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Author Talk: August 21, 2009


August 21, 2009

Laura Caldwell is the acclaimed author of such novels as BURNING THE MAP, A CLEAN SLATE and THE ROME AFFAIR. Her latest offering is a trilogy of thrillers --- RED HOT LIES, RED BLOODED MURDER and RED, WHITE & DEAD --- that released this summer in successive months, featuring entertainment lawyer Izzy McNeil. In this interview, Caldwell compares her own personality traits to that of her protagonist, and weighs the pros and cons of releasing the second and third installments so quickly after the first. She also explains why she had trouble publishing her first novel and shares some of the famous Chicago landmarks where events in the books take place.

Question: RED HOT LIES kicked off a summer mystery trilogy with the other books released in July and August. How did you come up with the idea for this series?

Laura Caldwell: I had never written a series before and the thought somewhat intimidated me, because these characters would have to expand and grow over the course of the books, I was sure. I had never particularly enjoyed a series where characters don’t age or change very much as the books progress. Another challenge was how to allow a reader to start on book number 2 (RED BLOODED MURDER) or book number 3 (RED, WHITE & DEAD) and to give them enough background information without giving away what happened in the previous books. Although they are a trilogy, the books are crafted so that they can be read in any order.

What I found was that I enjoyed writing the trilogy tremendously. I loved the fact that at the end of a book, I didn't have to give up the character. Instead, I was about to bring them right back. I would get to see what they did next. I also love the ability to explore different concepts, character traits and experiences that a character might have and see how they would respond to new ones. All the characters in these Red books --- not just the main character --- evolve during the course of the trilogy.

Q: In what ways are you and Izzy alike and in what ways are you different?

LC: What Izzy and I have in common --- red hair; troublesome blushing problems; attended University of Iowa for undergrad; attended Loyola University Chicago for law school; took classes at Loyola of Rome during a law school summer; we’re both Chicago lawyers; she lives in Old Town near where I used to live; she and I both love dive bars, especially the ones with popcorn machines.

Differences between Izzy and me --- she is younger; she is cooler; I’ve never moonlighted as a private eye (although I did stake out a witness once with one of the best PIs in the city of Chicago while I was researching this book); although I’ve done some entertainment law, Izzy’s entertainment law practice is at a much higher level than mine was; I used to drive a scooter, but after an accident decades ago, I gave it up and yet I still miss it.

Q: How long did it take you to write RED HOT LIES and what was the toughest challenge in writing the book?

LC: RED HOT LIES took about nine months to write, which I consider pretty fast. I turned it in, but the manuscript ended up getting tweaked numerous times because MIRA, my fabulous publisher, decided to put all the books out in Summer 2009, so every time something big changed in books #2 or 3, RED HOT LIES had to be changed accordingly. I ended up having to write RED BLOODED MURDER and RED, WHITE & DEAD even faster than the first one, but that was a blessing, too, because I was able to hold all three books in my head at once and edit them accordingly.

Q: As the author, how exciting was it to have a new book out in June, July and August?

LC: Putting out 3 books back-to-back-to-back is a relatively new concept within the literary world, although it’s been done with much success in the romance world for years. Only recently did the concept hit the mystery market. One of the best examples of quick-release books are the excellent novels by Allison Brennan --- THE PREY, THE KILL, and THE HUNT. When MIRA proposed the 3-month release of the Izzy McNeil books, I was thrilled at first, but then I realized that all my deadlines would have to be truncated. 2008 was a fast and furious year, which at any given time involved writing one book, editing another and plotting out yet another all at once. My assistant was a huge help in this process, as were my agent and editor. Our hope is that people will love Izzy McNeil and her adventures as much as we do and will get hooked on the first book and quickly come back for RED BLOODED MURDER and RED, WHITE & DEAD.

Q: You started out writing chick lit and moved to mysteries. Was that a smooth transition and why the genre change?

LC: When I first started writing, I wrote a story called BURNING THE MAP about a girlfriends’ trip to Italy and Greece that changes their lives. There was no “chick lit” market in existence then --- no BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY (at least not in the US), no "Sex and the City" on TV yet --- and I didn't consider the novel “chick lit” since the term hadn’t yet been developed. Because of the lack of that market, there was a distinct lack of love toward BURNING THE MAP. I couldn’t find an agent. But I loved reading mysteries and thought I might have better luck there. So I moved on and wrote a mystery. By the time I met the woman who would become my editor at a cocktail party, I was already working on mystery number two. I sold BURNING THE MAP first, followed by three more chick lit novels, then I sold six mystery/thrillers, including the Izzy McNeil/Red trilogy.

Q: Chicago works as the setting for several reasons doesn’t it?

LC: Chicago is a character and not just in the Izzy McNeil books. It is a fascinating, fluid city. Not only does our weather change constantly --- testing us and delighting us --- but the city itself doesn’t sit back and rest on any kind of laurels. Instead, Chicago is constantly striving, adapting, changing. And yet there are so many great things about Chicago that never change --- the good-natured people, the Midwest work ethic, our ability to bounce back from profound sports losses. And hey, our politics are entertaining, too.

Q: What are some of your personal favorite Chicago landmarks mentioned in the Izzy McNeil series?

LC: So many parts of the city are explored in RED HOT LIES, RED BLOODED MURDER and RED, WHITE & DEAD, from restaurants to events to landmarks to everyday locales. Here are just a few:
- RL Restaurant (the only Ralph Lauren restaurant in the world)
- Old Town
- Marge’s
- Lincoln Square
- the Loop
- North Avenue Beach
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- Old Town Art Fair
- Café Brauer
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
- Lake Forest
- Union League Club
- Roscoe Village
- Nomi at the Park Hyatt
- Old Town Ale House
- Lincoln Park
- Viagra Triangle
- Hugo’s Frog Bar
- Chinatown
- East Bank Club
- St. Pat’s Block Party
- Michigan Avenue

(And if you don’t see a location or a locale in the books that you’d like to have appear in following books, please email your suggestions to

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