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Interview: May 19, 2016

Mary Kubica is the New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY, and her latest book, DON'T YOU CRY, continues her tradition of riveting, character-driven thrillers. In it, one woman’s disappearance may or may not be related to the mysterious arrival of a stranger in a small town, although only one thing is certain: The past will always catch up to us in the end. In this interview conducted by Carol Fitzgerald, the president and co-founder of The Book Report Network, Kubica reveals why she is drawn to characters who are experiencing inner turmoil, the themes that keep coming up unexpectedly in her work, and a surprising detail about her personal life. I have been a fan of thrillers for years, but after reading THE GOOD GIRL, PRETTY BABY and DON’T YOU CRY, I am impressed with your original storylines and twisted plots. There is no cookie-cutter writing here. Tell us about your inspiration for DON’T YOU CRY.

Mary Kubica: Thank you so much for this. I strive to keep my novels unique and to create storylines that haven’t been done before. When I began writing DON’T YOU CRY, all I had in my mind was exploring the simultaneous appearance of a woman and the disappearance of a woman in two diverse settings. The novel is narrated by 23-year-old Quinn Collins and 18-year-old Alex Gallo, two characters who couldn’t be more different from each other, except for the great sense of loneliness that plagues their storylines. When the novel begins, Quinn and Alex are living 70-some miles apart, and it isn’t clear if or when their lives will intersect. As the writer, I knew that the stories would eventually overlap, but I wasn’t sure how or when, and I certainly didn’t yet know all the nuances of these characters’ lives. These were the details that emerged as part of the writing process.

BRC: Your storylines are written in multiple voices. Do you plot in advance or write stream-of-consciousness?

MK: I certainly don’t plot in advance. Though I’m a planner in most other areas of my life, I’m not when it comes to writing. I want my characters to develop slowly over time, and for my stories to have a natural flow. I wrote this novel in two portions, writing all of Quinn’s story before going back and writing that of Alex. It helped me to get into the mindset of one character at a time and fully develop his or her story before moving onto the next. I wrote my first two novels in a similar way and find it fascinating the way that two or more novellas essentially combine to tell one cohesive tale.

BRC: DON’T YOU CRY has strong themes of obsession and jealousy. Were both of those there from the start?

MK: As soon as I knew where I wanted to go with my storyline, they were a necessity. Early on, I didn’t know what roles Quinn and Alex --- and, perhaps more importantly, the missing roommate, Esther --- would play, but once I made some key decisions about their present and past lives, I knew that obsession and jealousy were instrumental to this novel. There are also important themes of friendship, family, isolation and the need to belong, among others.

BRC: You don’t flinch from writing about those who are damaged or fighting inner demons, and often this affects their judgment in the issues they face. What attracts you to this kind of writing and these types of characters?

MK: I’m drawn to the psychology of people and know there are times we all get by with smiles on our faces when internally we’re facing great stress, whether it’s a financial burden, health crisis, difficulties with our children or we’re just having a bad day. I long to get deep inside my characters’ hearts and souls in my novels and to bring out those inner demons that they likely don’t wear on their sleeves. I want my characters to be human and relatable, and though my novels are thrillers, I feel they’re character-driven, too. It’s important to me that my readers care about the characters and have a desire to know what happens in their lives. This, to me, makes for a fulfilling reading experience.

BRC: The longing for your characters to belong is a theme that comes up again and again in your writing. Is this something you intentionally do as you write, or do you back into it?

MK: It’s not intentional, though now that I have three novels, I can see themes that come up again and again in my books --- and that need to belong is certainly one of them. This is truly unconscious on my part and likely stems from my own great desire to belong, as well as seeing it in other people I know and meet. As humans, I think we all want to belong. Quinn and Alex are young --- he a teenager and she just beginning her 20s. They’re living in that time in their lives when friends are moving away, whether to college or venturing off on their own, and life feels very uncertain and dubious. Quinn is living on her own for the first time, working in a dead-end job she abhors and learning the hard way what it’s like to make ends meet. She has few friends, and Alex’s friends have all gone off to college, leaving him back home to care for an alcoholic father. He has no one, which is perhaps one of the reasons he eagerly befriends the mysterious new arrival to town, a woman he dubs “Pearl.”

BRC: In DON’T YOU CRY, the two parallel stories take some time to set up, but when the clues come together, it becomes a race to the finish. Is it hard to pace your writing like that when you know where the story is headed?

MK: Though I wish I could say differently, quite often I don’t know where I’m headed with my stories until I get there. With this genre, I start with some sort of problem --- in this case, the disappearance of Esther and the appearance of a mysterious woman in Alex’s town --- and then take seemingly logical steps to solve these problems while working on character development along the way. During the revision process, there are times I need to cut a chapter because it’s slowing down the pace of the novel or add scenes for background or to create tension, and so some of the pacing gets perfected while I’m revising. I try to balance my novels to make them both plot-driven and character-driven.

BRC: I noted that your children are named Quinn and Alex. Did you always have those as the names of your characters in DON’T YOU CRY, or did that happen as you were writing?

MK: My children are staunch supporters of my career, and yet it will be many years before I allow them to read my novels. They attend copious book signings, get dragged to bookstores to check out my books on display, and listen to the ins and outs of writing a novel, book sales, and various other details of an author’s life. They’re also extremely patient with my travel schedule, even when it means missing out on important events in their lives. Quinn and Alex (Alexander) are my kids’ middle names, and I knew before I began the novel that I wanted to include them as a sign of my gratitude for all their patience and support, but I chose their middle names as opposed to their first names because I like the anonymity it provides them.

BRC: Lots of your characters keep secrets. Can you share something that readers might be surprised to learn about you?

MK: Oh, wow, what a great question. For many years I kept my writing a secret, but, of course, I’ve let that one slip. One thing readers might be surprised to know about me is that I actually have six cats living in my house right now, four of my own and two foster cats. I am the stereotypical cat lady --- though, before anyone judges, I also have a home that’s impeccably clean. The vacuum is never too far out of reach.

BRC: Have you spoken with book clubs about your books? If so, what are some of the common questions that have come up with them?

MK: I love speaking with book clubs. I attend local meetings in person when my schedule allows; otherwise, I’ll attend around the country via Skype. It’s so fun to be able to delve into the nitty-gritty of my novels and hear what others think. Questions that come up time and again have to do with the film industry and whether offers have been made on my books, and also which Hollywood stars I’d cast in various roles if given the chance. Beyond that, book clubs often ask how I got into writing and what my process is like, where I write, how I come up with titles for my books, and so on. I always learn something new at every book club I attend and feel so enlightened and inspired when I leave the meetings. I’m very grateful to be included.

BRC: Can you share with us what’s next?

MK: I’m just finishing up my fourth novel, which will release in the summer of 2017. Though not yet titled, this one begins when a young father dies in a car crash with his four-year-old daughter in the backseat, unharmed. Though there are no witnesses, the crash is ruled an accident until the little girl begins having nightmares of a car following her and her father and pushing them from the road. The man’s widow launches an investigation to find her husband’s killer. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you next year!