Alexis “Lex” Blake swore she would never return to the town where she’d lost her home and her family in a devastating fire that only she survived and can barely remember. But when her aunt dies, leaving behind a mountain of debt, Lex has no choice but to head back to Northern California to settle her family’s estate.
The small town is much the same way Lex left it: tight knit, staunchly religious, and wary of the Blakes, as evidenced by her run-ins with the sheriff, the preacher, and the nosy locals. The one saving grace is her old flame, but even Kael McPheron isn’t enough to distract Lex from the bitterness of her past.
Preparing her family’s property for sale forces Lex to contend with strange occurrences and mysterious phone calls that begin to unlock buried childhood memories. And when a body turns up—and then another one—Lex realizes that the mystery of that night is deeper than she ever imagined, and the threat that already destroyed her life once still burns.
Elle Grawl recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, WHAT STILL BURNS.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
I have a complicated relationship with own hometown and recent thoughts about it really sparked the idea for WHAT STILL BURNS. I’ve also always found it interesting how different aspects of our childhood can seem when reflecting on them as adults. I wanted to explore that process through Lex who had a lot of her memories of her family shaded by grief at a young age.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
As soon as the first page came to me, I knew I was committed to see it through to the end. It was an important story for me to work through and tell.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
For some reason, certain songs by Metallica and Fleetwood Mac were on repeat for me while writing this story. Metallica was a go-to at the horse ranch I worked on as a teen and there’s a ranch in the story, so maybe that’s why.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
Although I’ve seen the topics tackled in many books, I never quite felt that my experience in a rural setting was quite reflected. I, like Lex, lived in a position where I was both a (sort of) insider but also an outsider, although the details are vastly different. There’s an interesting social ecosystem in small towns that can be difficult to capture in literature. Through Lex’s narration, readers gain an interesting perspective on exactly how that ecosystem plays out in Sola.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Honestly, I hope readers learn something about the complexity of recollection. Grief is difficult to navigate and all memories of those we love can be valid, both the good and the bad.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I have too many things in the works at this point to really expand upon a single one of them! All I can say is that I’m really excited about each one and I can’t wait to share once they’re ready.
Elle Grawl is a lawyer and thriller writer. After obtaining her B.A. in English Literature, she took a detour into law before returning to her love of writing. Her lifelong interest in true crime and experience as an attorney have provided her with plenty of writing material. Elle enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their two dogs.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.