Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago, and others. Visit her here. To read a sample chapter from The Black Hour, click here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The Black Hour. How did you get the idea for it?
In THE BLACK HOUR, sociology professor Amelia Emmet is returning from a forced year off after being shot by a student she didn’t know. Since he shot himself, too, and died, she can’t understand—or ask—why she was targeted, but in her absence, lots of people have had some thoughts on the issue. She and a graduate student who wants to stick close to her for his own reasons look into it and get into lots of trouble, together and separately. The idea came to me sort of suddenly. I work for a university, so of course this sort of thing is relevant to my life, but it was the first day back that came to me. What if? Writers play the what-if game to get their ideas, and I thought what if a campus shooter left questions that started the rumor mill. Victims of crime get a raw deal in all kinds of ways, so I was interested in that more than the actual shooting, which happens off the page.
NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? Campus violence is a very relevant current theme and am surprised why so few writers have tackled it, maybe because it’s a sensitive subject, right?
It took me two and a half years to write the first draft. I wish I wrote faster, but you do what you can do. I work full-time, so I had to write during lunch hours, evenings, weekend, and vacations. I wrote 10,000 words of The Black Hour on a cruise ship.
As to writers taking on the topic, some have—but not many because it’s a tough topic. Some of the interviews I’ve done have called on me to prescriptive on the issue, but of course I can’t be. If I had the answers, I’d put them forward. Writing about issues like this open you up to that sort of attention, and of course it’s depressing to think about. So maybe other writers are smarter than I am…
NAW- Tell us about the character of Amelia Emmet. How did you develop the character?
Amelia is angry, scared, frustrated. The way you’d be if you were shot. But she’s also outspoken, so all that is worn on the outside and made visible and audible. She doesn’t make people comfortable with their own fears. But she’s also funny and a good person, and I enjoyed spending time with her as I wrote the book. It was important to me that she be someone worth spending time with, because the thing that has happened to her is so dark. I’m glad other people have enjoyed her, too. She developed over time, through revision—some of her backstory and life-time worries came late in the game once I understood her better. I think characters are richer if you give them a little time. I guess that’s one way my slow drafting process has worked for me.
NAW- Tell us about the research you carried out for the book.
I didn’t research the topics you might think I did. I didn’t research actual campus shootings, for instance, because I wanted my story to be fully fiction. What I researched was sociology, which is Amelia Emmet’s area of expertise. There’s a scene in which she returns to the classroom for the first time, and she needed to be saying something. I read a textbook to figure out what she might say to 101 students on the first day of classes. That scene ended up being a favorite for me.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
Well, I work a day job, which cuts acutely into my time, and then there’s the writing. Other than that, I read, I play with my dog, I try not to let my house be consumed by dog-hair tumbleweeds. I’m extremely fond of Simon Pegg and Pixar movies, BBC Sherlock, and Big Bang Theory reruns I’ve seen six hundred times apiece. I’m also active in my local chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?
I love Tana French, Louise Penny, Catriona McPherson, Clare O’Donohue, Charles Todd, William Kent Krueger, and Denise Mina, just to name a few mystery writers. Of course I love Agatha Christie, but my influences are probably more along the lines of Gillian Flynn, whose book DARK PLACES made me realize what kind of mysery writer I wanted to be, and that it was possible to be that kind of mystery writer.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I haven’t had much time for reading lately, but I’ve read the new book by Lynne Raimondo, DANTE’S POISON and the upcoming third book in Terry Shames’s series DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK, and they are both great. I miss reading. One of the hardest truths about being a writer is that you lose a lot of your reading time to writing.
NAW- What will you be working on next?
My next mystery is LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, out July 2015 from Seventh Street Books. Juliet Townsend is working below her ambitions as a cleaner in a run-down roadside motel in her hometown when her estranged high school best friend and rival arrives in town. What might have been a reunion is cut short when Juliet discovers her friend’s dead body, and decides to get to the bottom of it.