6 Questions for Tanen Jones, Author of 'The Better Liar'
"I like to create a meticulous outline and then begin writing and throw half my plans into the garbage as I go."
Have you always been interested in mysteries and thrillers? Why did you decide to write your book based around crime?
First, thank you so much to ID Book Club for choosing The Better Liar! My mother read a lot in the mystery/thriller genre while I was growing up, and I picked up her Michael Gruber books when I was really young—twelve or thirteen. I remember reading Tana French’s In the Woods when I was nineteen. I stayed up all night with that book. I thought, I didn’t know you were allowed to do that in a mystery novel. And of course I love Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, and I’m a huge Barbara Stanwyck fan and had seen things like Double Indemnity and read a bit of that classic noir tradition. I wanted to make something out of what I loved that was nevertheless specific to me and my experience of the world: a modern, queer literary neonoir where the women mattered most and the mystery peeled apart into something more complicated than a murderer and a motive.
How did you first conceive of The Better Liar?
I love stories of impersonation and spies. I wanted to write an undercover investigation that took place within a domestic setting, someone who could view a family dynamic from within it while still remaining an outside observer. That’s where the idea originated for Leslie to offer Mary this uncomfortable bargain, asking her to impersonate her sister in exchange for her inheritance.
What is your writing process like? Do you gather all your plot lines first and write an outline before putting pen to paper, or do you dive right in?
I like to create a meticulous outline and then begin writing and throw half my plans into the garbage as I go. A huge part of my writing process starts before I ever set down a word, though—I go on really long walks and think out my plotlines and listen to the same album over and over again while I do it. For The Better Liar, it was Half Free by U.S. Girls. I have a day job, so I do my drafting in the evenings or on the weekends, usually after consuming a lot of tea. I gave up coffee at the start of the pandemic because I was starting to feel like my blood was made of coffee. Now my blood is made of tea, which may not be better.
Who is your favorite character in your book? Why?
Robin, the dead sister whose narration gives us glimpses into Leslie’s past. Robin isn’t ghostly, although she’s speaking from beyond the grave—she’s not narrating the past in sepulchral tones. She’s more like the best drunk girl in the bathroom. She’s beautiful and charming and rude and ambitious and she lets everybody down, and you shouldn’t get in that car with her but you find yourself doing it anyway.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Above all else, I hope it’s the kind of book you can’t put down. That’s my favorite kind of book—a book I press on my friends as soon as I’m finished so that we can talk about it as quickly as possible. And I hope that it makes people who share the same story as one of the main characters feel seen. I have received very kind responses from readers that have made me feel so connected and grateful to them. It really makes my day to hear that the book resonated with someone.
Is there a recent true crime case that you are particularly interested in? Why?
The true crime cases I’ve been most interested in this year are the ones that are not in the news very often. Forty-one trans and GNC people were murdered in the US in 2020, the most since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking those numbers. This is an emergency. We must work against transphobia and provide a better social safety net for trans people who find themselves in need of food, housing, and cash. Some great places to donate in the new year are the Trans Housing Coalition, the Trans Women of Color Collective, and Black & Pink. If you donated to one of these organizations on my recommendation, I would love to hear from you and match your donation! Email me with a screenshot of your donation confirmation at tanenjones at gmail dot com. I’d be thrilled to chat a bit and give you ideas for what to read after you finish The Better Liar.