An Exclusive with Christina McDonald
Christina McDonald is a USA Today bestselling author. The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books) has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio and her second book, Behind Every Lie, is available now. Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times, Dublin, USAToday.com, and Expedia. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway, and now lives in London, England with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango. She’s currently working on her next novel.
- Tell us about your new novel, Behind Every Lie.
Behind Every Lie is about a young woman whose mother is brutally murdered. She quickly becomes the prime suspect when she’s found unconscious down the street from where the murder took place. The problem is, she can’t remember that night. And with violent memories emerging, she doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.
- What inspired this book?
I wrote Behind Every Lie in the aftermath of the news story about Emily Doe, who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner at Stanford University. I wondered how do you go on after that sort of trauma, especially if you can’t remember it?
So I wrote Behind Every Lie, which takes a thriller concept and places Eva, my protagonist, around a similar past, one in which she barely remembers. Now, she’s been struck by lightning and can’t remember if she murdered her mother, and this further erodes her self-trust. So she embarks on a journey to find out who she really is and what she’s capable of, while trying to solve the mystery of who murdered her mother.
- Who was the most challenging character to write?
Initially, Kat was difficult to write because I had to get her tone of voice just perfect, and it’s very different from my own tone of voice. Kat’s an older British woman, so I drew on my experience living in London and the people I know and injected some of the Britishisms I’ve learned from different generations into her voice, her thoughts, and her mannerisms. She was also quite rough and blunt, very unsentimental in the way she viewed life, which is so different to me.
However, while Kat was challenging, writing her also ended up being incredibly rewarding, which I find is often true in life: the harder you work for something, the more rewarding it is. I loved writing Kat and getting to know her and her quirks, and I laughed out loud so many times when putting my Kat hat on and thinking like her.
- Which character do you relate to most?
I think as an author you have to relate completely with every single one of your characters. You have to understand and empathize with all of their choices, all of their flaws, all of their strengths, in order to make them feel three-dimensional. I related to both Eva and Kat and loved them both, just in different ways. Kind of like you’d love your children.
- Both your debut novel, The Night Olivia Fell, and Behind Every Lieuse alternating viewpoints. Is there a POV you favored writing?
This is a tricky one because choosing which POV (or which character) is my favorite is a little like choosing my favorite child, which is just impossible. I love all my characters in different ways.
In some ways I related to Abi the most because she was a mother who wanted to find out what had happened to her child, and I could really understand that. With Olivia I was able to use some of my own experiences as a teenager, falling in love for the first time, and pour that onto the page. With Eva I looked at how trauma affects people, and with Kat I explored how parents sometimes do things that don’t make sense to their children; that they have a past that affects the parent they became. And that was a really wonderful experience, especially now that I’m a mother with children of my own. So, I loved all of them.
- Can you walk us through your novel writing process?
I think ‘process’ is too grand of a term. Lol I sit down at my desk every day after my kids go to school, but I’m not an author who plots or plans very far in advance. It takes me a long time to find the ‘perfect’ story idea. Once I do, I think about it a lot and it percolates in the back of my head before I finally sit down and start organizing my thoughts on paper. I make sure I have a strong plot line, I find the characters who I think will struggle the most with that plot line, then I start writing. Every day is a new journey, a new revelation in what will happen.
Once my first draft is done and I’ve fine-tuned it as much as I can, I send it to my agent. I then revise again when she gives me feedback. Then it goes to my editor, and I revise again. It’s very much a collaborative process. I write a story, but they help make it into a book.
- Is there a theme you hope or anticipate readers relating to most?
I love writing about mothers and children, and how far a mother will go for her child. I also love writing about love, in all its beautiful forms. I think different themes resonate with different readers, but I hope my books and the strong theme of love within makes readers feel equally strong emotions, whether that be happiness, sadness or a powerful sense of bitter sweetness.
- Are you working on a new project?
I am! I’ve just turned in edits on my third book, which is about a doctor who sells OxyContin prescriptions in order to pay for her son’s life-saving cancer treatment while avoiding being discovered by her husband, the town’s lead detective. It explores themes of family, how far you’ll go for those you love, and if the ends ever justify the means.