For fans of Gone Girl, I Hunt Killers, and TV’s How to Get Away with Murder.
Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?
When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.
Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called “Captivating to the very end,” Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.
Hi everyone! Thanks for checking out The Silver Words. The Silver Words came into being as the .com version of a blog I worked on for about a year and a half called RealityLapse under WordPress.com. Because of this, you might see the terms RealityLapse, RL or improperly formatted code in my old posts. If you see this, please give me a heads up! I will be working on The Silver Words for the next few months so little things are likely over time. :) But for now, I HAVE A NEW BLOG, and I’m so happy that some amazing people could help me out with it’s release. Thanks so much to the crazy awesome Paula Stokes for writing up this post! Here’s what she had to say about Max Cantrell, the main character of LIARS, INC.
The Many Faces of Max Cantrell
I got the original idea for LIARS, INC. sometime in the first half of 2010. It was before I was agented, and I went to a conference and pitched the idea as “kids sell lies and alibis to their classmates and everything is great until someone buys an alibi and ends up dead or missing.” Both the agent and one of the editors there really liked the idea, but it was a long time before my brain filled in the pieces of who the characters were, how their identities and actions contributed to the narrative arc, and what actually happened. I wrote two work-for-hire books (VENOM and BELLADONNA) and THE ART OF LAINEY before I started working on LIARS, INC. in the fall of 2011.
Because it’s been so long, when I try to go back and remember exactly where my protagonist, Max Cantrell, came from, it’s difficult. I remember reading Charles Benoit’s YOU in 2010 and being really impressed with the way he made me inhabit the body of a teen boy slacker. I remember thinking a lot about that book, how boys like Kyle didn’t usually get stories, and when they did almost never got happy endings. Max’s ending isn’t necessarily happy, per se, but he does get to grow and change and become stronger and better throughout the book. I’m a big fan of positive character development. Eli asked me to talk about the different facets of Max’s personality, so I’m going to share some non-spoilery excerpts to take a look at what kind of guy Max really is.
Max is a survivor.
As I throw open the door, I hear shouts. Hoping the feds won’t shoot me in the back, I cover the distance between the cabin and the edge of the tree line in just a few strides. It’s as black in the forest as it was in the house, but I’m not afraid of the dark or what hides within its shadows.
To me, Mother Nature isn’t nearly as scary as human nature.
I plunge through the shrubbery, branches clawing at my face and arms. I hear McGhee and Gonzalez behind me, crashing through the brush like angry bears. Lengthening my stride, I propel myself forward. I know these woods. I know where I’m going. The river. These guys aren’t superhero TV FBI agents. They won’t go over the cliff.
But I will.
I’ve done it loads of times. Never while being chased, but still, it’s easy. Run. Push off. Fall. Sink. Emerge.
This is from the prologue, where Max is fleeing from a pair of FBI agents. It’s probably a very bad idea for him to be doing this, but at this point he feels like the feds believe he’s guilty and the only way he can prove his innocence is by staying out of jail and finding the killer on his own. Despite the fact that he’s terrified, he calls on his history as a street kid and his past experiences jumping from the cliff to get him through this moment.
Max is introspective.
The moon shucks off a veil of clouds, illuminating the widening path in front of me. I can see where the trail dead-ends at a sheer drop-off. Water roars, just out of sight. My tennis shoes crunch gravel as I accelerate. Blood pounds in my ears. Where’s Preston DeWitt? I don’t know. That’s the truth. Not the whole truth, because it’s too late for that. Even if I told the feds everything, they wouldn’t believe me.
My left foot lands at the edge of the cliff. I push off with all my might, rocketing my body out toward the middle of the river, far away from the jagged rocks below. As I plummet through the crisp night air, I think about whether things might have been different if I had just told the truth from the beginning.
This section directly follows the above section and illustrates how Max is questioning himself, wondering how things might have been different if he had never chosen to lie. He does this throughout the book, sometimes realizing after the fact that he made a poor decision and things might have been better had he behaved more wisely. Gradually Max begins to make smarter choices as the story progresses. There are changes to the final book with respect to his interactions with the FBI that show his evolution. Max also thinks deeply about his relationship with Parvati and his family throughout the book, coming to some new conclusions by the end of the story.
Max is sarcastic.
I followed him out of the room and back down the hallway, past the desk sergeant and out into the police station lobby. Darla was chewing on her lower lip as she paced back and forth across the scuffed floor. Ben sat in the chair nearest to the door, his canvas sneakers crossed at the ankles. He was flipping through a sports magazine and swilling down a cup of coffee. Man, talk about opposites attracting.
“Max.” Darla headed over to me, arms wide, like I’d just woken up from a coma.
“Jeez, Darla.” I wriggled out of her grasp. “I was only gone for twenty minutes.”
“I know. It’s just the thought of your friend missing…” She trailed off.
“Have you ever even met him?”
“Not officially, but I’ve seen you two surfing,” she said. “Just because you don’t bring your friends around doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. I can’t even think about what I would do if it were you.”
I resisted the urge to tell her she could always replace me with another broken child. Maybe upgrade to a nice amputee, or a blind kid.
This scene happens after Max is questioned by the FBI agents for the first time. At this point he’s been woken up early to go talk to the cops, but he’s pretty sure Preston is just screwing around, that’s he’s fine and just lost track of time with the girl he met. Darla (Max’s adoptive mom) on the other hand is in full worst-case scenario mode. He finds her normal behavior a little smothering, so this is extra frustrating to him. Note: This passage includes text not in the ARC. Also, my editor really wanted to cut Max’s snarky remark about Darla upgrading to another broken child, but I insisted on keeping it because it felt so authentically Max to me. You’ll find out Max thinks Darla has a savior complex, adopting kids who are special-needs cases. I’ll admit this is a really rude thing for Max to think, but teen boys (and all people) think rude things all the time. What makes this okay for me is that it’s just a fleeting sarcastic thought Max has that he’s sensitive enough not to say aloud.
Max is vulnerable.
I have never felt so alone in my whole life, not even back when I was homeless. At least then I knew I was the only person I could count on. Whoever said it’s better to have loved and lost was completely full of shit…
Just the thought of Parvati’s throaty voice makes my insides ache. She’s always been able to make me feel better, and now I’m avoiding her because every time I talk to her it hurts me. And every time it hurts me I get one step closer to realizing the two of us are over. But maybe I should stop hiding and just deal with things. Darla’s right—I need to hear her out, even if talking to her means officially breaking up. Plus, she’s smart, and she’s the only one who understands this whole Preston mess. If she can help me find his killer, I should let her.
Due to things that happened to him in the past, Max has trouble forming bonds and expressing affection. He never says “I love you,” not even to his girlfriend who it’s pretty clear he’s crazy about. For the most part, he focuses on his physical connection with Parvati, because that’s easier for him to reconcile in his brain. But right about the time he needs Parvati the most, she lets him down in a big way and this devastates him beyond what he thought was ever possible.
Max is trying to be better.
I take it from her hand. “I got this. You get some sleep.”
On cue, one of the twins starts crying. “I may never sleep again,” she grumbles, but her lips curl into a smile as she says it.
“I’ll see you soon,” I say.
“Be safe.” She stops just before rounding the corner. “By the way, I like your hair.”
I snort. “It’s not polite to lie.”
“No, really. I can finally see your face,” she says. “You’re actually kind of cute. Who knew?” Her eyes sparkle in the dim light of the hallway, and for the first time in years I go to her and give her a hug. Her body stiffens in surprise, and then relaxes. She squeezes me tight. “You’re a good kid, Max. I love you.”
I swallow hard and start to tell her I love her back, but before I can get the words out, the other twin begins to wail. Darla breaks away and heads to the nursery, and the moment passes me by.
This is one of my favorite moments in the book, and I picked it to end with because I want you to give Max Cantrell a chance. Here he’s been caught awake in the middle of the night by his mom, who sits him down at the kitchen table for a late-night cup of coffee and heart-to-heart about what happened to Preston, what’s going on with Parvati, and how she can possibly help him. Max reflects on his feelings for Darla throughout this conversation, and also later in the book. He desperately wants to be the son she’s craving because he knows it would make her happy. At the same time, he struggles to express his emotions because it’s so scary for him. I’m happy to report that this is another area Max slowly improves in throughout the last third of the book.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the pages of LIARS, INC. and the brain of Max Cantrell. It’s true, he’s not your usual swoony book boyfriend—no magic powers, no tattoos, no guitar, no genius smarts, no super-seekrit talents. But he feels real to me, like an actual eighteen-year-old boy. One who starts with positive and negative traits, ends with positive and negative traits, but still becomes better—stronger, smarter, more caring—along the way. I hope you grow to love him as much as I do.
O.O I read and LOVED LIARS, INC., and the more I reread it and get to know about it, the more I love it. I did have my reservations about it, and you can see my Once Upon a Gif pre-review of it here, but overall, an amazing read. Be sure to connect with Paula (she has the most amazing contests) and add LIARS to Goodreads!
Connect with Paula:
Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions. She’s the author of several YA novels, most recently Liars, Inc.and The Art of Lainey. Her writing has been translated into nine foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.