Interview: July 30, 2014
Mary Kubica’s first novel, THE GOOD GIRL, is a taut, character-driven psychological thriller --- so it’s no surprise it’s being compared to Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. The book revolves around the abduction of Mia Dennett, and is told from three very interesting points of view: Mia's mother, the detective assigned to her case, and her abductor. In this interview with Bookreporter.com’s Norah Piehl, Kubica talks about why she chose to tell the story from multiple perspectives, the thrills and challenges that choice brought to her writing, and how she went about craftily embedding a surprise ending readers won’t see coming. She also opens up about how supportive the writing community has been of her debut effort, and why you should never give up on your dreams.
Bookreporter.com: THE GOOD GIRL has a complicated and, without giving anything away, very surprising storyline. What was your starting point for telling this story?
Mary Kubica: I knew right away that I wanted to write about the kidnapping of Mia Dennett, a kidnapping that wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed to be. I also knew that I wanted to tell this story in a nonlinear format, from multiple perspectives, though initially I didn’t know who all the characters would be. I didn’t have the entire storyline mapped out when I began to write, and so many of the details came to me as I was working on the manuscript --- oftentimes surprising even me.
BRC: As I mentioned, THE GOOD GIRL has a pretty surprising ending. Was it fun or difficult to devise that kind of twist and make sure it worked with the rest of the plot?
MK: It was difficult until I knew in my mind exactly where I wanted to go with the novel, which took a lot of time and a lot of brainstorming. But once I had the ending figured out, it was fun for me, very fun! I love going through the novel and inserting clues to either guide the reader or throw them off course. With THE GOOD GIRL, it took quite a bit of proofreading to make sure all the details were in sync, but it was well worth it.
BRC: The novel unfolds primarily through the voices of three characters: Mia's mother, Eve; her kidnapper, Colin; and the detective investigating the case, Gabe. How did you decide to tell the story through these three voices?
MK: Again, this was a decision I made very early on in the process. I loved the different perspectives because this is a story about Mia and yet Mia’s voice is rarely heard. By hearing from Eve, Gabe and Colin, the reader gets a more complete picture of our protagonist. But why did I choose Eve, Gabe and Colin to tell this story? In all honesty, I also considered Mia’s father, James, and her sister, Grace, but the others were the three who were closest to Mia’s disappearance and the investigation. They were the best ones to tell her story.
BRC: Was any one of the voices easier to capture than the others? Which character was the hardest for you to write?
MK: Eve was the easiest for me because I found I could relate the most to her. She is a woman, for one, but also a mother in a horrible predicament. I just had to think of myself as a mother and consider my own children, and ask myself, How would I feel? What would I do? Colin would certainly be the hardest, then. He comes from a world I know little about. I had to step outside my comfort zone to explore his background and motivations, and discover what led him to this point in his life.
BRC: We don't hear from Mia herself until the very end of the novel. How did you concentrate on developing her character through what others say about her?
MK: I tried to get inside each of the characters’ heads and see their perspective of Mia. For Eve this was easier, as I imagined myself as a mother with a missing child. Gabe and Colin provided some difficulties, as Gabe has never met Mia before, and Colin is perceiving her as his victim. It took a while to get their motivations clear in my mind, but once I did, they were able to tell their stories to me. Each of these characters portrays a slightly different image of the missing woman, and it’s up to the reader to discover if Mia is one of these things, or if she is all of these things, a conglomeration of Eve’s, Gabe’s and Colin’s interpretations.
BRC: Another interesting thing about the narrative is that it bounces back and forth between "before" (during the kidnapping drama) and "after" (after Mia is recovered and brought home). Why did you decide to tell the story this way?
MK: By using this nonlinear format, I was able to create a second mystery in the novel. Not only are we investigating the disappearance of Mia Dennett, but we find out very early on that she makes it home safe but is suffering from amnesia, which adds a whole new quandary to the mix: Where was she, and what has happened to her memory? Once the entire story came together in my mind, it was fun to drop subtle clues into the “before” sections, for example, to hint at something that would later happen, or vice versa with the “after” sections.
BRC: Was it difficult to construct the narrative in this non-chronological manner? Did you write it this same way, or did you write it chronologically first? What kind of outlining or note taking did you do to organize your thoughts and writing?
MK: I don’t outline and I don’t take notes --- which isn’t to say I won’t at some point in the future, but for now, I don’t. I did not write THE GOOD GIRL as the reader reads the book. I wrote in three sections: Gabe and Eve in the “before” chapters, Colin in the “before” chapters and, finally, Gabe and Eve in the “after” chapters. This way I was able to fully get inside my characters’ heads and explore their motives at the time, and what they were thinking and feeling. It also helped to keep the chronology straight. When it was finished, it was essentially three books, which I then merged together --- something I really enjoyed. It was fulfilling to see the three stories come together into one.
BRC: Besides being very suspenseful, THE GOOD GIRL explores a lot of moral issues. None of the characters' behaviors and motivations are clearly black or white. How do you build sympathy for fundamentally flawed characters?
MK: They are human, I feel. Even the very best of us has flaws. That was a point I tried to make clear by examining not just one aspect of the characters, but every aspect of them. I explored their pasts and their motives to reveal that these characters are not what meets the eye.
BRC: I've spent some time in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and found it interesting that you set part of the novel there. Why did you choose northern Minnesota as a setting? Have you visited the area?
MK: I very recently made the trip to Grand Marais, and I absolutely loved it. I had not been there at the time I wrote THE GOOD GIRL, and relied on research to describe the scene --- but was pleasanty surprised that when I did go, it was exactly as I had imagined it to be. I chose to set the story in northern Minnesota because of logistics. As the Dennetts originate from Chicago (which is my hometown), I needed a wilderness close enough for Mia and Colin to drive to, but remote enough where they could hide without being found. After a little research, northern Minnesota was it!
BRC: This is your debut novel. What has been the most surprising part about the publishing process?
MK: It’s all been surprising! I had no idea what to expect going into this, and so every step has been a learning process for me. But if I had to pick just one aspect, it would certainly be the support I’ve found in the writer community. I have connected with so many authors in person and online. They have helped me through this past year and a half in so many ways --- from offering moral support and an ear to listen, to helping promote each other’s work. It’s just amazing, and not at all what I would have expected.
BRC: What advice would you have for aspiring novelists?
MK: Never give up --- and never lose hope! One of my favorite stories in this whole process was how I acquired my agent. When I queried the first time, THE GOOD GIRL was declined by every single agency I contacted, which was a lot! I was certain it was a done deal; my book would never be published. Two years had passed when I received an out-of-the-blue email from one of the agents I’d contacted. THE GOOD GIRL had stuck with her all that time and she was wondering if I had sold the book and whether or not I was represented. Needless to say I was thrilled. As the saying goes, it only takes one agent to love your book, and I feel so fortunate to have found my one. Aspiring novelists, keep trying until you find that one agent.
BRC: Your novel has been compared to GONE GIRL. Have you read Gillian Flynn's book? What other kinds of fiction do you like to read? What other suspense novelists would you recommend?
MK: Yes, I have read GONE GIRL and really enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to the movie this fall. Suspense is by and large my favorite genre to read. Other novelists I would recommend are S.J. Watson, Chevy Stevens, Lisa Gardner, Paula Daly, Kimberly McCreight…I could go on and on.
BRC: Can you tell us what you are working on next? Do you see yourself continuing to write suspense fiction, or would you like to branch out into other genres?
MK: I see myself sticking with suspense fiction. It’s both my favorite genre to read and my favorite genre to write. There is something very satisfying when all the pieces come together. I also love trying to create that edge-of-your-seat feeling that I experience in other authors’ works. Though that’s not to say something won’t change in the future, but for now, suspense is my thing!
I just finished up my second novel, PRETTY BABY, which is another suspense story set in Chicago. It’s about a woman who encounters a young homeless girl with a baby and the effects this chance encounter will have on both their lives. More details coming soon!