1. What book changed your life?
I feel like there isn’t one answer to that question. As a lifelong reader, I could cite a number of important books that shifted my worldview.
But the book that first comes to mind is IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote — which I read at a wildly inappropriate age. I was already in love with Truman Capote’s voice and imagery from his collections of short stories Other Voices, Other Rooms, and Music for Chameleons. But I also had a dark imagination and deep curiosity about the human psyche and what caused people to do bad things. In Cold Blood gave me permission to be who I think I always was as a writer. It gave me permission to shine a light into the darkest places and do it with compassion and a love of language.
2. Was your first published book the first manuscript you ever wrote?
Yes. Angel Fire, the book I started when I was nineteen and finished when I was twenty-nine, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2002, the year I turned thirty-two.
3. Stephen King says, “The hardest part is just before you start.” What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
I don’t find anything about writing hard. I live for the blank page. It’s a portal into the entire universe. I am obsessed by people and stories; there’s no end to my curiosity about the world. It’s actually harder for me not to write. So when life’s challenges keep me from the page, I feel unmoored.
4. Do you know the story’s ending before you start?
Never! I write for the same reason that I read. I want to know what’s going to happen to the people living in my head.
5. When you’re having a difficult writing day, what do you tell yourself to get through it?
The creative process is an organic one, and so naturally there is an ebb and a flow. Some days you can’t stop the pages from coming; books seem to write themselves. And other days, you struggle to get a few good sentences down. We all love the flow; but we have to be comfortable in the ebbs, as well.
6. Do you read your reviews?
I do. I wish I didn’t. But, yeah. I whole-heartedly advise against it. Because, if you’re like me, not a single word of praise will stay with you, but you’ll remember every syllable of criticism.
7. Besides being persistent and correcting your spelling errors, what’s your best advice for a new author?
Just write. There’s truly no other decent advice to give. Write when you’re tired, when you don’t have time. Write when you think you’re the worst writer who ever lived, and you’re positive you’re never going to publish. Write when the best thing happens, when the worst thing happens. Just dedicate yourself to the page, to the language, to the story, to the characters. Because no matter where you are in your career, that’s the only thing that ever matters.
8. What’s your definition of writer misery?
When my daughter was small, I used to write before she woke up in the morning, and then again after my husband got home from work. But I counted on her nap time to write, as well. When she wouldn’t nap, I’d put her in the car and we’d drive and listen to music until she fell asleep. Then I’d write in the car — usually in the parking lot in front of Target. Writing in the car isn’t misery. Likewise, I didn’t mind those drives. But some days she didn’t nap — every parent knows what that’s like — and then we were both a little cranky!
9. What’s your definition of writer happiness?
A quiet house, a sleeping dog, cell phone and email turned off. Nothing to do but write.
10. What’s your favorite book on writing?
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Whenever I feel lost or confused, I open this book to a random page and start to read. I always find something to inspire me.
11. What book are you reading right now?
THE SWALLOWS by Lisa Lutz. She’s one of my favorite writers — funny, dark, and whip-smart.
and books published in twenty-six languages, Lisa Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few writers including Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie. The Edgar-nominated Under My Skin is also a finalist for the prestigious Hammett Prize, and the Macavity Award for Best Novel. And the original short story The Sleep Tight Motel is a #1 bestselling single.