Author Lou Berney visits the SheKnows Book Lounge to talk about his new book, cooking and the writing process.
SheKnows: How do you describe Whiplash River to your family and friends?
Lou Berney: It's Ocean's Eleven meets Aesop's Fables. There's this guy, a former getaway driver for the mob, but he's a good guy for a bad guy and he wants to go straight. So he manages to buy his own little restaurant on the beach in Belize — a dream come true. He discovers pretty quickly, though, that you better be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Running a restaurant is really hard, and before he knows it a lot of different people are after him — a giant ruthless drug lord named Baby Jesus, a pair of newlywed assassins, a billionaire natural gas tycoon with a grudge, and an attractive but ferocious female FBI agent. And that's before his life gets really complicated.
SheKnows: When we meet Charles Samuel "Shake" Bouchon, he is living on a small island in Belize. Did you travel to Central America to conduct research for Whiplash River? If not, is Ambergris Caye totally a product of your imagine?
Lou Berney: I did travel to Belize to do research for the book. My theory on research is that if it's going to be a lot of fun, you should definitely do it (if it's not going to be fun, then just make it up). Belize was a lot of fun. I loved Ambergris Caye, which in a lot of ways is exactly the way it's described in the book. But it's also actually a much safer destination than it might seem in the book. During my time there I encountered zero drug lords, assassins, shootings or explosions. And the snorkeling is incredible.
SheKnows: Whiplash River is your second Shake Bouchon book. How is it different to write about some of your characters for a second time? Did you feel more constrained in the second novel? Or was it easier because you already were familiar with Shake?
Lou Berney: It was fun to write about these characters again because I really love them and know them, but at the same time it was something of a challenge. I get frustrated when I read a novel that doesn't make sense unless you've read the previous book or books in the series, so I worked really hard to make sure that Whiplash River could be fully enjoyed by someone who had not read Gutshot Straight. The tricky thing with that, though, was that I didn't want to bore people who had read Gutshot Straight. I didn't want, in other words, to bog down the story with a lot of information that a reader might already have, or that might not be necessary. In the end it took several revisions to get the balance in Whiplash River just (I hope) right.
SheKnows: The Sunset Breeze, Shake's restaurant, serves up some tasty meals. If I came to your house for dinner, what would you cook for me?
Lou Berney: I love to grill. I grill almost every night between March and November, and sometimes even in the dead of winter. I'm not a chef like Shake, but I share his philosophy of simple, quality ingredients prepared properly. Come on over and I'll grill you, for example, salmon with garlic, cracked black pepper and sea salt. And I'll make sure you have a top-shelf first-rate lemon to squeeze over it — that makes all the difference.
SheKnows: What are reading this week?
Lou Berney: I'm reading The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman. She's a writer who just blows me away when it comes to the emotional complexity of her characters. And she can write! Sometimes I get a little angry at her because she can write so well, but then I get over that and feel inspired.
SheKnows: What is something surprising you learned when writing Whiplash River?
Lou Berney: One of the characters I love most in Whiplash River is the female FBI agent named Evelyn Holly. She's ferocious and smart and funny and quirky and great at her job. While I was writing the novel, I was aware that this character was coming really, really easy to me, and I wasn't sure why. It wasn't until after I finished the book that I understood the reason. My wife was reading the manuscript one evening and she stopped and looked up at me and said, "You know the character of the FBI agent is your mom, right?" And I realized it was true. My mother, who passed away a few years ago, had been a secretary most of her life. But if she'd been born in a slightly different time, and in different circumstances — if her life had taken a slightly different turn — it was absolutely true: she was that character. It made me very happy to know she was in there.