What does your handwriting reveal about you? The protagonist of Chicago mystery author Lori Rader-Day’s new novel could offer insight. Anna Winger analyzes handwriting to help solve crimes. After a local two-year-old boy goes missing, Anna is pulled in to assist with the investigation, and soon she’s not only trying to discover what happened to the boy, but to her own son as she is forced to confront her past. The Day I Died is a mystery novel packed with twists and danger.
Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, Little Pretty Things, won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original. Rader-Day’s new novel, The Day I Died, is sure to appeal to fans of her previous well-loved mysteries. I spoke with Lori about The Day I Died, handwriting analysis, and the Northwoods.
Rachel León: The premise for The Day I Died began as a short story. Can you discuss how it evolved into a full-length novel?
Lori Rader-Day: I wrote the story to workshop in my master of fine arts program at Roosevelt University, and one of my teachers there, Lisa Stolley said it wasn’t a short story. She said it was the beginning of a novel. Easy for her to say. I didn’t know how to write a novel, but I tried and in the next two years finished a full draft of the book. But it was a mess, and I knew it was a mess. The problem was that I didn’t know if I was revising it to make it better of I was revising it to shreds. So I put it away and wrote a new novel draft, at which point I had a better feel for the shape of a novel-length story. That new novel draft became my first published novel, The Black Hour. And then I wrote my second novel, Little Pretty Things. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to see if I had progressed enough as a writer to make The Day I Died the book I wanted it to be. The time away from the draft gave me the distance to see how to make it better.
Rachel León: Anna analyzes handwriting. How did you discover handwriting analysis and what interested you about it?
Lori Rader- Day: I found a book in the library and thought—well, that’s something I don’t know a thing about. You’re often told to write what you know, but that’s bad advice. It’s much more fun to write what you’d like to know. I haven’t become an expert in the field or anything, but it was fun to absorb a little of how it works and to find ways to use it to embody Anna’s character. She notices every shred of handwriting she encounters and can quickly see a bit into the author—that’s part of who she is.
Rachel León: Your first two novels won awards. Do your past successes become a help or hindrance to your writing process?
Lori Rader-Day: I try not to think about that kind of thing because it’s a hindrance. Praise can be a hindrance and we all know criticism can be. Writing and publishing isn’t a game for the thin-skinned, since everything can be a setback. Writing the next book is about telling yourself a story you want to read; hopefully other people will want to read it, too. Awards are very nice, but they aren’t why we write.
Rachel León: Part of the novel is set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the sense of place is excellent. Why did you choose to use the Northwoods for the backdrop for part of the story?
Lori Rader- Day: For the story, the Northwoods are a place Anna cannot return to, but then she has to, and they are changed. It might have been anywhere, but the Northwoods have long been a getaway for people in Chicago and the center of many people’s childhoods, at summer camp. Lots of gangsters made the Northwoods their hideout, so it’s a place that most people run to, and here’s Anna Winger, running from it. Also, I love the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I’ve vacationed there many years during the summer and have written parts of all three of my books there, sitting with my laptop next to some lake. People going by in boats cannot believe what they are seeing, but since I love to write, what they’re seeing is someone having the time of her life.
Rachel León: The Day I Died is largely about Anna’s attempt to escape her past and how she must ultimately confront it. Why do think writers revisit this theme?
Lori Rader-Day: Because that’s what life is, isn’t it? That’s the mystery of life: how we deal with everything that has gone before us and how we live with what we’ve done and not done, who we’ve hurt and who we’ve become. Maybe it’s the fact that we can never figure it out. It stays a mystery, so we keep chipping away at it.
Rachel León: What’s next? Are you working on novel #4?
Lori Rader- Day: Untitled #4 is exactly what it’s called for now, until we come up with a better title. It’s a murder mystery set in a dark sky park, where manmade light is controlled to let visitors see the stars the way nature intended. It’s scheduled to be published by Harper Collins William Morrow in spring of 2018. We’ll think of something to call it by then.
FICTION – MYSTERY
The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day
Published April 11, 2017
Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, Little Pretty Things, won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was a nominee for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original. She lives in Chicago.
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Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. She serves as Daily Editor for Chicago Review of Books and Fiction Editor for Arcturus. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, Fiction Writers Review, Nurture, Entropy, The Rupture, Necessary Fiction, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere.