In her latest novel, You Don't Want to Know, Lisa Jackson brings a woman's greatest nightmare to life: What if your family told you your child was dead, but you didn't know if you could believe them? We asked Jackson a few questions about scaring herself silly, the attractions of suspense and, of course, her pug.
You Don't Want to Know explores some very dark recesses of the mind. How do you write a character who cannot be trusted?
It was tough. Ava is a complicated character and I wanted to make her vulnerable, yet have an inner strength, even when she questioned her own sanity. I had to work to make certain that the fractured woman on the pages was not a frightened victim, that she had strength and resolve. Actually I loved writing about her; she became so real to me as she dealt with one of life’s most horrific tragedies—that of losing a child. She’s a fighter, even when everyone, herself included, seems against her.
What is your favorite thing about living in the Pacific Northwest? How does this region help inspire creepy stories?
I’ve always lived in the Pacific Northwest and what I love is the freshness of it and the surprises around every corner. You can have lunch at Timberline Lodge, high on Mount Hood in the craggy Cascade Mountains, even ski year round if you want, then three hours later, walk along the beach and have dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset. How fun is that? And the fog and the creepiness, the shadowy old-growth forests, the sheer cliffs that rise above a swirling surf? Talk about perfect for the kind of stories I write. There are tons of beautiful places on the earth, each with their unique qualities, but I really do love the place where I was born.
How are you able to tap into people's greatest fears?
We all have fears and they are usually pretty basic, even primal. What I try to do is scare myself in a suspenseful scene, fall in love in a romantic scene and get angry in an intense scene. It’s all about imagination, I guess. [To me] there’s a major gulf between a scary scene and a bloody scene. Suspense does not equal gore in my estimation. Suspense equals fear . . . oh, well, maybe a fear of gore! I just roll with what scares the devil out of me!
How do you keep from scaring yourself with your own stories?
Oh, I don’t. I want to scare myself! If there’s no thrill for me, there probably won’t be for my readers either, and I always try to give them the thrill ride of their lives. Kind of a fun job, yes?
What do you do when you need to lighten things up?
Personally, when a scene is too intense for me, as the author, I finish it and LEAVE the computer. I go out for a walk, do a crossword puzzle, play with the dog, go see a friend, do anything to take a complete break from what is going on in the book. To lighten things up within the pages, if that’s what you mean, I change point of view. I start another scene where the characters haven’t yet learned of whatever dastardly event has taken place in the intense scene. It’s to give the readers a break. I think not only the author needs a little breathing room, but the readers, too. It’s all about peaks and valleys or, maybe, more like a lie detector test print out . . . calm, calm, a twitch, oh, my intense swings, a twitch or two, calm, calm . . . that kind of thing.
Does your writing process differ when you're collaborating with your sister, Nancy Bush?
Oh, yes. Nancy and I are “in each other’s business” when she and I are working on a book. We plot it out together, taking into consideration each other’s advice, then, once the story line is approved, we kind of leapfrog through it. She writes, then I overwrite her scenes and go forward, then she overwrites my scenes and goes forward and on and on until the end of the book. When she and I write individual books, we offer “first read” advice or “plot” advice or “character” advice and a time or two she’s actually written a few scenes in my books, but it’s not as intensely unified as a project we co-write.
If you could hypnotize anyone and ask them one question, who would it be and what would you ask?
Wow, I just can’t single any one of them out. Okay, okay . . . let’s keep it to writing. I’d love to ask George R.R. Martin: “How in the world did you write those incredible books, create that world in your A Song of Ice and Fire series?” Seriously? How does he keep it all straight? Can you tell I’m a “Game of Thrones” fan?
You are a voice for a number of charities. How did you choose these charities, and why are they important to you?
I donate to a lot of charities, but those found on my website are the nearest and dearest for a variety of reasons. My compassion for animals led to my decision to put up the Southwestern Washington Humane Society and Equine Outreach listed on the site. These are only a couple of the organizations dedicated to the rescue of animals I support. As for Raphael House, it’s a Portland-based shelter for women and children who need a safe refuge from abuse. Though I’ve never been involved in an abusive relationship, I feel deeply for those who are threatened/abused by loved ones, the very people who vow to keep them safe! I can’t tolerate that kind of cruelty, nor abuse of animals. As for Molly Bears, this is a wonderful organization which puts teddy-type bears, made individually, into the arms of grieving parents who have lost an infant. As my family has experienced this kind of tragedy, I know personally the importance of the support for the pain that is almost a taboo topic. I encourage everyone to donate or volunteer to the cause of his/her choice. It’s important.
We love that you have a pug named Jackie O No! If you suddenly found yourself trapped in one of your own thrillers, would she be a good guard dog?
Oh . . . no! Unfortunately, I don’t think Jackie O No would come to my rescue. She is kind of “tough” around some other dogs, especially in her house or on a leash right beside me, but it’s all for show. Deep down, she’s pretty much a chicken. I’m thinking I’m a better “guard person” for her than she is “guard dog” for me!
What's next for you?
I’m lucky enough to have a lot of projects in the horizon. In December, Unspoken, a book I recently rewrote will be available and I’m also working on another “colony” book, Something Wicked, with sister Nan (author Nancy Bush.) Those are always fun! Also, next year I’ll have Ready to Die, the next in the Alvarez/Pescoli Montana series and a new book, which I think will be called Tell Me that brings back some of my popular characters, Detective Pierce Reed and reporter Nikki Gillette (first introduced in The Night Before and The Morning After) and set once again, in one of my favorite cities, Savannah, Georgia. So, I’m pretty busy and I LOVE it!!! How lucky am I?