Riley Sager burst onto the thriller novel scene last year with the chilling Final Girls, but surpassed all expectations with latest story The Last Time I Lied, we caught up with the profilic author to spill the beans on his latest must read.
Tell us where the idea for The Last Time I Lied came from?
It started with a viewing of the classic film Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is about three schoolgirls and a teacher who vanish in the Australian wilderness. The movie never fully explains what happened to them, which left me wanting answers even more.
So that was my starting point — a story about a woman whose friends disappeared and now, fifteen years later, she tries to find out what happened to them. Rather than a private school, which is where Picnic at Hanging Rocktakes place, I thought it would be fun to set it at an all-girls summer camp. I wanted the book to have the feel of a good campfire tale.
Did you visit any summer camps as research for this story?
Summer camps are very common here in the U.S. It’s a tradition to send kids away for a week or two to enjoy the great outdoors, which I don’t think is the case in the U.K.
I went to summer camp for a week when I was ten and hated every minute of it. So that was the bulk of my research–remembering how much I disliked camp as a child.
Much like Final Girls, your lead character is a damaged young woman, was this always the case?
Definitely. I find it fascinating to explore the mindset of damaged people. Why they do the things they do. How they became so damaged in the first place. As for Emma, the main character in THE LAST TIME I LIED, what happened at that camp when she was a young girl has haunted her for years.
Figuratively and, possibly, literally haunted her. I wanted to put her back in that camp and see not only how she reacts but how the earlier trauma she suffered starts to manifest itself again.
How hard is it as an author to write a thriller and keep the twists until the later chapters?
For me, the hardest part of thriller writing isn’t coming up with twists but making sure that they’re both surprising and logical. If you give too many clues, the reader will know exactly where you’re heading. If you give too few, you’re cheating the reader, and I never want to do that. So the difficulty lies in striking that delicate balance.
I want readers to get to each twist and say, “I did not see that coming, even though, in hindsight, I should have totally seen it coming.” It’s easier said than done.
Besides Emma, which character did you enjoy crafting?
Vivian, the leader of the girls who disappeared, was a joy to write. We see a lot of her in flashbacks, and I had so much fun writing a character who was so bold and brash and bitchy but also very hurt and damaged in her own way.
How did you pitch The Last Time I Lied to your publisher?
Honestly, there wasn’t much of a pitch. I think I told them I was doing Picnic at Hanging Rock at a summer camp and that was enough for them. My pitch to readers is that it’s a summer camp Gothic novel.
It has all the elements of a classic Gothic novel — a secluded location, a powerful family with dark secrets, a mentally unstable heroine and a hint of the supernatural.
Which horror authors out there at the moment are you enjoying?
My publisher has been keeping me very busy in terms of output, which is wonderful from a career standpoint but also means I have a lot less time to read for pleasure.
I’m just now getting to THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King, which I’ve been waiting to read since May. One horror book I did get a chance to read and enjoy is DRACUL, by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, which comes out next month. It honors the original DRACULA while also being its own, deliciously creepy thing.
You’ve recently announced your next novel, what can you tell us about this?
Very little at this point, unfortunately. Not because it’s a secret but because it’s not quite finished–I’m still working with my editor on revisions.
But I can say it’s about a young woman hired to be an apartment sitter at a fancy building in New York. People start to disappear. Secrets get revealed. Scary things happen. The title is LOCK EVERY DOOR and it’ll be out at some point next summer.
The Last Time I Lied is available on Amazon HERE