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Author Q&A with Lisa Michelle for her new novel CALAVERAS

Howdy, folks! It's been a while. How are you? I'm fine, thanks. Just been working my tail off, between my day job and my book publishing internship. I'm one of the lucky few who did not have either of my jobs affected by the pandemic.

But I wasn't the only one who has kept incredibly busy during this time. Right in the wake of COVID-19, my writer friend Lisa Michelle published her first novel, Calaveras. That alone should show you the type of perseverance she has.

Now, I've known Lisa for a couple of years now, and am more familiar with her magazine pieces and film projects. All I can say is, whatever media Lisa writes for, she tells a good story.

So I decided to try something new for this blog (again) and attempt an Author Q&A. Now, I've interviewed my author friends before, but never for a new book launch! And honestly for this book, I'm a bit behind the times, because it published back in, like, July? I think? A few months ago, basically.

But anyway. Enough intro.

The novel Calaveras by Lisa Michelle on a log surrounded by grass.
Plot twist: I took this photo in Tuolumne County.

1) In your book, the main setting is Calaveras County, California, but some scenes take place in San Francisco. For me, this created such a cool juxtaposition between both rural and urban California. Why did you choose Calaveras County for your main setting? Why add San Francisco to the mix?

Using Calaveras County as the setting for the novel was an easy choice. I’ve been a resident for over twenty years and believe that writing what I know makes my job much easier and adds a certain amount of confidence to the written voice. The strength and grittiness of character that rural places like Calaveras County seem to produce is also vital to the story. San Francisco as a setting was not a conscious choice. This is what I LOVE about writing. It’s such a process and letting the story unfold organically in front of me was an amazing experience as I hope it will be for the reader. Knowing Kate, one of the main characters, had spent the first eighteen years of her life in San Francisco, it only made sense that she would still have family there. A benefit of another character escaping to San Francisco adds the fish out of water element and ultimately increases the drama. It was a blast to write.

2) I feel like the theme of Calaveras explores just how far a mother would go to protect her child. What inspired you to write with this theme in mind?

I honestly believe that on some subconscious level I had the mother/daughter theme in mind the entire time, but honestly it didn’t become obvious until around three years into the novel. My daughter and I have had our battles, but I love her more than anything. I doubt I would react exactly as Kate does in Calaveras, but I would definitely be willing to sacrifice myself if she needed to be saved.

3) For me, Calaveras fell into a lot of different genres. It was psychological thriller, suspense, family drama, and Western all rolled into one story. How would you classify its genre?

Seems like my favorite reads never fit neatly into one genre, and Calaveras doesn’t. If I had to choose, I would call Calaveras a suspense thriller. I know some readers are not keen on the genre, including yourself, so I appreciate you giving it a chance as I hope other non-thriller readers will.

The novel Calaveras by author Lisa Michelle on a rock in a rustic setting
When Kate hits rock bottom in CALAVERAS, she works her ass off to pick herself back up. It's just who she is.

4) Kate Dunnigan was (personally) my favorite character. She had so much grit and a resilience about her, yet she is very motivated by love in almost all her actions. What inspired her character?

Kate Dunnigan is based on a distant relative’s real-life experience, then asking myself what if? What if that happened to my daughter? What would I do about it? We’ve read and watched so many stories where women need a man to save them. I wanted to share a strong female character that could save herself, of which I believe Kate is. She still has moments of weakness—she’s human and struggles with her emotions like all of us. She’s able to show her strength because she’s forced into an awful situation and loves her daughter and unborn grandchild more than life.

5) You wrote Calaveras with such a raw, gritty, yet honest style. Would you say that’s your normal writing style or did you develop it specifically for this story?

I definitely did not develop it for the novel. I find real life is raw and gritty, especially in Calaveras County and only through writing truthfully can I believe what I’ve written. Since Calaveras is my first novel, I’d say the writers I appreciate, like Joyce Carol Oates, John Steinbeck, and Annie Proulx, influenced me to quit worrying about offending the reader and write the story I’d want to read. I’m thankful I did because the novel seems to be resonating well with audiences. While working on my next novel, I can see my raw and gritty style has developed and evolved even further.

Cattle gather around new novel Calaveras by author Lisa Michelle
New fans of Lisa Michelle's novel CALAVERAS gather round for an autographed copy.

6) Any final thoughts you’d like to share on Calaveras?

A reader asked why write such a dark story. I didn’t know. After digging deep into myself, I realized that darkness in stories can be beautifully illuminating and at times healing.

There you have it, folks. As Lisa said, I'm not really a thriller reader myself, but I loved this story. It kept me up in the wee hours of the morning, turning pages, my heart pounding. So if you like stories with grit, great pacing, and that make your heart pound - hell, even if you don't like those kinds of stories - grab a copy of Lisa Michelle's debut novel Calaveras. You're missing out if you don't. I highly recommend it.

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