Saturday, July 16, 2022

Rachel Howzell Hall Interview - We Lie Here

Photo Content from Rachel Howzell Hall

Rachel Howzell Hall is the critically acclaimed author and Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist for And Now She’s Gone. A New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister with James Patterson, Rachel is an Anthony, International Thriller Writers and Left Award nominee and the author of These Toxic Things, They All Fall Down, Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes and City of Saviors in the Detective Elouise Norton series. She is a past member of the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America and has been a featured writer on NPR’s acclaimed Crime in the City series and the National Endowment for the Arts weekly podcast; she has also served as a mentor in Pitch Wars and the Association of Writers Programs. Rachel lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
I learned that learning the rules of writing and grammar only helped me learn how to break those rules. I learned that I needed to do the work just to get the grade. I’m thinking specifically of an English teacher who always complained that my writing was too… dark, subject-matter-wise. It didn’t matter back in the 80s in a parochial school that I was an individual and personal liberty and all that. She’d mark down my essays because of her personal taste. Did I want to stay on this road and not get my A because of that? No. So I wrote fluffy, over-the-top, sweetly sick stories that she absolutely loved. Little did I know, I was learning how to change voice and write to an audience. This has helped me in what eventually became my day job as a writer in the nonprofit world.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I wouldn’t call it ‘worst’ or a ‘distraction’ but this was my daughter’s (and only child’s) last year in high school – in which her sophomore and junior years were interrupted by a pandemic. My focus shifted primarily to getting her into colleges, getting her through AP Biology, getting her back around people without her getting COVID-19, and keeping her safe in a world filled with evil. She’s always needed me, but that need was greater and so she became my focus and WE LIE HERE, a story about mothers and daughters, became secondary.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is how humans have learned since the beginning of time. We grasp difficult concepts easier when it’s told in an entertaining way. We get to identify with any character we want and follow them through that journey. We get to learn about someone’s world view and how they’d handle a situation. What was an easier story to learn: a story about a person believing that the storm of storms was coming and in order to save the world, he had to bring every animal on board, two by two – or the instruction manual on how to build an ark, with this many cubits of wood? It’s the ‘he warned the world, then brought the animals on, and his family survived and the rain came and you gotta have faith or else.’ People may choose not to believe it but they certainly listened to it…. And then created their own ‘world flooded for 40 days’ story that reflected their own culture and belief system.

This is why diverse storytelling and storytellers are so important. We can’t learn and grow if we only hear one type of story.

Can you tell us when you started WE LIE HERE, how that came about?
‘Family secrets’ is one of the major themes in my stories, and right now, I’m delving into this theme again with mothers and daughters – one woman just starting her journey and the other woman whose life’s journey is certainly not over but remains complicated and fascinating. We all lie – and sometimes, people forget the version of lie they’ve told. And so, I wanted to tell the story of that daughter discovering herself through her discovery of her mother—and the drama involved in that discovery.

We Lie Here also came about after I’d read a true crime story – I’m not going to tell you which, yet, because I don’t want to spoil the story. But again: lies, love and identity drove this true story. It resonated with me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
I care about my characters, even the evil ones. There’s a reason they are the way they are – nature or nurture. I like characters who aren’t entirely one way or another because I think human beings are far more complicated and as the saying goes, we’re each villains in someone else’s story. With writing, I found it easier to find the good in the antagonist than the protagonist, even though I identify more with protagonists.

Your Journey to Publication
I love the weirdness of true stories, the strangeness of people, relationships. I read almost everything just so I can know. You never know when you’ll need a quirky element for your story.

I wrote my first play in third grade -- “A Blue Monday” It offered a glimpse of my stories of the future. The heroine wakes up and everything goes wrong… I still have it. As a child and teen, I kept diaries and they still provide a great source of background material for my novels.

Books and stories have always been important to me. My parents were always supportive of me – didn’t give me a hard time when I said I wanted to get a literature degree from college. My husband is also supportive – he’s my first reader. Well, listener. I read aloud my chapters and he listens and offers critique.

I think I’ve shared this story before, but it was 1980, and it was a very-Temptations Christmas. Maybe it wasn’t. But I do know that I was ten years old, and a lover of books. My family and I sat around the living room, wrapping paper and opened gifts surrounding us. I had scored some cool things – a Love’s Baby Soft gift set, clothes and Connect Four. We opened presents youngest to oldest, and now, my sister opened her last gift. I was next and I kept eyeing my last gift – what I hoped was a set of books. Love’s Baby Soft was great but I was a reader, and I had told Mom that all I wanted were books. So. My sister opened her gift – yet one more doll.

Thrilling. My turn. I held my breath as I tore off the candy-cane wrapping paper. Something wasn’t right, though, but I pushed that item to the back of my mind with the other things I was usually anxious about.

The last shred of paper came away.

The living room fell silent – except for the Temptations. They were singing O Holy Night.

I turned the gift over in my hands. A mug and hot cocoa set. Not books.

Tears filled my eyes. Really.

My mother said, “What’s wrong?”

I said, “I wanted books.”

Mom blinked at me. “You’re kidding me.”

I blinked at her. Tears slipped down my face. “I wanted books. That’s all.”

She frowned. Said something—don’t remember exactly, but I do recall the words ‘spoiled little bitch’ or something similar.

There I was, surrounded by cool things bought with money my parents didn’t have, crying because I didn’t get books for Christmas.

I felt like crap years later, but even then, I had a book problem. And I still do.

What is the first job you have had?
I was a salesclerk in my first year of college at Miller’s Outpost. I didn’t last long. One night after closing, I was working on the Levi’s jean wall. And I forgot that I was up on the ladder at the very top and stepped back – and stepped back into space. I fell off the Levi’s wall ladder. I think that was my last day at Miller’s Outpost.

Best date you've ever had?
On the third date with my now-husband, he took me to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Allegria” at the Santa Monica Pier. There were only a few seats left and so he chose the closest seat. The catch was: one of those seats had an obstructed view. So he sat behind a pole the entire show just so that I could see French Canadian acrobatics. I loved the show. He bought me the soundtrack. We’ve been married for 26 years now.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
My daughter gets to sleep in this morning. No more high school.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
“Sweet honey in the rock, I look 52 this morning.”

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Lockjaw – I grew up in a canned foods household. We were never to put an open can still filled with food (my brightest memory is a can of cling peaches) in the fridge because you can get lockjaw.

A woman’s trip home reveals frightening truths in a twisty novel of murder and family secrets by the New York Times bestselling author of And Now She’s Gone and These Toxic Things.

TV writer Yara Gibson’s hometown of Palmdale, California, isn’t her first choice for a vacation. But she’s back to host her parents’ twentieth-anniversary party and find the perfect family mementos for the celebration. Everything is going to plan until Yara receives a disturbing text: I have information that will change your life.

The message is from Felicia Campbell, who claims to be a childhood friend of Yara’s mother. But they’ve been estranged for years—drama best ignored and forgotten. But Yara can’t forget Felicia, who keeps texting, insisting that Yara talk to her “before it’s too late.”

But the next day is already too late for Felicia, whose body is found floating in Lake Palmdale. Before she died, Felicia left Yara a key to a remote lakeside cabin. In the basement are files related to a mysterious tragedy, unsolved since 1998. What secrets was Felicia hiding? How much of what Yara knows about her family has been true?

The deeper Yara digs for answers, the more she fears that Felicia was right. Uncovering the truth about what happened at the cabin all those years ago will change Yara’s life—or end it.

You can purchase We Lie Here at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you RACHEL HOWZELL HALL for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of We Lie Here by Rachel Howzell Hall.