In Conversation With: Liz Strange on crime fiction and developing her protagonist over a series
Liz Strange was born and raised in Kingston, Ontario, where she still resides. She is a massive horror fan, vampire enthusiast and self-confessed sci-fi nerd. Mythology and historical mysteries have long enthralled her, and you will often find them touched upon in her works. You can find out more about Liz at www.lizstrange.com.
Liz's novel Missing Daughter, Shattered Family has just been shortlisted for an Independent Literary Award, recommended and voted on by independent literary bloggers.
Julie Wilson: Your previous novels have been in the horror/vampire genre. Why the jump to crime fiction?
Liz Strange: I have always been a big fan of mysteries and crime fiction, right back to my childhood days of reading the Three Investigators series. I enjoy the works of authors like Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Michael Slade, Karen Slaughter and many others. I had a story idea that I kept coming back to so I just decided to give it a try.
I like playing with the idea that monsters aren’t just stories, or figments of people’s imagination, but that they walk among us every day. People are capable of doing some truly terrible things to other humans, and I wanted to explore that in the novel. This also weaves its way into my protagonist's personal life as well; it was a monstrous act against him that had far-reaching effects in all areas of his life. It forced a change in career, left physical damage and he carries around emotional scars that are so painful he doesn’t even want to acknowledge they exist.
The challenge for me in this was keeping the pacing steady and making sure to neatly tie together all the threads of the story. I also needed to be careful to plant the seeds of what may have happened and yet keep enough back to keep the reader guessing. It’s a fine line between what is enough and what’s too much information.
JW: Missing Daughter, Shattered Family (MLR Press) is the first installment in David Lloyd Investigations. What draws you to series?
LS: I love series. There’s something so comfortable and enjoyable about coming back to a character, or set of characters you know. It’s also an opportunity to delve into more background or have themes/storylines that can carry over from one book to the next, as happens in David Lloyd Investigations. Whenever I get to a bookstore the first thing I do is look up my favourite authors to see if they have any new installments in their respective series. I don’t know what I’ll do when Sue Grafton gets to Z!
Ultimately, I would like my readers to really invest themselves in the characters in my series, and come to the books for personal touches and relationship aspects as well as the central mystery or crime driving the story. I want them to care what happens to the characters, and look forward to the twists and turns life will throw at them.
Some of the series I enjoy personally are Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta, Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mysteries, Michael Slade’s Special X series (which is a wonderful blend of horror and crime fiction), and Kathy Reich’s Temp Brennan series. The Michael Slade series is particularly interesting to me since it’s Canadian, and he provides a wealth of information about Canadian history, politics and has a unique insight into our justice system from having worked as a federal prosecutor for many year. Reading those books is not only entertaining, it’s like getting an education.
JW: The David Lloyd Investigations series is set in Toronto. What about the city draws you in?
LS: I really wanted to keep a Canadian setting for these books, and thought a bigger city would offer more situations for David to get involved in. I only know Toronto superficially in that I come for short visits, but writing this story allowed me to do some research on the history of the city, the geographical layout, even how the police force is divided and regulated. I like my settings to feel real, something that readers can experience and connect with, whether they’ve been to the location or not. The story is also set in the winter months and anyone whose lived in Canada will be able to relate to the experience on the pages.
Plus Toronto is close to my hometown and by that became an extension of my own world.
JW: The character of David Lloyd was hurt in a brutal homophobic attack that prompted a change in vocation from cop to private investigator. The attack brings to light issues of honesty (with one's own life) and betrayal (at the hands of one's peers). What was the impetus for this personal tragedy and how will it continue to unravel throughout the rest of the series?
LS: The attack on David was inspired by a real-life incident that happened a few years back in my hometown. A young officer was out one evening and was jumped by several guys and stabbed. It was a retaliation crime — the men had been arrested by the officer — so I took the general story and gave it my own spin. Changing it to a homophobic attack comes from my strong support of the LGBT community, and a belief that all people should be free to be their own person, not judged or discriminated against because of race, religion or any other reason.
This changed David in many ways. He was forced to face the reality that people still hold on to these prejudices, and that just because he has come to terms with his sexuality doesn't mean things will always go smoothly for him. That, and the fact that no one was ever charged for the crime, so it continues to hang over his head, something that will carry on through several books. David knows who attacked him; he just needs to find a way to prove it.
JW: Have you always been drawn to stories that explore the less savoury side of humanity?
LS: This makes me sound so dark! But, yes, I do enjoy reading about monsters, both real and imagined. I find it fascinating. Now I also enjoy dance, art and musical theatre, which doesn’t quite seem to fit together.
I’m also a huge history and mythology nerd. And I love my sci-fi/fantasy.
JW: As a child, what were some of your favourite books? Have you passed along any of these to your own children?
LS: My very first favourite book was The Monster’s Nose was Cold by Joan Hanson. Even though it’s out of print I still have a copy and it makes me tear up every time I read it. I also really like The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, which I think appealed to my interest in history/culture even back then. I like to re-read it every few years.
My children have varied preferences in their reading. My son enjoys true crimes novels and biographies, which I almost never read. He went through a phase where he read every book in the Warriors and Seekers series, a kid’s fantasy line. He also likes The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
My girls are younger and just moving into chapter books. Right now they’re reading a series by Geronimo Stilton that has fantastic titles like Creepella Von Cacklefur: Meet Me In Horrorwood! They also like the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus, Roald Dahl and any Disney themed books. When they’re older I hope to get them reading the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. I’d like to track down that Three Investigator series and give them a read again.
As a child, I moved on to adult books quite quickly; I always read above my age/grade level. My parents were both big readers and we had hundreds of books in our house. I remember getting my hands on a Stephen King novel at about ten or eleven and that was it. It was Salem’s Lot and it definitely triggered my love of dark subject matter.