Lisa Unger, author of Darkness My Old Friend, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |August 4, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Lisa Unger

author of Darkness My Old FriendFragile, Beautiful Lies, Die for You and more

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Connecticut in the US, but travelled a great deal during my childhood. I lived for a time in England and the Netherlands. I moved to New York City when I was eighteen to attend New York University. In my sophomore year I transferred to The New School for Social Research, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Writing and Literature.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I always wanted to be a writer. I don’t remember a time before I defined myself that way.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

When I was younger, my ideas about right and wrong, good and evil were more clearcut than they are today. I was more convinced that my opinions and judgements were the right ones. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the grey areas of life as I explore the layers and facets of people and situations in my fiction.

The deeper I go with these explorations, the more clearly I see how impossibly complicated life and people are. I have a great deal more compassion and more understanding at 41 than I did when I was 18.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I have always been an avid reader. Probably that’s true of most writers, that we fall in love with the stories told by others and then wonder if maybe we can tell our own.

My first literary love was Truman Capote. I worshipped his beautiful prose, as well as his insights into the sad, frail human heart. His book In Cold Blood, was one of my first and most important influences.

Rebecca by Daphne DuMurier was another influence; I’d say it was my first real thriller. I loved the idea of the ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances, and that theme has threaded itself through my work.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley also impacted me. Shelley wrote: “How I, then a young girl, came to think of and then dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” How indeed? This rich, gothic tale, was so human and so sad, so violent and frightening. I understood in reading it that I wasn’t the first girl less intrigued by roses than by thorns.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I don’t remember making that choice. I just always knew I wanted to write. There were the requisite notebooks of terrible, maudlin teenage poetry, a few plays. I studied journalism and screen writing. But ultimately I needed more words. And so a novelist was born. (BBGuru: Yay!)

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

This is the hardest question one can ask an author. I can tell you what my book is about but I’ll need about 500 manuscript pages to do it! I will say this: DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND is set in a fictional town called The Hollows. On the surface, it’s an idyllic place, a safe and pretty town. But there’s an energy there, one that encourages paths to cross and secrets to be revealed. In this strange place, a retired cop, a teenager, a psychic and a spelunker are all struggling with a terrible darkness within. And in those struggles, then find themselves on a collision course with each other. Bad things happen.

(BBGuru: Publisher synopsis – From the New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Lies , Die for You, and Fragile comes a thriller about broken trust that explores our faith in those we rely on–and how that faith can sustain or shatter us.

Willow acts tough, but when she cuts school and sees a man digging up a body while she’s in the woods, she takes off running and drops her cell phone. The man brings the phone back and introduces himself as Michael to Willow’s mother, who finds herself intrigued despite her daughter’s overactive imagination.

Michael’s mother disappeared decades ago, and he’s hired a retired detective and a psychic to help him find out what happened to her. But the psychic can’t help, because all she can see is a man jumping into a river to rescue someone and who is in the process of losing his own life. That man is Jones, who only wants to be left alone after the traumatic incidents of the previous year, in which he admitted his role in the death of a young woman and resigned as Chief of Police.

Based in The Hollows, the setting of Fragile, with the same characters spanning both books, these lives collide–in ways they never imagined, with stakes that couldn’t be higher–in this complex, spellbinding novel. )

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That in fiction, as in life, there are few true villains or heroes. There are people who make good choices most of the time, and people who make bad choices most of the time. And that most of us, most of our lives, are a tapestry of good and bad choices, hopefully most of them fairly good. I try to treat all my characters with compassion and respect, even the most damaged and twisted among them. I hope my readers see their many facets, as I do.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Some of the best people writing today are writing crime fiction. I greatly admire the work of Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, Kate Atkinson, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child — to name just a few. These are all very different writers, each exceptional in his or her own way. I could go on and on, though — there’s a lot of talent out there.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My on-going goal is to be a better writer today than I was yesterday. That’s the thing that drives me through my career. And it’s the only thing I knew I can control, the effort and presence I bring to the keyboard.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write every day. And every day work to be a better writer than you were yesterday. Worry less about publishing and more about being a better writer. If you have talent and work to hone your craft — and if you have the tenacity — publishing will come.

Lisa, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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