Please welcome Laura Lam to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. False Hearts was published on June 21st by Tor Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Laura: It’s always been my dream job. I started writing in my teens, but never actually managed to finish anything until I went to uni and took some creative writing classes. I finished and workshopped some short stories and poems, and after I graduated and moved from California to Scotland, I started working on novels.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Laura: Definitely a plotter, but my outlines are usually just a bulletpoint list of potential plot points, and I’m free to change and shift things around if I come up with better ideas down the line. The process can change somewhat from book to book, too.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Laura: I still struggle with confidence, which is something I think most writers face. The first draft is often quite difficult for me because I can see all the ways the story is wrong, yet I don’t have a clear enough picture of the whole story to fix it yet. Resisting the siren call of social media is also another challenge.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Laura: Pretty much everything. I read and watch a lot of films and television, which I’m sure all trickles through the narrative-forming part of my brain. I like to people watch, travel, and go to museums. It can be hard to pinpoint specific influences—sometimes you can figure out where you got an idea for something, and other times it’s a hybrid of a few things.
TQ: Describe False Hearts in 140 characters or less.
Laura: Orphan Black meets Inception. In near-future SF, Taema has to go undercover as her twin into the mob to save her sister's life.
TQ: Tell us something about False Hearts that is not found in the book description.
Laura: In the cult of Mana’s Hearth, everything is frozen at 1969-level technology, and they sing 1960s pop songs at their church services.
TQ: What inspired you to write False Hearts?
Laura: I read an article about Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins who became quite famous in the vaudeville era. I started thinking about how close of a bond that would be, and how much it would eat you up if your literal other half kept a secret from you—like murder. Everything else followed from there.
TQ: Your previous novels, Pantomime and Shadowplay (Micah Grey 1 and 2), along with the four Vestigial Tales (stories set in the Micah Grey world) are YA Fantasy. False Hearts is both your first adult novel and your first Science Fiction novel. What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction? Do your three novels share anything thematically?
Laura: The Micah Grey series and False Hearts both feature protagonists with atypical anatomy. Micah Grey is intersex and Taema and Tila were conjoined twins who were surgically separated. All of my books also focus a lot on the theme of identity. Micah wants to find out who he is without his family forcing him into a mould he doesn’t fit. Taema has to pretend to be her sister to find out who she truly is and what she’s made of.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for False Hearts?
Laura: I researched both conjoined twins and identical twins. I looked at various cults and how they interacted with the outside world. I researched futuristic architecture, especially in regards to San Francisco, and kept an eye on tech magazines to see what sorts of things might come on the market over the next few decades. I researched various mobs and those who went undercover within them. I took a look at the structure of the brain, especially how memories are stored and what affects drugs have (note: I did not take drugs as part of this research). I’m a bit of a magpie for shiny facts, so research is one of my favourite parts.
TQ: In False Hearts who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Laura: Taema’s voice is, I think, fairly similar to mine. She reacts to things how I would, for the most part. Tila, on the other hand, is very different to me, but she was also fairly easy to write. In many ways, False Hearts was the easiest time I had drafting. If only all books could be so smooth at the first draft stage!
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in False Hearts?
Laura: I think I included quite a few social issues. Pacifica is in many ways a utopia, but it also has a totalitarian aspect to it. A lot of people choose to look the other way because that’s simpler—we do it now, too. There’s a lot of pressure to conform to future San Francisco’s narrow ideas of what’s normal. A.M. Dellamonica summed it up nicely, I think, in her blurb for False Hearts:
“A taut futuristic thriller, set in a San Francisco where everybody is beautiful… and nobody is exceptional. Two unusual sisters are caught in a war for control of a society that quietly suffocates its outsiders, rebels, and the damaged. Taema and Tila are all three, and their strange past and unique bond make False Hearts a difficult book to put down.”
– A. M. Dellamonica, author of Child of a Hidden Sea
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from False Hearts.
“When we fight, we know the perfect way to wound the other, but it’s like hitting a mirror–the glass cuts us just as deeply.”
TQ: What's next?
Laura: I have another thriller set in Pacifica, Shattered Minds, which will be out in June 2017. It has a new cast of characters and is another standalone story. This November and December, Pantomime & Shadowplay will be re-released in paperback in the UK (though they’re out now in ebook everywhere). I also have Masquerade, the third part of the Micah Grey series, out in March 2017. I’m also working on some short stories, more novels, and a collaborative project, so I’m definitely keeping busy!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Laura: Thank you for having me!
Tor Books, June 14, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
Laura Lam's adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.
Raised in the closed cult of Mana's Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.
Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins' home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder--the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin's life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins' past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.
Laura Lam was born in the late eighties and raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.
After studying literature and creative writing at university, she relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, a boy she met online when they were teenagers and he insulted her taste in books and she insulted his right back. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. She is now a dual citizen, but at times she misses the sunshine.
While working a variety of jobs from filing and photocopying endlessly at a law firm to library assistant to corporate librarian, she began writing in earnest. Her first book, "Pantomime, the first book in the Micah Grey series, was released in 2013, which was a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month, won the Bisexual Book Award, was listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association List, and was nominated for several other awards. Robin Hobb says “Pantomime by Laura Lam took me into a detailed and exotic world, peopled by characters that I’d love to be friends with . . . and some I’d never want to cross paths with.” The sequel, Shadowplay, followed in 2014, as well as the Vestigial Tales, self-published short stories and novellas set in the same world. The third book in the series, Masquerade, will follow in 2017.
Her newest book is False Hearts, a near-future thriller released in June 2016 by Tor/Macmillan and in three other languages. Peter F. Hamilton calls False Hearts “a strong debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” Another thriller, Shattered Minds, will be released in 2017.
She is still hiding from sunshine in Scotland and writing more stories.