Interview with Lies We Bury author Elle Marr

Lies We Bury by Elle Marr, 2021
Lies We Bury by Elle Marr, 2021 /

Lies We Bury is one of those novels where the story stays with you long after you’ve read it. Elle Marr draws you into Marissa Mo’s world, but as her past collides with the present she’s trying to build, it’s hard to tell what’s real.

Marissa, who goes by Claire Lou, has always been running from her past. She was one of three children who were born in captivity to a cruel man – their father – who kept them locked away with the women who gave birth to them. Twenty years after their liberation, the media attention is starting to pick up again as their captor, Chet, approaches parole.

Soon, though, Marissa discovers that someone knows who she is. As a photographer for a local newspaper, she finds herself in the middle of some of the most gruesome crime scenes Portland has ever seen. Marissa starts to see connections between the murders and her past, and it’s a race against time to figure out who is trying to send her a message.

Lies We Bury alternates between two timelines: Marissa’s life as a child and her life in the present day. Shia, a reporter who wants to tell her story, helps fill in some of the narrative gaps as he attempts to piece her life together. The result is a piecemeal vision of Marissa’s life, enough to give readers an understanding about her past but full of enough holes to lead Marissa to question her memories.

Elle Marr weaves a masterful tale that is poignant in its simplicity, but it manages to captivate the reader with its unexpected twists and turns. It’s hard not to read Marissa’s story and want to know more about her time in Chet’s basement prison; like looking at an accident on a freeway, it’s hard not to be as captivated by her story as everyone else. The difference, though, is that Marissa is able to express how toxic that attention and infatuation has been, and how much it has hurt her family.

Author Elle Marr took the time to talk with us about how she came up with Lies We Bury, and she provides some insight into Marissa’s journey.

Interview: Elle Marr talks about her new book Lies We Bury

(Culturess): I’ve read in the publicity materials your account of why you wrote Lies We Bury, but I’m curious how you came up with this particular story as a vehicle to talk about how women who lived through difficult experiences in the past reconcile their trauma in the present.  

(Elle Marr): Lies We Bury first and foremost aims to explore a really disturbing concept (false imprisonment and all its accompanying terrors) from the perspective of the survivors. I was inspired by the many headlines that tend to focus on the perpetrators, rather than the survivors of such heinous acts; I wanted to give these women in my story a platform and voice, to remind us that the most compelling part of the event was not the atrocity–but the strength of the people who manage to move forward.  

It’s not surprising at all that Marissa has trust issues, and that those trust issues have spilled out into her dating life. She shares the story of her relationship with a cop and how much she enjoyed being with him until she discovered he was trying to get close to her to learn about her story for his own purposes, making him yet another person in what seems to be a long line of people using her. Because of his profession, he should have been someone she could trust, but he ended up setting her back like the others. In a relationship where she should/could have felt safe, she ended up losing even more trust. Can you talk about your decision to include that little detail about Marissa’s life?  

For me, this event only further grounded Marissa’s existing distrust of the police, which began as a child in her very first interactions with them. While the person she dated was a cop, and subsequently abused his authority to access personal information about Marissa, the police officer she met as a child was doing her job in asking a young Marissa questions; and consequences from that initial interaction unspooled over the years that followed. The choice to make Marissa feel betrayal once again at the hands of a cop was a continuation of what I already discovered about her: Marissa’s distrust of authority began long before she was ready to romantically date.  

Shia is such a great foil for Marissa, in ways that she can’t understand until the very end of the book. He’s interested in stories of resilience, he tells her, and he believes that people aren’t defined by what happened in the past or things that parents have done. Can you talk about how you came up with his character?  

I loved writing Shia because he was a ball of contradictions and I created his character as a blend of real people I’ve met. He’s unflinching but compassionate; he’s cutthroat in his methods but still observes certain ethics. Shia, too, is someone that works every day to overcome his own past trauma–and some days he’s more successful than others.  

How much can Marissa really trust her memories?  

Not very much, in fact–none of us can. Studies show over and over again how unreliable memories are, and especially when someone is under extreme stress. Given the years that elapse between Marissa’s escape and the menacing note she receives outside a Portland crime scene, it’s no wonder that she struggles to recall some events with clarity. With that in mind, there are certain experiences that remain imprinted on our minds, that no amount of distance can ever really dull. So, it depends on the memory.  

Chet is a fascinating character because he’s present throughout the story but he’s not always physically “there.” The looming parole date in the present is no different for Marissa than hearing his footsteps as he came down the stairs in the past. How did you decide how much Chet needed to be present in the story?  

I knew off the bat I did not want to emphasize Chet’s motivations or his backstory too much, despite each of those factors being hugely important. Lies We Bury intentionally elevates the women who emerged from Chet’s basement and their lives in the interim. Chet needed to make appearances in both the past and present storylines, but always from the background.  

Lies We Bury really dives into the theme of resilience, especially regarding Rosemary and all the women. Can you talk about that?  

Yes, I think resilience is a term often used to praise people who seemingly bounce back from a challenge, with zero scarring. The reality is resiliency looks different on everyone; I wanted to explore that variety of experience, and tried to in the myriad ways Rosemary and the other women struggle with life post-captivity.  

I love the way you blend the timelines throughout the book. There’s the present-day story and Marissa’s recollections, and then there’s Shia’s questions and the memories they evoke. How did you decide how to craft this story?  

Great question. Lies We Bury needed dual timelines in order to follow Marissa’s journey as an adult; there was no way to watch her struggle in the present without first understanding her origins. Personally, I love seeing a character’s perspective on the past change, particularly about childhood, as they grow. And offering readers a view into a childhood in captivity seemed like a great way to make that happen. 

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We thank Elle Marr for taking the time to speak with us. Lies We Bury is available in stores and online.