Lisa Unger is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. With books published in twenty-six languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is widely regarded as a master of suspense. Her latest release is Confessions on the 7:45.
Q. House of Crows is your latest short story collection, bringing together a criminal psychiatrist, a paranormal investigator, and a struggling spiritual counselor at a 200-year-old property in upstate New York. How deep into the Gothic does it get? And what inspired you to write it?
Lisa: It does sound like a pretty gothic setup, doesn’t it? But I’m not sure it’s ever big concepts like that that inspire me, even though I love an epic, dark story with lots of mysterious players and a creepy, atmospheric setting. It’s always character voice that draws me in.
For House of Crows, I was loosely inspired by The Haunting of Hill House — not the story as much as the idea of a haunting as a personal event, and the ambiguity between reality and the constructions of our perceptions. I’ve read Shirley Jackson’s iconic story more than once over my lifetime. And one of the elements that comes back to me again and again is how everyone brings his or her own dysfunction to Hill House.
I’m fascinated by the idea of haunted places — structures and the land upon which they’re built — and who might be sensitive to those trapped energies, who might be vulnerable. This is a topic that has come up in my work quite a bit. And for House of Crows, I was wondering about how different types of people – fiction writers, psychiatrists, spiritualists, ghost hunters approach the idea of the haunting. Is it something internal, external, something made up altogether? Once this idea was turning around in my head, it wasn’t long before I was hearing the voices of Claire, Matthew, Ian, and Mason, each of them with their own set of problems, and joined by a common dark experience that shaped all of their lives. It was their stories and how they connected that compelled me. But, yeah, pretty deep into gothic territory!
Q. You’ve said elsewhere that you’re fascinated by the small moments in people’s lives. The chance encounters, the missed trains. Are there any small moments in House of Crows?
Lisa: All of our lives are most powerfully influenced by the small moments. We tend to think it’s the big things, where we go to school, the work we choose, who we marry that determine the course of our lives. And those things have their impact. But the tiny decisions, the slip ups, this turn or that can have huge consequences.
In House of Crows, I think I dove a little deeper into another idea that I have explored before. How a moment in childhood or a buried trauma can inform our choices in ways that we’re not even aware. When we meet Claire, Ian, Matthew, and Mason, they’re all adults with a shared unexplained event in their past. And each of them has constructed a life out of looking for answers. Claire explores human psychology. Ian is a ghost hunter. Mason has been searching for a spiritual truth that speaks to him. And Matthew is a professor of literature and a struggling writer. They all made choices, mistakes, big ones and small ones. But the sum of those choices leads them all back to where they began.
Q. Your recent Confessions On The 7:45 was a reader favorite, and Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee. Where do you see your latest achievements on the path of your writing career? What do you think this success would mean to the 29-year-old you who quit her job, sold her NYC home, and followed her dream?
Lisa: I don’t spend a lot of time tallying up achievements, or measuring career successes, and shortfalls. But it’s a good thing to stay connected to that 29 year-old writer, her passions, her dreams, her aspirations. They haven’t changed much. I’m still trying to be a better writer every day. I’m still swept away by the stories and characters in my head. No matter what we achieve as writers, the day-to-day never stops being about the page.
I never looked ahead when I took that leap at 29; and I had no reason to believe that I would succeed, except that I had never wanted to do anything else. There was a part of me that always knew, even when the goal seemed very distant, that one day I would be a published writer. Mainly what I feel is gratitude. I’m so very grateful that I get to do what I love every single day. It’s a huge blessing that I never take for granted.
Q. Famously, you’re an avid fan of both page and screen. What TV shows and books have you been bingeing?
Lisa: We’re watching “The Affair” written by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, starring Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, which originally aired on Showtime and we’re now watching on Amazon Prime. It took me a while to get into it; now I’m a little obsessed. The characters aren’t very likeable (which is not a dealbreaker as far as I’m concerned), but their layers and the twists of their relationships, as well as the multiple timelines, are mesmerizing.
After watching the Netflix original series “The Queen’s Gambit,” I picked up the book by Walter Tevis. I loved the show, which is very true to the novel, but the psychological depth of Beth Harmon is best revealed on the page.
I’m currently reading The Lost Family by Libby Copeland, a non-fiction book about DNA testing. It’s utterly riveting and a must read before you consider one of those at home “spit kits” as she calls them.
My current fiction read is Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell about an Ozarks girl looking for her errant father. It’s beautiful, spare, and deep.
Q. What are you working on now?
Lisa: I am currently at work on the novel that will publish in 2022. And my next novel Last Girl Ghosted — about a young writer following the dark digital trail of the dangerous man who ghosted her — will publish October 5, 2021.
Lisa Unger's Latest
Over the course of four chilling short stories, this homage to the Shirley Jackson classic, The Haunting of Hill House, brings together a criminal psychiatrist, a paranormal investigator, and a defrocked priest at Merle House, a 200 year old property in upstate New York where bad things happen—owner after owner, generation after generation. Can the house be saved? From the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions on the 7:45. Like all Amazon Original Stories, House of Crows will be available free to Prime Members and Kindle Unlimited Subscribers on pub day.