Best-selling suspense author Lisa Regan is perhaps best known for her two popular series, the Detective Josie Quinn and P.I. Jocelyn Rush novels. Her first published novel, Finding Claire Fletcher—about a woman kidnapped at the age of fifteen and imprisoned for a decade by her abductor—won her initial acclaim. The sequel to that novel, Losing Leah Holloway, also proved to be successful with readers. She's been writing incredible suspense novels ever since.
Lisa is also a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She enjoys interacting with her readers and other writers, so she was more than happy to answer some questions for us
Thanks for talking with us, Lisa. Let's start with your many readers. You have an enormous following. How do you think your active presence on social media contributes to that base?
I think it contributes a great deal to my fan base because they see I'm engaged and interested in their thoughts, and I want to provide a fun space for them online. I am extraordinarily lucky to have fans who are enthusiastic about the Josie Quinn detective series. I absolutely love interacting with them and hearing everything they have to say—even the criticism. Some have become good friends. I also get to use my social media platform to introduce my readers to many other fabulous authors.
I don't view time spent cultivating relationships with my fans as a waste. To me, it is essential. These are the lovely human beings willing to spend their time reading my words. That's a sacred thing as far as I'm concerned. I wish I had more time to interact with them all, but they're pretty understanding about me taking time to write the stories they're waiting to read!
Are your series characters, Josie Quinn and Joselyn Rush, modeled from people you know? Maybe composites of those folks?
Josie and Jocelyn are not modeled after people I know. Rather, they're modeled after people I wish I could be more like. Both characters are smart, tough, strong, and gritty. Most importantly, they always run toward the danger, and they've got a strong sense of justice. I've been lucky to see these qualities in people I know, but I didn't use anyone as a model.
Will Josie and Jocelyn ever cross paths?
There are no plans for that right now, but it sure would be fun to write. And, you know, Josie only lives about two hours away from Jocelyn.
What makes these two characters so endearing to your readers?
The thing I hear most often from readers is that they love that Josie and Jocelyn are incredibly strong women. What I hear most often about Josie specifically is readers love her because she's "badass." Also, it's not lost on my amazing readers that Josie's life and emotions can be extremely complex. She always works hard to navigate both in the most graceful way possible. Josie doesn't always succeed, but she grows as a character, even when it hurts. People relate to that. No matter what happens, she gets back up, dusts herself off, and keeps trying.
You once worked in a law office. How has your experience as a paralegal influenced your writing?
It definitely taught me to be more precise in whatever I try to write. But mostly, it has taught me how to be an extremely thorough researcher. I've learned to better evaluate sources. I have also become more confident in approaching experts in their fields and figuring out which questions I need to ask to get the details in my books correct. I had to be so thorough and meticulous in my work as a paralegal, and that has carried over into writing crime fiction. I try to make things as authentic as fiction allows.
Most authors maintain a "bible" for their series to maintain continuity from book to book, further develop characters, and avoid mistakes (a character with blue eyes in one book and brown in the next). Do you use a "bible" for your series?
I have to have a bible, especially now that the Josie Quinn series is going into Book 12. It's difficult to remember where I've put everything in her fictional city of Denton and character descriptions and even names I've already used. There is a lovely woman named Claire Milto who compiled my series bible for me. With each book, she adds to it. It's invaluable and I keep the document open on my computer whenever I'm working on a first draft.
Outliner or "pantser"?
I used to be a pantser, but it was a massively inefficient way for me to write. Now I outline. I will start with a basic premise like with book 11 of the Josie Quinn series, Hush Little Girl, it was a young girl is found dead at a wedding venue. I'll spend a couple of weeks writing notes and answering my own questions like "Who is this girl? Where did she come from? What is her home life like? Who killed her? Are there any strange circumstances surrounding her death?" I go from there until I've got the crime fully fleshed out. Then I write the crime's backstory, which includes all the things Josie eventually uncovers during her investigation. After that, I write the outline for the actual book, usually chapter by chapter. It changes as I write. Often, I stop writing to adjust my outline to the new direction the book has taken. However, overall, outlining works really well for me now and it takes a lot of the stress out of writing.
I noticed in Finding Claire Fletcher that you alternate POVs between chapters, usually juxtaposing Claire with Connor. Was this structure something you used from the start (from the first draft) or something you developed as the plot evolved?
It was that way from the start. That was my first published novel. It wasn't the first book I wrote—probably the fifth or sixth book. When I wrote it initially, it was just Claire's voice in my head. It was like I was channeling her. I wrote almost all her chapters first. I realized, as a crime novel, it might work better if I alternated Connor's investigation with Claire's story, so I decided to alternate.
On a similar note, the chapters with Claire's POV are all in first person, other chapters are in third person. This had to have been by design. What's your rationale?
There was no true rationale, to be perfectly honest. Claire's voice was so clear to me in first person, so that's how I wrote her. When I went to do the Connor chapters, I didn't feel comfortable doing them in first person, so I went with third. I kept waiting for some agent or publisher to tell me I couldn't do that, but no one ever did. Most important, that book is a huge favorite among my fans, so it worked out.
Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, or Karin Slaughter?
All these authors are legends, obviously. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Karin Slaughter. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows Karin Slaughter is my idol and my biggest influence. I've met her twice now at signings, and I was so star-struck I could barely speak. I did talk to her, but I have no memory of what I said. I love how all her books are so intelligent, raw, gritty, and honest. I also love how the dynamics among her characters and the universes she creates are so authentic and real. Everything she writes is exquisite.
Writers know word-of-mouth is the best marketing. But have you used any strategies to garner reviews?
I have long-time beta readers who get early copies of each book and they're all so lovely, they'll leave reviews without being asked. My publisher has also cultivated relationships with fans and bloggers via NetGalley which garners reviews. I'm incredibly lucky that the readers who review on NetGalley before the book comes out always remember to post the reviews elsewhere after release. Personally, I give away a lot of paperback copies of my books. I give them away to social media followers and I'll often ask my long-time readers to "tag a friend" who might like my books and I'll provide some copies to those friends. In addition, my husband hands books to just about anyone from our plumber to the nurses in our family doctor's office. We always tell them, if you don't read crime fiction, give it to someone who does or donate it. You'd be surprised how many people read and review their free books. Many of those people pass them along to someone else and word spreads that way as well.
Tarantino, Scorsese, or Hitchcock?
Ah, excellent choice! With that in mind, if you could rewrite any suspense movie, what would it be? And what would you do differently?
I cannot think of one I would rewrite. But I can tell you many great suspense movies came out before the age of the limited series we now see on Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. Many of these classic movies would have made better six-to-ten-episode series than two-hour movies. I'm thinking of films like The Cell with Jennifer Lopez, The Gift with Cate Blanchett, and Heat with Pacino and DeNiro.
My wife, Cindy, and I saw you at a library panel discussion a few years ago. Do you often participate in such public events or schedule public speaking? At writers' conferences? How important is this for writers?
I try to say 'yes' as often as I can. I love getting out there and meeting readers. Even if they don't read my books, it's great to hear their thoughts about what makes a book sensational or what makes it terrible. I also enjoy meeting other writers. I learn a lot from going to writers' conferences. I love listening to writers talk about everything from their process to the craft. Sometimes being on a panel with other authors can be a fantastic learning opportunity. I love to talk about reading and writing, and I love to listen to people talk about reading and writing.
Any public event is a win-win in my mind. Attending these events is important for writers, both to meet new readers and to network with one another. The writing community is incredibly kind and generous. Many writers have helped me along my journey by beta reading, giving reviews, promoting my books, or being supportive and encouraging. I try to pay that forward every chance I get. Plus, I'm such a big fan of so many writers in my genre, it's just so much fun to meet all my favorite authors in person.
You're a prolific author, publishing several books a year. How do you keep the pace? What is your writing regimen to maintain momentum?
It took me an awfully long time to figure out my specific regimen and process. I'm still fine-tuning it. I want to be clear that every writer's process, and therefore their regimen, is different. There's no "right" way to author a book. The "right" way is whatever way works best for you. Writers shouldn't beat themselves up if they're not writing at the same pace or via the same process as their colleagues. I used to think something was wrong with me, that I couldn't simply sit down each day and write for several hours straight like many authors do. I realized there was nothing wrong with me, that routine just didn't work for me. Every person's brain operates differently. Writers should honor that. Once you take the guilt out of the equation, it really does free your mind creatively.
But the pacing of your production?
For me, because of the way my brain works, I need plenty of pressure to produce. My publisher and I set a schedule and the tighter that schedule is, the easier it is for me to produce. If I had too long a lag between projects, I'd put my pen down and not pick it up for years because I'm easily distracted and have trouble staying on task. If I have a tight schedule, I'm forced to stay on task. For me, there is something about the constant pace a schedule demands that switches my brain into hyperfocus mode and allows me to get more done.
So, when a new novel is on the agenda, how do you jumpstart things?
I spend a couple of months working on my extremely long outline, tinkering with it for hours a day, sometimes sending it back and forth with my editor until we've worked out some things. At the same time, I research any topic I know is going to come up in the book. I will often write the opening chapters during this time. About four to six weeks (sometimes three) before my deadline, I go "into the book." I do absolutely nothing but write the book. It's like I'm going at the same pace as Josie while she's solving the case. I wake up and write all day. When I must break to eat or bathe or walk the dog, I'm still thinking about the book and what I'm going to write when I sit back down at my desk. I don't read during this time. I don't watch television. I don't go places or do anything. My husband quietly slides food across my desk and comes back later for my empty plate. Once I finish the first draft, it goes off to my editor. After that, there are two to three months of various rounds of editing and the pace is much slower. I then have plenty of downtime and I work on edits a few hours a day.
What's next for Detective Josie Quinn?
The next Josie Quinn book will be out on August 12th and in it, Josie must solve a case where members of a support group are being murdered one by one.
Last question: Pizza, tacos, or (being a Philly girl) cheesesteaks?
I don't want to cheat on cheesesteaks because they are a staple of my diet (Chubby's or Barry's only, thank you very much!). But I have to go with pizza. I could eat pizza for every meal for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.
Thanks, Lisa! It was great talking with you.
(A version of this interview was first published in the Summer 2021 issue of Suspense Magazine.)