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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, July 16, 2012 12:36 pm
Hostile Questions: Lisa Unger
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

Always on the lookout for a way to take my interviewees down a peg or two, I began shuffling through the thick resume of Lisa Unger. Eleven novels? International bestseller status?! Beloved by critics and readers alike?!? How do I combat all that? Fear not, gentle reader. For there is always the humiliation of masterfully executed RHYME. [Clears throat, adjusts monocle.]

“Read Lisa Unger, / especially if you like to have fun-ger. / And if you develop a hung-er / for books that aren’t made of dung-er, / the to the library you shall run-ger / before they are left with none-ger.

I’m here all week, folks.

Lisa Unger: Writer, Mom, Stander in Front of Red Things.

Just who do you think you are?

I wish I had something sexy to say, something that would blow you away with how cool I am. But, honestly, I am just a girl who never wanted to do anything else but write. I am also the mom of a six-year-old who really would blow you away with her extreme coolness. I am a wife of a guy who helped me make all of my dreams come true. I am the daughter of an engineer who was none too enthusiastic about my choice of profession — but who is fine now that he realizes he won’t have to support me. Luckily, my mother was a librarian from whom I inherited my love of story. She told me to always be myself and to do my best. And that’s what I do – in life and on the page. I think that covers it. I hope I didn’t leave anything out. Anyway, the last thing I need is another existentialist crisis. So back off.

Where do you get off?

I get off in Florida, though in my heart I’ll probably always be a New Yorker. I lived in New York City for 13 years before I traded in concrete for white sand beaches and the sound of wind in the palm trees. Though I was raised all over, I’ll always think of New York City as the place where I grew up. I went to college and spent my early adulthood there. Of course, prior to all of that I had a white hot love affair with the place. I never wanted to be anywhere else. But a trip to Key West changed my life. I met my husband at Sloppy Joe’s on Duvall Street, and within six months I had quit my big corporate job, sold my Brooklyn Heights apartment, and moved to Florida. I never thought we’d stay. But 12 years later, here we are. Though I still spend a great deal of time in New York City — just gave up a rental and am currently in the market for an apartment — Florida is our “most home” as my daughter would say.

What’s the big idea?

The big idea for my latest novel Heartbroken is a scary island in the middle of a cold grey lake. Three women, who couldn’t be more different from each other, are drawn to the same point on a map. They are each keeping secrets, and they are each about to face consequences for their actions – some of them dire. Meanwhile a storm is brewing, and cell phone reception is spotty. And Heart Island, a place that means something different to each of them, is keeping secrets of its own. The big idea is to scare people silly and to keep them up all night, of course. But it’s also to answer some questions I have about family, ghosts, and unintended consequences.

What is your problem, man?

I am kind of a nice girl at heart, so I don’t like to talk trash. But since you asked, I do have a bone or two to pick. I have a problem with mean people – you know who they are. People who just seem to delight in making other people feel terrible, who actually can’t seem to feel good unless someone else feels bad. [Ed note: Hostile Questions tugs at collar, whistles innocently.]

Also, I have trouble with people who are perpetual screw-ups. They know right from wrong, good from bad. They just can’t seem to make the right choices. And when they screw up, they generally ruin other lives in the process. These two types of people have really been bugging me lately, so I guess it’s no surprise that there are some people like that in Heartbroken. The page is where I figure out most of the things that are bothering me.

Haven’t you done enough?

I hope not. Am I being asked to leave? I don’t remember a time before I was writer. I’ve been writing since long before I was published. And I’ll be writing even if I never publish another word. I think writers are born and not made. It’s a congenital condition, a disease. And hopefully you find out what’s wrong with you early on, otherwise you might find yourself institutionalized rather than published. So if there’s an off switch, I don’t know where it is. And if I stopped writing, it wouldn’t be a question of what I would do if not that. It would be a question of what I am, if not that. And there you go, bringing on another existential crisis.

You’re kind of a mean interviewer.

3 Responses to “Hostile Questions: Lisa Unger”
  1. Jerry Jackson Says:

    Classic case of some of the people sometimes versus all the the people all of the time. Shower him with (paperback)copies of your old and new work (nice), as well as an application for his local library (not so nice). Just my thoughts…

  2. Jerry Jackson Says:

    Classic case of some of the people sometimes versus all the people all of the time. Shower him with (paperback)copies of your old and new work (nice), as well as an application for his local library (not so nice). Just my thoughts…

  3. Bonnie Bailey lam Says:

    Love your books, your thoughts and especially your attitude!


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