Q&A with local true crime author

Celebrate launch of ‘The Quarry Girls’ at Once Upon A Crime on Nov. 1, 6 p.m.


Anthony and Thriller Award winning author of crime fiction, Jessica Lourey, has a new book called “The Quarry Girls” based on real-life true crime events that happened in St. Cloud around the 1970s. Now a resident of East Isles in southwest Minneapolis, Lourey said she enjoys writing about Minnesota because of the complexities Minnesota has that she hasn’t found anywhere else. 

How did you begin to write books?

Lourey: It started when I was six. I wrote this Minnesota haiku for my awesome grandpa: 

Grandpas are full of love

Grandpas are full of tickles

But grandpas are especially full of pickles.

People loved it. Aunts hugged me, cousins were jealous, uncles asked me to immortalize them next. My poetry skills have not evolved since that day, but the enchantment with words and their power grew inside me like a watermelon seed. I wrote my first novel when I was 26. It featured three women traveling across the United States. Like most first novels, it was embarrassingly self-involved, full of overwritten description and 20-pound dialogue tags. 

Amazingly, no publisher would take a look at the first three chapters. I ended up with two master’s degrees, one in English and one in sociology, and a teaching job at Alexandria Technical and Community College while living in rural Battle Lake, Minn.

But, like most writers, I couldn’t stop thinking of book ideas, scribbling down sparks of description or snatches of conversation that I overheard and would love to work into a story, feeling lazy and envious when I read a fantastic novel. When a traumatic life event reminded me of the true power of writing, I started penning MAY DAY, the first in my Murder-by-Month mysteries for adults. 

It turned out mystery writing fit me well. 

How did you become interested in the mystery/true crime genre?

Lourey: I wrote my first mystery, and my first published book, “May Day,” after my husband committed suicide. I wrote it because I was pregnant and spiraling into a deep depression. I needed to focus on justice, on answers, and on allies to stay healthy, and writing a mystery gave me that.

How does living in Minnesota influence your writing?

Lourey: It’s funny because when my first book came out in 2006, I was told by many people in the industry that writing books set in the Midwest is a hard sell, with some notable exceptions. We’re considered a flyover state. But I can’t separate me from Minnesota, and so every book I’ve written starts out here if it’s not entirely set here. At the moment, I’m writing a dystopic YA set in 250 years in the future, and my editor gave me license to set it anywhere. ANYWHERE. Space. A made-up world. Tasmania. Anywhere. I set it in southern Minnesota.

Can you tell us a bit of what “The Quarry Girls” is about?

Lourey: In St. Cloud in the 1970s, there were two, possibly three, serial killers operating. I was a child living in St. Cloud, and I remember that immersive fear made worse by the vagueness with which adults talk to children about violent crime. “The Quarry Girls” examines what it was like to be navigating that, and how crime and the fear it brings shows us for who we are, creating a space for either a profound and painful reckoning, or for a doubling down of the thinking and behavior that created a fertile environment for the crime in the first place. 

Where did you get the idea to base the story off real true crime events? 

Lourey: I stumbled onto it with “Unspeakable Things,” my 20th book as well as my breakout novel. It’s a fictionalized version of the true story of growing up in Paynesville, Minn. In the 1980s, boys were being abducted and returned, and no one would tell us kids what was going on. At first, my agent couldn’t sell. She did a last-ditch pitch to Thomas & Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. They picked it up and found its audience. It’s sold over 350,000 copies.

What does the process PF writing a mystery/true crime book look like?

Lourey: I think it’s different for every writer, but for me, I write two books a year. My publisher tells me what they want – true-crime-inspired, thriller, short story, or novel, etc. – and I find a way to make that meaningful to me so I’m telling a story that I think is important. Once I land on the kernel for the idea, I start watching movies and reading books set in the era and/or in the genre that I’m going to write. When writing suspense, I particularly like to watch horror movies. Research takes me about two weeks, and then it takes another 10 weeks to write the first draft. After that comes a lot of editing.

“The Quarry Girls” launch party will be held at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. I’ll be joined by other Minnesota authors, as well as award-winning Chicago author Lori Rader-Day: https://onceuponacrimebooks.indielite.org/event/jess-lourey-quarry-girls.


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