every social media outlet practically 24 hours a day plus blogging. I simply could not keep up with it and my family was ready to strangle me because they could never get my attention. I’ve pretty much limited my focus to Facebook now. You can still find me on Twitter and on my blog but I am on Facebook the greatest percentage of the time. What I’ve also done is when I get a royalty check from my first two books, I’ll use some (or all, depending on how small it is) of that money to purchase an ad on Kindle Book Review or Digital Book Today or other promotional sites. This keeps the books out there in front of potential readers but doesn’t require a huge time commitment from me. I have really had to pull back on the time I invest in marketing because I simply do not have it. My family has to come first. So the last two years, my spare time was really devoted to marketing but starting this year, I’m going to devote it to writing so I can get something new finished.
You have been building fans steadily since your first book. What do you find is the most effective way to reach your readers?
Hands down, it is word of mouth. I know, I know, that’s probably not the answer that people want to hear because it is not an easy thing to accomplish. You have to know a lot of people; then you have to get them all to read your book; hope they like it and pass the word on. But I really find this is the best way to get readers. I have been so lucky to have a huge support network of family and friends to begin with and also that my family and friends–and this includes every single one of my in-laws (and there are a lot), people I went to grade school and high school with, former coworkers, friends of family and friends of friends (even my dentist and the staff at my daughter’s pediatrician’s office!) all consistently spread the word about my books. They are so enthusiastic and passionate. I don’t think I would have reached near as many readers as I have if it weren’t for all of them out there talking about my books to everyone they know. They are so fabulous. I really owe my success to them, and I hope they know who they are by now! So yeah, the bottom line is that word of mouth is the best way to reach new readers. Facebook helps a lot in that respect because people will post or share links and reviews and any good news I have and that usually draws in new readers. I like Facebook because it tends to spread the word exponentially. If five of my FB friends share a post and each get one of their FB friends to read my book and those 5 like it and share it with THEIR friends . . . you see, it goes on and on. I really have picked up a lot of new readers that way.
I love Hold Still, your latest thriller. Is the plot line in any way influenced by real-life stories? There is incredible detail in regard to the neighborhoods as well as police methods. How did the amount of research you did for this novel compare to Finding Claire Fletcher and Aberration?
Well, I live here in Philadelphia so that was a no-brainer. In terms of research, there were a few detectives and officers here in the city who were gracious enough to talk to me and answer my many, many, many inane questions about police procedure, jargon, etc. I even got to visit Northwest Detectives, observing and interviewing the detectives there–although that was long before I actually started writing the first draft. They gave me a tour and everything. There are some really wonderful people on the police force here. They were very patient with me and all my questions. I did a lot more research for this one than the first two and the research for this one involved a lot more interviewing actual people rather than reading manuals and textbooks and memoirs.
As authors, we are always told to write what we know. I admit I haven’t met you in person, but I’m pretty sure you’ve never been a prostitute, detective, or a trio of rapists. Even so, your characters’ actions are entirely believable. Where did you get your inspiration for these characters and where did you get your idea for the method of assault (the crucifixions)?
My inspiration for these characters is probably just an amalgamation of different traits of different people I’ve met over the years or read about or seen on television. It doesn’t really come from any one place. It’s kind of organic. Oftentimes I don’t even know just how a character will turn out until I start writing. In terms of the criminals, I did a ton of research on criminals for Aberration which involved reading a lot of books, most of them by criminal profilers, psychologists and FBI agents. I read memoirs by prostitutes and watched different documentaries to get a better feel for what their lives are like. Same with police officers and detectives. The crucifixions? That’s a tough one. The whole point was to show a crime that was being or could be overlooked just because the victims were considered “high risk” by society. It had to be something really shocking, something tangible. Not that being sexually assaulted isn’t shocking or tangible because it definitely is, but there had to be an element to it that was visible–as you know, one of my characters talks about having been raped and how after her bruising went away, there was no visible sign that she had basically been destroyed. I wanted something visible so that the other characters in the book would be harder pressed to ignore it. So it had to be something that left scars. It also had to be unique enough to be considered a signature so that later in the book when Jocelyn is pointed to that older case, the similarity would be enough for her to warrant looking into it. So that’s why.
Without giving away the ending, did you get any reader feedback during your writing process about Jocelyn’s decision to “fix” what she viewed as wrong? What made you decide she shouldn’t leave well enough alone?
My betas and CPs all responded favorably to Jocelyn’s decisions. That was something I really wanted to do in this book was to put Jocelyn in this impossible situation and make her be the person who absolutely will not look the other way and leave things alone. I know from personal experience that it is extremely difficult to be the person who stands up against a majority and says, “this isn’t right. This needs to be addressed.” Even under the best of circumstances, it is incredibly hard to be that person. Doing the right thing can be a monstrous struggle that hardly seems worth it at times. I always love reading about characters who are put in that position and are somehow able to hold their own and prevail, and I really wanted to write one who had enough grit and conviction to see things through. I wanted to show how incredibly difficult it can be to be that person, and I would hope that in the end, readers will respect her for her decisions.
Rush is such a strong character. Have you ever considered writing a series?
Yes. I hadn’t intended to when I wrote the first draft but as I was finalizing it, I realized that a series was something I could definitely do with her–with the whole cast of characters really. I really enjoyed writing them. I think with her and Anita opening a private investigation firm, there is a lot that can be done there. I already have ideas for the next two or three books.
Which writers would you say have influenced you most?
Karin Slaughter and Dennis Lehane. They both have the kind of raw, gritty, visceral tone that I strive for in my own work. I feel like they don’t divorce the trauma or emotion from violence when they write about it, and I respect them for that. They are my favorite authors. I am always re-reading their books, trying to see how they do things so that I can become a better writer.
Do you ever avoid reading certain novels if you think they might influence your writing?
No, not really. I do find that if I am reading a lot of really gripping thrillers in a row, it makes me want to write more!
Well, my publisher closed to submissions for financial reasons or I would have been happy to continue on with Sapphire Star. They’ve been really wonderful to me. At that point, it really became about momentum. I had two books out that were selling reasonably well for an unknown, indie newbie. If I were to go traditional, I was looking at potentially several months waiting for my agent to read it and suggest revisions and then months to years on submissions to publishing houses. With my first two books I was on submissions for 18 months. Then after that, if I were lucky enough to snag a publisher, I’d be looking at months to years again before the book actually came out, depending on the publisher’s production schedule. I mean I have no way of knowing if it would have gone quickly or not, but nothing about my publishing journey has been fast so imagine if I had to spend almost 2 years on submissions and then the publisher’s production schedule was nearly 2 years–that’s 4 years for a book that was already finished. So many people were asking me when the next one was coming out, and I really didn’t want to tell them, “Hey, it could be years!” so with my agent’s blessing, I self-published. I had it professionally edited and proofread. Forward Authority Design did my cover and I absolutely love how it turned out. I also had it professionally formatted. There was an initial investment, yes, but this was something I was willing to do given the very modest success of my first two books. I am happy with the result. I would certainly be happy publishing traditionally again, but I’m also glad that I have tried the Indie route. I guess that makes me a hybrid.
Many writers form close relationships and provide support for each other. How have your writing relationships helped you as a writer?
If I never wrote another word, I would still have the lasting friendships I’ve formed because of my writing. My best friend is author Nancy S. Thompson (author of The Mistaken and just released Leverage). She is a fellow thriller writer, a freelance editor and one of the smartest, kindest, most caring, compassionate people I know. Although we bonded over writing and have been through thick and thin with our writing adventures, she is personally a very good friend to me and has seen me through a lot of rough patches. Then there is my friend Michael Infinito (author of In Blog We Trust and 12:19) whose good humor keeps me going whenever I want to quit. Then there is Carrie Butler, author of the Mark of Nexus series who is there for me no matter what I need. There is Libby Heily whose novel, Tough Girl should be taught in college classes. Dana Mason, whose romantic suspense series, the Embrace Series is my guilty pleasure. Also Jeff O’Handley of The Doubting Writer who just landed an agent finally. They are all insanely talented and I am always learning from them. But more than that, they are all just some of the most intelligent, funny, kind, generous, decent, wonderful people you could ever hope to meet. I am humbled that they keep me around! I’ve learned so much about the craft from each one of them. They each write in a different genre. They each have their own unique talents, style and voice. In terms of how they’ve helped me as a writer, I would say that their critiques and suggestions have always challenged me and made me better and also they’ve kept me from throwing in the towel whenever I’ve felt like I want to give up this whole writing thing. I’m so grateful to have formed friendships with them.
There is so much advice out there for writers. What piece of advice would you say has had the most impact on your career?
The single best piece of advice that I always come back to is this: Just write. Just do it. Just get it down on paper. Worry about how it sounds or how it holds together or whether it makes sense later. For now, just get words on the page. Any words. Any page. Considering how lengthy, tedious and multi-faceted the editing process is whether you’re doing it on your own with beta readers and critique partners or your publisher is handling it–it really does not matter how it comes out the first time. It really doesn’t. Because there’s a pretty darn strong possibility that you’re going to change every single word somewhere along the way. So yeah, vomit it all up and worry about cleaning it up later. That’s what revisions are for. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Just write. I am always amazed by what I can come up with when I stop thinking, fretting, mulling and brooding and just freaking write.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got no shortage of ideas, that’s for sure! LOL. Well I have a book, as I mentioned, that I started in 2006 about a telekinetic boy that is about halfway done. It’s a bit of a departure. It is definitely a suspense thriller but it’s not a police procedural. I hope to finish a draft of that soon. I also started writing a sequel to Finding Claire Fletcher as well as the second Jocelyn Rush novel. I am going to try something different this summer by putting myself on a 100 day challenge and working on all three at once. My goal is to get first drafts of each one finished and then work on finalizing them one at a time. My friend Libby Heily had this idea and I love it. We’ll see how it goes. Every one of them is sitting there in my head, just waiting for me to get them down on paper.
About Hold Still:
After saving her three-year-old daughter from a car-jacking, off-duty police detective Jocelyn Rush ends up in the ER. The last person she expects to run into is Anita Grant, former prostitute and an old acquaintance from Jocelyn’s days on patrol. In spite of her obvious injuries—mutilated hands and feet—Anita refuses to talk about what happened. Reluctantly, Jocelyn backs off, and Anita’s case goes to Philadelphia’s Special Victims Unit.
Before long, Jocelyn is pulled into the SVU’s investigation. Anita is finally ready to talk, but only to Jocelyn. Her story is harrowing, even to a seasoned veteran like Jocelyn. Working with SVU, Jocelyn’s investigation unearths a series of similar crimes going back four years. Three men are preying on local prostitutes, viciously assaulting and mutilating them.
The police apprehend two of the suspects, but the third eludes capture. As the hunt for the most sadistic of the three intensifies, and his crimes escalate, Jocelyn and her colleagues have precious few leads. Then a monster from Jocelyn’s past resurfaces. She doesn’t want to be reminded of the terrible secret that destroyed her family nearly twenty years earlier, but the man offers her a lead that could crack Anita’s case.
To solve it, Jocelyn must connect her past with her present—before a sadistic attacker sets his sights on her.