How Much of Your Book is True?: THE LIES THEY TELL – Plus Bonus Chapter!

“Tristan’s fair skin bore the touch of late July sunshine, but he’d grown thin since winter, still leanly muscled from the racquetball court and hours on the treadmill. Pearl knew the raised veins on his forearms, the faint frown line between his brows that hadn’t smoothed even with the arrival of his wingmen. She studied him whenever he came into the dining room, gripped by the physical and emotional recoil she–and most everyone else–felt in his presence. Alone. He was so alone, even in a room full of people, and maybe in that they shared some kinship.” –pg. 10

Oh, how I love the world of THE LIES THEY TELL.

My favorite of the books I’ve written is actually the one I just finished in December, which I hope to be able to share with you all someday soon; I feel like I reached a new level with that one, and I’m proud of it. But as my published books go, THE LIES THEY TELL takes the cake.

Make that a five-tiered slice of elegance covered in ivory fondant, piping, and sugar flowers, with some deliciously dark filling which demands to be scraped off the plate with the edge of your fork after the final bite (okay, let’s all take a cake break right now and reconvene.) Because atmosphere, beauty, and a devilish peek at my imagined world of the wealthy was what this book was all about for me. And my favorite character EVER; him, too.

At the time, this story also felt like a leap forward for me as a writer. It was my strongest, most confident writing to date, the first book I’d written as a legit-feeling author with other books out in the world. Now I knew for certain that being a professional writer WAS all it was cracked up to be, and I definitely wanted to do this for the rest of my life. What I was contending with this time was the concern of somehow not meeting my deadline or not fulfilling publisher’s expectations in one way or another. GRIT’s sales were small, but its critical reception was a pleasant one, including an Edgar nod, which I will never stop thanking the MWA for, so I felt I had to come out strong and prove I could do marketability as well. But even during my darkest nights of the soul with this book, I always felt certain there was a nugget of something special, and now I think it was worth every second of time poured into it when not waddling around in the final trimester of pregnancy with my second son. I submitted the completed manuscript two weeks early, and the little guy was born one week later. It seemed like the biggest Pete Rose-style face-first flop-slide into home ever.

As it turns out, my idea of a fun, soapy YA page-turner differs from that of–well, many–but I gave it my best shot while simultaneously satisfying my need to stretch my creative muscles by trying a different tone from that of my last book. TLTT did reach father than any of my other books have so far; it had the tremendous luck to be chosen by Target stores as part of an EpicReads deal with the chain, which made it much more visible for a limited time. I also had the fun task of writing a bonus chapter to be included in that edition, a scene retold from the POV of one of the summer boys protagonist Pearl contends with (incidentally, SUMMER BOYS was also the working title of the book). Since the Target edition is now out of print, I’m including an early draft of the bonus material at the end of this post, if you’d like to read it! **There are some spoilers in the chapter, mostly background to a past event which happens off-camera in the book, so if you haven’t read TLTT yet, you may want to wait and come back to read the extra stuff later. I’ll leave this post up for the foreseeable future.

This is also the only book I’ve written which sold overseas; editions were published in Australia/New Zealand and, last year, Russia. You can see the beautiful–and very different–cover designs over in the TLTT section of my Books page.

I’d love it if you read on for the various inspirations for the story and writerly goals :


Where it came from: There were three major inspired-by-my-own-experiences aspects I was excited to explore in this story:

  1. Locals vs. People from Away/ Club Staff vs. Members: Living in Vacationland is a very different experience from most states. I wanted to tackle the dichotomy of the coastal Maine population: wealthy out-of-staters who own most of the oceanfront property and often are only here for a few weeks out of the year, and the locals, natives, townies, call us what you will, who stick out the long winters, have been poor for generations, and often work as housekeepers, caretakers, landscapers, or food service/retail workers for this seasonal or retired upper-class. I have feelings on this subject which I won’t blabber on about here at length; all you need know is that my family went through a hard time which had a lot to do with this imbalance in a certain summer community–there were good ol’ salt-of-the-earth Mainers involved, too, so believe me, I’m not demonizing any one group–and I used elements/emotions from that experience to build the foundation of Pearl and her dad’s difficult situation. In fact, some of the insensitive things people say to Pearl and Tristan in the book are direct quotes from the time following our family’s financial collapse/emotional crisis, which we only pulled out of when my first book deal went through. It really did completely change our lives for the better. So, to me, it seemed only appropriate to include those words of “wisdom”–making HUGE air quotes here–in a story largely about how cruel people can be to each other, as well as how empathy and understanding can be found in the most unexpected places.
  2. Beauty of Acadia: Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park truly are like no place on Earth; people come from all the planet to experience it every year. Growing up, my family used to take day trips to Bar Harbor and Sand Beach once or twice a year, and this book seemed like a great opportunity to use that stunning natural backdrop I’ve always loved to set the tone of the cinematic, wide-lens sort of novel I was envisioning. Here are a couple pics of areas which inspired scenes from the book:
Bear Island Lighthouse
View from inside Anemone Sea Cave, photo credit
Downtown Bar Harbor, photo credit

As for the fictional Tenney’s Harbor Country Club, I’ve never been inside one before, so I did a lot of researching on various swanky New England country club websites, allowing me to add some touches of realism while still tailoring the building itself and what it offered to my own needs as the storyteller.

3. Girl vs. Boys Club:

Growing up, and in my early 20’s, I had mostly male friends, only a couple close female friends. Being the sole girl–or one of a select few–trusted (allowed?) to hang out with all boys is a strange state of being, but one I found myself gravitating to again and again. I didn’t make one single female friend in college–none, which is bizarre and embarrassing to me now, but that’s how it played out. I felt like girls were judging me and inevitably wouldn’t like me, whereas I could be myself in a group of guys. My slobby, casual, dorky self. Perhaps I felt safer because I knew that I didn’t generally have the looks or personality most guys are searching for in a girlfriend or hookup, so I became something of an accepted appendage to the group, and I was okay with that. I thought their inclusion must mean that I wasn’t a weak, spleeny “girlie-girl”, which was very important to me at the time, part of my identity. Ironically, I did meet my husband this way; he became the new roommate of one of these college friends, and the rest is French family history.

It also gave me some insight into how most guy groups work, i.e. alpha, omega, the goat, etc. Now, let me say that all of these boys I was friends with were very nice, fun people, who went on to raise lovely families of their own. None of them were inherently evil or calculating or shredding people lives for kicks. NONE of them were inspirations for Tristan, Akil, or Bridges, the three wealthy boys which make up the group of friends protag Pearl needs to infiltrate in order to solve a multiple murder and clear her dad’s name. But it was a blast exploring the psychology of a wolfpack from a darker slant, to blend that dynamic of crossing gender lines with crossing class lines as well.

Writerly goals **SPOILERS AHEAD**:

I think all writers know the feeling: when your creative brain is SO ready to shake off the dust of your last book and go somewhere that feels fresh and different. That’s where I was when I started this book, but later, it gave me the worst writing hangover I’ve ever had, before or since. I could not let go of the characters; I wanted back into their world, their struggles, but it was over. The looking glass wouldn’t let me back through, and I had no choice but to move on.

Tone: I try to follow my gut when it comes to how to approach a POV and a tone, even if the choices aren’t popular in the YA world. TLTT felt like it had to be told in third person, past tense; I was looking for chilly detachment to contrast with moments of intense, magnetic passion and stunning, elegant scenery. I wanted the whole atmosphere to hum with low-level, constantly building dread. The aloof narrative voice was the main tool I used to try to build this, often describing scenery before launching into dialogue, ending chapters with what I hoped were disquieting final images.

Characters: Sigh. Tristan Garrison. How I miss him. He is my favorite character which I’ve ever had the enjoyable challenge to write, despicable as he is.

Tristan’s a sociopath, or at least one the verge of being a full-fledged one, yet he’s fascinated by the rest of us and our fragile emotions and fears. He enjoys picking us apart to see how our insides work, manipulating the people in his life like chess pieces, deliberately placing them in harms way simply to watch what happens. He’s twisted, but also strangely vulnerable, because of that tiny little part of him that’s also terrified of being alone. That’s why he’s driven to control cliques, constantly demanding his followers to prove their loyalty while forcing them to comprise their ethics until they’re as morally bankrupt as he is.

It was difficult to do this while still making him understandably appealing to Pearl, to build that mutual attraction. I wanted so badly to get his every word exactly right. Think of Robin Hood shooting an arrow in a tree, then trying to pierce it with another arrow? Like that. This required lots of editing while writing the first draft, something I would normally tell people to leave until the second or third draft, just get the bones down. But I couldn’t live with myself if what I wrote in the previous section didn’t feel true–if I glanced back and saw some Tristan dialogue which seemed too emo or gregarious. I whittled and shaped and scrutinized. Readers are free to judge how good a job I did, but I can say I tried my hardest to bring him to life.

Pearl, meanwhile is an earnest, devoted, determined person who nonetheless gets into codependent relationships with the men in her life, beginning with her bond with her alcoholic father. I was intrigued by the notion of writing a girl on such a path who finds herself sucked into a romantic entanglement with a dangerous sociopath and must face a choice: finally put her life and safety first, or risk losing everything. She and Tristan are also two halves of the same coin, light and dark–that’s why I gave her heterochromia–with Tristan subtly working to pull her down to his level, own her, and ultimately destroy her, because even though I think he does genuinely care for her on some level, it’s the only way he knows how to interact with anyone. For me, the results were intoxicating to write; how I hope it strikes most readers the same way.

This relationship struggle is the heart of the book, and the reason it’s not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. I’ve had people complain to me about the ending over the years, but I hope this breakdown of my goals and interests when telling the story helps explain why I made the decisions I did. It’s about the characters, not shark-jumping twists and turns.

Now, as promised, the bonus chapter! I thought pasting it below would be the easiest way to give everyone access to the text, so you can find it under the purchase links and recommended listening. I don’t think this is the final proofread version, but it was the only one I had saved on my cloud, so there may be typos/small differences from the original published chapter. Apologies!

Here’s hoping you’re all safe, warm, well-loved, and well-fed!

Purchase links to the print, eBook, and audiobook versions of THE LIES THEY TELL (it’s read by Caitlin Davies, the same actress who read the GRIT audiobook; she’s so incredibly skilled) : IndieboundBarnes & NobleAmazon

Read the book and enjoyed it? Please consider leaving an online review; they REALLY do make a difference, and I hugely appreciate it!

Some songs which I think fit well within the themes/overall feeling of TLTT:

View the autosave

THE LIES THEY TELL Bonus Chapter –

Bridges at the Centennial Ball

They were still dancing. As “Misty” faded into “My Funny Valentine,” Tristan’s hands were still on her, leading, owning, out on the floor where everybody could see. Tristan’s goddamn hands. One touch, it was his, didn’t matter what. A car. A trophy. A girl. Bridge’s girl.

“I brought her.” Bridges hadn’t planned on saying it aloud, but Akil glanced over, brows raised. Bridges cleared his throat and sat back, flicking away the swizzle stick he’d been toying with as he watched Pearl out there, looking smaller than usual so close to Tristan, who had a few inches on almost everybody, except maybe that beast Quinn was hanging off tonight.  “I mean, she came with me, right? I just think it’s bullshit.”

 “Hey, you don’t like it, get out there and do something.” Akil regarded him, waiting, neither of them surprised when Bridges stayed put. “You know how he is, man.” A beat. “You know.”

 Yeah. Bridges knew. That townie girl, Indigo, was here tonight, waiting tables, in case he tried to forget for two seconds. Bridges cursed, forcing a smile as he ran a hand through his hair. “Whatever. It’s just dancing.” Why’d Pearl have to wear that dress. Showing way more skin than she ever did, probably not wearing a bra. Tristan never even would’ve seen her if she didn’t look so damn pretty tonight.

Akil’s attention had drifted over to Hadley, who was sitting at Quinn’s table again, and Bridges said, lower, “You going to hit that tonight?”

 “How much you want to put down?”

 Bridges laughed. “Dick.” Akil kept looking. “Okay. Fifty.”

 “Don’t waste my time.”

“Hey. I’ve been there, remember? I’m not giving my money away.” Akil laughed, flipping him off. If Bridges said something like that to one of his friends back home, they’d probably knock him on his ass. Summer was different. These guys were different.

“Okay, asshole. C-note I can get her to do something she wouldn’t do for you.”

“Now you’re making it interesting.” Sick of himself, the whole thing, as they shook on it, pretty sure Akil felt the same way, despite his talk. Hadley looked about nine years old tonight, that flower in her hair. He didn’t get why she was hooking up with Akil, but he knew Akil’s angle. Same as his. Erasing Cassidy. Like they ever could.

Akil stood, straightening his jacket, the lapel still damp from Hadley’s attempt at stain removal, smoothed his thumb and forefinger across the brim of his hat. “No girl can resist all this.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” Bridges watched him go. Then back to Pearl and Tristan. Tristan was talking to her, an actual conversation. He hardly talked to anybody. Resentment was a single drop of acid, boring through him layer by layer, until Bridges couldn’t stand the sight of her hand caught inside Tristan’s, her face tilted up at him, until he had to get out.

He went through the patio doors into the balmy night, almost no change in temperature from inside to out, joining the other solitary types or couples in need of air. He leaned against the railing, squeezing his hands together, eyes shut. There was so much shit he could say, things he could tell her about Tristan—but almost all of it would lead back to him, Bridges, either being a part of it, or at least standing by, doing nothing. That party last summer, at the Garrison’s. How beautiful Cassidy had looked, drunk but not sloppy, spinning in the parlor, highball glass in her hand. They’d rolled up the big oriental rug because the girls wanted to dance. Princesses downstairs, trash upstairs, right. Right.

He’d been deliberately keeping his back to the glass doors with the view of the ballroom, but he made himself turn, now, seeking out Indigo, the girl with all the hair, who everybody said literally lived in a trailer, like the worst cliché. So hot, though, and so many guys had texted Bridges that day, making sure she’d gotten an invite. He’d watched her mop the kitchen floor at Gramps’s place before; he’d watched her do shots in Tristan’s parents’ bedroom that night, did a couple himself while Hadley thought he in the bathroom or making a call or whatever. Four other guys in there drinking, with Tristan overseeing the whole thing, watching her lose control. Somehow, Tristan had known she was the kind of girl who’d have to prove she could keep up with them, shot-for-shot, just like he’d calculated Xavier Langstrom’s response when she started leaning on him more than kissing, going under, graying out. Tristan knew Xav was the kind of guy who would still get her on the bed. Those other guys, too. Tristan knew.

Now, Bridges watched Indigo collecting empty champagne flutes from tables, hair sliding over her shoulder, then turned away, staring at the dark expanse of lawn. He’d left the room that night, as soon as things start getting weird, but later, downstairs, even in the craziness, he’d noticed Tristan, speaking close to certain guys’ ears. And some of them went upstairs after. Not all, but some. Then, around eleven or so, the video had popped up on Bridges’s phone. Sent by Tristan. No message, because it didn’t need to said: this was the price she paid for thinking she belonged here. That there was any other reason she’d be allowed through the door of the Garrison house.

“Hey.” A touch on his shoulder, bringing him back. Pearl stood behind him.

“Where’s Tristan?”

She shrugged slightly. “I don’t know. Inside somewhere.” She didn’t seem defensive, like somebody caught flirting—but she wasn’t acting quite normal, either, kind of distracted, and again Bridges wondered what the hell Tristan had found to say to her, why he would lower himself. Bridges liked that not everybody got what he saw in her—that she wasn’t beautiful, and her eyes were strange, what some people—Akil—called creepy. Made Pearl more . . . his, somehow. Like his project. Dating a girl people most guys would give their left nut for was all stress, worry. Especially when she was technically with somebody else. A flash of Cassidy, her face, the way she’d looked lying on the beach of Little Nicatou, hair spread out on the sand. I’ve liked you forever. Smiling up at him.      

“You okay?” Pearl said briskly, how she said almost everything. Obviously, she wasn’t going to make it up to him, kiss his ass after letting his buddy steal their dance.

“Yeah. Fine.”

“O-kay. Well . . . .” She glanced at the couple near them, heads close together, trying to steal a second of privacy. “Want to go back in?”

“Yeah.” And took her arm. That’s what he liked most about her. She didn’t make it easy to be him, if that made any sense. To do the routine. And that was a good thing.


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