Interview: Sarah Lotz, author of The Three

THE THREE by Sarah Lotz just came out this week, and I can already tell you it will be on my Best of 2014 list! Sarah kindly answered a few of my questions about it, and more-please give her a warm welcome!


sarahlotzSarah, will you tell us a little about your new book, THE THREE, and what inspired you to write it?
I tend to write about what scares me, and as I’m flight phobic, I’ve always wanted to write a novel about air disasters. This irrational fear was the seed of the novel, and the idea grew quite quickly from there. It’s about how the media and the world responds to a devastating event – in this case, four air disasters on the same day – and looks at the conspiracy theories, media hysteria and fear that balloons around the tragedies and the three child survivors.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
Yes – always! I love making stuff up and I’m a bit socially awkward so I’m comfortable spending hours alone with nothing but a cat and a computer for company. I was born in the UK, lived for a while on the streets of Paris when I was a teenager, then moved to Israel where I met my first husband, who was from South Africa. I moved to Cape Town, and have been living here ever since. Over the years, I’ve done loads of crappy minimum-wage jobs, and also spent years working as a staggeringly inept mural painter. My all-time favourite job was working as a screenwriter on South Africa’s first spec fiction animation series, alongside Lauren Beukes and Sam Wilson. I now write fulltime, and love collaborating: I write horror novels with Louis Greenberg under the name S.L Grey; a ‘choose-your-own’ erotica series with authors Helen Moffett and Paige Nick, and a YA series co-written with my daughter under the name Lily Herne.

The Three is told mostly through witness statements, news accounts, etc. What made you decide to go that route as opposed to a more traditionally narrative style?
As the events in the novel take place in multiple locations and are focalised through many diverse perspectives, this structure seemed like a natural fit. Otherwise I reckon it would have turned into a 700 page tome, and as I’m not Stephen King, I’m not sure I could have pulled this off. As it is, I really stretched myself to the limit on this one!

thethreeThere’s a ton of info on plane crashes and the investigation into such accidents in the book, so I’m guessing you did quite a bit of research on the subject, but what other types of research did you do, and what is one of the most interesting things you discovered?
The research took months, and included talking to commercial pilots, riding along with South African paramedics and delving into eschatology. One of my Japanese characters, Ryu, is classified as a hikikomori – someone who can’t face the societal pressure of the outside world and consequently never leaves his apartment, choosing to live his life entirely online. It’s estimated that there are up to a million hikikomori in Japan, and I had no clue about the condition before I started researching it.

One of my main concerns was getting the sense of place across – especially in the sections that take place in countries other than South Africa. I spent some time in Brooklyn, and travelled to Tokyo with my mum, where we visited the Aokigahara ‘suicide’ forest – one of the crash sites in the novel. I’d heard that it was one of the creepiest places on earth, but it was snowing while we were there, and was actually rather beautiful.

I love how, even though there are quite a few character POVs in The Three, you manage to make each one three dimensional, with their own quirks, prejudices, and personalities. Did you have a favorite? Was anyone based on people you know in real life?
Thank you! Paul Craddock is my favourite character as he was the most fun to write. Characters who have a narcissistic streak often are. None of the characters are based directly on people I know. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it (!)

You’ve got quite a few horror titles under your belt. What do you enjoy most about writing horror and dark fiction?
Apart from the obvious answer – that the story-telling possibilities are pretty much endless – I suppose it’s because writing and reading horror fiction is a ‘safe’ way of feeling fear.

What’s something that truly terrifies you?
Spiders. In Cape Town they grow to the size of small ponies. I have a crew of emergency spider-rescuers who are on call in case one creeps into the house (the spiders get gently relocated to the neighbours’ yards). But my greatest fear is something awful happening to my family or friends.

What are a few of your favorite authors or books? Are there any that have particularly influenced you in your work?
I have too many favourite authors and novels – really, the list would be endless, so I’ll stick with a few of my favourite horror novels: I Am Legend, Richard Matheson; The Hellfire Club, Peter Straub; World War Z, Max Brooks; The Girl With All the Gifts, M. R Carey; Slights, Kaaron Warren; everything and anything by Sarah Pinborough; Dark Matter, Michelle Paver; Horns, Joe Hill; James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl.

Stephen King is my greatest influence. I’ve been reading his novels since I was ten or eleven. He said recently on twitter that horror is less about the monsters and more about when you ‘know and love the characters, but you also know something very bad is going to happen to them’. He’s dead right (of course!) I’ve also learned a great deal from collaborating with Louis Greenberg, one of SA’s top literary writers (he’s helped me up my game), as well as my other co-authors.

What are you currently reading?
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. I love that it’s a non-Western centric view of an alien invasion, but it’s much, much more than this. It’s a stunning piece of work and a page-turner of note.

When you’re not writing, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I’m very boring. I read, hang out with my husband and friend, and walk my collection of decrepit rescue dogs. And I’m addicted to trashy reality shows.

What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up my next solo book, Day Four, and then I’ll be writing the next S.L Grey novel.

Keep up with Sarah: Twitter | Website | SL Grey Twitter

About THE THREE:
Four simultaneous plane crashes. Three child survivors. A religious fanatic who insists the three are harbingers of the apocalypse. What if he’s right?

The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.

Dubbed ‘The Three’ by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival…

One Comment:

  1. This sounds very chilling! Thanks for the great interview and the heads up on a book I’ll definitely have to check out.

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