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Dead Bodies and Kickboxing Drag Queens: 6 Burning Questions with Caleb Roehrig

Everyone loves a good author interview, and last week we decided to try something a little different: Let YOU decide what the questions would be!

Keep reading for answers to the best and most creative questions for Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving, White Rabbit and Death Prefers Blondes!

I try to consume a little of everything! My tastes run primarily to thrillers, for both reading and writing, and I’ve learned an incredible amount by seeing how other authors approach the peculiarities of the genre. A steady diet of suspense fiction also helps keep me in the proper mindset while working, as well.

However! In the past, I’ve also gained a ton of useful inspiration by stepping completely outside the thriller box and seeing what writers are doing in other genres. For example, I had a major breakthrough on how I write love scenes by reading a culinary memoir, in which the author used such rich, sensory language to describe food that she had me sweating. So I try to mix it up as much as possible.

At the moment, I’m reading The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke—a historical fantasy about magic and time travel, and the German DDR. It’s totally different than anything I’ve written, and I’m loving it!

This is kind of a long answer, so bear with me.

Death Prefers Blondes started life as just my vision of a character named Margo—a young, hotheaded heiress who drove an awesome car and didn’t get along with her obscenely rich father. This was way before I was published, and way, way before I believed it was even possible to sell a novel about gay teens.

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In fact, right up until I wrote my debut (Last Seen Leaving), almost all of my manuscripts were about straight girls, occasionally with gay best friends, as that was the only model I knew for stories with any kind of LGBT rep. Over the years, I fleshed out Margo’s story, until I eventually made a so-so attempt at writing it; but then I shelved the project indefinitely, because I couldn’t figure out how to move it forward.

Later on, after Last Seen Leaving was published, I mentioned my stalled project to my editor, and she flipped over the idea of a cat burglar heiress and a band of jewel-thieving drag queens. So I dusted the story off, stripped it down to its bones, and rebuilt it from the ground up.

It was actually my friend Rachel who gave me the idea to make Margo bi. I’d spent so many years with the character living in my head that it hadn’t even occurred to me that there was no reason she had to be straight—that she was a great opportunity to include more queer representation, and bring the five players who form the book’s main ensemble into the same community.

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After writing a missing persons story as my debut, I decided I really wanted to tackle a straight-up murder mystery for my sophomore novel.

Last Seen Leaving takes place in October in the Midwest, and so I also knew I wanted to make use of a different mood and setting for my next manuscript. So I started thinking to myself about what a thriller set in the summer might look like—and immediately I started picturing hot, humid nights, dense foliage… and then a lakeside cottage, with all the lights on, and nobody home but an unconscious girl and a dead body.

The image just kind of popped into my head, and I started asking myself who the girl was, who the victim was, and how they got there. When I had the basics figured out, I decided to take on the additional challenge of committing to a very tight timeframe and a small cast, to add a greater sense of urgency and intimacy. It meant that in order to keep the reader (and the main character) guessing, each of the suspects had to have something to hide; which meant writing multiple accounts of the same event, each overlapping and conflicting the others, that would ultimately fit together seamlessly when the truth was finally revealed.

So, in short, I think if anything could be said to have inspired me, it was A) the summertime, and B) my desire to switch things up.

Oh, I name them immediately. I can’t actually progress with a story outline until I know who I’m writing about, and I will spend HOURS picking and fine-tuning a name. Often, the name helps me figure out and solidify the personality.

Inevitably, though, I end up switching things around as I go—and occasionally one character will undergo two, three, even four name changes. After I completed the entire manuscript of White Rabbit, I renamed the main character, the main character’s best friend, and the murder victim, because they didn’t sound right to me anymore.

Since acting and writing are both forms of storytelling that depend on communicating emotion to an audience, the relationship between them (for me) has been surprisingly close. I put a lot of consideration into how I think my characters are feeling in any particular scene, and try to put into words how I would hope to perform that moment as an actor—expression, breathing, physicality, and so on… it’s all a part of the picture, and it can read the same on the page as from the stage.

Also, because my education and career experience include acting and TV production, I think very visually when I’m writing. From how the characters interact and the way the light falls, to color motifs and even “establishing shots” (Last Seen Leaving opens with a description of a dummy corpse lying in someone’s yard, for instance), I’m always trying to tell the story the way I see the story. It’s not a coincidence that my first attempt at Death Prefers Blondes was a screenplay!

In many ways, the publishing journey is filled with surreal moments: The first time you see your book in a store, the first time you hear from a complete stranger to whom your work meant something special, the first time you meet someone whose writing was crucial to your development as an author—only you’re meeting them as a colleague, and not just a fan. All of those are mind-blowing.

But maybe the most surreal for me was being recognized in public for the first time, while walking through Chicago’s Millennium Park. I’m not famous by any means, and my picture isn’t even on the back of my books, so it totally threw me for a loop!

Death Prefers Blondes hits shelves on Jan. 29! Click here to add it to your Goodreads shelf and click here to snag your copy today.

death prefers blondes cover

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them—for good?

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