Kerry Lonsdale is the #1 Kindle and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the EVERYTHING series of suspense fiction. Her debut, EVERYTHING WE KEEP, reached over 1 million readers in the first year. The sequel, EVERYTHING WE LEFT BEHIND, came out last week from Lake Union Publishing. This week, Publishers Weekly announced her new 2-book, 6-figure deal for 2018/2019.
We sat down with Kerry over a cup of coffee and the Internet to chat about her writing process, her inspiration, and suggestions for new authors.
EVERYTHING WE KEEP was Aimee’s story, and EVERYTHING WE LEFT BEHIND largely follows the aftermath from James/Carlos’s point of view. How did you approach writing this world from two different angles?
Even though James and Carlos are the same man, I treated them as two distinct characters with similar goals. Their mannerisms and behavior are different, as is the cadence of their dialogue, so they weren’t too difficult to write. To also help distinguish the two, James’s chapters are written in 3rd person point of view, present tense and Carlos’s chapters are in first person point-of-view, past tense. The challenge arose in the timeline, which is quite complex. One timeline starts where the epilogue of Everything We Keep left off while the other picked up right after Aimee left Mexico, and the two timelines interchange chapter by chapter until the timelines merge. There’s a five year difference between the timelines at the beginning of the book and I had to keep a large spreadsheet of character ages, places, and what they knew, or were aware of, at the time.
In EVERYTHING WE LEFT BEHIND, you’re writing through the eyes of one character with two distinct personalities due to dissociative fugue. What were some of the difficulties or unforeseen joys?
With two distinct timelines, I essentially wrote two novellas, which was a challenge in and of itself. Like James’s two identities (himself and Carlos), the stories could stand on their own, but together they make the whole man. I intentionally alternated the timeline chapter by chapter and wrote the stories so they fed off each other. One story propels the other forward. I had great fun revealing something in James’s timeline then go more in-depth with that revelation in Carlos’s timeline in the following chapter.
You initially wrote your two previous novels as single-titles, and then EVERYTHING WE LEFT BEHIND came about as a sequel to your debut. How did you approach revisiting the world of EVERYTHING WE KEEP? How was it different from creating a world from scratch?
Writing Everything We Left Behind was like visiting with old friends at my favorite vacation spot. I do a lot of research on locations because I enjoy immersing my readers in the settings. Having done that research for Everything We Keep, it saved time before I delved into the sequel. I’d also recently vacationed in Kauai prior to writing the book, so the island (flavors, smells, textures) was fresh on my mind. Because of the plot in Everything We Keep, I had a fairly solid outline as to what happened to James. I needed that to build out the reveal and denouement in Everything We Keep. What was new to me in writing EWLB was getting to know James and Carlos.
What is it about the human psyche that fascinates you so?
Because our brains are mysterious. We can trick it into believing something as easily as it can trick us. But mostly, I’m fascinated with how life experiences, illness, and trauma affect memory, from amnesia to PTSD to Alzheimer’s. Do we truly lose memories (as we age) or do we lose our ability to retrieve the memories? Why does our brain block certain memories and how does it know when we’re ready to cope with those memories? I’m sure the answers are readily available thanks to Google. But I’m sure the root of that fascination stems from my grandfather who had Alzheimer’s.
How do you approach writing concepts of identity?
Through a lot of research. While my stories are fictional, I try to portray a character’s condition (whether fugue, dissociative identity disorder, or selective memory loss) as accurately as possible within the context of the plot. I can easily find information about medical causes, symptoms, and treatment, but what I really what to know is how a condition makes an individual feel. What are their emotions? How do they act and react because of their condition? That type of information is pertinent to writing concepts of identity but isn’t necessarily available through a search engine. I get those answers reading case studies and meeting people who’ve experience those conditions first hand, or know of someone with the condition. Researching dissociative fugue was a real challenge. It’s an extremely rare form of amnesia that some psychologists don’t believe exists. I extracted most of the information I needed from case studies, newspaper articles, and YouTube videos.
Your characters are so unique and multifaceted, with different layers of tension—it’s like they’re real people. Do you have any character tips for aspiring authors?
The first step in getting to know who your character is when the story opens is to know where they’ve come from and what they’ve done (good and bad). All of us today are products of our life experiences. It’s the same with characters. Before I start writing a novel, I outline a character’s backstory and I make sure that backstory has a role in forming who they are at the beginning of the novel. To further flesh out a character, I’ll figure out their family connections, career, and some basic physical attributes. Most of the fun stuff (ie, they’re allergic to pork, talk too much or too little) comes out during the writing and often surprises me.
You also read a lot. Speak to the importance of reading as a writer. And are there any new writers/novels that you particularly love?
Once you publish, and especially if your books do well, you’ll get a lot of early read requests to endorse (or provide a blurb for) a book. While that’s great and you get the added bonus of reading a free book, it’s important to leave time to read for your own enjoyment. To select the books you want to read. Reading is learning without noticing you’re learning. The more you read, the more you’ll pick up on writing style and phrasing and dialogue techniques you can instinctively apply to your own work. I recently finished an early read for Barbara Claypole White’s THE PROMISE BETWEEN US which publishes in 2018. I’ve read her other books and this is by far my favorite. If you like the mixture of suspense, mystery, and romance you find in my books, add Barbara’s to your wish list. You won’t be disappointed.
What makes for a good beach read?
I think a good beach read is any book you can get completely lost in, where you don’t notice the sun shifting overhead or the ice in your Mai Tai melting.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on Everything We Give, Ian’s story, and the third and final installment in the “Everything” series. Next is a stand-alone novel complete with a new set of characters and storyline. It too will have a good mix of suspense, mystery, and romance. I’m looking forward to writing this one.