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Novels Alive: Interview with Annie Ward

Mar 7, 2022

INTERVIEW: With Author of THE LYING CLUB, Annie Ward reported by Dayna Linton

Today we welcome the mega-talented author of The Lying Club, Annie Ward! Ms. Ward graduated from UCLA and the American Film Institute and is a world traveler.

What drives your story forward in your books the most, the characters or the plot, or do you feel they are intertwined?

I’ve written three novels (four if you count my unpublished YA novel) and in every case I’ve drawn heavily from my own life in order to create a realistic world with believable characters. With my first two books, the characters existed prior to the plot, but with THE LYING CLUB, I took a different path. I knew what my central conflict was and how it was going to end before choosing the cast. Still, I needed to know my characters well in order to understand how they would react when thrown into unpredictable scenarios. Even though I mix it up a little from book to book, I think plot and character are both equally vital.

If you were a character in one of your books, which would you be? The protagonist, mentor, villain, love interest, etc.?

In all honesty, I put my characters through a heck of a lot of misery, and I’m not sure I would be comfortable living a day in any of their lives. My heroes usually have to navigate extremely rough waters before things get better and my villains are the sort of people you would not want to meet in real life. The protagonist of my first novel THE MAKING OF JUNE was purposefully shallow at the beginning of the book and then goes through a character arc and moral transformation to be a better, more caring person. I suppose I would choose her, even though her personal evolution was painful and involved a lot of heartache.

If you had the power to make any of your books into a film, which would it be and why?

BEAUTIFUL BAD was optioned by Warner Brothers for feature film development so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the different locations, actors, directors and so on, and I would be thrilled if that came to pass! It is, however, a big, sweeping love/hate story that spans decades and continents, so it’s likely to be a huge undertaking. My new book THE LYING CLUB lends itself more easily to a racy, juicy Netflix series along the lines of DEAD TO ME.  I might have to choose that one, just because I feel it would be an easier adaptation.

Is there a particular genre of fiction that you have always wanted to write, but haven’t yet tackled?

Yes! Comedy. I shouldn’t say I haven’t tackled it at all, because I’ve written two comedic screenplays. (I started my writing career with a Masters in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute and didn’t switch to writing novels until later.) My mom has been begging me for years to write something lighter, since my work has often been called “disturbing.” I’ve tried to lace my dark sense of humor throughout my thrillers and have been told by some readers that they laughed out loud while reading, even though the core subject matter is far from funny.

As with the rest of us, you have a real life to live.  So, in your most recent book, what was happening in your life and how did it influence your writing?

Covid was happening. As a matter of fact, I’d been working on THE LYING CLUB for just under a year when I delivered my first draft. A week later, my kids were home, the schools were closed, and we hunkered down to wait out the lockdown. I had no idea how long it was going to last. Strangely enough, my writing didn’t suffer too badly, which was great, given that I had three more drafts left to write. Suddenly I wasn’t making appearances to publicize my previous book, wasn’t chaperoning parties at the school or driving my kids all over town for sports. I was just sort of homebound, sitting alone in my office to work. Losing myself to my imagination was a calming distraction from the news.

Was there something in your first edit that didn’t make it in the final copy that you sometimes wish you would have kept?

As I mentioned, I like to try to interject a little laughter into my books. The problem is that thrillers aren’t generally expected to contain much comedy. In both my thrillers I had bits and pieces cut out because I’d gone overboard or overlong with some anecdote that I found hilarious. I don’t really regret losing those parts because it was done for the sake of keeping the story suspenseful and fast-paced, but sometimes I’ll go back to read previous drafts and think, “Darn it, that was funny.”

What do you do to prepare your mind to write? To get into the mind of your characters.

I read my old diaries. I walk the dogs and daydream about other places I’ve lived, people I’ve loved, crazy times that I’ve had and risks that I managed to survive. At a certain point in the evening, when my characters start talking to one another on their own and I’m just the conduit, I try to silence that inner critic by loosening up with a glass or two of wine.

What book as a child/adolescent most influenced you as a writer?

I read AUTUMN STREET by Lois Lowry when I was in fifth grade and found it incredibly disturbing yet riveting. Though it’s a touching story of friendship, what I remember most is the child who was murdered at the end. While it scared and shocked me, I also felt very mature, as if I’d been allowed a glimpse into a world of danger that grownups didn’t talk about with children. Morbidly, I was fascinated by the depth and complexity of sadness, and as an adult I still find true crime and thrillers emotional, thought provoking and cathartic.

How much research went into your last book?

THE LYING CLUB takes place at an elite private school. I worked at a private school on the upper east side of Manhattan for several years, so I was familiar with that environment. I was less comfortable with the picturesque mountain town I’d chosen for the setting of the story. As a matter of fact, I’d never before based a book in a location where I hadn’t lived for a period of time. In order to get the right tone, I spent a lot of time in my car, driving from Kansas City to various gorgeous resort towns a few hours outside of Denver. I hiked, explored, and took part in some of the recreational activities, like crazy jeep excursions, that I talk about in the book. It was probably the most fun a writer can have doing research.

What’s one of the most important things you’d like your readers to know about you? What defines you most as an author?

I know that the way we perceive ourselves, or even how we want to be perceived, isn’t necessarily what others see. However, I would hope that I am down-to-earth, easy to talk to, self-deprecating rather than self-aggrandizing, and a good laugh at book clubs and dinner parties. I hope I, and my writing, always come across as accessible. I feel lucky to have a career as a writer, and while it’s so wonderful to get a great review, I feel just as defined if not more so, by my family, friends, pets, cooking and travels as I do by my work.

What is one thing about you that may surprise your readers?

I could stick a Tsukahara (the vault that Mary Lou Retton made famous at the 1984 Olympics) when I was ten years old. Later, I switched from gymnastics to soccer and played two years for the women’s team at UCLA.

Can you tell us what prompted you to write your latest release?

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to one day write about working in a private school as well as the difficulties involved in being a promising high-school athlete. I knew that my publisher and previous readers were hoping for another psychological thriller. When I threw all the elements together, I thought I had a unique story that I felt personally invested in, and which I thought would likely be a satisfying read for those who were fans of my earlier work.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

My next book is going to be a murder mystery set at a film school in Los Angeles, involving half a dozen adult, eccentric, brilliant, back-stabbing students and a teacher with an unusual agenda. Very loosely based on elements of my experience moving from Kansas to California for college and then graduate studies, it’s going to tell the story of a young photographer from Iowa who arrives in Hollywood unprepared for the cut-throat competition of her new home and film school classmates.

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