Books-A-Million Interviews: E. Lockhart on Comedy, Suspense, and Narrative
E. Lockhart’s gripping We Were Liars was a tour de force in 2014. With a cunningly crafted plot and a masterfully crafted narrative voice, it’s no wonder that Cadence and the Liars were wildly popular in a world gripped by Pretty Little Liars, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train. But don’t count Lockhart out yet.
Her newest book, Genuine Fraud, due out later this year, is another powerful young adult suspense novel. And we were able to catch up with her about her career as a YA comedy writer, the transition to suspense, and her complex narrative structures.
BAM: When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
In third grade I wrote two novels. One of them was an imitation of Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase—a thriller with desperate and clever orphans, a glamorous country house, and a number of starving and ambitious wolves. We Were Liars and my upcoming book, Genuine Fraud, both stem from my love of that book.
BAM: What drew you to YA fiction?
I am interested in the reinvention of the self that happens in adolescence.
BAM: You were a successful YA comedy writer whose books were filled with iconic characters and won several awards. Why did you change direction and make the leap to psychological thrillers?
I wanted to try something new with We Were Liars, but there’s still a continuum between it and my comedies. All my books are about the inside of my head—ambition and creativity and mental illness and healing and breakups and friendships and feminism.
BAM: Was it at all risky to change direction? Was there any concern from your publisher or fans?
Any book is a risk. I think my publisher and my readers see a pretty direct line from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks to We Were Liars. They are both about unhappy, so-called difficult women. Explorations of social class.
BAM: I think it’s safe to assume writing comedies is different from writing thrillers like Genuine Fraud and We Were Liars. How does your process change between genres?
The plot structure is much more difficult to figure out in the thrillers. I have to really work out the architecture of the story.
BAM: You’re well known for creating complex, three-dimensional characters. That seems especially true of characters like Cadence Sinclair and Frankie Landau-Banks. How does writing for characters change between comedy and thrillers?
The real difference for me isn’t in genre, it’s in first person versus third person. Genuine Fraud is in third person, like Disreputable History—and creating character is more challenging when you aren’t writing in the voice of the protagonist. We Were Liars is in first person, and once I figured out the voice, it was clear how my amnesiac, entitled, migraine-suffering heroine would tell the story.
BAM: Can you give us an idea of what to expect with Genuine Fraud? Should fans expect something different from We Were Liars?
Genuine Fraud has a tricky narrative structure with plot twists, like Liars. It’s likewise about the American dream, class consciousness, and morality. It has a lot more blood in it than Liars, though—and more wigs. I think my readers will be glad to know that no dogs were harmed in the making of Genuine Fraud.
Are you caught up and ready for E. Lockhart’s next masterpiece? Pre-order your We Were Liars Deluxe Edition today with exclusive new content.