A Q&A with Lisa Preston, author of Orchids and Stone

lisaprestonPlease welcome Lisa Preston to the blog! She stopped by to chat about her new book, Orchids and Stone, and more!


Will you tell us about Orchids and Stone and what inspired you to write it?

Orchids and Stone is about how far a person could go to help a stranger. I made the initial encounter questionable, a coin toss: either there is a catastrophe or there’s no problem at all. Only someone with the right prompts in the past would respond, so of course, our heroine has baggage that impels her to consider that this stranger might be in grave danger as she claims, and to intervene.

So many notions come together in a novel. When I was in high school, my entire school attended the funeral of a recent grad. I didn’t know anything about the graduate but I was forever struck when a young woman was called to speak at the altar but couldn’t continue beyond two voice-cracking words: my sister. Her pain was so raw, I still tear up at the memory. When I learned her sister had been murdered. I considered the beginning of how the loss affected one surviving sister. Later, I became a police officer and I saw the gamut of people at their best and worst, far too many people who would be forever affected by a crime. I intervened, of course, countless times, stepped into a stranger’s life and figured things out as best I could, put handcuffs on someone, stood up to someone out of control, quelled the disturbance. I found myself thinking about bystander syndrome–when people do not intervene for others.

What makes Daphne Mayfield such a compelling character? Will you tell us more about her?

I love a character-driven story. Daphne is suspended, just like the criminal case from her childhood that has affected her and her family. Her coping choices have been unusual, yet make sense. People often comment on the end of chapter 1, when they learn how and why Daphne has become a laborer.

What kind of research did you do for the book, and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?

Because of my past careers as a cop and a paramedic, I’m solid on the legal and medical writing pertinent to crime fiction. The story is set in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, and I was enchanted with the wild calypso orchid, also called “fairy slippers” that occasionally spring up on the forest floor. When a friend called me to come see these tiny orchids in her woods, I was struck by what they could symbolize.

What supporting characters did you particularly enjoy writing about?

It’s hard to choose—I am interested in people, their choices, whether or not they change and how they do it. I loved writing about the two kids, how they had changed and how they were when they were stuck in their divorced parents’ friction or when they were trying to connect. Thea, the best friend, has some of the best lines in the book. I liked writing about the villainous characters, too. People behaving badly are inherently intriguing.

What is your writing process like?

Loosey-goosey organic would be one way to describe my process. I work hard, yet don’t write on a schedule or quota. Long ago, I gave myself permission to not write in order, so if I’m stuck in a scene or development, I page down and write a section that will come later. I get critical in rewriting and tune the structure, address the arc of different characters and of the story. So here I sit, feet on my desk, tapping away on a laptop by a five-foot window that shows green grass, an old barn, and blue sky. This means I’ll be writing tonight because who can resist running the trails and enjoying a horse ride with her dog on a day like this?

Why mystery? What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, in the genre?

Mysteries deliver. In an incredible range of characters and settings, we get fair play, a chance to learn and guess and get it right– or get stumped. You will be engrossed in the reading experience.

What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?

Great characters, truths, settings, dynamics, premises—all of that engages me because it builds a great plot. Gratuitous anything—violence, language, characterization–turns me off, as does too big an ask in suspending disbelief. Flat getting it wrong stops me, for instance, a character flipping the safety of her Glock on or off—um, I carried a Glock. The only user-controlled safety is a little tab in the trigger.

If you could experience any book again for the first time, which one would it be?

What a great question. You’re sending me straight to childhood, listening to my teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows. “Don’t stop! What happened to Old Dan and Little Ann? Multiplication tables can wait, keep reading!”

What are you currently reading?

The Notorious RBG, Overdiagnosed, and Switcheroo. There’s a lot to love in biography, science and a great mystery.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am really excited about the stand-alone suspense I’m working on these days. It’s a parallel novel, an urban woman with a post-WWII photo, and a rural family with a traumatized child. The two stories are linked by an act in the past repeated in the present. The only other thing I’ll say is that when I was a detective, I did these chatty, straight-faced interviews with child victims of abuse, and the kids who had been severely threatened to not tell made an impression on me.

Keep up with Lisa: Website

About Orchids and Stone:
They’re trying to take me. Help! Help me, please.

Daphne Mayfield sought a moment of quiet in a park—a break from city life, a tense relationship, and chronic overwork—but then an elderly woman makes a desperate plea. Daphne is reluctant to get involved when she’s not sure what’s happening, but she wants to help the stranger. Is the rambling old lady the victim of a crime or a victim of dementia?

As her unease grows, Daphne can’t let go of the encounter. No matter what her boyfriend or her friends say. No matter what the retired homicide detective warns. Though she knows she’s meddling in other people’s lives, her instincts scream that the danger is real.

With each increasingly bold intervention, Daphne involves herself in someone else’s crisis until she’s in too deep to turn back. She’s not just fighting for a stranger’s life…she’s fighting for her own.

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