On The Grill: Dea Poirier talks about issues with the media, likable & unlikable characters, trauma, and the hardest part of writing her new book, Beneath the Ashes

Dea Poirier’s new book, Beneath the Ashes, is on sale today. You can read my review here.

Sandra Ruttan: Your debut novel, Next Girl to Die, came out in May of this year. You’re about to have book 2 be released in a few weeks. Can you tell us about the best author moment you had when your first book was published?

Dea Poirier: The best moment for me has to be fans reaching out to me and letting me know how the book has touched them or their lives. It’s amazing to see the reaction to Next Girl to Die, and how well received it’s been. I never expected to get emails from people about how much they loved it, so it has been absolutely amazing.

Sandra Ruttan: Writing book 2 in a series is a unique privilege and also a challenge. What was the best part about writing Beneath the Ashes?

Dea Poirier: Think the best part of writing Beneath the Ashes was having the characters already fully fleshed out. I didn’t have to get to know these new people and figure out their stories. The main characters I already knew well, so not having to go through the process of making these characters real to me again was so nice.

SR: What was the toughest part of writing Beneath the Ashes?

DP: The worst for me was trying to find a balance of how much information I provide to the reader about book one. I really struggled with this. Do I spoil book 1? Do I leave it open to interpretation? How much do I put in? I really relied on my developmental editor to help me with this, because she had plenty of experience with sequels. We were able to find a happy medium.

SR: Claire seems to wrestle with the idea of closure. She views it as a fairy tale for herself, but then is motivated to give victims’ families closure. Do you think she views her own situation so distinctly that she actually believes answers will help others, or is this like a lie she has to swallow to convince herself that she can help people with her work?

DP: I think that Claire understands how difficult it is to live with questions about the death of someone you loved. Having those questions for years or a lifetime is absolutely terrible and shaped who she became as a person. While she knows deep down that she can’t fix the people that need her help, she can provide answers, and by catching these killers she can stop more murders from occurring. That’s what really drives her.

SR: Claire has some harsh words for the media in this book. Do you think any of this was influenced by the current climate, or was it really character specific?

DP: It’s a mixture. But I really wanted the media to play a larger part in this book because 1) Claire isn’t in a situation that is as cloistered as book one. 2) It’s something that real cops have to deal with. Though Claire deals with the media a bit (through Noah) in book one, I really wanted it to be more in her face in this book.

SR: One of the challenges for fiction writers is that stories have to be believable, even if that isn’t necessarily realistic. CSI conditioned people to think test results could come back in hours or a few days, but you emphasize toxicology will take 3-4 weeks. Writing a procedural, how important is it to you to be accurate?

DP: I try to be as accurate as I can to procedure. I actually spoke to a medical examiner when writing this book to see what realistic procedures would be for toxicology reports and that’s where I got my timeline from. While I know readers want instant answers and some TV shows lead them to believe those timelines can be incredibly unrealistic, I really want to show the struggles that law enforcement officers deal with. The reality is, hard evidence to convict a killer takes time.

SR: One of the things you don’t do is rush Claire along on a smooth growth arc. One minute she’s progressing, then she’s regressing and shutting people out. This can seem to run contrary to what writers get told about story arcs and character growth. Why is it so important to you to have Claire be real in this way?

DP: Because it’s more realistic. I love writing broken characters because they’re more real. No person in life follows an arc. We all progress and regress. We all have struggles that are triggered by specific things in our lives. It was really important to me that this came through in the story to show how much Claire is still struggling because her grief is very much a part of who she is as a person.

SR: Do you prefer writing likable or unlikable characters? Why?

DP: I don’t really go into any story thinking about whether or not a character will be likable or not. Maybe because I think it’s unrealistic for a character to be likable or unlikable all the time. To be a real fleshed out character, they need to have good and bad traits. That’s what I usually focus on when I write my characters. What are all those little ticks that make them a person, I think that’s more important than likability.

SR: You made a decision to keep Noah largely off screen while dealing with his own history. Did you ever consider having Claire go with him to investigate the case and help him get closure on his home turf? Or did that feel too predictable to you?

DP: I actually did consider this route. And in my first draft, there were about 6-7 chapters from Noah’s POV showing his investigation. However, I felt really strongly that they didn’t help the story and made it way too dark (which is saying a lot for me). Noah has some pretty deep struggles of his own and that was very difficult for me to write. At the end of the day, I felt like it honored the story (and Claire) more to have him be off screen for a while.

SR: Aliens land on page 222. How will Claire react?

DP: She’d likely just be annoyed that it’d get in the way of her solving her case lol.

SR: If you could give one piece of advice to your writer self 5 years ago, it would be …

DP: Stop pressuring yourself to be perfect and to write five books a year. Slow down and breathe.

SR: Now, you’ve set the stage at the end for a possible expansion to the recurring character roster. What can you tell us about what’s next for Claire?

DP: I have an outline for book 3. And I can’t give much about it away without spoiling some of book 2. However, some of the moves that are made in book 2 are setting the scene for some major things to happen in book 3. I’m also really excited to include some new technology and forensics in book 3 that I’ve never played with before.

Dea Poirier was raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, where she found her passion in a creative writing course. She studied computer science and political science at the University of Central Oklahoma. Later she spent time living on both coasts and traveling the United States before finally putting down roots in central Florida. She now resides somewhere between Disney and the swamp with her son.