Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Laurie Stevens author of The
Dark Before Dawn, Deep into Dusk and her recent tome, The Mask
Laurie has written for television (Chris Isaak's Guide to Jazz Fest), for film (Footprint Films and John Daly's Film and Music Entertainment). Her stage play, Follow Your Dreams ran for eight weeks in Los Angeles.
Norm: Good day Laurie and thanks once again for participating in in our interview.
Laurie: Thanks, Norm. Happy to be here.
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your writing career?
Laurie: From a material standpoint, I would say that I started out as an "indie" author and did pretty well with my self-published books--well enough to land an agent in London who got me a 2-book Blanvalet (Random House, Germany) contract, which in turn landed me the U.S. book-to-film agent I have now.
From a more spiritual standpoint, I feel that I continually try to challenge myself as a writer. My goal is to get better and better at the craft. I'm still in progress, of course, but I've seen marked changes in my writing style from when I first started out. That improvement, to me, is an accomplishment I'm proud of.
Norm: What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Laurie: Ugh! Getting the idea out of my mind and down on paper. Working through the initial plot is the scariest part of the writing process for me because 1) I have to make some chronological sense of the floating scenes that circled around in my head for a while, 2) now I've committed to this project and it might very well take up my life for at least a year (maybe more), and 3) I realize that whatever I come up with in the first draft will go through numerous changes. (I advise my fellow writers not to think about that!)
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your most recent novel, The Mask Of Midnight?
Laurie: I knew I wanted to bring back Victor Archwood, the villain from the first book. I'm a fan of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. Every proper detective should pit himself against a criminal mastermind, don't you think? Archwood is Gabriel's nemesis. No doubt he will continue to make appearances
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Laurie: Well, I intended to further Gabriel's psychological healing progression. He certainly had to face his demons when he was under Archwood's control. I agree it's a rather intense way to get some self-help, but this is a thriller... Besides that, I desired to see the relationship between Ming and Gabriel blossom, which it did. Both of them lose their insecurities with each other in this book. I feel I achieved those particular goals.
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
Laurie: I do a lot of research for these books. First off, there is the forensic element. I usually find out all I can about a particular subject on the Internet but then I consult the professionals.
I'm lucky that my niece Sarah interned at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office. Not only do the pros validate (or negate) the information I find online, they give me their personal outlook toward their job.
This is very important for character development. For instance, when I was writing Victor Archwood's character in this book I took a very famous forensic psychiatrist out for coffee (and to pick his brain). He profiled serial killers, infamous bad guys. I asked him, "As a psychiatrist, do you see the human in the monster?" His answer surprised me. He said, "No. Some people are simply evil." That threw me.
I was certain his answer would be "yes." I went back to my work and wondered, should I make Archwood simply evil? After thinking it through, I realized that Archwood would not make a very good character if I sent him around town killing random people for the sick joy of it. I think that's fine if an author is writing a straight-ahead Who-Dun-It, but with a psychological suspense novel, a villain who resonates with a reader is a much more interesting and engaging character. So I decided to put aside the information my research garnered and instead created a complex love-hate relationship between Victor Archwood and Gabriel McRay.
Norm: Which character was the easiest to write? Most difficult?
Laurie: Gabriel is easy to write. I don't know why. I have an author friend who is also a psychologist and he said every character we create is a piece of ourselves. I'm not sure I'd want to explore that. The most difficult is Victor Archwood. First, I have to go to a very dark place in my mind to "get into his character." I've done it, but I don't like it much.
For your writing, does the story come first, or the world it operates
in? As a follow up, do you write
more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please
summarize for our readers your writing process.
Laurie: That depends. With The Mask of Midnight the story came first because there were goals I needed to accomplish with the plot (I mentioned them--Gabriel's continued journey to survive a childhood trauma, for one).
I've recently completed the first book of a new series (literary, not mystery) that takes place during the Great Recession. With that book (titled Lot's Wife) I had to work around the timeline of the Recession. Anyone who was around at that time will know that things were falling apart on a near daily basis.
Those events dictated the timing of key scenes. In regards to the writing process, I do my favorite task first: Research. This helps me get into the project and face the part I mentioned I dislike the most earlier (initial plotting). I enjoy doing research. Whether it's to study police procedure of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department or become educated in the science behind forensics, or take a Kahn Academy class (or two) and learn the ins-and-outs of what brought on the Great Recession, this is something I greatly enjoy. Then I have to figure out a way to take everything I've learned and layer it in an appealing fictional plot. It's like being a translator of sorts.
Norm: How much editing did you do with this book before publishing it?
Laurie: I have five excellent beta-readers who are also authors. I have a friend who is a line-editor (and an English professor). I have a husband who is a super tough book critic. If the manuscript passes muster with him and the others, I send it to my agent. Then, of course, my agent will call with his notes and that usually ends up as a two hour conversation filled with suggestions. Getting the idea? The short and simple answer to the question is "A lot."
Norm: You used gore in The Mask Of Midnight to a great effect, but did you rely on it. Is there a point in editing when you ask yourself, “Is this too much?”
Laurie: Funny you should say that. There is less gore in The Mask of Midnight than in the first two books. In fact, I thought I was getting soft. In the first book, The Dark Before Dawn, it packs a wide-eyed punch, especially in the first two pages. With each successive book, the graphic effect has softened because I want to show Gabriel's outlook toward the world has softened. He no longer rages. By the fourth upcoming book, he's almost a pussycat, and the general atmosphere of the book is much less gritty, but no less mysterious.
Norm: Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?
Laurie: Ah, don't get me into trouble! Let's say a couple of characters are an amalgamation of folks I've either met or read about.
Norm: With your experience as an author, is it difficult for you to read a novel just for the pleasure of being the reader?
Laurie: Very difficult. The problem is that I enjoy editing. Last year, I was asked to edit the Los Angeles Sister's in Crime anthology, Fatally Haunted with two talented writers-as-editors, Rachel Howzell Hall and Sheila Lowe.
This collection of mystery stories is coming out April, 2019. I felt a little sorry for my authors because I'm OCD when it comes to making a project shine. I know, I know--tough to do with your own work, but it's easy to catch flaws in a project you didn't write. That is why I sit there and fight the urge to take down critical notes when I'm reading for pleasure. It kinda sucks.
Norm: What projects are you working on at the present?
Laurie: The fourth Gabriel book is finished. It's called In Twilight's Hush. I based that novel on a true crime cold case that real detectives finally solved thirty years after the fact. The only thing I did was put Gabriel on the cold case, along with Ming, and added in a cast of characters to punch up the plot. Ironically, real life crime doesn't always make for a thriller. I've also just completed my first literary endeavor. I've taken the story of Lot's wife (yep, from the bible) and applied the "never look back" concept, in an allegorical fashion, to the Great Recession.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about The Mask Of Midnight, but nobody has?
Laurie: Did you actually write in a legal technicality in The Dark Before Dawn that you put to use later in The Mask of Midnight. The answer is Yes.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Thanks so much, Norm. It's always a pleasure. A book pleasure!