Anxiously waiting for the October 3 release of the Gone Girl adaptation? Mary Kubica’s summer thriller may be just what you need to pass the time. Not every debut author has the experience of their first book being compared to a literary phenomenon, and Kubica hadn’t even read Gone Girl when readers began noting similarities between it and her novel The Good Girl.
Told through multiple perspectives and across different times, Kubica’s story jumps expertly between kidnapper Colin and his victim Mia, and her wealthy family’s search for her. Most surprisingly, Kubica also includes chapters set after Mia’s homecoming. Readers know early on that she returns safely home, though her amnesia and insistence that her name is Chloe only raises more questions about what happened to her.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Kubica at this year’s BookExpo America and ask her about her unique journey to publication, her suspense recommendations, and how she feels about her book being compared to Gillian Flynn‘s hit thriller.
Bookish: First off, welcome to BEA! How are you feeling?
Mary Kubica: Oh my gosh, very excited. I was barely in the door when someone mentioned the billboard that was hanging over by the stairs and I said, “That’s as big as my house!” I couldn’t believe it.
Never in my life did I think that I would be here, that there would be a billboard with my name on it at BEA. The whole thing has been a dream come true.
Bookish: Are there any authors you’re hoping to see while you’re here?
MK: I have to say, I’m really thrilled to meet the other MIRA authors. I’ll connect with a lot of authors on Twitter or Facebook, but I’ve never had the opportunity to meet them in person. I’m also thrilled to just walk the floors later, take it all in.
Bookish: As a debut author, how has your experience been so far in hearing from readers and reviewers?
MK: It’s an interesting profession. You sit behind the computer alone, working in your head. It’s very solitary. Then you put this book out there in the world for everybody to read and comment on. I mean, the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. And I prepared myself, of course. I said, “Not everybody’s gonna like it and you have to have some thick skin.” But so far it’s just been amazing, better than I ever could’ve imagined.
Bookish: Your book is being hailed as the next Gone Girl—have you read it?
MK: I have, yes. I had finished writing The Good Girl and some comparisons were being made. So I said, “I wanna read Gone Girl.” And it’s a phenomenal book, I couldn’t put it down. I read it in 48 hours.
It’s such an honor to be compared to Gone Girl, it’s just so well done. It’s a thrill. I have my husband reading it right now.
Bookish: Is he enjoying it?
MK: He is! Honestly, he reads nonfiction and that’s pretty much it. He read my book! I forced him to. Now he’s reading Gone Girl because he wanted to see the comparison there.
Bookish: I actually read it myself for the first time recently. I can see the comparisons between the two and also where your book also stands on its own.
MK: That’s how I feel. It definitely has similarities, but it’s unique as well. It’s its own separate book.
Bookish: You’ve said that, nowadays, suspense is a genre you find yourself reading a lot of. What’s been the most recent book you’ve read and enjoyed?
MK: Well, Heather Gudenkauf‘s for starters. She is amazing. I’ve read three out of the four books that she’s written and loved every single one of them. I’ve been paired up with her at a couple events and I feel so fortunate. She’s been an amazing mentor.
But my favorite suspense novel right now is S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. I just couldn’t put that one down. And there’s another I read, Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn, that was just phenomenal. Suspense seems to be my go-to read. I read a little bit of everything, but when I get a good suspense I just can’t put it down.
Bookish: You’ve said that when you write you lose yourself in your characters. The Good Girlfeatures multiple character perspectives. Which was your favorite to get lost in?
MK: Can I give you two? Mia and Colin. I’ve written as a hobby forever, but there was something about when I was writing The Good Girl. I was just completely… captivated by Mia and Colin. They grabbed ahold of me. I found myself very often dreaming about them or I’d wake up and the first thing on my mind would be Mia and Colin. I suppose I was a little obsessed with them.
Never before The Good Girl and not since have I felt so captivated by two of my characters. A lot of people ask what my inspiration was behind the book and I feel like they were my inspiration. Once they were created, they just kind of told me their story.
Bookish: The story isn’t linear, it jumps around from when Mia goes missing to her being in the woods. As a first-time novelist, how did you manage to keep it all straight?
MK: In all honesty, I didn’t write it the way that you read it. It was easier for me to just get my mind in one place, so I wrote Mia and Colin in the cabin from beginning to end, then scenes before she goes missing, and then the final scenes. This way I could get myself in the characters’ heads, in that moment, what they were experiencing.
When it was all done I merged the three together, which was really fun because it was like three separate stories to me and then all of a sudden they fit together and read back as something else entirely. And I liked the idea because I think it added another element of suspense. Missing girl, try and find her—that’s one story. But when you find out she’s going to make it back but she has amnesia and thinks her name is Chloe… it’s this whole other twist.
Bookish: Did you plan out the entire plot from the start or did the story find itself as you wrote?
MK: It really unfolded for me as I was writing. I had the idea of this kidnapping and I had the idea of the multi-perspective non-linear story, but that was essentially it. I don’t outline, I’d write the occasional Post-it note if it was something I didn’t want to forget, but mostly it was just day-to-day experience. As I was writing, things of came together.
Bookish: After you sent out your book, you had some early interest but they ended up declining. Then two years they called you back because they couldn’t stop thinking about it! What were those two years like for you?
MK: When I was done with The Good Girl, I really felt like this was the book. So when it was declined, I thought, “Well, that’s that. That’s the best I can do.” I closed The Good Girl file on the computer and two years passed. I don’t think I opened it once. I continued to write. I worked on some other things, though nothing that really grabbed a hold of me like The Good Girl.
So when my agent sent me an email, there was a moment of confusion. But overall, I was just blown away. As an author you want to submit your book and you want an agent to pick it up right away! But there was something about this that meant even more to me, that the book had stuck with her for two years. I think of all the submissions she saw in that time, all the books she helped to produce, and yet this one stuck with her.
That just meant the world to me and she’s been a huge supporter of the book ever since. It was really an amazing twist, and I laugh because what would have happened if I had changed my email in those two years? How differently things would have turned out!
Bookish: It adds suspense to your own story.
MK: Absolutely. I feel like it was meant to be. I think that it’s the best story.
Bookish: What’s the greatest advice you can give to those writers who are still struggling with their first book?
MK: Keep trying, keep writing, write every day. When I wrote The Good Girl, my daughter was young and my son hadn’t been born yet. I had very little time to work on it, and even if I wrote 15 minutes or just got a paragraph written, that was something.
And don’t give up. I can’t even tell you the number of rejections that I got for The Good Girl. There were really a lot of hoops to get through to get The Good Girl to publication. But the outcome is completely worth it.
Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter. The Good Girl is her first novel.