Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay psychological suspense novels. The series has been critically-acclaimed and won twelve awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 and a Random House Editors’ Book of the Month. All four books have reached the Top 10 in the thriller genre of Amazon best-sellers.
In regards to writing thrillers, Suspense Magazine says she’s “the leader of the pack,” while International Thriller Writers claims Laurie has “cracked the code” of penning psychological suspense. Laurie is active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a former board member of Sisters in Crime. Recently, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Laurie as a director on the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains – the parkland setting of her books.
Laurie lives in the mountains with her husband, two snakes, and a cat.
We’re talking today with author Laurie Stevens about her award winning Gabriel McRay novels.
Jann: The books in your Gabriel McRay psychological suspense series, The Mask of Midnight, Deep into Dark, The Dark Before Dawn, and In Twlight’s Hush have received great reviews. When developing this series, did you start with character or plot?
Laurie: I developed the series around two characters: Gabriel McRay and Dr. Ming Li. Psychology and forensics interest me, and both characters epitomize my interests. Not only that, but given the traits of the two characters, I could have fun playing with the stereotypical roles of men and women. Gabriel must explore his inner mind, while Ming is the more brazen and the steadier of the two.
Jann: Gabriel McRay is such a rich and brilliantly flawed main character. What can you tell us about him?
Laurie: Gabriel suffered a trauma as a child and brought his issues into adulthood. Men, historically, have been taught to cover their weaknesses, which Gabriel did for many years. But his symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder influence his behavior, his relationships with women (in particular Dr. Ming), and his general outlook on life, which in the first book is pretty dismal. Through Gabriel, I wanted to highlight a journey to recovery. What makes Gabriel unique is his desire to become a more content man. He wants his relationship with Ming to work, he wants to feel accepted and have friends. He’s honest with himself in that regard and it spurs him on to find different ways to heal. In fact, the murder cases he solves in each book trigger a pivotal point in his healing process.
Laurie: Very good question. In book 4, Gabriel achieves a sense of enlightenment. I’ve been told (and I’m glad for it) that the entire feel of the book is “lighter.” Gabriel has done a lot of work on himself; he’s heeded his life lessons, and now it shows. He is able to solve a cold case involving a teenage girl who went missing over thirty years ago because he has developed a more open mind. That is the premise of the book.
Jann: Villains!! You create great villains. How do you do it? What’s your process?
Laurie: Mark Twain said, “Everyone is like the moon and has a dark side, which he never shows anybody.” Scary as that sounds, it’s probably true. While I’m not sure how much of myself is reflected in those “bad characters,” I can say that I have put a lot of research into the faulty human psyche.
My process begins with deciding what psychological issues the character has. With one female villain (no spoilers here), she’s mostly a space cadet. But what makes her act so spaced-out? Her issue, of course. She lives in a fantasy world, and has some good reasons to be there.
I will read lots of articles or even a book that highlights the particular issue. The research gives me the bones of the character. All I have to do is flesh her out. I’m not going to say the research can take you to a very dark place.
While researching the character of Victor Archwood, I spoke with one of the top forensic profilers in the nation. He determines if a criminal is competent to stand trial. This doctor has interviewed infamous and dangerous people. I asked him, “As a psychiatrist, do you see the human in the monster?” His reply surprised me. He said, “No. Some people are truly evil.” That confounded me. As an author, I had to decide, do I make Victor simply a demon? Evil for evil’s sake? That didn’t sit well. I’ve always heard that if you’re going to create an adversary, make him or her a worthy adversary. I decided to create a character that, bad as he is, has issues that someone, somewhere will identify with and have sympathy for. To garner sympathy can make a villain more interesting and possibly scarier than a monster.
Jann: I understand that the series is currently be shopped for adaptation to episodic television. Can you share anything about this venture?
Laurie: I’d like to share something I think will be interesting to book authors. The producer and agent asked my help in creating the sales pitch. First, I was asked to condense each book into a one page synopsis. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll know it’s not easy. Still, I did it and thought, whew! Finished.
Then, they asked if I could forget the idea of 4 separate books and revise the synopses into one long overview of the plot. So, I revised each synopsis and created “one long overview” — again, in about four pages. I thought, whew! Finished. Then, they asked, “Where do you think you would place cliff-hanging breaks in your “overview?” So, I quit thinking of what I’d written as a book plot and instead viewed it as the plot of a screenplay. That’s when I had fun. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I broke the “overview” down into 5 episodes. Would I prefer 30? Of course, but that might be a harder sell. Now, you authors should get to work with these 3 steps and create screen episodes out of your opus!
Jann: What’s next? Another book for Gabriel? Are you working on something new?
Laurie: I have been asked to create another Gabriel book, one that brings back the villain Victor Archwood. I did leave an open door in “In Twilight’s Hush” that allows me to do this. In the meantime, I switched genres. I’m working on a literary fiction novel, which challenges me to ramp up my game as a writer.
I also co-wrote (and just completed) a rom-com/thriller screenplay.
Jann: On a personal note, I hear you found a rattlesnake coiled in your closet. I have a fear of snakes of any type. What did you do?
Laurie: I heard what sounded like a sprinkler running or a punctured soda can about to explode. I could not figure out where the darn sound was coming from. I looked around, and there it was: coiled and shaking its rattle. I called to my husband, “Steven! We’ve got a rattler in our closet.” He produced this pole with a pincher on the end and carefully gripped the snake. I opened a big plastic container. My husband placed the snake inside, let it go, and I closed the lid. We then hiked up our hill and let the critter loose. When my cat came into our room, I could tell he’d been after that snake because he went around the room sniffing then jumping back. Sniffing, then jumping back. Yes, this could have gone wrong in many ways. Thankfully, no one was hurt, including the snake.
Jann: What’s the best thing about being an author?
Laurie: We can, and are encouraged to, live in our own little worlds.
Jann: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Laurie: Music, reading a book or watching a show I admire. Oftentimes, I get frustrated with politics or a societal issue, and that will drive me right to my writing.
Jann: Where can we get your books?
Jann: Do you have a website, blog, twitter where fans might read more about you and your books?
Laurie: Would love to connect:
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Laurie: Write as if your words make a difference. They do.
Jann: Thank you so much for talking with us today Laurie. This has been so much fun. All four novels in your Gabriel McRay thriller series are terrific and take the reader on a great ride. For more information on each book in the series, click on the covers below.
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