Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Pamela N. Harris and Luanne Rice

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Pamela N. Harris and Luanne Rice and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Pamela N. Harris.]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Pamela N. Harris: When I was approached with the premise of When You Look Like Us, I was struck by the opportunity to write a mystery featuring characters who looked like me. Not only that, but I wanted to say something about the unfortunate epidemic in the United States about missing Black girls. I loved that I was able to combine these two concepts into something that I hope truly engages readers.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

I think there’s a bit of me in many of the characters in this novel. However, I think I see myself the most in my protagonist, Jay Murphy, as well as his accidental partner, Riley. Jay and I grew up in similar neighborhoods and had the same walls up because we were associated in that neighborhood. But I’m also a little like Riley since I can be somewhat nerdy at times (okay, most of the time), and that I’m a bit more “streetwise” than I let on.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I think that readers are hungry for not only high-concept stories, but also characters that are strong enough to drive these stories. What I love is that we’re seeing so many rich, diverse protagonists now. I’m thrilled that both myself and my children can read stories with characters of color at the forefront. Or queer characters. Or characters with disabilities. Or, even better, characters with a combination of these identities. Authors are doing a fantastic job of creating stories with characters who are representative of who I see every day.

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.

When You Look Like Us is a modern-day noir set in my former ‘hood. It follows Jay Murphy, whose sister goes missing in a community where missing Black girls often get overlooked. He realizes if he wants to find her and bring her home, it’ll be up to him. I hope that readers will want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next, but to also have a subtle understanding of the impacts of systemic racism.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

Great question! I’m working on another YA that touches on a major issue related to racism, but also has a mystery element. I love writing about social justice topics in an engaging way to keep readers both “woke” and entertained. 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Oh no, just one?! If I had to pick, I’d say Tiffany D. Jackson. She creates these beautiful, nuanced characters as well as twisty-turny plotlines. I can hear her characters speak through her writing, and she always keeps me on my toes. I go into her books thinking I know what will happen, but that’s never the case!

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Yes—get started. I’m definitely someone who tends to procrastinate. Sometimes I think that I can’t get started until I know every single detail of each of my characters—or that I need to know absolutely every plot point until the end. I even tried to tell myself I need the perfect latte and soundtrack to find the words. But all of that was because I was scared to stare at a blank page. You won’t have a story if you’re not writing—so whether you’re writing 10 words a day or 1,000, just get started!

Up next, Luanne Rice!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent book? 

Luanne Rice: I wanted to write about a woman in a marriage that looks perfect from the outside but is something quite different behind closed doors.  Claire’s husband is a powerful State’s Attorney, about to run for governor.  When something terrible happens to her, will anyone believe her?  

What character in this book do you most relate to and why? 

Claire Beaudry Chase, the main character.  She is an artist who creates pieces inspired by nature—by the sea and the woods, by objects she finds on the beach and in tide pools, in pine groves and fields.  I wish I had that kind of artistic talent, but I too find inspiration in the natural world.  She goes through a terrible experience and finds inner strength; writing about it helped me see ways I’ve done the same.  We’re all stronger than we think!

Why do you feel books with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

Readers can make sense of their own lives by entering fictional worlds.  It’s up to the writer to create characters who invite the readers in, to make them question and wonder, to take them places they’ve never been before.  

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it.

The Shadow Box is about how a woman is attacked and left for dead, how that crime is linked to another twenty years earlier, and how far she will go to expose the truth.  It’s also about family, and how she’s guided by thinking about her father, the lessons he taught her about life, art, and survival.  

What’s next for you in the writing world? 

I am working on two books—another thriller and my third Young Adult novel.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Alice Hoffman, Joe Monninger, and Lisa Scottoline, because they are great storytellers.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Believe in yourself.  Write every day.  Don’t worry about what anyone will think—just write.  Let your characters be real, and they will tell the story for you.  

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