By L.J. Sellers
Hearing a character’s voice in her head is often what inspires bestselling author Lisa Unger to start a new story. With HEARTBROKEN, the voice belonged to Birdie, owner of Heart Island, an isolated setting with secrets, surprises, and a terrifying history—all the elements of a great thriller.
“I had just taken two incredible trips,” Unger says, “to places that were pristine and wild with an awe-inspiring beauty, yet they had an isolation and dark creepiness that made me realize how insignificant I was.”
With characters in her head and that creepy isolation in her memory, Unger penned HEARTBROKEN, which LIBRARY JOURNAL calls “one of Unger’s best novels yet.” The accolades go on, with BOOKLIST saying, “Unger delivers compelling, fully drawn characters while at the same time putting the thrill in thriller. A first-class page-turner.”
In addition to Birdie, Kate and Emily are also drawn to Heart Island, and all three “crackle with personality and purpose” says KIRKUS, who calls Unger a master at building characters. “The women all come to the island with different sets of obligations and expectations,” the author says, “and they’re dashed on the rocks of reality.”
“I feel like my characters are people that I meet rather than people I’ve created,” Unger says with a laugh. “It’s not true, but it feels that way. All the women in my novels are a product of my experience, my memory, my observation, and my imagination, yet they’re each their own individual person. The island also evolved as a character,” she adds. “It has a personality.”
Another HEARTBROKEN theme is how family situations can bring out the best and the worst in people. “It’s about the expectation that we bring when we come to be with our family versus what is actually there when we arrive,” Unger explains, “the really wow moments and the not-great moments.”
Yet she came to understand her novel’s focus only after the fact. “I don’t have a perspective on theme until the book is done,” Unger says. “My style is to just sit down and write. I have no idea from day to day where the story is going.”
That method is working well for her. With 11 bestsellers to her credit (four under the name Lisa Miscione), Unger consistently makes the “top pick” list for BOOKSENSE and the “best summer reading” lists for numerous national media such as USA TODAY, PARADE, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, and the TODAY show.
Even though Unger thought of herself as a writer from a very early age, she had little confidence that she could make a living at it, so she spent years working as a publicist for a major publisher. The experience taught her “it was harder to succeed as a published writer than it was to get published in the first place.” Knowing that gave her realistic expectations and the sense that once her book was published, “it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
A lifelong reader, Unger’s early choices were eclectic, from classics to Sidney Sheldon, and the book that influenced her most was IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote. Today, the author reads and admires Laura Lippman, Kate Atkinson, Dennis Lehane and Georg Pelecanos, to name a few.
Despite all her international success, Unger’s favorite moments are in the work itself. She loves the days when she’s “on fire and knows that nothing can stop the pages from coming.” The author also likes to hear from readers who take something personal away from her stories, and she says the best way for readers to reach her is through Facebook.
For a glimpse into HEARTBROKEN, here’s the book’s description:
Long after anyone expected Kate to do anything with her life, she did. Using the journals left behind by her aunt and grandmother, she wrote a novel based on a very real generation-old love story that ended in tragedy. On the other side of town, Emily is about to set fire to her life. She’s in a dead-end job and is involved with the wrong man; she can feel herself being drawn into darkness, with horrific consequences. With nowhere to go, she finds herself on the run. Without knowing each other, and with lives that couldn’t be more different, Kate and Emily head to the same point on the map: Heart Island, an idyllic place in the middle of a lake in the Adirondacks, owned for generations by Birdie Burke’s family. The harsh and unyielding Birdie is at one with this island, which has a terrifying history all its own. She, too, has consequences to face.
Her writing has been hailed as “masterful” (St. Petersburg Times), “sensational” (Publishers Weekly) and “sophisticated” (New York Daily News) with “gripping narrative and evocative, muscular prose” (Associated Press).
To learn more about Lisa, please visit her website.