Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Shari Lapena on why uncensored thoughts make for good fiction

The bestselling author takes on eight questions posed by eight fellow writers.
Shari Lapena is the author of the thriller A Stranger In The House. (Tristan Ostler)

Shari Lapena's last book, the thriller The Couple Next Door, became a New York Times bestseller and left readers wanting more. Well, they are in luck — her latest, A Stranger In The House, came out this month and is another domestic thriller designed to keep readers up all night.

Below, Lapena answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Helen Humphreys asks, "What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever received?"

Don't try to create and edit at the same time. Write first, then edit. Let the ideas surface freely from your unconscious, uncensored. You can worry about how bad they are later.

2. Cordelia Strube asks, "What keeps you writing?"

Contract deadlines! But even if I didn't have contract deadlines, I would still be writing, because that is what I love to do. I wrote when I had no publisher. I think most writers would tell you that they write because they have to; it's part of who they are.

3. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Do you think the portrayal of certain character types are beyond you? Can you name a character in a novel, whose personality/point of view/ character traits, etc. you know you could never write?"

I'm not sure. Never underestimate the power of the imagination. I've never taken on trying to write someone so entirely foreign to me. I wouldn't take on a character I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with.

4. Shani Mootoo asks, "Do you find that you are influenced in any aspect of your writing by other art forms? If so, which and how. If not, why not?"

Does poetry count as another art form? Because even though I write thrillers, I think poetry sometimes influences my writing. If not poetry, then probably not.

5. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your worst writing habit?"

Reaching for chocolate chips. They are seriously fattening. Maybe my worst writing habit, besides the chocolate chips, is that when I write the first draft, I gloss over things that I don't want to stop and research at the time, and it can come back to bite me. But when I write the first draft, I just want to get the story down.

6. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer? How?"

I would have to say that would be two people: my husband, who always encouraged me and supported me for all those years before my writing started to pay; and my agent, Helen Heller, who has taught me more about writing thrillers than anyone else.

7. Will Ferguson asks, "How far into the process do you go before you choose a title? Which of your titles are you happiest with, which are you least happy with?"

That can really vary. Sometimes it's very early and sometimes it's after the book is finished and edited. And I'm not always the one to come up with the best title. Sometimes it's my publisher. I love all my titles. I think you have to have a title you're really happy with before you send the book out into the world.

8. Anita Rau Badami asks, "Looking back, can you pinpoint the moment when you decided that you would be a writer? Is it something you had always wished to do?"

I think I always wanted to be a writer. But the moment that I decided to become a writer — that kind of crept up on me. There wasn't a defining moment. It was more — I really want to try this and see what happens. I wrote just for myself in the beginning. I guess the defining moment would be when I had the confidence to show my first novel to someone else.


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