Q&A With Vanessa Lillie

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Q&A With Vanessa Lillie 

It was an honor that the assistant director of publicity at Random House connected me with author Vanessa Lillie. Vanessa Lillie is the bestselling author of the mystery thrillers Little Voices, For the Best and the co-author of the Young Rich Widows Series, and coming out on Halloween night is the start of a suspense series and the first book is Blood Sisters. 

Q: Vanessa would you like to talk about your new book Blood Sisters, which is the beginning of a series and how you came up with the concept? 

A: Blood Sisters is the launch of a new suspense series about Syd Walker, an archeologist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who’s built a life in Rhode Island far from her rural Oklahoma hometown. But when remains are found tied to a crime she barely escaped as a girl, and her sister goes missing, she must return to see justice finally done.

While Blood Sisters is absolutely fiction, there are true parts of this story that have been with me my whole life. The truth within BLOOD SISTERS begins where I was born, and where the story is set, in Northeastern Oklahoma. Everything I wrote about the towns in the book is true to my experience. My main character is from Picher, Oklahoma, and it was part of a tri-state mining district that produced most of the lead for bullets used in both World Wars. The book is set in 2008, which was a tipping point for the town. Picher is has been called “the most toxic town in the country” and there was a lot of tragedy and history to explore. 

I also wanted to write about my Cherokee heritage. Just like Syd, my Cherokee family was forced to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. In fact, I gave Syd the same last name, Walker, as my Cherokee ancestor who was forced to the state. While I absolutely benefit from white-presenting female privilege, my heritage is a part of me, and the same is true for Syd. I am honored to share my experience of Cherokee life with readers. 

Q: In your bio it said you were spent fifteen years in marketing and communications. What made you transition from marketing to being an author? 

A: I’ve always loved communications. I studied it as a major in college, and remained in the field through grad school, though with more of an emphasis in education policy. I worked for education nonprofits on their messaging and communications strategies as well as pitching ideas and projects to media and organizing press conferences. So while I did a lot of writing in my day job, it wasn’t as creatively fulfilling as writing novels. In my early twenties I had a longing to write fiction, and thrillers, in particular. After working at it for thirteen years, I published my debut in 2019. 

Q: Where do your ideas for your books come from? Do you loosely take inspiration from real people and places to create the fictional characters and worlds in your books?

The truth in fiction is important to me creatively. In all my books, I’m trying to unravel questions or my own emotions that are based in real life. For example in my debut, Little Voices, I was exploring the terrors of new motherhood as a new mom. I wanted to write a thriller around my own fears, and incorporate as much reality as possible, from locations around Rhode Island, echoing real political scandals, and incorporating psychological challenges new parents face. 

An early influence at the heart of Blood Sisters is the story of missing women. Of missing girls disregarded by the system. My senior year of high school, two local girls went missing. For more than twenty years, I’ve watched the family search. I’ve hoped they would get answers where the authorities have failed them, to “bring our girls home” to be buried. The crime in the opening pages of Blood Sisters and at the center of this novel is not the same as what happened to those girls. But my emotions, my observations, and my own anger, is within these pages and speaks to a larger conversation needed about the high rate of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. 

Q: What was it like co-writing the Young Widows series? What advice would you give to anyone wanting to co-write a book or a series with someone?

A: The Young Rich Widows audiobook project saved my creative sanity during the pandemic. I was lonely, a little burnt out, and really longing to get back to having fun while writing. I love group projects, so the idea of co-writing was appealing. I reached out to three thriller authors I admired (Cate Holahan, Kimberly Belle and Layne Fargo) and thought our voices would blend nicely. We each wrote a point of view character and went wild with the plot a la First Wives Club with murder set in the 80s, big hair, bigger secrets. We had a blast writing it and were so thrilled that readers connected with the story. It was number one on Audible for several weeks, and we’re nearing 20,000 reviews. The sequel Desperate Deadly Widows is out from Audible on April 2, which is the same day the print version of Young Rich Widows releases. 

The best co-writing advice I have is something that happened to us by luck, which I don’t recommend. Make sure you write in the same way as your coauthor, specifically, how you develop the story. Do you plot everything with a detailed outline or just wing it with the muse as your guide. The way in which you develop and craft a story needs to be aligned with your writing partner. 

Q: What new projects are you currently writing at the moment?

A: I’m working on the sequel to Blood Sisters, which is all on Narragansett land in Rhode Island near where I live. I’m honored to be learning about the tribe, which was among the first impacted by colonialism. I’m trying to do justice to their resiliency while exploring how our painful past can repeat itself. 

Q: Where is your favorite spot or spots where you sit down and plot, write and edit your stories?

A: I’m a restless writer, so I’m rarely writing in the same place two days in a row. I move from the couch to chair to bed to coffee table on the floor, maybe then another day it’s outside, and later at a coffee shop or the park. My absolute favorite place to write is on the Amtrak. I like the gentle movement and the world whirling past with the snack car for breaks. I dream of taking one of those luxury overnight train trips and getting thousands of words written. 

Q: The entertainment industry needs new content again instead of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spin-offs. Does Hollywood have any interests and rights to your work?

A: I’m very lucky that a wonderful book to film agent is representing Blood Sisters, so once the strike is over (and fingers crossed it is by the time this is published), we’ll see who might be interested in adapting. It’s certainly an exciting time for Native stories in film and TV, so my fingers are crossed and DMs are open, as they say.