‘Lie Still’: Satirical Setting, Serious Issue

Fort Worth, Texas — Julia Heaberlin didn’t plan to write a book about date rape.

But when the Fort Worth-area novelist sat down to work on Lie Still and the first sentence from the female protagonist was a recollection of being attacked in college, Heaberlin decided to see it through.

The thriller genre in which Heaberlin works, after all, is an ideal forum in which to discuss societal issues “without making your readers zone out,” she said.

So Lie Still mixes serious discussion about “the last frontier in crime” with a twisty-turny mystery plot and a cast of eccentric characters that considerably lighten the reading experience.

“This kind of book, which is somewhere between literary and popular mystery, is a good way to appeal to people on issues like this,” Heaberlin said.

Lie Still is also a broad satire of a culture of money and privilege. The ladies of the fictional North Texas town of Clairmont (a thinly veiled version of affluent Southlake) are textbook examples of excess.

It is in this community that protagonist Emily Page, a new resident, one who’s simultaneously amused and appalled by her rich neighbors, investigates the disappearance of the group’s queen bee, while also dealing with a stalker from her own past.

We chatted last week with Heaberlin, a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram editor, about Lie Still.

Question. Are you prepared for what likely will result from this book? Readers who share Emily’s experience — people who were attacked, people who were stalked, people who live in fear — are likely to share their stories with you. You’ll get a lot of people unburdening their souls.

Answer. I don’t know, frankly. I read the first chapter of Lie Still to a book club for the first time about two months ago. I was there primarily speaking about my first book (Playing Dead), but I thought I would try it out. And there was silence after I read it. Then the reaction was positive.

One woman said that her daughter had been raped and had tried to commit suicide and she had never told anyone that until she told this group that night. So I was a little surprised at that reaction. But I’m getting prepared.

Q. How common a crime is this, especially on college campuses, where Emily was attacked?

A. College campuses are a laboratory for this crime. I have a son going off to college, and I went to an orientation on crime prevention, and we were told stories about girls and attacks and how the main problem is that they don’t have a game plan, that they’re putting themselves in dangerous situations. If I had a daughter today, I would never send her to college without her having some sort of self-defense course.

There are women all around us — in the workplace, in the park, ahead of us in line at the grocery store — who have experienced sexual attacks that have left lifelong emotional marks.

Q. Was there a specific incident involving Texas women that inspired these crazy ladies of Clairmont?

A. I definitely used the lifestyles of Colleyville, Southlake and Westlake for Lie Still. I thought it would be interesting to layer a thriller on top of the modern trappings of all this bedazzling wealth: kids driving Hummers and SUVs, flat-screen TVs in multiple rooms, families that regularly vacation in Italy and Hawaii, women who carry $1,800 purses the size of a horse’s head.

But that said, it’s fiction. These crazy women don’t exist. For instance, I don’t know a slightly racist ex-fashion queen on a hot dog-and-banana diet who carries an assault rifle in the trunk of her car.

Q. Well, none that you know of anyway. In the meantime, readers from around here are liable to play guessing games, telling you, “I know who this character is based on.”

A. I’m a little worried about that, because my friends often see themselves in my characters. I’ll say, “I never knew that about you!”

And I’ve had some early reviewers say that they find the eccentric characters of Lie Still to be pretty believable. I want to ask them, “Who the heck are you hanging out with?”