By Josie Brown
In the MONEY KILL, the fourth novel of NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author Katia Lief’s Karin Schaeffer series, the plot twists come at you so quickly that you never see the killer coming.
But isn’t that the point?
Besides learning how this enthralling plot came to her, it’s always a joy to talk to another novelist if for no other reason than, unlike friends and casual acquaintances, they know, and get your life: both as an artist and a person who makes her living as a storyteller.
I love Katia’s take on what makes a great storyteller, and how to stay financially (and emotionally) successful in this crazy business we all love…
How did the plot concept for THE MONEY KILL come to you?
As the country and the world slipped into economic turmoil these past few years, and the idea of an ‘us and them’ bubbled hotly in the popular conversation—the stark disparity between the ‘one percenters’ and ‘ninety-nine percenters’—I found myself thinking about the power of money along with just about everyone else. I became intrigued by the idea of writing about the influence of a billionaire whose ability to pay his way out of trouble almost lets him get away with murder. I named him Godfrey Millerhausen, and what he and his well-heeled wife Cathy don’t realize is that they’ve come up against a team of investigators in Karin Schaeffer and Mac MacLeary who aren’t so easily controlled.
I feel your protagonists’ (Karin and Mac’s) vulnerabilities are what sets them apart. You obviously feel it’s important to show their depth of feelings. What is your process for finding their inward motivations?
I suppose it’s a combination of logic and intuition. Protagonists have to feel like real people to the reader or their challenges, goals and plights won’t be compelling. I also feel, as a reader myself and as a writer, that if a character isn’t at least as vulnerable and flawed as the average person, they won’t be interesting and they certainly won’t be relatable. In a sense, one of Karin’s strengths from the beginning of the first novel in the series (YOU ARE NEXT) was rooted in her weakness: Because she was suicidally depressed, she felt she had nothing to lose in her quest to stop a serial killer from harming what remained of her family, which made her a formidable opponent because she was more than willing to risk her life.
What do you feel has been the most pivotal changes in your character’s lives? How does this latest installment address this?
Probably the most pivotal change for Karin is that she manages to rebuild a happy life out of utter hopelessness. She finds love and creates a new family, which sustains her as she battles crime. In each of the four books in this series, her life develops and her family expands. By the end of THE MONEY KILL each new family member connects directly to one of the novels. A reader who follows the series straight through will (I hope) come away with a deep empathy for each character’s unique role in what is an unusual and close family.
What is your soup-to-nuts novel writing process?
Roughly, my process is this:
- Get the idea (from the ether).
- Mull it over for a good long time.
- Start researching and note taking.
- Develop as much of an outline as I can.
- Start writing…and write write write (with breaks to develop the outline) until a first draft is finished.
- Sharpen my scalpels, and ruthlessly revise.
What is your philosophy on keeping this series fresh and moving forward for your readers?
I’ve tried to keep it fresh by shifting settings and types of crimes, and also by weaving in Karin’s ever-evolving private and professional life. Each of the four novels in the series revolves around a different crime and thus sustains its own story, but the protagonists carry forward the detritus of the past, just like the rest of us, thus building momentum out of continuity.
What do you think is the hardest thing about our chosen field as novelist?
Staying in the game, I suppose. For me, writing a novel starts as a magical intellectual awakening that comes to involve a huge amount of challenging work. Before you know it, you’ve turned into a kind of mad clockmaker locked in the tower of your imagination until the device—your novel—is ticking perfectly. What’s hard is when the magic hits the reality of an ever-changing publishing landscape. A grown-up novelist quickly learns that survival depends on flexibility and ingenuity. You might have to turn your grandfather clock into a wristwatch if you want to make a living at this, but the essential work and thrilling challenge of writing a novel is the same regardless of the exact shape of the final product. Don’t become a novelist if you don’t love, love, love writing novels.
If you change one past event in your life that would have helped your career, what would it have been?
When I wrote my first thriller FIVE DAYS IN SUMMER (published at the time under the pseudonym Kate Pepper), I was a bit stunned to receive multiple offers within days of its submission to publishers. It ended in a bidding war between two publishers, one offering hardcover publication and the other paperback original publication. I wish I had understood the publishing business better then and had felt more empowered to insert myself into that process. Instead of letting them duke it out on their own, and essentially allowing the money to decide, I should have taken the hardcover deal because it offered a better career route. I learned the hard way that paperback original publication starts you off at a lower level, and I’ve regretted that choice ever since.
What is up next for you?
A new novel, of course! I’m in the process of writing it now…tick, tick, tick.
Katia Lief is the USA Today bestselling author best known for her internationally acclaimed crime novels. Her Karin Schaeffer thriller series, which began in 2010 with YOU ARE NEXT and concludes in 2013 with THE MONEY KILL, is currently being published by HarperCollins. Katia teaches fiction writing at The New School in Manhattan and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
To learn more about Katia, please visit her website.