I met Lisa Alber through Social Media and how lucky am I! I came across this humble, open, intelligent and talented Author who had just published her debut novel, KILMOON: A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (from Muskrat Press). Lisa was in the middle of her book launch and I was not only impressed with her book but also her willingness to share with other authors her honest experiences and helpful advice when she was “on the road” with her novel. I am honored to share her interview here and am looking forward to meeting her in July at this year’s Thrillerfest Conference in New York.
CL: This novel shows the frailties of everyone … each character has a cross to bear and I love how they all link together. What inspired you to write about these characters in such a way?
LA: I wish I knew! Tracking everything gets quite complicated, that’s for sure. I think it’s just the way my brain works. In real life I tend to over-complicate things. So, I guess this translates to my stories as well.
However, thinking about your question seriously, I think what inspires me is a fascination with human nature. This means that rather than starting with a plot outline as so many authors do, I start with character analyses. I get sooo into it. Plot entanglements and connections magically arise from the analyses (the brain is truly amazing). Each character has a story, and I’m hard-pressed not to include at least part of their stories as subplots. I have to be very careful though—a huge part of my revision process is simplifying and cutting.
I love ensemble casts. I always have. For example, I love the movie “Gosford Park.”
CL: I felt like I was IN Ireland (Republic of), a country I have never visited unfortunately. I’ve only been to Belfast, which is of course beautiful as well. Tell me about why you chose Ireland as your setting.
LA: Ah, Ireland. The easy answer is that it chose me. I’ve always been intrigued by my Irish roots, in large part because I’m apparently the spitting image of Granny O’Brien’s side of the family. I was the kid in my generation who inherited the Irish coloring (not to mention the curly hair). I went to Ireland for the first time, and I was hooked. I went twice more for KILMOON novel research.
CL: This was definitely a tale of intrigue, with Liam the Matchmaker being the center figure of almost everyone’s secrets. Was Liam inspired by anyone you knew?
LA: Not precisely. There’s a bonafide matchmaker who resides over an annual matchmaking festival in County Clare. It’s quite the thing and even has a website! (http://www.matchmakerireland.com/)
The festival was one of the inspirations for KILMOON. I met the matchmaker, Willie Daly, during one of my visits, but Daly didn’t inspire Liam’s personality. Not at all. Liam is, shall we say, kind of dark, with secrets and hidden agendas (though he’s a fabulous matchmaker). After meeting Daly, I got to thinking in classic novelist fashion, What if a charismatic, beloved matchmaker had a dark past the belied all his happily-ever-afters? That’s when the fun began!
CL: What is your writing process? What/who encouraged you to keep moving forward with KILMOON?
LA: For KILMOON, I’d write five pages a day, every morning, Monday through Friday. I’m not the world’s fastest writer so that was a nice, consistent pace for me. I already mentioned the character analyses, which helped me come up with some plot points. Mostly, I’m a pantster. I know I’m ready to start writing when I hear the characters’ voices in my head. I may have a general idea of the story arc, but I don’t know much. (I’m trying to improve on this trait—build up more plot points before starting the first draft.)
Oh, I had the greatest of mentors when I was starting out: New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George. After my first workshop with her, she said I had the talent, the story and that I should run with them. That was enough to see me through many bad writing days! Later, I won a writing grant from her foundation that allowed me to quit work for a year. That was a huge boost of encouragement too.
I credit my own persistence too. I had publication in my head, and I wasn’t going to be denied even though I set aside the manuscript in despair many times. I started other novels, wrote short stories, but I always returned to KILMOON.
CL: You’ve worn a lot of hats in your life. Tell me something about how they have influenced your writing.
LA: I’ve never thought about this before. Have my various careers and crappy jobs influenced my writing? Only in the sense of providing me with some life experience. For some reason I don’t write close to my life experience in an obvious way, like a lawyer who writes legal thrillers or a vintage clothing lover who writes vintage clothing store mysteries. I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t write what I know. I do write about what appeals to me (like Ireland) and what I find interesting (like the dark side of human nature).
CL: What are you working on now?
LA: I’m working on the second in the County Clare series, GREY MAN (tentative title). In KILMOON, Merrit Chase arrives from California to meet her biological father—Liam the Matchmaker—with no clue that his dark past is about to lead to murder. Along the way, she entangles with Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern, who’s not fond of her to say the least.
Merrit and Danny are the main continuing characters. KILMOON was Merrit’s story. GREY MAN is more Danny’s story. In the second novel, things get personal, oh so personal, for Danny when a teenage boy dies and disaster hits Danny’s family as a result.
CL: What is the biggest thing you learned while writing KILMOON and during your book launch?
LA: The most important thing I learned during the KILMOON process (which was long indeed) was that the adage “writing is revising” is true. It’s great to get a messy first draft down. You must have something to work with. After the first draft, it’s time for the real work. Revision is a learned skill, and most of us probably go out too soon with our drafts thinking they’re ready for prime time.
I’m a huge introvert, so during the book launch the biggest challenge for me was getting out there in front of people. I learned that I can do it without swooning, throwing up, panicking, or crying. Hah! I’m only halfway kidding. The truth is that I’ve avoided public speaking like the plague my whole life. Until now. So now I know that I will survive (cue in Gloria Gaynor).
Thanks for having me here today, Cynthia!
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You can purchase Lisa’s novel, KILMOON, below!