Sitting Down With Sarah Lotz: Author of The White Road @mulhollandbooks

Happy publication day to The White Road!  I am thrilled to welcome Sarah Lotz to Clues and Reviews to discuss her novel, The White Road, the writing process and life in general.

I read this book and absolutely LOVED IT!  It has been several weeks since I finished it and I am still talking to everyone about it.  It is one of those books that sticks with you. If you missed my review of this one, you can check it out here!

Before we hear from Sarah, here is the synopsis for The White Road

Desperate to attract subscribers to his fledgling website, ‘Journey to the Dark Side’, ex-adrenalin junkie and slacker Simon Newman hires someone to guide him through the notorious Cwm Pot caves, so that he can film the journey and put it on the internet. With a tragic history, Cwm Pot has been off-limits for decades, and unfortunately for Simon, the guide he’s hired is as unpredictable and dangerous as the watery caverns that lurk beneath the earth. After a brutal struggle for survival, Simon barely escapes with his life, but predictably, the gruesome footage he managed to collect down in the earth’s bowels goes viral. Ignoring the warning signs of mental trauma, and eager to capitalize on his new internet fame, Simon latches onto another escapade that has that magic click-bait mix of danger and death – a trip to Everest. But up above 8000 feet, in the infamous Death Zone, he’ll need more than his dubious morals and wits to guide him, especially when he uncovers the truth behind a decade-old tragedy – a truth that means he might not be coming back alive. A truth that will change him – and anyone who views the footage he captures – forever.

Sounds pretty intense right?

Keep reading to see what Sarah Lotz had to say about the idea of the “third man factor”, her adrenline seeking experiences and how she deals with book reviews.

The White Road tackles the idea of the “third man factor”. I had never even heard of this concept before I started reading your book! How did you stumble upon this idea, decide to make it a concept in your novel and what type of research went into writing a novel like this?

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the third man since I read legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton’s account of being followed by an elusive, imaginary companion when he was in desperate straits during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Sensing that someone else is with you when you’re on the cusp of a life-threatening experience is a phenomenon documented in all cultures. Usually the presence is experienced as benign, but I wanted to explore how it would feel if it was threatening, and what that said about a person’s state-of-mind and psychological make-up.

The research for the novel was insane! I’m not a caver or mountaineer, and knew I couldn’t do the story justice if I didn’t throw myself into it (not a wise decision!) A few brave guys from the Dudley Caving Club in the UK took me caving in South Wales. They were amazing and generous; I was a nervous wreck and had to be carried (literally) over some of the trickier sections. That said, it was an incredible experience and I’d encourage everyone to have a go at it (safely though – don’t do what Simon, the narrator does in the novel and hire a psychopathic guide).

I also travelled to Nepal and Tibet and to Everest Base Camp. It was just after the avalanche that devastated both regions and was an extraordinary and sobering experience.

The psychological fallout Simon experiences was based on personal experiences of PTSD (I was diagnosed with it after a brutal home invasion a few years ago).

If you could tell your readers three things about The White Road, what would they be?

1) Simon blags his way onto an Everest expedition in 2007. A number of readers have asked if this would be possible and if you can ‘just go’ to Everest. It is possible. 2006 and 2007 were tragic years for the mountain, catalogued with deaths due to climbers who attempted the ascent without the experience or support necessary. If you had the money and the will, it was possible to get a permit to attempt the ascent. (I’d recommend reading Joe Simpson’s Dark Shadows Falling, an excellent and scarily prescient look at the dangers of the commercialisation of Everest).

2) The book is also an exploration of how far people will go to get internet famous. The reason Simon puts himself in danger is to gather footage for his dubious website – a precursor to clickbait articles, salacious gossip sites and fake news.

3) Don’t try this at home.

In The White Road, Simon is a thrill seeking, adrenaline junky. Have you ever done any “thrill seeking” activities?

I’ve done my fair share of bridge and bungy jumping, and stupidly used to get a kick out of driving like Vin Diesel in the Fast & the Furious, but I’ve morphed into your average middle-aged couch potato now.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

This is such a great question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There’s not a writer alive who doesn’t love a good review! As for bad ones, I’m tempted to say that if you can’t roll with the punches, then you have to get out of the ring. While true, this is an empty statement. I’m fortunate in a sense as I’ve written and co-authored over twenty novels now, and have had a long time to grow a thick skin. I’ve learned a great deal from considered criticism – my first negative review made me a far better writer (and boy, I got my arse kicked with that one, so much so that I’ve never forgotten it!). I wrote about this years ago: http://www.pornokitsch.com/2014/02/sarah-lotz-on-bad-review-syndrome.html.

I have a great deal of respect for book bloggers who take the time to read a novel and back up their criticism – positive or negative, but I don’t bother reading the personal attacks or lazy one-line screeds. There’s no point, everyone can be a critic these days and I’ve seen authors reduced to tears by throwaway hatchet jobs and trolling (I’m not sure people care or have an idea of how much this can hurt and knock emerging writers’ confidence). Incidentally, the comedian Stewart Lee has a great set about the section of the population who proliferate review sites such as TripAdvisor and Amazon with one star reviews of things they obviously wouldn’t like, using the punchline: ‘It’s not for you.’ I’d encourage writers who are struggling with the one-star sting to listen to it!

Which of your characters, in any of your novels, would you like to meet in person?  Why?

Probably Vicki, one of the protagonists in my first novel, Pompidou Posse. The book is inspired by my experiences living on the streets of Paris in the 80s, where I made some extraordinarily bad and dangerous decisions. I’d give Vicki a good talking to and tell her not to be so fucking stupid.

How many unpublished and half finished books do you have?

At the last count around 15! They’re unpublished for a reason though (they’re rubbish).

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

 Read.

 Thank you so much, Sam for the terrific questions!

Thanks so much to Sarah Lotz for answering all my burning questions!  The White Road publishes TODAY!  

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