Inspired by The Motto, "No kick"
ASP: You were inspired by a news story of the murder of Janet Downing, an elderly woman in Somerville, MA, murdered by a teenage boy in 1995. Of all the subjects to write about, what made you pick this one for your first novel?
PF: The questions that Janet Downing’s murder raised for me partially inspired the novel, but the case itself had little do with the story I ended up telling. Seductive Ali Mather, the victim in The Liar's Diary, couldn’t be more unlike the hardworking single mother killed in Somerville; and in my novel, the teenage boy is not the perpetrator of the crime. However, I believe all novels begin with questions that the writer wants to answer for him or herself, and that case incited several in my mind: I wanted to know how a popular boy from a well-respected family could become so disturbed without anyone knowing it—particularly his parents. I also felt a lot of empathy for the victim, who believed someone was entering her home and tampering with her things, but who couldn’t convince anyone to listen to her. I wondered how it felt to live with that subtle menace for months, and if she had ended up questioning herself. Those two elements insinuated their way into my novel.
Though there is a murder in The Liar’s Diary, it’s not a conventional mystery. The crime comes very near the end of the story and is not the heart of the book. What my novel is really about is poisonous friendship, obsessive love, and the things we often do inside families that are more deadly than murder.
ASP: Are you particularly interested in mysteries, police work? Do you follow this type of news on a regular basis?
PF: Strangely, I don’t read many mysteries; nor do I follow crime stories with particular avidity. However, I’m very interested in what people do when they’re pushed to extremes—and why they do it. I enjoy creating suspense for the reader—and for myself—but my real interest lies in exploring the complex reasons why a crime is committed, rather than simply “whodunit.”
ASP: What compelled you to sit down and write a full length novel?
PF: I’d written two unpublished novels before—“practice novels” I like to call them. It seems to be what I was born to do.
ASP: How long did it take?
PF: The first draft was written rather quickly—in just under three months, but then it was revised several times. Altogether, it was about a year before I felt ready to query agents.
ASP: Have you written and published work before? Is writing one of your passions?
PF: Writing is my all-consuming passion and always has been. I started writing in grammar school, and haven’t stopped since. In my twenties and thirties, I published poetry and fiction in over fifty literary journals, won two fellowships from the state arts council, and several prizes for my work. However, I had to wait till my four children were older to have the kind of sustained focus and time that a novel demands.
ASP: After you finished the novel, how did you get the book published?
PF: I bought a book called The Guide to Literary Agents and studied it like a gambler studies poker manuals. Then I wrote the most compelling query letter I could and sent it to a group of agents.
ASP: Did you have offers from several agents?
PF: I was fortunate to have offers from three agents, which gave me a chance to choose the one who was right for me. It’s often been said that the wrong agent can be worse than none at all. For me, it was very important to find an agent who really understood my work, as well as one with whom I felt totally comfortable.
ASP: After you signed on with your agent, what happened next?
PF: My agent gets heavily involved in the editing process, which is definitely something I need. We spent several months working on the novel before she submitted it to any publishing houses.
ASP: Now that your novel is published, what do you find the most difficult and most pleasurable about the publishing business?
PF: It’s incredibly pleasurable to walk into a bookstore, and see my novel on the shelf, or to hear from a reader from across the country who loved the book. I’ve also traveled to some amazing cities while promoting the novel, and I’ve made a legion of new friends. But maybe most pleasurable experience of all was when I got to quit my day job and stay home to write.
As far as the negatives go, the business is extremely capricious and competitive. Review space is increasingly limited, and it’s a real challenge for a debut author to get the word out about his or her work.
ASP: You’re working on a second novel now. Will that be similar in genre to The Liar’s Diary?
PF: Yes, the new novel is also psychological suspense that is both character driven and strongly plotted.
ASP: What advice do you have for anyone who is interested in becoming an author?
PF: Be passionate. Be disciplined. Be persistent.
About the Interviewer
Anthony S. Policastro has been writing all his life first as a journalist, editor, and professional photographer and then as a freelance writer with his work published in The New York Times, Oceans, Diversion, and American and Popular Photographer magazines. He was also the editor-in-chief of Carolina Style magazine, a regional lifestyle publication similar to Southern Living magazine with national distribution. He is currently writing his fourth novel.