Lori Rader-Day’s first mystery novel, “The Black Hour,” has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Mary Higgins Clark Award, a Macavity, an Anthony, and the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original. For this interview, Lori Rader-Day is talking about her second mystery, “Little Pretty Things,” and why she believes it’s the characters, not issues, that drive a mystery.
“I would never advise someone to write a novel based on an ‘issue,’” Rader-Day said. “That smacks of manifesto, and that’s not what I like to read. Most people in the mystery section of a bookstore would agree. But when I started writing my first book, an issue cropped up. And then when I wrote “Little Pretty Things,” another issue showed up. What happens, I think, is that these things I care about coalesce into themes. The trick is to make sure they never take over fully. I want the story and the characters to do the work.”
In “Little Pretty Things,” Juliet Townsend is a low-wage worker hoping for a better life but the story is about friendship, girlhood, and taking responsibility for yourself as well as the world around you. Rader-Day said, “It’s mostly about growing up, a long time after you were supposed to, and about seeing things clearly for your own sake and for the sake of others. It’s a lot about being on the same team.”
Lori Rader-Day said the idea for “Little Pretty Things” came from two directions, her reading and her past. She’d read a mystery about a protagonist with a terrible job, but didn’t think the job was that bad. She’d also read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” and each time found herself angry over how the working poor are treated in the US.[contestad code=#Little startdate=2015-07-12 enddate=2015-07-19]“I’m from a working class background,” she said. “I’ve had bad jobs. I worked in a factory that made plastic Christmas trees and that shiny garland. I was the worst factory worker, ever. I managed to get into an office career by going to college, and I think about that one decision all the time. What would I be doing right now? If I had to make Christmas garland right now, I’d be fired. That’s how bad I was.”
Rader-Day also started thinking about how our culture forces women to compete against one another. At that point, she realized her main characters, Juliet and Maddy, had been in exactly that position. “Having been in literal competition, [they] began to come to life from there.”
“I would love your readers to know all the good things people have said about my books . . . but I’m not going to detail that here,” Rader-Day said. While she might be one to tout her awards, let’s be clear. “The Black Hour” has been nominated for four of the major awards available to mystery writers. That’s a huge accomplishment for any writer.
What Rader-Day did say was that she writes the kind of stories she wants to read. “I like the stories that happen between people. You won’t find big conspiracies in my books, but if you’re interested in how time, inattention, selfishness, and distress can uproot a life, then I’m your mystery writer.”
In writing the story between Juliet and Maddy, Rader-Day decided they should have been high school track stars who were always in competition. “I have no regrets that I came to that decision about them—but where did that come from? My high school sport was the yearbook staff.”
Rader-Day said she researched running by talking to a friend who runs. “My friend read the book and gave me some tips, but she said I got it almost exactly right, that I must have been a runner in a past life. So that’s what I’m going to start telling people.”
“The other research I did for ‘Little Pretty Things’ was into hotels—no. Motels. I needed some good examples of the things you encountered in a place like the Mid-Night Inn, so I asked my Facebook page readers to send in ideas. One sent in a photo of a place he’d driven past. It was a lot of fun to compare my ideas against what other people remembered about bad motels. I haven’t stayed in one in a while. I’d be a better person if I’d stayed in a few in the name of research.”
In addition to her writing, Rader-Day also teaches writing classes at StoryStudio Chicago. She teaches how to write mysteries and covers techniques like clues and misdirection. Rader-Day said she loves to talk about writing, but it feels strange to be at the front of the room because she feels she still has much to learn.”
For more information about Lori Rader-Day, visit her website at loriraderday.com.