An Interview with Lori Rader-Day

Please help me welcome novelist Lori Rader-Day, whose debut mystery, THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books), releases on July 8.

Lori Rader-Day

I met Lori through the Debutante Ball Blog, where I blogged as part of the Class of 2013, and Lori is just finishing up her tenure as part of the Class of 2014. I knew when I read her deb application, a year ago this week, that I wanted to get to know Lori and her novel. I’m thrilled that she’s here to join us today!

The Black Hour Cover

THE BLACK HOUR is the story of the aftermath of a campus shooting.

Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet studies violence, until she’s the victim of an attack by a student she’s never met. The student kills himself, but Amelia survives—only to find that the court of public opinion has rendered her guilty of something. With the help of an overly earnest graduate student, Nathaniel, who may have an agenda of his own, Amelia seeks an answer to the question she can’t let go: Why her?

You can learn more, and buy THE BLACK HOUR here:

 And now, with no further ado, on with the questions:

Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?

I grew up in central Indiana, in and near a town called Lebanon. I went to junior high and high school out at the country school, which is surrounded, no joke, by cornfields and a cemetery. It is the setting of a Stephen King book, basically. I should be writing horror. Here’s the story my grandma Annie would have told you if you’d asked her for a story about me growing up. When I was very small, I went to stay overnight with her and my grandpa. I had a little blue suitcase with me and my grandpa referenced it, maybe telling me to go get it or move it, by describing it as “square.” Well, it was not square. It was rectangle, I told him, full of knowledge from kindergarten. Now that’s the kind of story your grandmother tells lovingly about you for the rest of her life, but it does point out that I had an early inclination toward finding the right word. Also, toward being a know-it-all. I only know that story because my grandma loved to tell it. My only regret about all this publishing stuff is that she didn’t live to see it happen. She would have loved to see this happen for me.

What inspired you to write a novel set in the aftermath of a university shooting?

It’s hard to be in the world lately and not be worried about what’s happening with guns and kids. When I began writing the book I had just started working as an administrator on a college campus after finishing my MFA in creative writing. It was time for a new project and I was driving onto this gorgeous campus every day. It seemed so idyllic. As mystery writers we’re looking for that setting that inspires us to think “what if.” I’ve never (knock wood) been a part of a dangerous situation like Amelia Emmet has survived but, more than offering any universal understanding of why these things happen, I wanted to think about the unwanted attention victims are forced to live with after the crime.

If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?

I should point out that THE BLACK HOUR isn’t my first manuscript. A lesson from that first manuscript taught me something that made this book possible: Tell the story. Don’t worry about the sentences so much in the first draft. You get another chance at them. Oh, boy, do you get more chances at the sentence level. In the first draft, story is everything. You have to create something you want to spend your time on, something that compels you to keep working on it. Also, stop trying to sound like a writer. Tell the story your way, and you’ll be one.

Your debut novel, THE BLACK HOUR, features a unique kind of mystery: your protagonist/sleuth is also the victim. How does this impact the structure of (and characters in) your novel?

The book technically has two protagonists, and one reason why is that one of them is still recovering from an injury. I couldn’t write Amelia scuttling around looking for clues too early in the book because she was in pain. So I gave her Nath. Then Nath had some things he wanted to say and became half the book. By having the two characters share the telling of the story, I was forced to move back and forth between them, which created its own pacing. I won’t say I didn’t know what was happening, the muse took the wheel and all that. But I will say that I didn’t plan for Nath to be half the book when I marched him up the stairs behind Amelia in the first chapter. I ended up having so much fun writing each character and playing them off one another.

Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?

I love mysteries, of course. I’m first in line for new books by Tana French, Louise Penny, Catriona McPherson, Alexander McCall Smith, and Clare O’Donohue. Some of my very favorite books, however, don’t necessarily fall into the mystery genre. My favorite-ever book is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I don’t know why it works for me. It’s mysterious and moody and atmospheric—and I just crush hard on the hopeless and unloved protagonist, Quoyle. Never mind the movie. Even with Kevin Spacey, it’s terrible. Read the book.

Do you have a favorite scene in THE BLACK HOUR? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?  

There’s a scene near the middle of the book that I almost didn’t write, but when I finally gave in and went there, it made the book what it is. However, I don’t want to tell you about it. Another favorite scenes is where Amelia is back in front of the classroom for the first time in ten months. She loves her job—she is her job. But even though she can recite her Sociology 101 monologue from memory, she’s filled with dread and paranoia—and she’s not sure she can be a teacher any longer. On the outside she’s taking care of business, but the inside terrain is messy, and it was fun to write. Another scene I really enjoy is where Nath meets a hail-fellow-well-met student named Win. Their first encounter is one of the scenes that lightens the rest of the book. It was important to me to give readers a break once in a while from the dark storyline.

What’s next for you as an author? Can you give us a hint about your work in progress?

My next novel, tentatively titled LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, will be out from Seventh Street Books next summer. The protagonist, Juliet, is ten years out of high school and working below her ambitions at a roadside motel when her estranged best friend, a girl she was always in competition with—literally, on the track team—checks in one night. She does not get the chance to check out. Juliet turns sleuth, trying to figure out what went wrong for her friend and how to save the girls they both used to be.

How do you inspire yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing?

Wow, I wish I could say that I have no difficult moments. Deadlines, friends, mind games, and reward systems. How you get through anything. Also, I think I get inspired by having a project that I can’t wait to get back to and characters that I don’t mind spending a lot of time with. Other people can do depraved serial killer thrillers. That’s not me. I write during my lunch hours. Instead of having lunch with friends or colleagues, I sit down with these people I’ve created. So they have to be interesting people who get into a lot of trouble and are a little bit dark-humored in the face of tragedy and fear. I have to keep it interesting for me, or I’ll never be able to make it through.

Do you have any upcoming appearances?

July 9: Dru’s Musing 

July 9: Shelf Pleasure

July 11: Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room

July 10-13: Thrillerfest! (New York City)

For a full list of upcoming events and appearances, please check Lori’s website:

And now, the speed round:

Plotter or pantser?

 Pantser for first half, plotter for second.

Coffee, tea, or bourbon?

 Tea, white (with milk) and sugar.

Socks or no socks?

 Almost always socks until summer, then no shoes. Hillbilly.

Cats, dogs, or reptiles?

 Dogs. Your fish pictures creep me out a little.

For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?

Tacos, every time.

Thank you, Lori, for joining us today! It’s been great to learn more about you and THE BLACK HOUR!