Clues to My Crime: Kristen Lepionka’s THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK

Mystery Month 2017In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. In this installment, debut author Kristen Lepionka explains the things that influenced her novel, The Last Place You Look, the first book in a new series about private investigator Roxane Weary.

 

Kristen Lepionka THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK

I get asked a lot about where I get my ideas. To be honest, I wish I knew. Everywhere? Nowhere? It’s rarely about individual ideas so much as the way different elements mix with each other to form something new. Here are some of the ingredients that combined to make the idea soup that became The Last Place You Look

SERIAL, SEASON 1: When I started building the idea for this book in the fall of 2014, I was engrossed in the podcast and overnight phenomenon Serial (like much of the country). Adnan Syed was a high school student convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999, and has professed his innocence all along. This is a real, heartbreaking case, and not something “inspiring,” but the fact that the podcast was attempting—with some success—to turn up new evidence in such a long-closed case was really interesting to me, and my thoughts about that found their way into the story.

Colombus OhioCOLOMBUS, OHIO: Columbus is my hometown, so I might be biased when I say it’s an interesting place—but it is. We have big city crime, farmland only minutes outside the city limits, the largest university in the country, a vibrant gay community, gentrification galore, and the occasional small-town mindset. All of these things result in interesting conflicts and tension that I wanted to explore in the story. Belmont—a fictional outpost I created because I didn’t want to malign the good name of any of our fine suburbs—is the result of those types of tensions. Columbus also has an awesome restaurant scene, which my protagonist Roxane Weary enjoys to its full extent because she doesn’t cook if she can help it.

SUE GRAFTON’S KINSEY MILLHONE: Kinsey wasn’t the first female private investigator in crime fiction, but she was one of the first, and certainly one of the best. Even though I discovered the series a decade or so after it began, I was always inspired by Kinsey’s toughness and the fact that she didn’t need anyone’s help to crack her cases. As a young woman who loved reading any and all private eye novels, I wound up reading a lot of tough-guy, alpha-male stuff—which has its place, don’t get me wrong. But it was refreshing to read the types of stories I loved with a female point of view.

AMANDA PALMER, “LOST”: When I actually sat down to start writing The Last Place You Look, the first line I typed was the epigraph—five words from the chorus of Amanda Palmer’s song, “Lost”: “No one’s ever lost forever.” During the revision process, just about every other word in the manuscript wound up getting changed, but the epigraph remains—that’s how strongly it’s tied to the story. It applies to the actual mystery, and to Roxane herself, who starts out very lost indeed.

crown royal bagCROWN ROYAL WHISKEY: A friend of mine once told me a funny story about the way her family would repurpose those little purple cloth bags that come with bottles of Crown Royal: lunch bags, doll clothes, etc. That image was stuck in my head for a long time before I figured out where I wanted to use it. Not only does the purple Crown Royal bag figure into Roxane’s backstory, but the whiskey itself is one more way she struggles to define herself as different from her father, all the while knowing how alike they are.

GRANDMA’S POLICE SCANNER: My grandmother had a police scanner (which I now have on my desk) that she’d turn on any time police sirens sounded in the neighborhood. It was more work to be nosy then—now, we can just look online to see what happened, but a police scanner gives you a play by play as shit goes down. Roxane relies on a police scanner late in the story, a much more technologically advanced one than Grandma’s, but based on the same idea of needing to know right now.

 

Kristen-Lepionka-squareKristen Lepionka is the author of The Last Place You Look (June 13; Minotaur). She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. She is the founding editor of Betty Fedora, a feminist crime fiction magazine, and her writing has been featured at Shotgun Honey, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats. You can visit her at kristenlepionka.com

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