Thriller writers Kathleen Barber (Follow Me), Elizabeth Little (Pretty As a Picture), and Lori Rader-Day (The Lucky One) answered some literary-adjacent (and some not adjacent at all) questions of their own devising. The answers cannot be used against them in a court of law or to make them uncomfortable when meeting in person.
(Note: This interview was originally written in conjunction with a ticketed lunch event at Volumes BookCafe on Friday, March 20, which was canceled due to health concerns. Rescheduled date is TBD.)
Question: Which literary detective would you want to investigate your murder? Show your work.
Kathleen Barber: I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot (I even had a fish named Poirot when I was growing up), but I worry his methods might be outdated in the 21stcentury. I’d feel more comfortable if the person investigating my murder knew how to do some basic Googling, so I’m going to go with Kristen Lepionka’s Roxane Weary—her personal life is a mess, but she always solves the case.
Lori Rader-Day: I think I’d like Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope on the case; she might call you “pet,” but she’s going to take the killer down in the end. And she wouldn’t judge me for being found dead in pajama pants because I would definitely be found dead in pajama pants.
Elizabeth Little: Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. They are both competent (would catch my killer) and discreet (would not reveal my disgusting snacking habits to the world).
Question: What literature-inspired tattoo might you be talked into?
Elizabeth Little: The only thing I can imagine seriously considering is Shirley Jackson’s legendary one-line response to a judgmental reader: “If you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree.”
Kathleen Barber: There’s a line in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics that reads, “always live your life with your biography in mind.” The character speaking that line was a bit of a narcissist, so query whether a person should really have it indelibly inked upon herself, but I think it’s a great line and a fun reminder to not always take the safe route through life.
Lori Rader-Day: Trick question! I already have a literature-inspired tattoo: the Auryn from The Neverending Stor-or-yyyyyyyyyy. (You have to sing it.)
Question: Which crime fiction author’s estate would you like to be tapped to continue?
Elizabeth Little: Josephine Tey.
Lori Rader-Day: I will FIGHT LIZ for Tey.
Kathleen Barber: I obviously wish Megan Abbott no harm, but…
Question: There are eight chairs at the ideal literary dining table, living or dead edition. You’re in one of them. Who are you dining with? Which one would you like to see get sloppy drunk?
Elizabeth Little: My ideal literary dining table is just me, by myself. I get anxious if I have to exchange words with a cashier—I would have to literally sedate myself in order to make it through an evening with any of my heroes. But if we can bring people back from the dead I’m going to assume we can make me invisible too, in which case I would happily eavesdrop on a table full of Golden Age crime writers.
Kathleen Barber: I’m going to stack the table with the authors that really inspired me when I was growing up and that made me want to be a writer: Shirley Jackson because We Have Always Lived in the Castle messed me up spectacularly when I read it as a child; Zilpha Keatley Snyder because I read The Changeling, The Headless Cupid, and The Egypt Game again and again and again; Ann M. Martin not for The Baby-Sitters Club (although my earliest work was BSC fanfiction) but because the character of Paige Beaulac in her standalone title Slam Book has inspired every mean girl character I’ve ever written; Lois Duncan for obvious reasons (Daughters of Eve, Killing Mr. Griffin, need I go on?); Christopher Pike for his whole canon but especially for Remember Me; and Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark because they’re the ones who got me started on “adult” mysteries. If anyone’s drinking too much, it’s probably me because I’m going to be nervous around all the authors I grew up idolizing!
Lori Rader-Day: Me, Agatha Christie, one-on-one. All the other chairs are the people she And Then There Were None-d to spend time with me. I would leave the food and drink untouched, obviously, and Aggie didn’t drink.
Question: What is the most outlandish thing you ever did in the name of book research?
Elizabeth Little: It was for an essay, not a book, but, taking a flying lesson in one of those glider things. You know, the planes that don’t have engines? Probably worth mentioning that I am absolutely terrified of flying. I was just more terrified that I’d never get another writing assignment.
Lori Rader-Day: I don’t do outlandish things all that often—Would I write about other people doing stuff if I were a doing-stuff kind of person?—but I did get to stay at Agatha Christie’s summer house last summer for book research. I got drunk sitting in front of Greenway, pretending I owned the place. That’s probably too much information.
Question: What’s the most incriminating item in your (work-related) Google search history?
Lori Rader-Day: I have spent a LOT of time on kidnapping and unidentified remains for The Lucky One, so I would not want to see the FBI file right now.
Kathleen Barber: In Follow Me, one character spies on another through her webcam—so I ran multiple searches along the lines of “how to access someone else’s webcam” and “how to spy on women online.” Google must think I’m such a creep.
Elizabeth Little: I just did a search for all my “how to” Google searches over the past few years, and it was a journey. Some potentially incriminating highlights:
“how to bury George Washington”
“how to escape a kidnapper”
“how to escape a car underwater”
“how to set up anonymous forwarding email”
“how to make lips blue”
“how to win monopoly so no one makes you play again”
Question: Which celebrity are you most likely to write a character for in a book, in the hope they might someday play that role? ’Fess up if you’ve done it.
Kathleen Barber: Joan Cusack. I adore her, and I’ve always appreciated her ability to do these darkly chipper characters, like Debbie from Addams Family Values and Martin Blank’s assistant Marcella in Grosse Pointe Blank. Also, although I don’t generally write my characters with a specific celebrity in mind, I was absolutely over the moon when they cast Lizzy Caplan as Josie and Lanie Buhrman in the adaptation of Truth Be Told. She was exactly how I pictured the twins, and she embodied them both so well.
Elizabeth Little: Because I’m not great at making up faces in my mind, I have used real-life actors as physical references for my characters, but those aren’t necessarily the celebrities I would want to be one day linked to. That said, if I thought it would work, I would absolutely write a book called Please Let Me Take You to Lunch, Park So-dam. Alternately, Let’s Have a Drink, Jason Mantzoukas. Or, maybe, What Will It Take to Get Your Attention, Phoebe Waller-Bridge?
Lori Rader-Day: Huh. I really expected Liz to say she’d write something for Adam Driver. James McAvoy, one thousand percent. My husband already knows.
Question: A la “adaptation,” who would play you in the movie of the story about the creation of your latest book?
Elizabeth Little: Catherine O’Hara.
Kathleen Barber: This is difficult because I feel as though I’m always totally disheveled when writing, and I can’t quite picture any Hollywood actresses quite nailing that specific unshowered, over-caffeinated, glazed-eye look. I’d like to cast someone like Jennifer Lawrence so that the on-a-deadline daze reads as adorable, but I don’t know how believable that is.
Lori Rader-Day: Melissa McCarthy would deliver the goods. Melissa, call me.
Question: What was the first book you read that you weren’t supposed to? What did you learn?
Elizabeth Little: In my house, there was no such thing as a book I wasn’t supposed to read—not that I would have followed the rules if there had been. But I most certainly had some very unusual ideas about sex on account of reading so many Anne Rice novels in elementary school.
Kathleen Barber: The first book I recall thinking I should hide from my parents was Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I thought I would like it because I was into vampire fiction—specifically, Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, Janice Harrell’s Vampire Twins series, and L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries series—and I was surprised to find that Interview with the Vampire was much more … sensual. I got a little bored, to be totally honest.
Lori Rader-Day: Apparently I really missed out on this Anne Rice business. I carried Mary Higgins Clark books onto my school bus in the seventh grade, but Mary was a lady, and she always pulled the veil before I learned too much. Jude Deveraux, though. She drew a picture.
Question: You get one chance to make a long-running podcast. What’s the topic?
Lori Rader-Day: Pretty sure I could do an ’80s pop culture podcast without breaking a sweat. The first season would be The Goonies, of course, followed by a season about Def Leppard. Unironic fandom of all things Def Leppard.
Kathleen Barber: I’m 100% highlighting YA series from the ’90s. I’m thinking Freshman Dorm, Boyfriends/Girlfriends, and this obscure two-book series that I loved called Reality 101, among others. Those were the books that inspired some of my first serious writing attempts, and I would love to go back and revisit classics like Zoey Fools Around and Freshman Feud.
Elizabeth Little: Deep Dive—Why The Hunt for Red October is the greatest movie of all time.
Question: It’s the Hunger Games, except you’re only allowed to use one of the six weapons found in Clue. Which do you pick?
Elizabeth Little: I think you have to go for versatility, so I pick rope. It’s great for trapping, tripping, tying someone up. It’s also a solid makeshift belt or hairband, and you can use the fiber as kindling or to weave a friendship bracelet with which to trick your enemies into believing they are your allies! What can’t you do with rope?
Kathleen Barber: I’m going for the knife. I could use it to hunt for food, clear brush, cut sticks for firewood, and defend myself against my opponents.
Lori Rader-Day: Who are we kidding? I’m not getting past the first minute of the Hunger Games. Might as well settle for the candlestick, if I can even get my hands on it.
Question: You’re given a magic wand: You can change the ending of one classic crime novel. What do you change and why?
Kathleen Barber: I’m changing the end of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House so that [REDACTED] survives. I just thought it was so bleak that another innocent person died rather than that [REDACTED] murderer be brought to justice.
Lori Rader-Day: (I redacted Kathleen’s answers for those who will cry SPOILERS sixty years later. Six-zero years later.) I would change the end of The Thin Man where Dashiell Hammett never wrote 100 more books about Nick and Nora.
Elizabeth Little: I would change Double Crossing—the 1998 Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mystery that is probably most responsible for getting me into this business. And not because the mystery needs changing (I believe there is both spycraft and burglary in this one), but because 30 years on, I’m still upset that the writers had Nancy going home to boring old Ned Nickerson when she could’ve been making out with Frank Hardy.
Question: Sun Sign, Hogwarts House, Myers-Briggs Type, Love Language.
Kathleen Barber: I am a spreadsheet-loving Virgo, a Hufflepuff (at least according to an internet quiz; I’m not a Harry Potter person and didn’t understand most of the quiz’s questions), and an ISFJ (heavy on the I). My love language is pouring wine and making microwavable chocolate cake.
Elizabeth Little: Aquarius, Hufflepuff, INFJ, Animated GIFs.
Lori Rader-Day: Hufflepuff forever. I put more stock in JK Rowling than sun signs, but Aries if you must know. ISFJ? I had to take a test online to know this. My love language at the moment is Schitt’s Creek and crossing something off my to-do list.
By Kathleen Barber
Published February 25, 2020
The Lucky One
By Lori Rader-Day
William Morrow & Company
Published February 18, 2020
Pretty As a Picture
By Elizabeth Little
February 25, 2020
Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar® Award-nominated author of Under a Dark Sky, The Day I Died, Little Pretty Things, and The Black Hour. She lives in Chicago, where she co-chairs the mystery readers' conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago. Her next novel, The Lucky One, is out from Harper Collins in February.