Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of 21 novels. With books published in 33 languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is regarded as a master of suspense.
Unger’s critically acclaimed novels have been featured on “Best Book” lists from the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, People, Amazon, Goodreads, L.A. Times, The Boston Globe, Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, and many others. She has been nominated for, or won, numerous awards including the Strand Critics, Audie, Hammett, Macavity, ITW Thriller, and Goodreads Choice.
In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few authors, including Agatha Christie. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. Lisa is the current co-President of the International Thriller Writers organization.
In this post, Lisa shares who prompted her most recent novella, what its central theme is, and more.
Name: Lisa Unger
Literary agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House
Book title: Christmas Presents
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Release date: October 24, 2023
Genre/category: Christmas thriller novella
Previous titles: 20 previous novels, as well as short stories and other novellas, all found here: www.lisaunger.com
Elevator pitch for the book: Bookstore owner Madeline Martin thinks her dark past is buried until a controversial true crime podcaster shows up a few days before Christmas with questions. As the holiday approaches and a winter blizzard bears down, Madeline is forced to discover that the past is not dead, it’s not even past.
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What prompted you to write this book?
I love a glittery thing. Anything that shines and sparkles—because I know there’s always a shadow side. And it’s that darkness, the thing that everyone tries to hide, that interests me. So, when Otto Penzler asked me to write a Christmas novella, I jumped at the chance.
The holiday season is packaged and sold as this time of joy, communion, family. It’s a story we’re told from childhood—that there will be gifts if we’re good, abundant feasts, love, joy. And yet for many the season is a difficult time, where the flaws in our lives and families are highlighted by the idea that everything is meant to be perfect.
It’s the end of the year, so many people are really examining where they’ve been and their hopes for the future, bad memories and trauma coming to the surface. I was excited to look at all these various facets of Christmastime, even the dark ones.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
Christmas Presents is a novella, so it was really just a few months from idea to first draft. I’d had the idea percolating for a while—something about an independent bookstore owner with secrets and an unethical podcaster—and setting it at Christmas gave me the piece that had been missing.
My stories always start with just a seed, a vague idea, a character voice, and evolve in the writing. So things always change, but the essence, the energy of this one stayed the same throughout the process.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Haha. I’ve been around the publishing block a few times—but it’s always a wild, unpredictable ride. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how excited people are about a Christmas novella that’s really more dark, character-driven psychological suspense than the cozier mystery one might expect set at the holidays.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
There are always surprises in the writing process. If there weren’t—why write? I write for the same reason that I read, because I want to know what’s going to happen to the people living in my head. I am always in a state of wonder, surprise and awe, deeply devoted to and invested in my characters. And things never go exactly as I imagine they might.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Insert evil laughter here. My unofficial tagline for this book is: Lisa Unger ruins Christmas.
But in all seriousness, it’s always my intention to walk my readers through the night to reach the dawn. And the central theme of the novella is that no matter how dark the past, there is always light to be found in the present. There is always joy, always love, there are always gifts even when you think all is lost—if you can only see what’s right in front of you.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
Just write. There’s so much noise these days about what authors must do to self-promote on social media. So many writers seem to think that they need to be influencers in order to survive.
Certainly, there are opportunities to connect with readers that never existed before. And that’s a great thing. But at the end of the day, no one will come to your work and STAY because you created the best video on TikTok.
Readers come to your work and stay because you gave them a great story, one that moved and involved them, that lifted them out of their lives and problems for a time. And to give someone that, you need to bring the best of yourself to the page. So just write. Every day.