A Chat with Bestselling Author Lisa Unger

by Alafair Burke

I’m still on the road for 212, but was lucky enough to lock in bestselling thriller author, Lisa Unger, for a little chat here at Murderati.  If you’re not yet reading Lisa’s books and following her online, you should be.  She is not only a master plotter, but also a talented writer whose characters stay with you long after you close the book.  And lucky for us, she’s also incredibly thoughtful about the creative process. 

Lisa’s excellent novel, DIE FOR YOU, is out in paperback this week. 

For readers who don’t know the premise of your wonderful novel, DIE FOR YOU, please tell us a little about the book.

Isabel Raine has the pefect life.  She’s a bestselling novelist, close to her family, in love with her husband Marcus.  It’s not a perfect marriage; there have been problems — an affair, a miscarriage. But Isabel loves the man she married, can’t imagine her life without him.  Then, on a day like any other day Marcus, an inventor of computer games, leaves for an important meeting and doesn’t come home.  In the frantic search for him that follows, Isabel comes to realize that the man she married is a stranger.  She didn’t even know his real name.

In addition to being a story about Isabel’s search for the truth about her husband, it’s also about marriage and how well we really know each other.  It’s about family and the ties that bind.  Everyone in DIE FOR YOU has a secret heart.  So, it’s about that, as well, how sometimes we hide ourselves from the people we love the most.

You live in Florida, but DIE FOR YOU takes readers to the streets of both New York City and Prague.  How did you decide to set the book in these locations, and how were you able to depict them so credibly?

I lived in New York City for thirteen years, and visit many times a year. So it really is one of the places I know best.  When I close my eyes, I can hear it, smell it, taste it.  And it has occupied such a huge place in my heart and imagination for so long that my novels seem to naturally begin there. 

In 2007, I spent five weeks in Prague.  And the city itself – its dark history, its gothic beauty – inspired DIE FOR YOU.  I wandered the streets of that city with my husband and daughter and just let it sink into my skin.  I kept thinking that Prague was a city of secrets, that beneath its pretty cobblestone streets beats a dark heart.  I love that energy … it’s the same pulse in New York, and even in Florida.  This idea — that beneath the glamour of New York City, the beauty of Prague, or the sunshine of Florida lurks something feral — is fascinating for me.  The same might also be said for the lives of many of my characters.

Did your time in Prague change anything about your creative process or writing habits?

Initially, I went to Prague to vacation.  I needed a little time off after writing BLACK OUT to recharge creatively.  But the city so inspired me that I couldn’t keep the pages from coming.  DIE FOR YOU is the first book inspired by a place; so that was a change.

My schedule fell into place much as it is at home; early mornings from 5 AM writing while my husband takes care of our daughter, and afternoons as a mom.  But, of course, as a mother nothing is every seamless. Since my daughter always comes first, I have to be creative and very flexible about when I get my pages done.  That’s true whether we’re in Prague or Florida.  I am always performing a balancing act!

You have an active presence online, with thousands of Facebook friends, regular Twitter posts, and an active blog.  What do you see as the advantage, both for you and your readers, of social networking?  What do you see as the proper balance between letting your books stand on their own and allowing readers to get to know the woman behind the books?

Facebook and Twitter are fantastic ways to stay in touch with readers.  I love the feedback, the connections.  And I love the way those connections intersect with the real world, how people turn up for appearances because they know me on Facebook.  In an industry that’s changing all the time, Facebook is an important tool for authors in terms of creating exposure and allowing for an unprecedented relationship with readers.

I try to be very organic about my posts and my blogs, only writing when the spirit moves me and only about things that are important to me.  So in that way, I’m pretty open.  I feel like I owe this my friends/fans/ followers. When they hear from me, I want it to be real – whether it’s about my books, other authors I want to support, what I’m thinking, feeling, listening to, watching. 

In some respects, the social networks are about marketing.  But the relationships one creates there are true.  Finding the balance is tricky.  I had a nudge from a follower on Twitter.  She said she hoped I was hard at work on the new novel because I hadn’t tweeted in a while.  And it’s true that the more focused I am on my work, the less present I am online.  It’s about the writing first.  Everything else – marketing, publicity, blogging, social networks – come after the craft. I think readers who follow me on the networks know this about me.

I know that you have made book touring a family event.  Can you talk a little about your experience touring with your family?

Touring with the family is not for the weak.   My daughter was four months old when she went on her first book tour.  I couldn’t NOT go; and I wasn’t about to leave my munchkin behind.  But getting on the road with your four- month-old, nursing infant requires the mobilization of a small army – my husband, my parents, friends in various cities.  Not to mention the gear … stroller, car seat, breast pump, massive diaper bag.  Of course, now she’s four – and it’s easier in some ways (less gear, for one thing), harder in others. As crazy as it can be sometimes, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.  Touring can be very stressful – and although traveling with your family doesn’t make it LESS stressful certainly – it keeps everything very real.  There’s never any forgetting what’s important.

Because I’m on tour right now, I’ve got touring on the brain.  Are you willing to share the craziest thing that’s ever happened during your travels?

There have been so many crazy moments on the road, especially with Ocean!  There was a funny piece in the New York Times about our various adventures.  I always say that she has been breastfed in the parking lots or back rooms of hundreds of bookstores across the county!  I had to nurse her before each event to be sure she didn’t freak out in the middle of a talk.  At first I used to do it in the car, because I was shy.  After a couple of cities, I just asked for a place to nurse before each event.  And everyone seemed to take this in stride – media escorts, bookstore owners.  The folks at Stacey’s in San Francisco said, “Everything comes after feeding the baby!”  And this is so true.



You are known as one of the smartest plotters in the thriller genre, but I happen to know that you don’t outline your books in advance.  Tell about your process for creating such seamless plotting and pacing without advance planning?

Aw, shucks.  Thanks for that, Alafair.  Anything can be the germ for a novel.  A voice I hear in my head or someone I keep seeing.  It might be a poem or a news story or lyrics from a song.  And if it stays and repeats, spins out and grows, then it’s a novel.   I never know how a book is going to end, who is going to turn up, or what they are going to do day to day.  I write for the same reason that I read, because I want to know what’s going to happen.  And it has always been this way for me.

You and I have talked about this before.  And it all sounds very magical.  But I’m not sure it is really. I have been an avid reader and a writer most of my remembered life.  I have studied virtually every type of writing from journalism to poetry, from play- and screenwriting to the novel.  My entire education and every goal I’ve had personally and professionally has focused on the craft.  So because of that I suspect that I have internalized the form to the degree that it’s almost second nature.  I think like a fiction novel.  

I am also full of faith and wide open to the possibilities of the blank page every day.  So I am fully waiting and ready for the magic.  And when the magic doesn’t come, I am dedicated to the craft.  Plot flows from character. I hear my characters.  I respect and have empathy for them.  I get to know them and don’t seek to control their actions or consequences.  I am ferociously curious about life and people.  And I never get tired of exploring all of these things.  And it’s in that place of faith and empathy that my plots evolve, just as life does. 

How do you like to spend your time that’s not spent reading and writing?

I am a brilliant golfer.  I love it.  Can’t live without it.  Okay, not really.  (Alafair, knows better than anyone what a complete lie this is.) I do, however, have a pretty active lifestyle, enjoying boating, kayaking, tennis, walking, and yoga.  My husband and I are total foodies and love to entertain.  Traveling is high on our list of the most important things in life, so we make it a point to get somewhere new every year.  But mainly, I just enjoy doing all these things with Jeff and Ocean.  So even if we’re just home watching a DVD, that’s pretty great, too!


I hope you enjoyed hearing from Lisa about her writing process as much as I always do.  I find her dedication to the art of writing so inspiring. Thanks, Lisa, for stopping by Murderati, especially on… your birthday!  Happy Birthday!! 

Now, on to the comments section.  Of course Lisa and I would both welcome your responses to her remarks.  But I’d especially love to hear folks answer the last question I put to Lisa: How do you like to spend your time that’s not spent reading and writing?  We have quite a community here at Murderati but we usually talk about our shared love of books.  I thought it would be fun to have a day when we talked about our other passions as well.  So to enter a raffle for a free copy of DIE FOR YOU, just post your response by 9 am (PST) tomorrow: How do you spend your non-book time?


26 thoughts on “A Chat with Bestselling Author Lisa Unger

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    After another stupid health thing this week, I am back to good habits and determined to get back shape so I’ll say walking and soon biking again will take up my non-reading time. Otherwise, I’m on the Net catching up on news and such. Great interview!

  2. kit

    One of my favorite things growing up was when our large extended family would get together and tell stories, it didn’t really really matter what kind..short, long, humorous, growing up during the depression, to me they were all fascinating.
    It also helped that I KNEW the person behind each and every person. I’m leading into WHY I enjoy reading these interveiws, it’s a story behind the story, I really enjoy that, thank you, you two!

  3. billie

    Riding and taking care of our horses (3), pony (1), and the two wonderful miniature donkeys. Not to mention the five cats and Kyra Corgi. 🙂

  4. pari noskin taichert

    I enjoyed this interview so much. Thank you, Lisa and Alafair.

    Non-reading/non-writing activities?
    Walking, jogging, hanging out with my children, gardening (for FOOD!), cooking and playing my cello.

  5. Jake Nantz

    Happy Birthday!

    My wife and I have started reading to each other, so we both get to A) enjoy the works together, and B) spend time together, because there are plenty of things we enjoy doing separately. When the money is available, which ain’t often, we like to travel to new places, or go to dinner at nice restaraunts and people-watch while we eat stuff we really shouldn’t. I’m a HUGE movie fan, so the movie nights out and the DVD-watching ensues, plus we both like video games that have a good storyline to them, so we’ll curl up together and play once in a while. If I could still find the time and cash, I’d love to get her hooked on snow skiing like I was when I was younger, and I’ll go for a game of pick-up lacrosse any day. Most of all, we just like to play with our dogs and spend time with each other.

  6. Nancy Laughlin

    Happy birthday, Lisa!
    I love to travel. I also love to sit on a beach, anywhere, and soak up the sun.
    I like to swim. I love going to the movies, but I seldom watch DVDs at home. It just isn’t the same.
    I also like to eat out or veg in front of the TV.
    Sleeping in is also a wonderful hobby. 🙂

  7. Judy Wirzberger

    Unfortunately, I have to spend lots of time at my day job – Then there’s cleaning up cat hair, visiting the grandkids, feeding the cat, discovering and rediscovering restaurants, changing the litterbox, visits to the ocean, cleaning the house, wishing for a maid, collapsing in front of DVR with Castle while I pet the cat, visiting doctors, looking at the treadmill, wondering where the cat is hiding, watching the squirrels at the bird feeder, watching the cat watching the squirrels, and waiting for the next murderati post. It’s a good life!

    This was a great one —- again. Thanks – nice to see more subconscious wriitng from devious minds.

  8. Ev

    DIE FOR YOU sounds fantastic, and I loved the window into Lisa’s process. It sounds a bit like mine! (Though I’ll have to make a month long trip to somewhere like Prague to test the theory, ha ha! :D) When I don’t have my nose in a book or my fingers on my keyboard, I love to just hang out and do whatever with my husband and kids–or go sushi chat-fests/night out with my friends. I’m an avid garden-planner (so often the pretty dreams aren’t actualized!) and my favourite physical place to be is the middle of lake, swimming, any season so long as the ice is off . . . (but sunny August is best!)

  9. Barbara

    Great Q&A! Besides writing and reading–which are like breathing to me—I am an adventurous cook and baker of delectable treats. I mostly cook healthy meals that are flavorful, but in baking, I’d rather have the best chocolate and butter, etc. so I’m not one for making low-calorie cardboard treats. Since I bought my first home, I’ve acquired a love for gardening and am now trying to solve the mystery of who stole tulips from one of my front gardens! (It was not an animal. It is clear that they were cut with a knife or scissors!) It’s just so rude!

  10. JT Ellison

    Happy Birthday, Lisa! And awesome interview, both of you. We need more books that detail the writer’s process – I love how each author is different, even when we’re the same.

    Spare time – golf. This is the first in several years that I’ve been able to play consistently, and I’m eating it up. I create time for it, which is good for me on so many levels…

  11. Lisa Unger

    Thanks for the wonderful interview questions, Alafair. And thanks to all for your warm responses! I am so thrilled to visit with you here on Muderati!

  12. Ryan D

    Thanks for doing that interview Alafair and Lisa. When not writing or working I like to rock climb, ice climb, hike, backpack, ski and read. Being outside helps refresh me for doing things that I don’t want to be doing…like work.

  13. Becky LeJeune

    I love Lisa Unger’s books. Fabulous interview! When I’m not reading, I’m probably watching a movie or cooking. I’m as much of a foodie as I am a book junkie and really love seeing a great new movie as well.

  14. Alafair Burke

    I’m delighted people enjoyed the Q&A with one of my favorite authors and people, Lisa Unger. The random number generator has selected Nancy Laughlin to receive a copy of Lisa’s book, DIE FOR YOU. Congratulations, Nancy!

  15. Judy Bush

    I like all outdoor activities especially interacting with my Jack Russell terrier. I am also borderline obsessive about keeping up with news and politics. I like to communicate with friends, former colleagues and family through the internet and Facebook.

  16. lil Gluckstern

    Reading is kind of my present to myself after working, taking care of stuff, walking, a little gardening. Loved the interview, two really good must authors (for me) chatting. Good luck, and I just read the preview of "Fragile." Who said "so many books, so little time?"

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