I am giving away a copy of All In, autographed by Lisa, as part of my April giveaway, in one big bundle o’ books: All In plus Steph Cha’s noir, Dead Soon Enough, and Krista Davis’ cozy, The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss. And a $10 Amazon gift card. If you’d like a chance to win the book bundle, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter before April 30th. Everyone on the list at midnight Pacific Time, April 30th, will be automatically entered to win.
Episode 1: Lisa Klink
Welcome to Destination Mystery, a podcast for people who love a good mystery. I’m Laura Brennan.
Lisa Klink started her career in the world of Star Trek, writing for Deep Space Nine and Voyager before coming back to earth on shows such as Martial Law and Missing. In addition to writing for television, she scripted a theme park attraction and authored graphic novels, short stories, and three novels in The Dead Man series. Lisa is also a five-time champion on Jeopardy, but most important for today’s chat, Lisa is the co-author, with Joel Goldman, of the thriller All In.
Laura Brennan: Lisa, hi and welcome!
Lisa Klink: Hi! How’s it going?
LB: I’m doing very well. I’m so excited to be here. I loved All In.
LK: Oh, thank you.
LB: You’re welcome. And I want to talk to you about it, and about the genesis of the project, but the first thing I want to do is gush about Cassie. Because it’s so rare that we see, I mean it’s not rare these days to find a kick ass woman protagonist, but to find a book where the woman is actually more kick ass than the man – –
LB: I mean, love Jake, Jake’s great and he’s great at what he does, he’s super fantastic at poker and at his life – –
LB: And his livelihood, but you know, Cassie’s the one who saves their ass. Again and again. So tell me a little bit about her first. How – – was it deliberate? Did you guys decide – – because you wrote this book with Joel Goldman.
LB: Did you guys decide to do that deliberately?
LK: I wish I could take full credit for Cassie, but Joel Goldman is actually the one who came up with Cassie and Jake. He has written several ongoing series with detectives and cops and lawyers. He has a whole bunch of series going on and he wanted to start a new series with this pair Cassie and Jake, an asset recovery specialist and a poker player. So he kind of had all of that in his mind when he brought it to me, and had a couple of paragraphs bios for each of them. So he was the one who decided that she was going to be the pro at this, kind of doing the Oceans Eleven stuff. And that Jake was going to be, as you said, talented in his own way but kind of the sidekick in her business in a way.
LB: Oceans Eleven is a very apt comparison, not just because of the casino settings but also for the tone and the depth of the characters. It’s such a well-balanced book, it’s hard to call either of them a sidekick, certainly in terms of their emotional development. It’s really Jake almost who gets more of that, in this first book anyway.
LK: Yeah, well that obviously is the interesting part. I mean you can have all the fireworks and escapades that you want but really what you’re reading for and hopefully what you’re reading a whole series for is the people. And they need to start from a place that needs some development.
LB: All of the characters are so distinct. Even your thugs are not just sort of the typical henchman. They have back stories and personalities and — how much of that was sort of bringing your TV experience to the table?
LK: Well it actually started off all being about Kendrick, the hedge fund manager. That was kind of the genesis of the story. And you know it’s really easy to just make him a complete villain, but that’s kind of boring. And both of us, Joel and I, were both very conscious about not making the villain, or really any of the characters, just be the cliché. I think both of us have written enough and certainly have watched enough writers kind of taking the easy way out. And honestly that’s not fun to write. And so if you can make Kendrick or Theo, who kind of emerged as another bad guy, if you can make them interesting, you just have more places to go. And more corners to explore. Once we had Kendrick in place we wanted to have his wife be kind of the way in. Cassie befriends his wife Gina, who is a very sympathetic character, and Cassie is using her. And that’s an interesting dilemma to put her in. We didn’t want to make Gina just like a brainless bimbo, who just married him for his money and is just a gold digger. We wanted her to be a genuinely interesting character, so Cassie would feel bad about using her and would form a genuine friendship with her.
LB: Right. Which then you have pay off. I don’t want to give too many spoilers but that’s wonderful. So you were saying how you’ve seen a lot and read a lot. Who are some of the authors who have influenced you, either growing up or as you were writing?
LK: Well certainly when I was younger, and even now, I mean Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. And he was definitely an influence for The Dead Man series. I think because his writing voice is so conversational and accessible and he doesn’t have any pretensions of being this Great Literary Figure. He writes like people talk and that is certainly an aspiration of mine, to make it sound like I’m sitting there and telling you a story.
LB: Oh my gosh, well kudos, because you totally do.
LK: Thank you.
LB: So let’s talk a little about The Dead Man series. The Dead Man series was conceived by writers Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Matt Cahill is a decent guy just trying to get along, until he’s killed in a freak accident only to “wake up” three months later, drafted into the battle between good and evil. It’s squarely horror, but the series also features layer upon layer of mystery. Above all, they’re thrillers.
LK: Again, especially in a horror/thriller kind of series, you really want to put your main guy through the ringer. You want it to be where the reader thinks, how on earth is he going to get out of this? And you want to actually specify the torture, so it is really Matt-specific. The things that bother him are not necessarily the same things that would get to me. And so the trick is to figure out what is his personal nightmare and then poke at that spot.
LB: Oh that does sound like fun!
LK: It is. I mean the structure of The Dead Man we always kind of joke that it — the structure the whole series — is almost like the Incredible Hulk.
LB: Yes, I totally see that.
LK: You have this itinerant character, Bruce Banner, who goes from place to place helping other people solve their problems while having this meta-story of, he’s trying to solve his own problems and his own mystery.
LB: And there are, in all of your books, actually – you have the three in The Dead Man series and so far you have All In – you have mini-mysteries that get solved throughout. There’s always something underneath what’s going on. It’s not the typical whodunit, but there’s always a layer and a layer and a layer of something else to be discovered.
LK: Well, again, that’s the kind of story I like. Those are the kind of stories that I read and the kinds of movies that I watch, they’re the things where you think you know what’s going on, but really…! I love movies that have effective twists. Not just for the sake of it but, something like The Sixth Sense, where there’s the mystery, and then there’s the turn that makes you look at the whole thing differently. I love that kind of stuff, again, when it’s well done. And so I do constantly try to think of that, is there any way that I can pull the rug out from under the reader and go, you thought you knew but…
LB: Also in your career you have written for television, quite a lot. Do you find that you bring the same type of game or is it a completely different animal?
LK: It is quite different. The thing that really struck me was, there are so many more words! Just because, if you look at a TV script or a movie script, 90% of the page is white space. And it’s just character name, a little dialogue, white space, character name, a little dialogue… So the whole page is maybe a hundred words. You crunch that up into an actual, like, prose paragraph, and it’s, you know, maybe a third of one page. And it feels like there’s so much more. In television, the script is only one part of it. And then the set decorator comes in and the costume designer and the director and the stunt guy and the editor and so many more people come in with their own contributions. But in a novel, you have to be everybody. I have to be the stunt guy, and I’ve got to be the costume designer, and I have to describe all of that, and I also have to be the actor. What’s going on inside the character’s mind? I mean, in television they really drill into you, if it’s not on the screen, it’s not in the script. You do not put things in the script like, Captain Janeway remembered her childhood… Unless she actually says that, or you see a flashback, it doesn’t belong in the script. In a novel, you’ve got to put that stuff in there, and that’s just alien to me, that has been hard to overcome.
LB: That’s so interesting that you should say that, because it doesn’t feel, when I’m reading you, everything feels like it’s pacing like a movie, or like TV, everything just keeps flowing and moving. I never feel weighed down by any of that, but it is in there, the descriptions are there, everything is there, but you make it all serve the story.
LK: Well thank you. Again, I like fast-paced stuff, and I think my writing style suited television, in a way, in that I tend to be minimalistic. I tend to just, what happened? That’s kind of what drives me, and so, again, in TV, that’s all that matters. And so when I’m writing novels, the notes that I was got from my editors on The Dead Man and from Joel on this is, let it breathe. Give it more space. It doesn’t have to be just this headlong rush all the time. You can take a moment. And that’s really what I’m learning how to do.
LB: Okay, well, I think you’ve kind of nailed it. But that’s just me. Okay, well I just have a lot of things on how death features in all of your books. On almost every page. And I’m not sure there’s a question in there, except the stakes are so high. Did you find that exhilarating, or is it hard to keep that up?
LK: I do find that exhilarating. I think, as you know as a writer, stakes are everything. What does the character have to lose, and what if they fail? That’s the main question you always have to answer, and “they’ll die” is always a pretty good answer. It does obviously up the stakes, but you don’t want it to just be monotonous that it’s always just “are they going to die,” but they’re going to lose somebody or they’re going to lose something or somebody important or they’re going to let somebody down, or they’re going to have to betray their own morals. There have to be other, more inner, kinds of stakes as well because otherwise, again, it’s kind of boring. I mean, you’re just in a horror movie.
LB: But speaking of stakes, poker. So poker is a big part of All In. So essentially, I don’t want to have any spoilers, but in All In, they’re both going after, Jake as the poker expert and Cassie as the asset recovery specialist, they’re both going after the same guy. So poker plays a big part in it.
LK: That was Joel’s concept, was that Jake’s expertise does have a lot of overlap. Like reading your opponents, and strategy and bluffing and figuring out the odds. And he suggested that we make Jake a math prodigy so that he can figure out really complicated odds, you know, down to, well there’s a 77% chance of this, and he could have gone the way of somebody like Kendrick to a hedge fund manager and just made a lot of money but to him it’s more interesting to solve the puzzle and to solve problems and to use it in a game, in poker. But the same skills obviously translate.
LB: Did you already play poker? Did you have to learn how to play?
LK: I had to learn a lot. I knew the very basics, but in terms of strategy and, yeah I had to do a crash course, just to stay credible writing those scenes. But I think it kind of helps to come at it from the point of view of someone who’s not a poker fanatic because I didn’t want it to be boring to someone like myself.
LB: Right. Also you didn’t take anything for granted.
LK: Yeah. I knew what needed to be explained to me and so I tried to do that.
LB: I am so delighted to hear that All In is soon to be followed up by All Gone. So I don’t know how much you can tell me about it other than Jake and Cassie are back.
LK: Jake and Cassie are back. And I can tell you that the book kicks off with a really kick ass museum heist.
LB: Oh, I love museum heists! So, All In is a thriller and it’s very suspenseful and exciting, it’s also, and I don’t know how you pull this off, but is also very lighthearted.
LK: The tone was foremost in both of our minds. I always thought of the TV show Leverage, I thought they did a really good job of nailing the tone of, it’s fun, but there are consequences.
LB: Leverage! I completely see Leverage in this. How did you manage to – – working with Joel, did you play off of each other? How did you manage to pull off that tone?
LK: First of all, I think that one of the reasons that he wanted to work together is that he had read my work and I had read his other work and it seemed like our writing voices would mesh pretty well. Which I think they have. And so we obviously spent quite a while talking about the tone and the voice and what we wanted the characters to be before we actually started writing. And then we wrote kind of a passing back and forth. I would take the first crack at it and give it back to him and he would rewrite chapter one and give it back to me and then I would write chapter two kind of based on that. So it was a lot of reading and rewriting each other back and forth which I think was helpful.
LB: Well if you can do it, that’s fantastic. If you can work it that way with another person. And, you guys, it worked for you?
LK: Yeah. Joel actually lives in Kansas so this is what I got Skype in the first place was to meet with my fellow writer. Yes, we have been constantly working on ways to improve it because passing things back and forth and email is good but an actual face-to-face video conversation is particularly helpful. And when you can bounce ideas off each other in real time, we both do pretty well with that. Certainly coming from television, the writers room is what I’m use to and what I really like. And so I, I definitely appreciate that we can have actual conversations in addition to the back and forth.
LB: Well, however you’re working, I can’t wait to read All Gone. Thank you Lisa Klink for being here today. I’m so excited, and I can’t wait for your next book.
LK: Well thank you. I really appreciate being part of a new podcast.
LB: Show notes and transcripts are available at destinationmystery.com