Movies in Her Head: A Minute with Lori A. May

Leslie Joseph

Lori A. May talks to PopMatters about her new book, her love of crime-time TV, and how CSI has made readers of crime lit so very demanding.

When her fifth grade teacher told her she was destined to be a writer, young Lori A. May set out to do just that. Almost immediately, she started her own publishing company, writing, printing, and binding her "books" before distributing them to local libraries. It's this strength of will and faith in her abilities that has seen May shift from child-author (and potential publishing house magnate, of course), to a successful events manager (among other things) for big-name companies like 20th Century Fox and BMG Music, to poet, freelancer, and back to fiction writer. This month, May's first novel, The Profiler, a tense thriller featuring FBI agent Angela David, hits shelves courtesy of Silhouette/Bombshell Books.

Angela is brand new to the Bureau when she's assigned a major case concerning a serial killer. While David's talent is noteworthy, it's her past that stands in the way of doing her best work. When focusing on evil killer's motives and moves, she finds herself unwittingly forced to confront the devastating loss of her father, the man who inspired her career path. This proves difficult for Angela, but with help from her mentor, Marcus Cain, and NYPD detective Carson Severo, she may just pull it off -- but will she do so in time to catch the killer?

Lori A. May talks to PopMatters about her new book, her love of crime-time TV, and how CSI has made readers of crime lit so very demanding.

Referenced book:
The Profiler
by Lori A. May

August 2005, 304 pages, $4.99

Though filled with intrigue and excitement, The Profiler's real success comes with its deconstruction of family legacies and gritty criminal machinations. And, as this is a Bombshell book, there's a healthy dose of off-duty romance thrown in as well.

Lori A. Amy spoke to PopMatters recently about her new book, her love of crime-time TV, and how CSI has made readers of crime lit so very demanding.

PopMatters: The Profiler uses amazingly precise detail. How did you research for such an in-depth crime story?

Lori A. May: When the idea for The Profiler first came to me, I knew I would have to do extensive research. Although I had an incredible interest in profiling criminal behavior in serial cases, and the people who do this for a living, I didn't know enough to just wing it. My goal, through research, was to attain a realistic knowledge of the field and make the story believable for readers. It was a little overwhelming at first, knowing I would have to learn much more than would actually appear in the story. But it was important to me to fully grasp the role each character would play -- good or bad -- and the situations in which they find themselves.

I already knew the plot and why the killer committed his crimes, but I wanted to paint how he carried them out very realistically so this required some research into biblical history, weapons, locations, and more. To accomplish this, I used the Internet a great deal. Using search engines, following leads from one website to another -- it was like my own investigation, really. I also found learning more in-depth information about the FBI and the various programs they offer to be fascinating. The various training modules, the different career paths; again the Internet is such a resource for this and the FBI website is very comprehensive with the information it provides.

Of course, no research is complete without a large stack of books and talking to people! After reading up on profiling, I called up the FBI to ask a few questions. I also queried a few friends who had a better understanding of the religious information I needed. All of these methods provided a well-rounded arsenal of information to give me a broader understanding of what I was undertaking. I love being able to portray reality to enable the reader to truly feel in all senses what happens in the story.

PM: What's your take on the rising popularity of crime television and literature?

LAM: I cannot get enough of it! I know to some it seems like there is an overabundance of crime television right now, but I am enjoying every minute of it. What I find interesting is how each writer spins crime in a new direction, focusing on varying aspects or points of view. I think the more stories are being told about this field, the more a writer is challenged in finding something new, and that's great to have to push boundaries and beyond what readers or viewers expect.

The other thing I appreciate is how much these shows -- or books or movies -- encourage the audience to think and logically process information. You can't help try to figure out the bad guy and what motivations there are. By doing so, we put to use our own innate profiling skills and attempt to solve the puzzle. Not only are we entertained, but we are working our brain and probably learning something in the process. Thanks to CSI, the average person knows a lot more about DNA than necessary!

PM: Are you a fan of crime fiction?

LAM: Yes, but to be honest I don't read half as much as I'd like to. The problem is, any time I sit down to read I start to feel guilty that I should be writing instead. Unfortunately that means I am not as up on the current hot list as I should be. I tend to buy every book that strikes my interest, but never get around to reading it, so I have a very large to-be-read pile. However, I do go to the movies and see what's being made in this genre, and don't have the same problem of putting aside the guilt. Though, I'm trying to make more of an effort to disassociate books with writing, if that makes any sense.

PM: Do you look to other writers for inspiration?

LAM: This may sound very odd, but because I am not as current as I'd like to be on who's hot right now, most writers who I find inspiring stem from the classics. I admire Hemingway for his use of dialogue, the Bronte sisters for their incredible ability to invoke fear through description, and Poe for his darkness. But I don't really think about these writers when I work on my own novels. I think having grown up with the classics and being a big fan of literature, the things I appreciate most just stuck and became a part of me, and what I value in storytelling. I prefer a minimalist approach in description, giving just enough to suggest to the reader without thumping them over the head with concrete information. The same goes with dialogue, as I tend to prefer shorter statements to let the emotions flow through rather than give everything away. Especially in crime fiction, I think this is effective, as the characters have a lot on their minds, they aren't just going to sit around and chat for the sake of it. Everything has to have a direct purpose.

PM: Have you always been interested in a variety of genres?

LAM: I adore every aspect of writing and that means being open to new directions and genres. Though I spent a great many years as a freelance non-fiction writer, I always worked on fiction or poetry at the same time, and continue to do all of the above. For instance, after finishing The Profiler I worked on a poetry collection and then short stories, and then wrote a few non-fiction articles. With each of these genres, I learn more and more everyday and exercising my writing skills is something I want to continually do. Within fiction, as well, I like to try new things and explore my tastes. While I love crime fiction and drama, I am also very interested in more literary works, where there isn't necessarily a happy ending. It's important that I push myself as a writer and not get comfortable with only one genre. For me, the joy of writing comes from the challenge and I want to keep that feeling of adrenaline fresh.

PM: How does your writing process change from genre to genre? Do you have a favorite genre in which to write?

LAM: Before I work on a novel, I like to be able to visualize the story as though it were a movie in my head. While I never plot out the details entirely, I do prefer to have a skeleton to guide me and then as I write I fill in the how and why, keeping an open mind to how the story naturally unfolds. I spend a great deal of time letting the basic premise simmer, so my mind can absorb and subconsciously prepare me for the journey. By doing so, the writing itself seems to be almost effortless. Almost!

For short fiction and poetry, I tend to write with less direction, usually not planning any of the material and allowing one word to lead to the next. Sometimes I begin a poem and have no idea where it's going, and when I finish am surprised with the result. It's more freeform, I suppose, and there is something very calming, yet exciting about that process.

Though I am most passionate about writing novels, I truly value what I take from writing poetry and short fiction. It's refreshing to loosen up with short works in between novels, and keeps me actively writing without thinking about word count. When it comes to fiction, right now I favor drama and particularly crime fiction, but I'm not holding myself to it. Any day I could wake up and try something completely different!

PM: What's coming up for Lori May?

LAM: Currently, I am figuring out the bones of a couple new novels, each within the genre of drama and I suppose crime, too, but in a different presentation. I'd like to have a new title out fairly soon in the New Year, so I am working diligently at getting the "simmering" process over with and getting straight into the writing. So, definitely keep your eyes out for some more drama, some twisted crime, and perhaps some interesting choices for characters' professions to act as a backdrop. I never do things the easy way, so I'm hoping to do something surprising for my readers!

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