Please welcome Lisa Alber, author of Kilmoon.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I’m one of those authors who, alas, still needs a day job. So, my perfect day embodies only fiction. Sunlight streams through the windows in my work area. I’ve just finished my morning page count. I’ve even experienced a wondrous a-ha moment with the story. Now, I get to fool around for the rest of the day. And that’s it really. I’ve been so busy with pre-launch tasks for Kilmoon plus writing in my spare time that a whole afternoon and evening of unstructured, guilt-free “me” time sounds like heaven.
Oh, lest I forget, during my perfect day calories don’t matter, so I’d eat something chocolaty delicious for dinner.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Ask anyone and they’ll say I’m obsessed with blue in the teal and turquoise range. Even my eyeglasses are teal. I paint my toenails this color in the summer. I also have a signature animal—which I call my totem animal: the owl. I’ve loved owls since I was a kid.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mrs. Salem, English teacher: In high school she liked a Shakespearean-style sonnet I wrote so much that she copied it to give out to the class—and to other teachers! That was my first inkling that I might be good with the written word.
Elizabeth George, New York Times bestselling author. She inspired me endlessly during workshops I attended with her as instructor. In fact, after the third one she invited me to apply to her foundation for a writing grant and to write a story for a mystery anthology she was editing. I just saw her a few weekends back at a conference and got a picture with her. I continue to be a fangirl, that’s for sure!
Jeannie Burt, fellow debut author, literary fiction. Jeannie and I have been friends for years. Since the beginning she’s told me how worthwhile my writing is. We all need a cheerleader. She’s also always challenged me to go deeper with my characters, which I like.
Do you listen to music when you write?
No, but not because I must have silence. I can write in coffeehouses, for example. I’m just not in the habit of turning on music in the house.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Oh, I’d definitely get my Irish groove on with Irish whiskey-filled truffles. Kilmoon takes place in County Clare, Ireland, land of pubs. A pivotal scene in Kilmoon takes place in a pub. These are dark-chocolate-covered truffles rather than milk chocolate because the story’s darker rather than lighter.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Kilmoon takes place in Ireland and stars Merrit Chase, who travels there to meet her biological father, whom she’s just discovered is her biological father. My father died around the time ideas were flitting around my head, and we had a distant relationship. I found him difficult to know, and this feeling infused my story about Merrit’s full circle of reconciliation and redemption (with murder, betrayal, vengeance, and family secrets thrown in too).
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Kilmoon is my debut novel, but I have a couple of drawer novels that will never see the light of day, not to mention the current work-in-progress. Interesting to ponder this question—call me surprised to realize that I keep returning to family secrets. We don’t choose our families and, let’s face it, family can be a dire thing.
Alienation from self also plays a large role in my novels. My main characters are always broken in some way that necessitates reconciliation or redemption or self-forgiveness.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Ah Merrit—her defining moment occurred when she was thirteen and her mother died. Not to reveal too much, but Merrit always blamed herself. Worse still, she grew up with a dad who didn’t care for her. Her childhood home featured a crumbling church ruin in Ireland that hinted at the truth beneath her mom’s unhappiness and her dad’s unending rancor. As her dad says at one point about Merrit, “… she can’t handle conflicts that impact her most cherished notions, especially about her mother.”
It’s just those cherished notions that she’s got to face down (as well as murder, of course).
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
The actress Summer Glau comes to mind. You might remember her from Joss Whedon’s Firefly series and Serenity movie. Her character, River Tam, has a wide-eyed, almost spooky, stillness to her that belies her messy insides—just like Merrit. The stranger in a strange world a la the unnamed protagonist in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, who gets entangled in treachery and secrets from the past. Last but not last, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because she’s an influencer, Merrit isn’t a hacker and she’s not edgy, but she’s an influencer in her own way. She’s got a superpower, her uncanny intuition, that I hope to grow over the series.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’ve met so many wonderful mystery writers over the last few years. There’s also a whole slew of them I only know virtually from Facebook and Twitter. I would love to meet them all at once. From what I can tell they’re all smart and sassy and funny, plus they’d drink cocktails with me: Alexandra Sokoloff, Lori Rader-Day, Susan Elia MacNeal, Erin Hart, Aimee Hix, Julie Hyzy, and your very own Mary Sutton. (I just realized that’s seven guests—bonus!)
What’s next for you?
I’m currently revising the second novel in the County Clare mystery series. I’m calling it Grey Man for now. My secondary protagonist in Kilmoon, Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern, comes to the forefront while Merrit steps back a bit. A problem brewing from the first novel comes to a head in the second. All I can say is, poor Danny. I’m having a blast deepening his character.
Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. In addition, Ms. George asked Lisa to write a short story for Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery (HarperCollins). She featured Lisa’s story in an “Introducing…” section for up-and-coming novelists.
Ever distractible, you may find Lisa staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.