Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your YA novel, Fractured Tide! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Leslie Lutz: Thanks so much for having me! Fractured Tide tells the story of a dive trip gone terribly wrong, stranding teenage Sia and three other survivors on a time-bending island. While the reef just beyond the breakers is beautiful and full of wonder (and food!), it’s also patrolled by a sea monster. Sia has to brave the waters, and the dangerous jungle inland, if she’s going to help everyone survive and find a way home. There’s more—dread, dead people who don’t die, dreadful sinkholes, and general monster mayhem—but that’s the quick and dirty version.
It’s hard to unearth that first moment of inspiration, but when I was a kid, we moved from England, where I drank a lot of tea and wore fancy dresses, to Mississippi, to live in the middle of nowhere on a lake. The water drew me so powerfully then. It was adventure, for sure, but I also knew how dangerous the lake was, as the banks were lousy with water moccasins. We swam in it anyway, because there was nothing else to do in middle-of-nowhere Mississippi, but most of us avoided the most dangerous part--the island in the middle of our bay. To all the neighborhood kids, that island became pretty much the equivalent of Boo Radley’s house. When it comes to the water, I think I never got over that beautiful combination of wonder and fear.
BD: The novel deftly combines your real-life love of scuba diving, as well as your interest in creature horror. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these interests together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
LKL: I love ocean diving, but when I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, I became hopelessly landlocked. My craving for the water just seeped into my laptop and took over.
For research, I decided I just had to book a vacation to dive just off the coast of Key Largo so I could explore the Spiegel Grove, which is a beautiful sunken ship about 90 feet down. Turns out scuba charters won’t take you out there without the right training, so I signed up for an advanced skills class at the place closest to me—a scuba park just east of Dallas. There’s pretty much nothing to see out in that lake except brown rocks and brown fish and few rusted cars, but we all had a great time that weekend—until we had to train for the deep dive.
Since most lakes in Texas aren’t going to break any depth records, the engineers of the park actually had to core out a hole to provide a “deep” dive, getting students like me to 60 feet so we could check all our boxes for the certification. This hole in the lake is called the Silo, and it’s essentially a muddy nightmare. You can’t see squat, since the silt not only blocks out the light above, but also makes reading the instruments on your own wrist nearly impossible. I’d never experienced such a complete oblivion and existential terror in my life. That experience became the inspiration for the sinkhole in Fractured Tide, where our intrepid divers must descend again and again to discover the island’s secrets.
The scariest creature I’ve encountered diving is a reef shark, and they’re actually not that dangerous, so for beast inspiration, I had to go to some of my favorite authors—Stephen King and Jeff VanderMeer. I think I reread the first tentacle monster attack scene in The Mist about twenty times, just trying to get a handle on how King establishes that excellent balance of monster movement and psychological detail. If you haven’t read it, you should, but do NOT eat first. Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation had an enormous influence on me, as well, and I love the way he teases out the details of the monster while bathing his characters in an atmosphere of dread. I have to admit the reason my sea monster glows is because of Jeff VanderMeer’s influence.
BD: In light of Fractured Tide being a Young Adult novel, do you feel that - as a writer - you must approach horror and/or suspense with a specific set of narrative tools to accommodate the targeted age group?
LKL: It’s a tough line to walk, writing “scary” for a 13-and-up novel that also has crossover potential. You can be a little gross, but not too gross. At the same time, if you don’t make it frightening enough, you’ll lose the older readers.
I decided I wanted a full-on monster attack early on, something cinematic and wide in scope. Because I’m a rabid Jaws fan (Go, shark!), I wanted it to happen when my main character was stranded on a boat around the size of the Orca. I think it helped having that entire monster attack filtered through the main character’s perspective, keeping the blood-o-meter in the lower numbers. Sia only catches flashes and bits of the carnage, which means readers can fill in the gaps with their own wicked imagination. I think creating a sense of dread is a great way to walk the YA horror line, as you can scare without dumping a bucket of intestines in the reader’s lap.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Sia’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
LKL: Fractured Tide is adventure/horror, but it’s also a story about a family that’s falling apart. Many adults tell teenagers that they have it so easy—it’s all pep rallies and corsages and crushes, right? The reality for many teens is lot harder. Sia lost her father to incarceration three years before the start of the story, and she’s had to take on an adult role in the family ever since. And there are other characters on the island—Ben and Graham for example—who deal with death and disillusionment at a far higher level than most people their age. I think a lot of teens will recognize themselves in these characters, and I hope they know that they’re not alone.
More specifically, I hope children of incarcerated parents see themselves in this book. I used to volunteer at the Atlanta Women’s Prison as a GED teacher, and I had the privilege to read the essays of so many women who had really positive relationships with their children on the outside. In pop culture, we don’t usually see that reality. Either you have Barry from the Flash, who must free his falsely accused father from prison, or Barry’s sidekick, whose incarcerated father is so evil the poor dude wants nothing more than to forget he ever existed. But that’s not real life. Most children of incarcerated parents don’t have the innocent parent, or the evil parent. They have a parent who’s locked away, making up for a mistake, and missing their kid like hell. I wanted to tell that story, and I hope it shines a light on those kids of incarcerated parents who so rarely find themselves in books.
BD: What makes HarperCollins the perfect home for Fractured Tide?
LKL: I love my editors and the marketing folks at HarperCollins. The Blink imprint is a cosier group of authors than a lot of the bigger imprints where a new author like me can get lost. I also can’t believe my book is coming out with the same imprint as Kwame Alexander, who I frequently hear on NPR when I’m driving to pick up my kid from school. The folks at Blink and HarperCollins are always responsive to questions, as I’ve heard that not all the big houses are like that.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LKL: I’m almost finished revising a novel about a reluctant beauty queen from Savannah who’s being haunted by a parasitic ghost. Honestly, it’s a tough project. I’m using a combination of documents to build the story, including psychiatrist transcripts, a recording of a 911 call, missing persons’ reports, and other found documents, all layered around a first-person narrative. Like Fractured Tide, this story has quite a few water scenes, although it’s more like the muddy waters of my youth than the crystal clear waters of the Keys.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Fractured Tide and your other work?
LKL: My website has all of my social media contacts and order links, so readers can go to lesliekarenlutz.com for pretty much everything. I’m active on Twitter and Instagram, where I occasionally post pictures of my daughter’s chickens, since that has a lot to do with absolutely nothing. But they’re cute. On my website, you can read my creature blog, in which I mull over various forgotten and underrated water beasties. If I run out of material, I “interview” famous monsters about their favorite holidays. I’ve got a newsletter, apparently, so if you sign up, I will try to put out something inconsistently brilliant, and hopefully entertaining.
Leslie Lutz is the author of FRACTURED TIDE (May 5, 2020; HarperCollins/Blink) as well as a devoted fan of scuba diving and creature horror. Her writing has appeared in various journals, including Orca Literary Journal, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, Typishly, Number One, The Lyric, and Raintown Review. She lives in Fort Worth and is a member of International Thriller Writers, Horror Writers Association, Editorial Freelancers Association and the DFW Writers' Workshop, and has been a speaker at the DFW Writers’ Convention. She draws on her volunteer experiences—including her time teaching GED courses at the Atlanta Women's Prison—to tell stories that challenge stereotypes about forgotten people. FRACTURED TIDE won the 2018 Frisco First Chapter Contest.