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.
She marketed a world-class spa when it was still called a gym, did business in China before there were western toilettes at the Great Wall and mucked around with the sheep to find out exactly how her client’s fine wool clothing was manufactured. Then Rebecca wrote her first book and found her passion. Now, over twenty-five books later, she is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author and writes full-time, penning thrillers that explore the emotional impact of the justice system. She earned her B.A. at Loyola, Chicago and her MBA at Loyola, Los Angeles. Rebecca has taught the Business of Creativity at University of California Long Beach Writers Certificate Program, UCLA and UC Irvine extension. Married to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, she is the mother of two grown sons and spends her free time traveling, sewing, and playing tennis.
Josie Bates is back in Lost Witness the eighth thriller in the Witness series.
It’s two in the morning and an aging cargo ship lies off the Port of Los Angeles. Deep in the bowels of the vessel, an important man is dead and the woman who killed him is mortally wounded. On shore another man staggers out of the sea determined to save the woman before she dies or the ship sails. Exhausted and terrified, he goes to the only person he trusts to help, Josie Bates. He brings with him a history she can’t ignore, a problem that seems insurmountable, and a plea she can’t refuse. But Josie is up against international law, maritime justice, a Port Authority that doesn’t want anything to get in the way of profit, the U.S. Coast Guard who dances to the tune of politics and a captain who swears the people in question were never on his ship. With the clock ticking, Josie becomes ever more desperate to prove the woman is real and get her safely ashore. What Josie doesn’t know is that the sands of time that are running out may be her own.
Begin by writing the complete story—beginning to end—the way you truly imagine it. Write with precision honesty without the fear of hurting anyone.
When done writing, evaluate what you have created. It is in the editing stage where you will objectively be able to decide how to share the story publicly without hurting anyone. If the finished story is meant to be fiction, you can go back and make sure physical identifiers that link to nonfiction people (like a skull tattoo on the left arm above a knife scar) are changed to protect the innocent or the not-so-innocent.
If someone has inspired you to recreate their character in a fictional world, rest assured your depiction of their internal thoughts, feelings, and motivations won’t be the tipoff that the character is loosely based on this real person; it will be the physical attributes that you choose.
Most people don’t recognize themselves in someone else’s writing unless they are told the character is modeled after them or the physical facts are eerily the same: age, body build, hair color, scars, name, physical location, profession, relationships with others, or facts from exact encounters are replayed in the work.
If the story you are telling is meant to be nonfiction, you have a different issue. In a biography or a memoir, you need to tell the truth as you know it, but you must also share your truth in a way that can be formally substantiated by the research of others. If you are afraid you might hurt someone by telling the truth in your work and you are naming names across your work, you need to consult an attorney before publication because hurting feelings may result in a lawsuit.
Cue dramatic music:
Deep Voice Over: The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent.
That’s a start. Every writer works from what they know — even if they’re writing about elves and spaceships and unicorns. Our own experiences are what we draw on to launch our imagination. And it’s the real-life situations that often give a writer the rich soil for a gripping tale.
Just write the story. When you’ve laid it all out, step away for some distance then read it with fresh eyes to spot what might be so obvious as to be hurtful. If you find the narrative is obvious, even though it is based loosely on family and friends, then consider what the compelling idea is in this tale. What was the single most gripping element that made you want to write about it in the first place? Take that compelling idea and re-write from that prospective.
Or just start with that single compelling idea rather than with the cast of friends and family. Stories have a way of charting their own course and it’s very likely, that with that shift in perspective your story will be unique enough to withstand the scrutiny of sensitive family and friends.
I have used family and friends for inspiration in many of our books. For the most part if I didn’t tell the individual who inspired me, they did not recognize themselves. If I did tell them I was going to do it, most of them were thrilled.
Then there came a time when I happily told my sister I had used our age differences as the foundational inspiration for my story. (she is fourteen years younger than I am and we were born on the same day). She was thrilled–until she read the book. She asked, “Is this really what you think of me?” To be fair she was the bitchy, beautiful sister accused of murder, and I was the smart but downtrodden attorney who saves her.
It had nothing to do with real life other than the span in our ages. Still, when she asked that question, I understood that there was a difference between inspiration and hitting close to home including the perception of hitting close to home.
The answer was, no, the character in no way was my sister. Their physical characteristics were the same, not their character.
What you’re talking about is even more delicate. You are going to be exploring actual things that happened to you and your family. If this is an honest memoir you need to be ready for the fallout. If this is fiction, you’ll need to be very skillful when you write to navigate the hurt feelings—or worse— that might arise. Ask yourself a) is this book is necessary to your well-being and b) if you are strong enough to face any and all consequences that will come with writing it. You are the only one who knows the answers.
Ooooh *eyes widen* “awaits gossip*
I think the only way to do that is to write under a pseudonym and don’t tell them about it. People aren’t always as stupid as we hope they are. They’ll figure out it’s them in no time!
Ever wonder what industry professionals think about the issues that can really impact our careers? Each month The Extra Squeeze features a fresh topic related to books and publishing.
Amazon mover and shaker Rebecca Forster and her handpicked team of book professionals offer frank responses from the POV of each of their specialties — Writing, Editing, PR/Biz Development, and Cover Design.
I found the rooftop garden because of Captain America. We’ve become close friends, he and I. He depends on me for fresh greens, and I depend on him to keep me from taking the last step off the ledge.
The electricity blinked off citywide five weeks ago, but the evenings aren’t as dark as you’d think. There’s the residual glow in the sky long after sunset, and the ants that crawl along the windowsill in the kitchen give off a greenish hue, like those plastic glow sticks kids wear around their wrists at birthday parties—or used to, before. The Captain is crepuscular, so he rustles around just at dusk, but then falls fast asleep as I watch the clouds on the horizon with wide eyes, such an unnatural pink against the faint sprinkle of stars.
Except for me and the Captain on the sixth floor, no one else is left in this building. Before, I sometimes had to turn on my white noise app to mask the street traffic and my neighbor Javier’s blasting salsa music. Now the only sounds are the distant whine of a massive piece of machinery spinning into oblivion, fed by its emergency generator, and the thumps and rattles of my building, trying to decide how much longer it will remain upright.
The evening is my favorite time of day now. Before, I lived for the morning, up before the alarm, out the door, at work in my cubicle in the financial district a few minutes before eight. Daytime reminds me of everything I no longer have–that the city no longer has. Maybe even beyond? It’s hard to say. With no juice to charge my phone, it’s been dead since four days after. That hardly matters because I lost coverage after a day. My parents live in Florida; maybe all is well there.
For some freakish reason, the plumbing still works. When life was normal, leaky faucets and cold showers were the stuff I commiserated about with my friends. Now, I wake each morning worried that the toilet will at last stop cycling or my kitchen tap will run dry. But they keep on filling and pouring.
Once they do quit, I’ll need to leave this place. I’ve been living on canned food, heating it on my tiny balcony with the mini Weber grill I hardly ever used, before. Without electricity, my fridge isn’t much help to store perishables. In the beginning, I helped myself to the romaine and tomatoes and strawberries at the corner market; with no one around, there was no use letting it go to waste. But that has long rotted, so my visits now are to fill my cloth grocery bag with whatever cans I can carry in one trip. It’s decidedly creepy to crawl through the rubble of a dead city—no cars passing, no people yelling into their phones, no trucks trudging to collect the garbage left decomposing at curbside.
The Captain isn’t mine. Captain America isn’t his real name either. He lived on the fourth floor, and I found him in the first few days after. Guinea pigs whistle when they’re hungry or need something, and he was setting up a racket I could hear from my sixth-floor window. I went searching, taking the stairs, of course, since the elevators ran on the energy grid. He was sitting in a 2-foot wire cage, looking at me with big, soulful eyes (and big teeth), and I picked him up, his tawny fur as soft as a kitten’s.
“Hello, there, Captain,” I whispered.
It was another living thing, not counting the immortal ants and roaches. But what did I know about guinea pigs? A city branch library is about three blocks from my building, so I went looking for a book to tell me, a tough hunt given that the online catalog was offline and the lights were out. If you need to know, guinea pig books are in section 636.9—with books on other small mammals like rabbits and hamsters.
Before, I liked looking out onto the courtyard between my building and the next one, where an older fellow named Pete raised tomatoes and squash and tried to keep the squirrels from taking bites out of them. Now the courtyard floor is buried in debris, and Pete and the squirrels have vanished along with the pigeons.
Just after I brought the Captain home, and desperate for some kind of greens for him, I located the entrance to the building roof. As I popped open the steel door, the earthy scent of soil washed over me and there it was: Three long aisles containing flat after flat of lettuces, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and more lettuce. I stood for several minutes, not believing my find. The wind picked up and a pelting rain fell, the first since before. I felt both drenched to the bone and refreshed, watching as the droplets ran down the lettuce leaves and dripped off the ends, exuding a faint bluish glow even by the light of day. My arms and legs—and likely my head—also glowed faintly in the dampness.
Later, with the Captain asleep and night descending, I pondered this new world where the sky was pink and the rain was blue. A line had been drawn for humanity. What I would find when the Captain and I finally struck out from the city? Would we meet masses of people who had fled … or no one? Or maybe, I thought, I’m crazy, and the world is still normal, but I just can’t see it.
It is now day forty after, forty empty days and forty empty nights. I am harvesting more romaine leaves and anxiously watching the new shoots I have planted poke out from the soil. Then I hear someone. They are walking on the street below, whistling. I slip to the roof edge to listen—it’s an old folk song, “For the Times They Are A-Changin’.”
Despite our catastrophic reality, a sense of humor.
“Hey,” I shout, but he doesn’t look up, doesn’t seem to hear me.
I run for the stairs—eight flights to street level—will I make it before he’s gone? I take the steps two at a time, then three. The Captain and I are not alone after all.
Dianna is a contributing author in the recent Bethlehem Writers Group anthology, Untethered, Sweet, Funny & Strange Tales of the Paranormal. A man buys a painting of a jungle scene that is so realistic it seems to change in “Point of View.” She has also contributed stories for the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable ezine, including “In the Delivery.”
Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
Dianna also has a regular column, Quill and Moss, here on A Slice of Orange.
After four seasons without a single offer of marriage, Lady Maxine Pearson realizes perfection is decidedly overrated.More info →
Her Knight In Shining Armor Came Armed With A Colt .45More info →