Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Get Lost in a Riveting Southern Mystery and Author Lisa Turner

Get Lost in a Story Readers, Lisa Turner's debut, A Little Death in Dixie, took the mystery world by storm.  She's done it again in The Gone Dead Train.  And we're lucky enough to learn just how that happened.  Please welcome Lisa Turner to Get Lost in a Story!

About The Gone Dead Train

A riveting Southern mystery in which Memphis detective Billy Able descends into the bizarre world of flawed heroes, Santería voodoo, and cold-hearted killings linked to a damning photograph and a stunning betrayal by a civil rights icon

Burned by his last case, Memphis detective Billy Able is at a crossroads. He doubts himself. He doubts his career. But he can't turn off instincts honed by a decade on the force.

The suspicious deaths of two legendary bluesmen are ruled due to natural causes. Convinced that a crime has been committed, Billy Able and straitlaced female cop Frankie Malone refuse to let it go. A voodoo curse, a Santerían priest, and a decades-old photograph may connect the seemingly unrelated homicides. But the clues don't add up until a third victim is cruelly murdered. Guilt-ridden, Billy swears to dig into the city's dark history for answers, then finds himself caught up in a web of incriminating evidence. Hunter becomes prey. Frankie has his back as they race to solve the deadly puzzle from which Billy may not come out alive.

DONNELL:  Let's Welcome Lisa Turner to Get Lost in a Story!  First of all,
readers, I have to tell you this author can tell a story.  If you haven’t checked out A Little Death of Dixie, please do.  But today, we’re going to focus on The Gone Dead Train.  First of all, Lisa, you’re an interesting case!  Your first book was published through Bell Bridge Books, correct?.  Harper Collins discovered your phenomenal writing and like the train you write about in book two said, All aboard!  So question number one is, did you or did they come up with the title, Gone Dead Train, and please tell readers what it means?

LISA: Hi Donnell. Thanks for the invitation. I arrived at HarperCollins with the title, The Gone Dead Train. At first they weren’t too sure about it. Six months later they decided it was perfect. They either took a poll or it grew on them.  

Creating stories has taught me to ask myself a question and leave space for an answer to show up on its own. I didn’t have a title for my latest book, but I knew that if I waited it would come.

One stormy morning I was looking through research materials when the tornado sirens went off. We don’t have a basement, so I grabbed a book of blues lyrics meant to be read as poetry and settled in a chair away from the windows. A train motif runs through the story, probably because the Norfolk Southern tracks are about a mile from my home, and I can hear the trains running day and night. I heard a train whistle blow just as the book fell open to “The Gone Dead Train,” a blues song recorded in 1932 by King Solomon Hill. I got the chills and knew I’d found my title.

Later in the day, I learned a neighbor’s tree had been twisted out of the ground like a corkscrew. A tornado had passed right over our heads.

DONNELL:  Your reviews on your debut novel are terrific!  They rave about how you take the reader through Memphis, and about your ability to write police procedurals.  Do you have a background in law enforcement?  And how did you make Detective Billy Able so spot on?

LISA: I have zero background in law enforcement and didn’t start out to write a book with a detective as the lead. In A Little Death in Dixie, Mercy Snow, whose sister goes missing, was the original protagonist. But the detective, a secondary character, took over. Local homicide detectives, criminal attorneys, and a private eye gave me hours of their time, answering questions and telling me their stories.  

Procedural research for The Gone Dead Train was easier with the help of my brilliant cousin, Lieutenant James Flatter of the Monroe County Sherriff’s Dept. Key West. He told me amazing stories and walked me through some of the inside baseball of law enforcement. James Freeman, a character in the book, is modeled after him. Sadly, James passed away suddenly a little over year ago. I miss him terribly.

DONNELL:  Voodoo and a Santerian priest—there’s tremendous cultural references here. When I think voodoo, I think of Louisiana.  Santerian I think of Africa.  First, do you believe in voodoo?  I confess someone sent me a doll and it’s on the top of my closet, unopened.  Is this something you’ve dealt with personally, or did you have to do a lot of research to write this story?

LISA:  You’re right, Santeriá and voodoo are not the same, although you can find evil curses in both. The form of Santeriá I researched is specifically Cuban, which has migrated to Key West. Again, my cousin, a thirty-year veteran cop who spent most of his career in Key West, was the reason I included Santeriá in the book. He described finding curses at murder scenes that told him the victims were believers, and in some cases, that the curses were involved in their deaths. I’ve included those details in a scene in my book. So James had the firsthand experience, not me; however, I’ve read several books on the religion (it’s not a cult). When the publisher asked me to expand Santerá in the storyline, my one-scene witchdoctor became the enigmatic Dr. Sergio Ramos, a highly regarded psychologist and practicing santero. And he’s a cutie. Think Antonio Banderos.

          The voodoo doll wrapped up in your closet is called contagious magic. It’s believed that whatever happens to that doll will happen to the person it’s fashioned after. From what I’ve read, I’d talk to an expert before disposing of it.

DONNELL:  How would you categorize your books?  Are they straight thrillers, suspense, any romance included?  What is the easiest thing to write about Billy, and what would you say is the hardest.  Does he ever surprise you?  Can you picture Bill in you head?

LISA: Your category question sent me trotting off to omnimystery.com for their genre list. According to their definition, I write mysteries with a continuing detective. That means there’s a crime that’s solved by the end of the book, and the writing is atmospheric with character development of the protagonist and antagonist. I touch on relationship development, but a hard-working cop like Billy Able doesn’t get a lot of time off for the ladies.

There’s nothing easy about Billy. He claims to be a simple guy just doing his job, but that’s bull hockey. Yes, his mission is pretty straightforward: representing people who can’t stand up for themselves. And that’s not just for murder victims. It’s Billy’s nature to call out all forms of injustice.

This will sound a little crazy, but Billy tries to hide things from me . . . you know how men are. I have long discussions about Billy with my husband, Rob Sangster. Those talks tell me a lot about both men.

Can I picture Billy in my head? He keeps changing, which is the reason I generalize his physical description. I’ve put up a board of his current iteration on Pinterest.com.

DONNELL:  What comes first for you, plot or character? Or other?

LISA: Memphis comes first because the city and Southern culture are major players in my books. The concept for the plot is next—hopefully it’s a high concept that immediately grabs the imagination. Then Billy and the characters gather around the plot. It’s as if everything about the story already exists, and it’s my job to be a story archeologist.

DONNELL:  You’re living in the fabulous area of Nova Scotia now, a far cry from Memphis.  What do you miss about Memphis, and what’s your favorite thing about living in Nova Scotia?

LISA: We split the year between places, which is ideal. I miss everything about Memphis when I’m gone, but mainly the giant hardwood trees. Oh, and the food, the rhythm of the place, and the sense of fun. I can’t say music because there’s amazing music in Nova Scotia. People put on home concerts for professional players. I’m talking Nashville studio musicians who back up stars on tour. We set up folding chairs and they play for the love of it.

Nova Scotia is a land of people with tough jobs and big hearts. I have a Nova Scotia board on Pinterest. My husband took many of the photos.

One more thing. Nova Scotia is called the Riviera of Canada because the Gulf Stream flows right up the coast. Seven months out of the year the weather is lovely. But don’t tell anyone. We’re trying to keep the place a secret.

DONNELL:  What would you say is the most interesting/unusual thing you’ve ever learned researching a book?

Looking into the Santeriá aspect of The Gone Dead Train, I found myself studying anthropology, religion, and psychology. I would like to have gone into more detail in the story, but pacing wouldn’t allow it.

It’s tempting to sit in judgment about things we don’t understand—things that possibly scare us, but that’s where I want to go with my research.  

DONNELL:  When you’re not writing, where will we find you?

LISA:  When I’m not writing, I’m talking about writing or editing or reading. Rob writes these amazing thrillers about cutting edge issues. His first novel is with Bell Bridge Books entitled Ground Truth. His second manuscript is with the editor, and a third story is cooking on the back of the stove. Rob and I have very different voices and strengths, which makes us a great fit. We have a wonderful time brainstorming story ideas. I fantasize that we’re Dashiell Hammet and Lillian Hellman. I told Rob he gets to be Lillian. You should have seen the frown!

I cook. Writers have to eat. I make jewelry with trade beads. We all need a little bling in our lives, right?

DONNELL:  If you could meet anyone, past or present, living or dead, who would it be and why?

LISA: I’d track down my sixteen-year-old self and have a conversation about the consequences of choices, especially the early ones. As Billy said in The Gone Dead Train, “There are some decisions you just don’t come back from.” The man knows what he’s talking about.

DONNELL:  What comes next for Lisa Turner?

My third novel is underway with the story built around a venerable Memphis law firm. It opens with Billy and Frankie investigating the early morning shooting death of a young female lawyer. She’s dressed in a designer wedding gown and there’s a herd of buffalo that gets involved. Multiple complications set in. This book is very Old South with a few scenes taking place at a Mississippi plantation.

Oh. And Billy is going to have to watch for some competition coming from my bad boy character, Judd Phillips. I’m already falling for him.   
LISA, thank you for being our guest today. Readers, Lisa will be doing a drawing from those who comment today, and extra, extra, A Little Death in Dixie is still $1.99 on Amazon Kindle the next couple of days.  Don't miss out. 




  1. Sounds like a great series! I look forward to reading it!

    1. Hi May, and thank! Donnell's questions turned the interview into a conversation. If you read my books, please let me know what you think.
      Lisa Turner

  2. Lisa, I loved both A Little Death in Dixie and The Gone Dead Train. What page turners. Can't wait for book three. Still trying to figure out how a wedding dress and a herd of buffalos connect! Thanks for being our guest today

  3. Thanks again, Donnell for having me. As for the buffaloes, Shelby Farms is tremendous park on the outskirts of Memphis. I've driven past the herd of buffaloes for years. Check out the newborns at http://www.shelbyfarmspark.org/buffaloadoptions
    Best regards, Lisa Turner

  4. Welcome to GLIAS. Your books look awesome.

    1. Hi Texas lady, looks like your Intrigue line is blowing the doors off! Congrats. Lisa Turner

  5. How fun to read about how the title of your book came about and in a tornado!

    1. All true. Having lived in Memphis all my life, I didn't realize how drama-packed Southern life is until we began spending time in Nova Scotia. I can't write everyday, true events in my life. They're too over the top to be believed.

  6. Lisa, your books sound like ones I'd really like to read. I'll have to order the first one since that's where I always like to start a story. I have longed for years and years to visit Nova Scotia, but it's a long way to drive. I like the music that comes from there.

    1. Gloria, I like to read and write a strong sense of place and culture. Memphis and Nova Scotia have both. My husband collects Nova Scotia South Shore sayings like "Finest kind" and "Some good." September and October are great months to visit. The light is amazing!

  7. Lisa, I loved A Little Death in Dixie. Now I'll definitely read The Gone Dead Train while I wait for Book #3! What great plotting.
    Donnell, what a fun interview.
    Loved it all, ladies!

    1. Loralee, it's always a thrill to hear a reader has enjoyed A Little Death in Dixie. I hope you'll find The Gone Dead Train a compelling read. I'm also waiting on book #3! Just worked out the plot ending at midnight last night.