Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Sarah Lotz?
I’m a genre-crossing pulp-fiction writer based in South Africa. I’m addicted to coffee and collaborating, and write horror novels with author Louis Greenberg under the name S.L Grey; a ‘choose-your-own’ erotica series with authors Helen Moffett and Paige Nick (as Helena S. Paige), and a YA series co-written with my daughter under the name Lily Herne.
I’m tempted to say it’s about plane crashes and (possibly) evil children – but I hope there is more to it than that! Here’s a brief description:
Four devastating plane crashes. Three child survivors. A fanatic who insists the survivors are possessed by the harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he’s right?
I’m fascinated by how quickly fear and paranoia can spread throughout society – especially during the aftermath of a devastating event – and the novel attempts to explore how this could potentially influence the political landscape.
What inspired you to write the novel, and to take the non-“traditional” approach to narrative? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The idea came from the fact that like most flight-phobic people, I’m obsessed with air travel. Initially, I wanted to look at how air accidents are viewed by the media, but as I started researching this, the story grew from “what if the unthinkable happened and there were four major plane crashes on the same day?” to “what if there were three survivors?” and then on to “what if there was something not quite right about the survivors?” And so on! The notion of the unreliable narrator played a major role in the structure. I wanted to tell the story from a multitude of perspectives, Studs Terkel style (I really admire how this came across in novels such as World War Z), although this was probably too ambitious.
Rather boringly, I’m inspired by everything from news articles to overheard conversations.
How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?
I grew up surrounded by books. My dad had a huge and eclectic collection – everything from Philip K. Dick to Jackie Collins to Chandler to Tolstoy. I read the lot. He never censored my reading, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for encouraging me to read The Wasp Factory and The Shining when I was far too young.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I still can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to do this for a living. It can be terrifying (a little like the literary version of Project Runway – one book you’re in, the next, you’re out), but I’ve been extremely lucky, and it helps that I have a great agent and that the publishers and editors I’m working with are passionate and brilliant. Authors in the South African writing scene all have each others’ backs, and I’m discovering that the crime and SFFH writing communities are just as supportive to new writers. Big name authors like Sarah Pinborough, Lauren Beukes, Mike Nicol and Michael Robotham have been incredibly kind to me.
You have also written collaboratively with others. How does working on a joint project compare with writing solo? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I don’t really get lonely, so I’m equally happy working solo or collaborating, but co-writing has improved my writing tenfold. Working closely with a top-drawer stylist and editor like Louis Greenberg and superb erotica authors like Paige Nick and Helen Moffett has forced me out of my comfort zones. Helen also happens to be a world-class editor who specialises in tough love – there’s nothing like reading “you can do better, Sarah” in the track changes to get you to up your game! And working with my daughter has been a crash course in how not to write such “lame fucking teenage dialogue, mum,” as well as a master-class in pacing.
As far as writing practices go, as long as the coffee is fresh and the laptop is charged, then that’s it!
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I have a trunk full of unpublished novels (and I really do mean a trunk – I could hide a body inside it). They are all rubbish, although I’ll admit to secretly liking a novel about a giant spider that learns to communicate via Morse code (sadly it’s as dire as it sounds).
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
In my opinion, the most exciting novels are being produced by so-called genre authors (and so-called literary authors writing genre fiction) – even a cursory glance at the long-lists for the Kitchies and the Clarke Awards, for example, backs this up. I’d probably describe myself as a horror/thriller writer, but I’m not great at labels.
I’m just finishing up the draft of my next solo novel, Day 4. Then Louis and I will be completing our next S.L Grey novel, Underground, which has been a blast to research. The second and third books in the choose-your-own erotica series will be out in the UK and US this year under the name Helena S. Paige, and there’s also a new Lily Herne book coming out in the UK in April – The Army of the Lost.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
So, so much. Research-wise, I’m reading manuals on how to ‘drive’ a cruise ship and a host of dodgy biographies written by psychic mediums. For fun, I’m currently reading Richard de Nooy’s latest manuscript The Unsaid (which is stunning) and I’m having great fun with Stark Holborn’s addictive Nunslinger series.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m obsessed with cars and will happily spend hours reading Auto Trader.
There are lots of exciting travel plans afoot. Finding time to read – there are so many wonderful books coming out this year. (And because I am trashy at heart, watching the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race).
Also on CR: Review of The Three
For on Sarah Lotz’s various writing projects, be sure to follow her Twitter account, and S.L. Grey’s and Lily Herne’s. The Three is published in the UK by Hodder in May 2014, and in the US by Little, Brown.