Lee talks about The Red Files (now available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple and AllRomance), her writing process, and how lesbian fiction puts strong, snappy, female characters up front where she likes them.
About The Red Files:
A personality clash of epic proportions: ambitious young L.A. journalist Lauren King must pair up with the formidable, icy Catherine Ayers, a disgraced veteran reporter used to working alone, to expose a scandal too good for either reporter to resist. What’s the mysterious connection between one business launch, thirty-four prostitutes, and a pallet of missing pink champagne?
With witty dialogue and plenty of plot twists, this is a lesbian fiction mystery you’ll read late into the night.
Meet Lee Winter in our Spotlight Interview below:
1. How would you describe The Red Files? What is it about?
It’s a mystery with two warring journalists – one a disgraced ex-Washington correspondent, one a rising, young gun from Iowa – trying to unravel the strangest series of events. It’s also a romance as the women reluctantly discover they maybe don’t hate each other as much as they thought. It’s also funny, because I adore snappy, smart humor. And snappy, smart women are just fabulous.
2. What sparked the idea for this book?
I know journalism, being a newspaper journalist myself, which helped me easily slide into the swivel chairs of the two reporters. The start of my novel, at Ayers’ desk, is inspired by forties newspaper films like His Girl Friday, with that sassy banter between colleagues delivered at a rapid pace. I just love that kind of interaction. They are both clever and love to give as good as they get.
As for the rest of the story, I let my imagination run wild. It all started around the question of why. Why would someone do what they did at that SmartPay party? I loved the idea of someone having to pick that mystery apart.
3. Who’s your favorite character in The Red Files?
Catherine Ayers. Who doesn’t love a witty, beautiful, aloof woman with a bit of mystery? Close runners are Mariella the publicist, and the dashing and ever-dramatic BFF, Joshua.
4. What do you like about your main characters?
They are opposites at first glance, but the more layers get peeled back you see their similarities: Lauren was dismissed as a lightweight blow-in from Iowa until Ayers discovers Lauren has the same heroes as her, in Helen Thomas and Ed Murrow. I also love the way they banter. They are definitely intellectual equals, despite such different backgrounds.
5. Were your characters inspired by anyone you know in your everyday life or by a famous person, or were they entirely made up?
Ayers has a hint of Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada in her, given her air of superiority and use of her caustic, biting tongue to keep people from getting too close.
Mariella is based on a Mother Earth, larger-than-life, colorful publicist who is best friends with my boss. I adore her engulfing hugs and loud anecdotes.
The crazy socialite in chapter one who stores her heels in the fridge is based on a real life Filipino maid in my city who married her billionaire boss, and she was way more eccentric than my character – heels in the fridge, a dog under each arm, mad, mad interviews.
My brother makes a brief, accurate, albeit unflattering cameo in the book – the government worker great at maths and who draws electricity pylons. Shh. Don’t tell him.
6. Did you plot out the entire book before you started writing, or did you explore where the story would take you?
All plotted. I always knew where I was going and what the ending would be. A few things had to be changed as I encountered some unexpected issues, and a few characters took on more prominence than I expected, like Max the guard.
7. What was your favorite part about writing The Red Files?
The car chase. And the epilogue. I knew before I wrote a word of my book what the epilogue would have in it. The parking lot parallels etc and the very final scene.
8. What role does your setting play in your novel?
LA is essential to mirror the emptiness of their jobs as entertainment reporters. They hate the vapidness of it, and that glittering world seems so empty. Nevada’s rawness is where they can let down their guards a little, away from the bright lights and their frantic jobs and curious colleagues. I like that. They encounter an emptiness of a different sort.
9. What prompted you to choose this setting as a backdrop?
It was necessary. Nevada was a state next to California where one could legally hire prostitutes.
10. What was it like to have your first book published?
Exciting. And nerve-wracking. Also weird. Aren’t authors those other people you hear about?
11. What draws you to writing lesbian fiction?
The fact we’re the main course, not the afterthought. Subtext can get wearing, especially as you get older.
12. What writers in your genre do you admire? What are your favorite lesbian fiction novels?
This is a hard one. When I was nineteen and bursting out of the closet, I hit the nearest gay bookshop and went mad with the credit card. I spent months reading my haul and was appalled at the shocking quality of lesbian fiction. Two-dimensional characters, plots you could hold up to the light, they were so thin. So I swore off it. I began to only read lesbian autobiographies after that.
Every now and then, I’d read a mainstream book, like The Color Purple or Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistlestop Cafe and wish very hard all lesbian fiction was of this quality. You know, with an actual plot that stands on its own, with or without the romance.
Years went by, and just recently I discovered fanfiction, some of which was surprisingly brilliant, and began to write my own (I’m called Red Charcoal). Which was how Ylva found me. So the sad truth is I have no favorite lesbian novels or writers yet. But now I know about Ylva’s stable of quality authors, I plan to work my way through all the fictions. Ask me this question in a year.
13. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am the appointed weeder at home on our quarter acre Hills block. That’s a lot of garden to wrangle. I also love computer games (Fallout series, for example) and playing with gadgets. I used to write about technology for work, and the tech bug stuck.
14. How long have you been writing?
All my life. I popped out the womb knowing where to put a semicolon. I told my parents at age eight I would be a journalist.
15. How long did it take you to write The Red Files?
Fifteen months, every Sunday, all day. With a month off at Christmas. OK, ok, so that’s fourteen months. 🙂
16. Are you working on a new novel? What can your readers expect next from you?
Not yet. Should inspiration strike, I expect a novel to wrap its gizzards around my brain.
17. How can your readers stay in touch with you?
There is a Lee Winter Facebook page. Everyone’s welcome to friend me and chat.