Saturday, June 1, 2024

Q&A with Lori Roy


Photo by Vision Photography



Lori Roy is the author of the new novel Lake County. Her other novels include Gone Too Long. She lives in Florida.


Q: What inspired you to write Lake County, and why did you decide to include Marilyn Monroe in the novel?


A: I first thought about this story after reading a few books by Gilbert King set in Lake County, a real location in central Florida. His work got me thinking about the difference between power and strength, specifically how that difference plays into the lives of women. 


I was also interested in Lake County for the stark contrasts I found there. For example, during the 1950s, the setting for Lake County, the orange groves were thriving, and every April would bring an incredible orange blossom bloom.


I was intrigued by the contrast between the smell of the orange blossoms that I imagined would cloak my fictional world and the angst of a young woman desperate to escape the confines of small-town life.


As to Marilyn Monroe, she is a secondary character in the novel but an extremely important one. I decided early on that I would write her as a historic figure only if I could be certain I wasn't using her as a gimmick.


My litmus test was whether or not the real Marilyn brought something to the book that no other character, real or imagined, could. To determine this, I brought her on the page, and once I did, my answer was clear.


She absolutely had something to say that was unique to her. She spoke loudly to the dichotomy between power and strength, as well as to the trappings of fame. These are significant themes in the novel, and she contributes uniquely to both.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote the novel?


A: I worked hard to honor all the history that preceded the moment my novel began. This included what life would have been like in a Central Florida small town, as well as the events that would have happened in the lives of the two historical figures who are part of the novel–Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Wall. 


Even after the story began, I tried to stay true to as much history as possible. However, this is fiction, and when I had to choose between story and history, I chose story.

Q: The writer Michael Connelly called the book “a unique and imaginative page-turner that examines the difference between power and strength.” What do you think of that description?


A: I believe this is a spot-on description of the book, and Michael was very generous to share it. I always strive to write the book I want to read.


That means I strive to write engaging, authentic characters, a plot that is a page-turner, and a theme that makes me think about the book long after I’ve finished it. I hope, believe, Lake County delivers on these fronts.


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: In my research for Lake County, I read extensively about Marilyn Monroe, read much of her writing, and watched several of her movies and interviews. 


With respect to Charlie Wall and the Tampa Mafia, I read many pieces written by Ace Atkins. Ace wrote extensively about Charlie Wall, one of Tampa’s first crime bosses, in a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series he wrote while working as a crime reporter for The Tampa Tribune.


I also read the work of Gilbert King, or rather I reread his work. This gave me great insight into Lake County, which is a real county located in Central Florida.


 I also did some hands-on research. I visited Lake County several times, stomped around a few swampy areas, and visited an orange grove.


Ybor City, which is an area near Tampa, also features in the novel. I visited it several times and took a ghost tour where I learned some fascinating history about the area.


I also used a 1950s Sears catalog in my research. It's a valuable resource for determining what a family would or wouldn't have had around the house back then. It's also great for studying the fashion of the era.    


I was most surprised by some gruesome history associated with Ybor City. I won’t share it as it didn’t inspire anything in Lake County, and it’s pretty disturbing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a novel I’m really excited about. It’s set against the backdrop of the Big Cypress Swamp in southwest Florida. That’s about all I’m ready to share at this point, but we’ll be sharing more details as Lake County hits shelves.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think that about covers it. Many thanks for taking some time with Lake County.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lori Roy.

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