Author Lisa Zeidner discusses her new comedic novel Love Bomb—about a wedding taken captive—and what she was surprised to learn from real-life hostage negotiators.
Zola: Your cast of characters is huge—marriages and divorces and half-related, once-removed family members. There’s even a chart on your Web site. Did you plot out all of the characters ahead of time or did they come to you as you wrote?
Lisa Zeidner: Definitely plotted it out. I started writing with the idea that unlike in movies, where most of the people in a crisis are merely extras, I wanted to bring all of the characters to life. I wanted readers to know all of the hostages. The family chart on my Web site, though, is kind of a spoof on such charts in old-fashioned novels. You don’t need to know that many characters—half of them are either dead, or didn’t make it to the wedding!
Zola: You spent time with hostage negotiators while doing research. How did you arrange that? What’s the most surprising and/or interesting thing you learned from them?
LZ: Luckily, I had an MFA student who was a retired police chief. He put me in touch with most of the people I interviewed, including the forensic psychiatrists and the SWAT team captain. I was really surprised by how smart all these guys were (yes, they were mostly all guys). Also soulful, philosophical. Deep thinkers! The SWAT dudes’ practice sessions were like graduate seminars in disaster preparedness. Again, my source for most of this before writing the novel was mostly movies, where the cops and connected personnel tend to be boorish automatons.
In terms of finding people for research, though, I’ve found that all people, always, are willing to talk about their work if you show an interest.
Zola: You also went through gun training. What was that like? In general, do you think it’s essential for a novelist to do hands-on, experiential research?
LZ: I don’t play golf, or tennis, or even ping-pong, and not surprisingly, I didn’t turn out to have great dexterity with a weapon. But given that I’d never even held a gun (no less a rifle—or long gun, as the pros call it), I thought it was necessary. I’ve been a fan of such research since my second novel, where I embarrassed to admit I had a character “laying” sheetrock. An early reader gingerly suggested to me that I should maybe spend some time around a construction site—which is, incidentally, how I met my husband. So you never know what will crop up. While I was writing Love Bomb, I toured a 911 call center and was silently berating myself—thinking I was just avoiding the writing itself. But that call center turned out to hold an important piece of the puzzle for me.
Zola: The novel was written over a five-year period in which there have been unthinkable acts of gun violence against a member of congress, theatergoers, school children, and more. In light of this, did you ever have second thoughts about publishing the novel? Did you decide to rework any of the gun-related passages along the way?
LZ: The tone of the novel was considerably more antic, more purely comic, in early drafts. As I went along, the threat started to seem more…well, threatening to me. However, I always did want it to be a comedy about a hostage situation. What interested me was the tonal challenge. It would, of course, be a very different novel if people actually died. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that it’s not a novel that ends in carnage.
Zola: What’s the craziest wedding you’ve ever been to?
LZ: I wish I had been to more crazy weddings. Something about getting married makes everyone suddenly very conventional, which is a shame. Registries! Bridesmaids! Little white satin shoes! Not too many surprises, generally. For craziest, I think I have to settle for the one where there was a fire in the hotel kitchen, which delayed the food so much that the guests became a very angry rabble. But eventually, everyone got their entrées (chicken or fish).
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.