What a delight to be part of Lis Angus’s celebration of the book anniversary of her acclaimed debut novel, NOT YOUR CHILD, which came out one year ago today! Below, Lis talks about the novel, her journey to publication, and what’s next.
First off, congratulations on the one-year book anniversary of your widely acclaimed debut suspense novel, NOT YOUR CHILD. For those readers who haven’t yet read it, can you share a bit about the novel and what inspired it?
Thank you for noting the anniversary! It’s hard to believe a year has already gone by since my book first came out.
NOT YOUR CHILD takes place in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Susan is a single mother with a twelve-year old daughter, Maddy. Susan is having a hard time dealing with Maddy, who yearns for more independence as she approaches adolescence. Then Daniel comes into their lives. He’s a visitor to the city, traumatized by the recent loss of his wife and the earlier loss of their granddaughter, who vanished as a baby from the site of a car accident that killed her parents. Daniel is convinced that Maddy is really his missing granddaughter, and he wants her back. A DNA test doesn’t solve the question. Then Maddy disappears. . .
I’m not sure where my inspiration for this story came from. An image popped into my mind: what would it be like if someone claimed that my child was actually theirs? And I’d had the experience of losing each of my daughters, briefly, at shopping malls when they were young. Luckily they were quickly located, but I certainly drew on my emotions to depict Susan’s fears as she tries to find her missing daughter.
As you mention, the book has been well-received. But the biggest challenge for a new book, a new author, is how to reach a wider audience. To help with that, and to celebrate this anniversary, I’ve arranged a 99c deal on my ebook for two weeks ending April 26. I hope that new readers will take advantage of this opportunity to get to know Susan, Maddy and Daniel.
You have an extensive professional background, including earning one of your graduate degrees in psychology and time spent early in your career working with children and families in crisis. Did you find those experiences helpful in developing the characters and their motivations and reactions to the crisis of a missing child, and to the parent-child relationship in NOT YOUR CHILD?
It certainly gave me insight into the ways that relationships and behavior are often shaped by family dynamics, and how memories can be distorted. But I also drew on my own life experiences, as a teenager and as a mother of teens, to depict these characters.
I know that you’ve always loved to write, but most of your career has involved business writing, consulting, and organizational work. What led you to make the jump to seriously pursuing writing fiction?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I read a lot, even as a child, and I actually undertook to write a novel the summer I was nine. As a teenager, I subscribed to Writers Digest and submitted short stories to magazines like the Saturday Post and Redbook. Needless to say, none were accepted. Then life took me in different directions, to university and marriage and the world of work. It was only as I approached retirement that I thought, “now I can get back to writing fiction.” And I have.
Reviewers have consistently praised the surprising twists and turns and page-turning suspense of NOT YOUR CHILD. How did you go about plotting your novel, and what is your writing process like?
The writing of this book was a convoluted process. It was only after I began writing it that I realized how much I needed to learn. I started out with what I thought was an outline; but when I finished my first draft, I knew it fell far short of being the exciting novel I was hoping to write. I could have given up at that point, but I didn’t; I kept rewriting it, and meanwhile learning about plot structure, tension, pacing, characterization. I added a few story lines and eliminated others. At one point I threw out the final 25% of the novel and rewrote the ending completely.
I’m still early in my fiction writing life, so I can’t say that I have a clearcut writing process. I try to write every day, and I tend to work in iterations, moving back and forth between an evolving outline and the writing itself, trying to bring to the page the novel that is taking shape in my mind.
What’s a typical writing day like for you?
I’m not sure I have a “typical” writing day. I usually have a target for the day — sometimes it’s the amount of time I’ll spend, sometimes it’s the number of words I want to get done that day or a specific scene I want to rework; it depends on where I’m at in the process and what else is going on in my life that day or that week. I know my brain feels more creative in the morning, but I’m also a procrastinator, and I like to ease into my day. So if I can reach my target by lunchtime I’m happy, but I may have to come back to it in the afternoon, or even after dinner.
What for you comes the most easily in writing suspense fiction? And what for you is the most challenging?
I don’t think any of it comes easily—it all takes effort. Getting the first draft of any scene written can be a challenge; then once I have something on the page I can start to rework it. I’m very visual — I’m not one who can ‘write in my head.’ I have to see the text on my computer screen before I can decide where to take it. Of course the end goal is to create a story and characters that readers find absorbing, and maintain the suspense to the end. That’s the challenge.
What are you currently working on? And have you felt any extra pressure from NOT YOUR CHILD having received such fabulous reviews as a debut author?
It’s kind of you to say that. It’s rewarding to know that my work had results, that it’s resonating with a lot of readers. I don’t see that as pressure —but I certainly want to make sure that my next novel, the one I’m working on now, will meet the same standard. This one is another standalone suspense novel, with a different set of complicated family relationships. I’m not a fast writer, so it’s taking me a while. I’m about halfway through my second draft, and I know there’ll be more drafts ahead.
What steps did you take to develop your craft as a fiction writer?
I took a lot of writing classes, mostly online, through Gotham Writers Workshop in New York and later through Sisters in Crime’s ‘Guppy’ chapter. And the internet has a ton of tutorials on various aspects of writing craft which I dug into. I also joined a local writing group, and connected with other authors, including a number who’ve been willing to read and critique my work in return for me doing the same for them. I am very grateful for all the tips, advice and help that other writers have provided. But, ultimately, the main thing that’s been required to develop my craft has been writing and rewriting. There’s no other way.
A related question: What advice would you give aspiring suspense novelists?
Don’t give up! Keep working on it, rewriting and polishing until it’s the best work you can do. And connect with other writers in the process; they’ll help support you through the ups and downs.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked you that I didn’t?
I have a monthly newsletter that goes out to subscribers. I’d love it if your readers join my list at https://lisangus.com/sign-up
Also, if they like NOT YOUR CHILD, I’d appreciate it if they can take a moment to say so on Amazon or Goodreads. The marketplace is crowded, so the more reviews a book has, the better visibility it will have.
Lis Angus is a Canadian suspense writer who has loved reading and writing since her childhood in Alberta. At nine, she wrote a novel in her cousin’s hayloft. She moved to Ontario for university and stayed to work and raise a family. Her early career was spent working with children and families in crisis. Later she was a telecommunications consultant and policy advisor, conference organizer, business writer and editor. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Capital Crime Writers, and the North Grenville Writers Circle. She now lives south of Ottawa with her husband. In her spare time she can be found walking, reading, or watching too much Netflix. Her debut novel, NOT YOUR CHILD, was published by The Wild Rose Press in April 2022.
Universal book link: https://books2read.com/notyourchild