Mary Kubica Interview by Malcolm Hillgartner
MALCOLM HILLGARTNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Malcolm Hillgartner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Mary Kubica. Her debut novel, The Good Girl, has appeared on the Indie Next List, was a Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, and was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in Fiction. Blackstone Audio published the audio version of The Good Girl, narrated by Lindy Nettleton, Johnny Heller, Tom Taylorson, and Andi Arndt, simultaneously with the hardcover in July 2014. It is available now on Downpour.com.
MH: Welcome Mary. Thanks for joining us today.
MARY KUBICA: Thank you so much for having me.
MH: The Good Girl’s your first novel, your debut, and it’s gotten fantastic reviews already. Why don’t you set it up for us a little bit, in terms of the story, if people aren’t aware of it.
MK: The Good Girl is a story of a twenty-four-year-old Chicago woman who gets abducted. You find out very soon on in the story that she makes it back home safe and sound, but she has amnesia and so she is unable to recall her time in captivity. The story jumps back and forth in time from the early days of her disappearance to a couple months later when she’s home safe. It’s told from the points of view of her mother, her kidnapper, and a detective on the case as they try to piece together what happened to her while she was gone.
MH: How did you come about with the premise for the novel?
MK: There wasn’t any big aha moments that came to me. It was just a result of a wandering mind. My daughter had just been born and I had left my teaching career to stay home and care for her. I found that I had a little time on my hands, as things were relatively quiet in the house. So, I started brainstorming ideas, and it came to me.
MH: When you come up with the idea for a story, do you start with the conclusion and work toward the front, or do you set a premise for yourself and see where it goes?
MK: I start at the beginning and I work forward. When I started, I didn’t have too much of an idea where I wanted to go with the novel. I had the idea of this kidnapping and the before and after time frame, but, in all honesty, I was a decent chunk of the way through the manuscript before I figured out how it was going to end. I’m not somebody that has all the pieces figured out when I get started and, knock on wood, thankfully the pieces fall into place as I go.
MH: As a debut novel, it sounds like you’re an overnight sensation. You’ve certainly got some great reviews. As a writer, it’s been a longer process than that, hasn’t it, in terms of your development as a writer?
MK: Well sure. I’ve been writing since I was about ten or eleven years old just for fun. Ever since I first started writing I don’t think I’ve ever stopped. It did take me about four years, though, to write The Good Girl, a couple more years beyond that to get an agent, and a couple more years after that until I saw publication day. The road just for The Good Girl has been quite a journey, but it’s been a thrill.
MH: Did you have any sense that the book was going to hit with such effect as it has? Had your agent, in any way, prepared you for the fact that you had a potential hit on your hands?
MK: She tried to. She’s a very optimistic person, so she told me many times how big of a success The Good Girl was going to be. I tend to be a little more pessimistic, so I wasn’t sure. I tried not to think about it too much, but it’s hard in those many months leading up to publication day. I thought quite often what was going to happen when this book finally went on sale, and in my heart I wanted it to do well. I wanted people to like it, and the feedback that I’ve gotten so far has been phenomenal. I just couldn’t be happier.
MH: You were a teacher of history and the main character is also a teacher. Was that a deliberate thing, to draw from something you might have known to begin with?
MK: Yeah, it was. It was a deliberate decision. I like creating characters that on some level I can relate to. The character Mia is an art teacher and I was able to draw from my own experiences to elaborate on some of that and her life, so that did help.
MH: Did some of that also go into setting it in Chicago as well? Which is also, I believe, where you live? And setting it in a place that you knew well?
MK: Absolutely. I’ve lived in Chicago almost my entire life, with the exception of a couple years, and it’s home to me. It was a very deliberate decision to set the novel here and my second novel is set in Chicago as well. I can nearly predict that all novels I write will probably be set in Chicago. It’s home to me. It’s what I’m most familiar with, and I know I personally love reading novels that are set in Chicago. Some people that are familiar with the area or live in the area have commented to me how fun it is for them to read a novel that’s set in their home.
MH: Your central character, Mia, has, shall we say, complex relationships with her parents and there is a level of dysfunction here. Talk about how that came about, in terms of exploring those relationships with the characters.
MK: Mia is definitely the black sheep of the Dennett family. She has a sister who she doesn’t get along with very well, and her father certainly chooses her sister over her all the time. Mia, to him, is really the one who has let him down, and she feels very bad about this. She does not have a good relationship with her father as a result. Her mother tended to side with Mia’s father throughout her whole childhood, so Mia often felt overlooked or disregarded by her mother as well. But now that she’s an adult and she’s gone missing, Mia’s mother feels great regret about this and she really wishes she could make amends for some of the decisions that she’d made as Mia was growing up. I liked creating this family dynamic just because they’re not the perfect family, as the blurbs for the book say. They’re certainly not the best family and you can see the different elements, different relationships, that are portrayed there and how Mia might feel about this.
MH: Your detective, Gabe Hoffman, is quite interesting, and he’s become a favorite of a number of our staff here who have listened to the book. Tell us how his character came about and who he might be modeled on, if anyone in particular.
MK: For logistics we needed to have a detective to look into the case of the missing Mia Dennett. He starts off the book as your stereotypical, a little bit rough-around-the-edges Chicago detective, but as the readers (or listeners) go through the book, they start to see that he has a softer side as well. I’ve heard from many people that Gabe is a favorite, but I like all of my characters. I like to make them more three-dimensional and show different sides of them, instead of just any one angle. I was really able to play that up with Gabe, to show that he is this tough detective, but again he’s also soft around the edges, and people really do grow to like him throughout the novel.
MH: Any likelihood that we might see him again in any upcoming books?
MK: I would love to. I haven’t made any firm decisions on that, but I would absolutely love to bring Gabe back into some future novels. I think being the detective really opens up many options because he could investigate all sorts of other cases in the Chicago area. I think that’d be really fun to bring Gabe back.
MH: Well I understand Blackstone has acquired the rights to produce the audio of your next book, which is also a suspense novel. Isn’t that right?
MK: Yeah. My second novel is coming out next summer, also from Harlequin MIRA, the hardcover, and it’s another suspense set in Chicago. It’s about a Chicago woman, a mother, who comes across a young homeless girl with a baby, waiting beside the train. She becomes extremely taken with this girl and she really wants to help her out. She brings her into her family’s home, against her husband’s better judgment. As she gets to know the girl more, she starts to uncover some secrets and a hidden past, and you see what effects this chance encounter is going to have on both of these women’s lives. As in The Good Girl, nothing is really quite as it seems.
MH: Describe to us your process as a writer—how you go about the actual work of creating a story.
MK: I’m not a big outliner. I don’t take many notes. I get up early in the morning, around five o’clock every day, and I get on the computer right away. I try to get most of my writing in before my kids wake up for the day. Usually on any given day that I sit down to write, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the lives of my characters that day. It comes to me as I go. I’ll write for a few hours in the morning and for the most part that is the only guaranteed writing time I have throughout the day. The rest of the day is spent on family things—taking care of the kids and all that. But I’m somebody that if I get stumped, if the ideas just aren’t coming to me, then I’ll close up the computer, put it away, and come back to it later when the ideas are a little more fresh.
MH: Who are some of your favorite writers?
MK: I love to read. My reading time is more limited these days, but I love Anita Shreve, Ann Hood, Maggie O’Farrell, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is one of my favorite books of all time.
MH: Do you also listen to audiobooks?
MK: I do. Logistically, it can be a little bit more complicated, again, with the kids around, but I do like to listen to audiobooks. I listened to The Good Girl’s audiobook, which was just absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t say enough good things about it. Everyone did such an amazing job with it, the way they really brought those characters to life. It was just amazing for me to listen to.
MH: So how do you juggle writing with kids?
MK: It’s getting easier as they get older, I’ll give you that. My kids were very young when I first started writing The Good Girl, so it was hard. I would rely on their naptime to get a little bit of writing done here or there. That’s the main reason that it took me so many years to write The Good Girl, but I just kept at it. If I had fifteen minutes a day to write in and that was all, then that was all. Hopefully the next day I would have more time, but a little bit here and there eventually added up to a novel.
MH: You’ve mentioned some of the books that have inspired you on your time away from writing. What are the things that recharge you?
MK: I volunteer at my local animal shelter. That would be my big thing. Generally, these days, if I’m not writing and if I’m not with the kids, then I’m there at the animal shelter, working. It’s something I absolutely love. Animals are a huge part of my life. I have a house full of animals here and I would love to one day have my own animal shelter. So, that’s my big thing. I like reading, I like running, but the kids keep me very busy, so between the writing, the kids, and the animal shelter that’s pretty much the bulk of it.
MH: You’ve mentioned The Good Girl is a suspense book and you’ve mentioned your next book is also going to be in that genre. Do you feel like you’ll always stay within the suspense genre, or will you branch out into other areas?
MK: I do. I feel like I will always stay in suspense. When I was younger and I was writing, I toyed around a little bit with everything, but The Good Girl is really the first suspense novel that I’ve written. There was something that really grabbed me about the genre, and I’m hooked, I think. Not to say that that won’t change at some point in the future, but certainly for the near future I definitely see myself sticking with suspense.
MH: There are certain rules for that sort of genre. I had some writer friends that used to talk about how chapters ended with a nuh-nuh that would make you go on to the next chapter and keep the page turning. How did you learn those techniques?
MK: I think it’s from reading because I have taken only one creative writing class in the past. Most of my writing is self-taught, so I would say from reading. I love to read suspense and I love those types of books where I get to the end of a chapter and I just have to go on because I have to know what happened or what’s coming next. I think that was the biggest thing that educated me, was just reading other people’s works.
MH: Was it ever intimidating when it came time for you to try to get things published without necessarily having a history of publishing? Or did you publish all along in terms of short stories and things like that?
MK: I hadn’t, no. This is the first thing that I’ve ever had published, so it was a little intimidating. I have to say that I’ve been so fortunate to have such a wonderful agent and a wonderful editor, and they have walked me through it every single step of the way. There were never any points that I felt like I was all alone or I didn’t know what I was doing. There were always people to go to for help or advice all along the way. That really made it so much easier because every single step of this process has been a learning process to me. Even now I’m not entirely sure what happens next. I just keep taking it as it comes.
MH: We’ve mostly been talking about your novel. Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise your readers and listeners?
MK: A lot of people tend to think that because I write suspense novels, or I write about some twisted characters with these dark secret pasts, I may have some element of this in my own life, in my past, but really I don’t. I came from a very lovely childhood, I live with my husband and kids outside of Chicago, and my life is very different than the characters that I describe in my books.
MH: This has been marvelous, Mary. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re very excited about the audiobook release of The Good Girl and wish you the best going forward.
MK: Thank you so much.
MH: Thank you for joining us for this Downpour.com interview with Mary Kubica. You can find The Good Girl and much more at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in August 2014.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
The Good Girl
“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”
Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, Colin Thatcher seems at first like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.
Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and Detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.
An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how, even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.