Q&A: Jess Lourey, author of “Litani”
Amazon Charts bestselling author Unspeakable things and Line explores the darkness in the heart of the rural Midwest in a novel inspired by a true spooky crime.
We chat with author Jess Lourey about the release of his latest book, Litani, with its inspiration and challenges, as well as writing and book recommendations!
Hi, Jess! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
For sure! I’m a cross-genre writer, teacher, and Midwestern native with the over-developed guilt muscle to prove it. My first book, May Day, came out in 2006. It’s a mysterious detective story with a very dark inspiration, which I talk about in my TEDx Talk. I went on to write eleven other books in this series as well as two books in a thriller series, a non-fiction how to write book, the first of a young adult trilogy, a magical realism novel and several novels in suspense inspired by real crimes. , including nominee Edgar, winner of Anthony Unspeakable things, and Litani, which releases October 19.
As the year draws to a close, how has 2021 been for you?
Oof, save us from having an interesting time, right? On the one hand, I am in good health like the ones I love, and I have been able to write a lot of things. On the flip side, 2021 continued the tradition started in 2020 that I had to do my part in perpetuating toxic systems in my family, community and country. It’s late, but it’s also difficult and unsettling work.
When did you first discover your love for writing?
I received 423 refusals before getting my first agent. Not very good odds, but I run with them. My love for writing – and therefore my willingness to push through that level of rejection – began when I was six. I wrote this Minnesota haiku for my grandfather:
Grandfathers are full of love
Grandfathers are full of tickles
But grandfathers are mostly full of pickles.
My family loved it. My poetry skills haven’t changed since that day, but the love of writing and the way it could affect people has left its mark on me.
Quick flash tour! Tell us about the first book you remember reading, the one that made you want to be an author and that you can’t stop thinking about!
My parents did a great job encouraging reading at a young age, and they let me read whatever I could find. The first book that marked me was actually a collection of short stories, that of Stephen King Night watch. The stories were terrifying, but more visceral was the way they made me feel like I was the, inside the book, as I read.
Your new novel, Litani, released on October 19e 2021! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Satanic panic of the 1980s. Terrible. Optimistic.
What can readers expect?
The story follows Frankie Jubilee, whose dear father has passed away suddenly and who is forced to relocate from LA to tiny Litani, Minnesota, to live with a county attorney mother she barely knows. There, to fit in, the other kids asked him to play something called The Game. She soon discovers that the whole city is built on a web of deception, and that once you play The Game, you are never the same again.
Where does the inspiration for Litani comes from?
As Unspeakable things and Line, Litani was inspired by a real scary crime in the Midwest. Specifically, in the mid-1980s Satanic Panic was sweeping the United States. It was the fear that children would be corrupted by Satan and by people who worshiped Satan. The result was the censorship or banning of television and music shows and the arrest of parents, teachers and daycare centers for allegedly harming children in their care in Satan’s name.
One of the most extreme and well-known examples of what would come to be called Satanic Panic occurred in Little Jordan, Minnesota, in 1983-84. There, in a city of just a few thousand people, 24 adults have been accused of sexually abusing dozens of children.
These ‘witch hunts’ of the 1980s have been attributed to a perfect storm of sociological factors (the entry of women into the workforce and the rise in home theater thanks to the growing popularity of VCRs; the Freudian theory repressed memories in the midst of a renaissance; and a “crime-hardening” judicial approach, a backlash to the supposed anarchy of the 1960s and 1970s) and civic opportunity in the hands of politically ambitious prosecutors). This storm was fueled by unscrupulous or sometimes poorly trained psychologists, police officers and lawyers. The result across the country was that families no longer trusted each other, neighbors turned on their neighbors, and communities were destroyed.
As a sociologist, I find this dark chapter in American history both fascinating and heartbreaking. But as a writer and as a woman who grew up in a home and community where the unspeakable occurred regularly, I am struck by the voices that are missing in particular in the witch-hunt story: the children who lived this terrifying time.
This is the story that matters to me, and the one I intend to tell in Litani.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you encountered while writing and how you were able to overcome them?
My main challenge was to respect the privacy of children as well as adults wrongly accused, which is why I did enough research on the outlines of the case to get a picture of what happened, but not enough to know the details of the individuals involved. The end result is that fictional characters experience real events.
Are there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing about or exploring?
Frankie Jubilee is an amazing girl – an artist, a budding botanist, curious and kind – and although it was difficult to send her to the world of Litani, she felt like she illuminated every page she found herself on. found. There are also two supporting characters that I’ve grown to love, but I can’t reveal their names without giving the plot a twist.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
The worst writing advice I have ever received is anything that starts with “this is how you write a book …”. The best writing advice I ever received was “Never give up.” Never surrender. ”I may have gotten this advice from Galaxy Quest. J For more extensive good advice, I found that Jessica Brody Save the Cat writes a novel is a great source for creating structure in any project, and nowadays structure is what I need most.
What’s the next step for you?
The writing world is a year ahead of the publishing world, so as my next book comes out overnight, I just handed in the book which will be out next August. It’s tentatively called The Quarry Girls, and it’s a fiction inspired by real crime around that time in the ’70s when there were multiple serial killers operating in my hometown. The next book I’m going to try to write is a passion project completely outside my wheelhouse – a feminist tale of the Astonished myth. I don’t have a publisher for that, but it’s been bothering me for a while, so I’m going to take a detour to write it before returning to my first love: the thriller.
Finally, do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
Yes! I recently read and loved Rachel Howzell Hall’s book These toxic things, SA Cosby’s Razor blade tears, Lori Rader’s Day Death to the Green Lane, and for a touch of non-fiction, Alice Miller The body never lies.