Sitting Down With Lisa Unger: The New Couple in 5B

NS: Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat. You’re a NYT bestselling author of dozens of psychological thrillers both standalone and series. You’ve sold millions of copies of your books internationally. You’re pretty much unstoppable and rightfully so. Walk us through a day in the life of Lisa Unger. When does the writing and plotting start and stop?

LU: Haha! I don’t know if it DOES stop. I think of myself as being on this continuum of reading, writing, and researching. One element fuels the others in an endless chain. But nuts and bolts: I am an early morning writer, so my golden creative hours are from 5 AM to noon. I try to stay as close to my dream brain as possible. I write without an outline. I have a loose idea of what my novels might be about. But for me, plot flows from character and story evolves on the page much in the same way it will for my reader. I write for the same reason that I read. Because I want know what’s going to happen to the people living in my head.

NS: You have an uncanny ability to create insidious and atmospheric settings for your books and your latest novel THE NEW COUPLE IN 5B is no exception. In this novel a couple moves into an apartment and slowly uncovers its chilling history. How do you chose the settings of your books? What are some key elements that are essential to creating a setting guaranteed to have readers on the edge of their seat?

LU: It feels more like my settings choose me. Whether it’s my fictional town The Hollows, a secluded cabin in the woods, or an iconic New York City building based on a real place from my childhood like The Windermere in THE NEW COUPLE IN 5B, I find myself dwelling there. I’ll start thinking about it, wondering about what could go wrong, what kinds of secrets a place might keep. Buildings and places have energy, they hold memory and are such huge features of our lives. If I can feel a particular vibe, then I know a story will unfold there. If the place starts to feel like a character, an entity that has an important role in the story, then I know my readers will feel that, too.

NS: Speaking of that insidious tone, THE NEW COUPLE IN 5B deals with some fantastical elements. Readers will get some occult themes and paranormal elements. That must have been seriously fun (and spooky) to plan. Did you uncover any interesting facts or did into unique topics when plotting your latest novel?

LU: I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal and occult. But only in the most Jungian way, and the way of quantum physics—in the sense that we know more about space than we do about our own brains and what they are capable of perceiving. It’s possible that there are layers of reality existing side-by-side; and it’s certainly true that we are energetic beings. So, when it comes to this topic, there are for more questions than answers – and I here for those questions! But my research into this is ongoing, not specific to this particular book. One fun fact that I discovered when researching being a theater actor in New York was the ghost light. It’s an incandescent bulb that’s left burning in every theater to light the way for the ghosts that surely must inhabit every venue and keep them happy so that they don’t make mischief. (Shout out to my pal New York Times bestselling author Kate White (whose husband is an actor) who tossed me this tidbit!)

NS: In your domestic thrillers, you’ve been able to expertly weave thrilling narratives with dynamic relationships between families, friends, and spouses. At the heart of your stories, really, there’s always a relationship at stake. What starts first when you’re plotting—the character or the question of “what if” or “what would they do?”

LU: Everything begins and ends for me with character, all plot flows from that place. Our relationships define us and this is the place in our lives where the stakes are at their highest. Often in the most intimate spaces there can be the deepest secrets, the most hurtful lies. Sometimes those who are closest to us are those from whom we have the most to fear. So digging into relationships and how people behave in those relationships is really the central driver for all of my plots. My questions are about what forms us, what motivates us, where are our hearts, and how we respond when the worst thing happens.

NS: As we mentioned, you’ve written broadly across crime fiction and other genres. Are there any sub-genres that you haven’t delved into in your work but you’d like to?

LU: I secretly wish that I was a science fiction writer! But the way things are in the world right now, the truth is way more bizarre than any fictional scenario I could concoct. I think I’ll stick to crime fiction—with the occasional walk into the unexplained.

NS: If you weren’t writing what would you be doing?

I’d be a psychiatrist. My fascination with the human psyche and the brain, what forms us, what heals us, is what drives all my novels. So I imagine that’s the career path I would have chosen if not for my desire to write.

NS: If you were to recommend three books that every mystery & thriller reader should pick up, what would they be?

LU: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier was my first thriller and still one of my favorites; it’s theme of the ordinary woman caught in extraordinary circumstances runs through much of my work. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is true crime but a must read for anyone looking for a layered and deep dive into darkness. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is one of the most beautiful, layered, perfectly plotted mysteries of all times.

NS: Any upcoming projects you can discuss?

LU: My next novel will publish in 2025. I don’t usually say much about upcoming projects. But I will say that it’s psychological suspense and bad things will happen! And this one was inspired by something that actually happened to me on one of my travels. So … stay tuned!  In the meantime, I have a short story releasing for Halloween 2024 entitled THE DOLL’S HOUSE to hold folks over until the next book. 

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