Raised on military bases, L.E. Fraser's introduction to unique people and experiences fed a lifelong desire to write. Her books are full of thrills, interesting characters and unexpected twists. Skully, one of her Perdition Games books, is no exception. As our Author of the Day, Fraser tells us all about this book and how she follows her characters during the writing process in order to create interesting stories.
Please give us a short introduction to what Skully is about
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak with Many Books. It’s an honour to be here.
Skully, Perdition Games opens with a happy family who experience an unspeakable horror during a summer vacation: their five-year-old daughter vanishes. Six months later, authorities discover Gabriella and a white dog walking across a frozen lake, hundreds of miles from where she went missing. The police investigation leaves more questions than answers as to what really happened to the little girl. Years later, Gabriella disappears again and hard evidence points to homicide. Hired by the man accused of her murder, Toronto PI Samantha McNamara and former police Inspector Reece Hash must unravel Gabriella’s terrifying past and find her father—the one person who knows the truth about his daughter’s haunted life.
What inspired you to start the story on the ice of Lake Superior?
The inciting event takes place during a holiday, which means that the family eventually has to give up the search and go home to a city hours away. A barren and cold recovery site depicts the isolation of this child and her eerie attachment to the dog she keeps by her side. I’m a mom, and the dreadful vision of a vast open space on a frozen lake struck me as terrifying. Imagine the joy of receiving a call from Michigan police... but having to suffer a three-hour drive and cross a border before you can hold your child. The desolate setting creates the tone for the rest of the novel and foreshadows a subsequent tragedy that tears apart Gabriella’s family.
Tell us more about Samantha McNamara. What makes her tick?
Love her hate her, readers are seldom indifferent toward Sam. There are two distinct sides to her: ex-cop turned private investigator (analytical) plus psychology PhD student (emotional). Sam has suffered inequity and loss. She is skilled at compartmentalizing her feelings and is a gifted liar. But avoidance rarely works as a coping mechanism and Sam slowly understands that she’s broken at her core. In Skully, situations force Sam to confront some of her skeletons in order to save her relationship with Reece, the man she loves. But she has a long way to go before she’ll be able to banish her darkest demons.
Your book contains a lot of twists - did you plan them out before you started writing?
Before I begin a novel, I know where I want the story to go and the journey the reader will take to get there. But things change as I write because I follow my characters. As they come to life, they often lead me into tantalizing shadows. One of the best compliments I received was from a reviewer last month who ended his positive review of my new book with the statement: “I do wonder what kind of a mind the author must have to invent such characters.” I bet my family contemplates that on a regular basis.
You were raised on military bases. How has this influenced your writing?
The biggest gift of living inside the gates during my youth was the introduction to a vast number of people. Humans are onions, with a multitude of layers. There are seldom truly good or truly evil people and I strive to illustrate that ambiguity in my novels.
Your readers report that the book was hard to put down - how did you pull this off?
It’s gratifying to hear that readers enjoyed their experience with Skully, Perdition Games. I’m deeply appreciative when readers share their opinion by writing a short review. Good or bad, I value all feedback. My main objective is to provide a few hours of well-deserved entertainment. A plot can be intriguing and the execution can propel the audience into the next act, but authentic characters generate the emotional connection that drives a psychological thriller forward. When readers can’t put down the book, it means I met my professional goal.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Cooking, this is why Reece is an amateur chef. I have an unusual connection to dogs, and a Samoyed—Gana—is an important character in Skully. We have three Pugs, one of whom we rescued. They’re my Muses and have beds in my office. If they had opposable thumbs, I’d give them red pens to edit and take all their advice. I bet my editors would love that!
The book also contains some paranormal elements - why did you take this approach?
Gabriella’s mother—Nina—grew up with a superstitious Gaelic grandmother. When her daughter’s abduction forces Nina to accept the unknown, she grasps at any explanation. This approach adds complexity to the family crisis and shows the complicated psychology of dealing with severe trauma. But any mother will tell you that the telepathic connection she shares with her child is real. When a car hit my eight-year-old son at a school crossing, I was in a meeting. The second that car made contact; I stopped speaking in mid-sentence, stood up, and walked out of the meeting. I knew something awful had happened and I had to get home. Thankfully, he had a full recovery because of the skill of the surgeons and nurses at Children’s Hospital. So, I suppose the real question Skully explores is whether Nina’s premonitions are the symptom of a troubled mind or whether she inherited the Gaelic second sight, an da shealladh. I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide.
How do you manage to keep your thrillers fast-paced?
Thinking outside the box and sometimes ignoring creative writing rules (let’s not share that with my editors). In my latest novel—Frozen Statues, Perdition Games—there is an incarcerated serial killer. Showing accurate diagnostic criteria for APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) required ignoring traditional rules about character arcs. He couldn’t possess typical motivation and there could be no transformation for Mr. Psychopath. The character’s lack of depth is what illuminates a frightening complexity. Mimicking reality produces spine-tingling fiction. The monsters you recognize aren’t as frightening as the seemingly innocuous ones who stand behind you in a grocery store.
Do you aim for a set amount of words per day? Or do you write as inspiration hits?
I march to my own drummer, especially during the developmental stage of a new book. If I dictated a number of words per day, I’d stress out, panicking that I wasn’t going to hit my self-imposed ‘deadline’. That would show in the quality of my writing. You can often find me hunched over my computer at 3:30 in the morning or nipping up to the office in the middle of movie night. Everyone’s happy to get rid of me because I analyse thriller plots and point out incongruities, thus ruining the movie for everyone else.
How do the other Perdition Games novels tie in with this one?
Personally, I dislike episodic novels so I don’t write them. I never want my readers to feel strong-armed into buying another book in order to follow the one they wish to read. A free or discounted book is a gift that doesn’t come with strings. Each book has a standalone plot and nothing carries over to the next novel. To meet this objective, we rotate one of three editing positions. As a new reader to the series, that editor identifies any gaps that require clarity. The returning editors keep a careful eye out for data dumps or unnecessary backstory that stalls the pace and hinders the enjoyment of a returning reader. It’s a delicate dance but these talented professionals are experts in the genre. Sam and Reece tie the series together. If a plot point deals with an interpersonal issue between the returning protagonists, the story’s conclusion resolves it. That is not to say that the ending doesn’t sometimes leave room for interpretation or that it’s always happy. After all, life is not cut and dry and my books take very little literary license.
What are you working on right now?
The fifth book—Shadow Tag, Perdition Games. There is a physiological medical aspect that excites me. I do love research and it will work perfectly with the twisted psychology.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
http://lefraser.com/ where readers can visit to download sample chapters and find links to online retailers. I’m an avid reader and reviewer so my blog includes recommendations to other authors’ works and Perdition Games news.
There’s a contact page to ask questions (I do answer them) or to sign up to receive new release emails. We invite randomly selected people from the subscription list to be beta-readers, and we offer a few free advanced reader copies prior to publication.
Readers can also catch me on social media at https://www.facebook.com/perditiongamesseries and https://twitter.com/PerditionGames or reach out on Goodreads.
Thank you for having me. Time to meet up with Sam and Reece to see what dark game they’re playing.