Lisa Regan is the Philadelphia-based crime fiction author of the Detective Josie Quinn series, as well as the Claire Fletcher & Detective Parks mysteries, and the Jocelyn Rush books. Several of her books have landed on both the USA Today Bestsellers list and the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Her latest book, BREATHE YOUR LAST, has just been released. She's been gracious enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: Let's start by talking about your Boston Terrier, Mr. Phillip. He's become quite a social media icon, with Monday updates on his mood, entries from his "Quarantine log", and photos of him helping you ship out books to contest winners. How did he become such a huge star?
LR: It's so funny that you bring him up. I always joke to my husband that he’s semi-famous. He’s even had some amazing fan art made and sent to us by some of my fabulous readers. We kind of stumbled across Mr. Phillip when he was only nine weeks old. We brought him home. He was so sick for the first six months that we had him, we thought he was going to die several times. Lots of hospitalizations and vet visits. It was very tough because we had all fallen so in love with him. Plus, he came to us just before the worst year of our lives began—car accident, multiple surgeries for our little family, health issues for my husband and daughter—and he was such a comfort. He’s got the best disposition. He is sweet and loving and somehow instinctively knows when to comfort each one of us. I can remember the day we found out that our daughter would need to have her skull reconstructed, I sat on our couch and cried, and Mr. Phillip calmly climbed onto my lap and curled up there. He stayed right there until I got it all out. He’s become very special to all three of us. He is an excellent companion. As you can see from my social media posts, he has a very expressive face. I started posting pictures of him just because I thought they were cute or funny. I drew some criticism from my family for posting too much about him, so I went to Phillip’s Monday Mood instead. Then I missed a Monday and ended up with a flurry of messages from people wondering if everything was okay and saying how much they looked forward to those posts. The same thing happened with his COVID log posts. I started them just as a silly thing and people loved them so much, I just kept going. He’s just so darn cute and personable, it’s hard not to post about him. In terms of why he’s become so famous? I’m not sure but I suspect it’s to do with the fact that his photos and posts are just silly, simple pleasures, meant to be a tiny bit of pleasantness in a very stressful world. Now I just tell people that I am unapologetically obsessed with him and I post as much as I want.
MB: The latest book in your Josie Quinn series has just been released. Without giving any spoilers, tell us something about BREATHE YOUR LAST that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?
LR: What a great question! As you know from the jacket copy, in this installment, Josie finds a young college swimmer dead from drowning and as the investigation moves forward, more strange things start to happen in the small city of Denton. What’s not in the jacket copy are the many times Josie almost dies trying to solve this case. There’s also a new and very chilling villain who is unlike any bad guys that Josie has faced before. Plus, there is something in the book for my long-time readers that I think they will really appreciate, but I can’t say more about that without spoiling things.
MB: Your latest novel, BREATHE YOUR LAST, is the tenth book you've written about Josie Quinn. After so many books with the same character, do you find it challenging to come up with new ways to develop her? How do you keep the character fresh and new for each book?
LR: I don’t find it challenging at all, actually, because Josie is very real to me and I find with real people, growth is often incremental. With each case, I try to push her not just out of her investigative comfort zone but out of her emotional comfort zone. Even when Josie has an emotional epiphany, it’s still hard for her to let go of her old behaviors. It’s always a struggle for her to overcome the behaviors deeply ingrained in her by the trauma she’s experienced in life. With each case, I try to either challenge her in a different way by triggering a different aspect of her old trauma or bring her back to issues she’s faced but hasn’t properly dealt with yet. She’s got such a rich backstory, and there is so much to be mined there, that I’m not sure I’ll ever run out of ways to keep her growing. I think the way to keep her fresh is to force her to grow. For example, in the first book she’s very brash and temperamental and in subsequent books, over time, she becomes more patient and thoughtful and more in control of her emotions. Also, sometimes she tries to overcome her demons and fails, just like a real person.
MB: Out of all your books, was there one scene that you found particularly difficult to write?
LR: For some reason, the scene that was the most difficult to write was one that appears in book 3, HER MOTHER’S GRAVE, where Josie is about nine years old. She’s gone to live with her grandmother after her dad dies. She’s finally away from her abusive mother and starting to experience some normalcy and some joy and then her mom shows up to take her back. That really hurt me to write because she was so young and so painfully innocent still, and just the thought that she couldn’t enjoy the most normal childhood thing like going to a friend’s birthday party, was so sad to me. I’m not sure why that one hurt so badly because she certainly experienced worse traumas than that. I think maybe it was because it really drove home the point that young Josie didn’t get to enjoy even very simple things in her childhood.
MB: Every writer has specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have special places where they write. Some plot every detail before writing, while others fly by the seat of their pants. Talk for a moment about your writing process.
LR: I work very closely with my editor to develop the plot. I usually start out with an idea or premise, like with BREATHE YOUR LAST, it was hey, what if a championship swimmer drowned? Then I go from there, making notes and working on the possibilities of what happened and what Josie’s investigation will reveal. Then I send those notes to my brilliant editor, and she tells me what’s working and what’s not, gives me suggestions and asks questions. We go back and forth until I’ve got an outline. Sometimes that outline is really detailed down to each chapter and sometimes it’s very vague. Then I start writing. The book almost never follows the outline but it’s a guide. Once I’ve got a first draft, I send it to the editor, she reads it, and give me more suggestions about how it might be improved. Then it’s up to me to decide which suggestions to take and implement. Often, her suggestions or the questions she asks will jog something loose in my mind, and I’ll think of ways to make the book better as well and then we’ll go back to the discussion thing until I’ve nailed down the changes. My editor is a Godsend and I honestly don’t know how I wrote books without her. I’m usually way too close to the narrative to see the places it needs work so to have her eyes on it is invaluable. She is really great at challenging me to up my game and forcing me to think of new and innovative ways to plot. She almost always asks questions about the plot that I never would have thought to ask which is awesome for me creatively.
MB: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
LR: Scrape up the money somehow and hire a freelance editor to help you with your work. It will be worth every cent, make you a much better writer, and save you a lot of time and heartache in looking for an agent or publisher.
MB: Let’s finish this up with something a bit offbeat. I think I know the answer to this question, but I'll ask anyway. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? Is it a Boston Terrier?
LR: Haha. Well I think my spirit animal in life is definitely a Boston Terrier. They’re loyal and companionate. They love to nap, snuggle, and they believe everything can be solved with food. In terms of writing, however, I think I have to go with a hawk. Writing takes so much patience and an extreme amount of self-control (especially when you get edits back or notes from a really good beta reader). You also have to be very precise and incisive as well as have a keen eye for the overall structure of your work. I now have an office and outside we have about four hawks who regularly glide around and hunt. Watching them has been really interesting and has made me think they make a good writing spirit animal.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Good luck with BREATHE YOUR LAST.
Lisa Regan's new book BREATHE YOUR LAST is available now. You can discover more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisaregan.com. You can follow her, as well as the exploits of Mr. Phillip, on Instagram at instagram.com/lisareganauthor/, and on Facebook at facebook.com/LisaReganCrimeAuthor/.
You can buy BREATHE YOUR LAST at the following retailers.