Writing a thriller comes with few roadmaps. It must keep readers’ hearts pounding with excitement and terror, and seduce them into turning the pages. A successful thriller hooks readers, providing them an escape hatch from their humdrum lives.
Whether you’re a reader or an author (I’m both) it is always fascinating to hear from someone who does it on the regular, and does it well enough to regularly top the charts.
My guest today on Daily (w)rite is the the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many suspense novels, Mary Kubica.
Her first novel THE GOOD GIRL was an Indie Next pick in August of 2014, received a Strand Critics Nomination for Best First Novel and was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards in Debut Goodreads Author and in Mystery & Thriller for 2014.
LOCAL WOMAN MISSING was an Indie Next pick in May of 2021, a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards in Mystery & Thriller for 2021, and a finalist for an Audie Award.
Mary’s novels have been selected as Amazon Best Books of the Month and have been LibraryReads selections. They’ve been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
She was gracious enough to respond to my many questions, and I learned so much from her responses:
1. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Do you have an ideal reader in mind as you write?
I love suspense that is both character and plot driven, and my ideal reader would be someone who enjoys the same thing. My goal as an author is to create authentic, believable characters that a reader feels they can relate to (whether or not they like them or agree with the choices they make) and to have an immersive plot that grabs a reader’s attention and doesn’t let go.
2. You use multiple points of view in your novels to tremendous effect. What are the advantages and pitfalls of doing this?
I’ve used multiple points of view in all my novels. I enjoy writing like this because it gives the reader a more comprehensive view of the story while, at the same time, heightening the tension and the suspense in the book because each narrator is only sharing so much, and it’s up to the reader to decide if he or she can be trusted. This add to the plot and the suspense and also allows me to do a deep dive into more of the characters because the reader is hearing from them directly. The pitfalls can be that the characters all have secrets and, if we hear from a character directly, it’s harder to hide those, so quite a bit of thought goes into who the narrators will be before I begin writing. Also, inevitably a reader will connect to one narrator more than others and so might rush through certain chapters to get back to the narrator that excites them most.
3. What’s the part of your writing process that you find the most challenging?
The middle of the book tends to be the most challenging for me. The beginning is fresh and new, full of hope and so many possibilities, while the end is where all the pieces come together in a hopefully shocking and unexpected way. But the middle of the book can feel like it goes on forever and yet must keep the same tension and pace as the rest of the book, so that a reader stays invested.
4. You’re masterful at writing jaw-dropping twists into your novels. For a fledgling thriller writer, what’s the best way to learn how to write twists?
Every suspense author does it differently, but personally, I never know my twists when I begin writing. It’s a process for me, of getting to know my characters and building the mystery before a picture forms and I can see that twist. The best advice I’d give a new thriller writer is to build your story and your characters organically. Get to know them at your own pace and don’t ever feel like you have to form a twist beforehand. For me, I like a twist that is totally unexpected – but also very plausible. It’s important that the reader has that aha moment at the end of the book, where they can look back in retrospect and see the trails of clues you’ve left for them and not feel like they’ve been tricked.
5. When you begin writing a novel, do you already know the end or do you discover it while writing ?
I discover it as I’m writing. When people talk about writers, they often refer to us as plotters (someone who plots) and pantsers (someone who flies by the seat of their pants). I’m most definitely a pantser. All I need to begin is a mystery to open the book with – a missing man, as in the case with my latest, JUST THE NICEST COUPLE – and then I dive right in, get to know my characters and see where they lead me.
7. If you could give your younger writing self some advice, what would it be?
Have confidence! I’ve loved to write since I was young, but I was always very reluctant to share my work with others because I didn’t know if it was good and I was too afraid to put it out there and find out. It took years before I was ready to do that, and looking back in retrospect now that my books have been well received, I wish I could tell my younger self not to worry so much and to have faith.
8. What are five thrillers you’ve recently enjoyed reading? (They could be published in any year at all)
LITTLE SECRETS by Jennifer Hillier
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson
THE IT GIRL by Ruth Ware
ROCK PAPER SCISSORS by Alice Feeney
WHAT SHE KNEW by Gilly Macmillan
9. For someone new to your work, which of your works should they read first?
My books are all standalones and can be read in any order, but THE GOOD GIRL or LOCAL WOMAN MISSING seem to be many readers’ favorites.
10. What is the world and setting of your new book Just the Nicest Couple like? What would you like readers to know before they pick it up?
JUST THE NICEST COUPLE is set in the suburbs of Chicago, with the scenes split between two couples’ homes, the places they work, and a dense forest preserve where the inciting incident occurs. Readers should know this is a book about two couples – Christian and Lily, Nina and Jake – and the disappearance of a man, and that ultimately it’s the type of book that makes us ask questions of ourselves like how far would you go to protect someone you love, and would you be willing to hurt a good friend to save yourself?
Have you read Just The Nicest Couple? I have, and it blew me away!
Have you read any of Mary Kubica’s thriller recommendations?
And, of course, have you ever read a line or a clever plot twist in a novel, that caused you to have author envy, or marvel as a reader? Feel free to drop questions and comments!
Today is the first Wednesday of the month post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Founded by the Ninja Cap’n Alex J. Cavanaugh, the purpose of the group is to offer a safe space where writers can share their fears and insecurities without being judged. This is a wonderful group–if you aren’t a part of it, I urge you to join in!
The awesome co-hosts for this March 1 posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Tonya Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and JQ Rose! Go give them a follow and drop them a comment.
IWSG question: Have you ever read a line in novel or a clever plot twist that caused you to have author envy?
Ooh, definitely. If you’re a thriller reader and haven’t read LOCAL WOMAN MISSING by Mary Kubica–it has two helluva twists I didn’t see coming. Here’s my take on the book, when I wrote about it for my A to Z Challenge last year!
My crime novel, The Blue Bar is out this year with Thomas & Mercer. Add it to Goodreads or order it to make my day.
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I enjoy thrillers – they’re like mood fresheners between heavier books and the best travel companions. The interview was interesting. I was surprised to know the author doesn’t know the ending before she begins writing.
I love thrillers. Unfortunately, haven’t been reading a lot of fiction in the last few years. I haven’t read any of Mary’s books yet — so, thanks for introducing her to me. I could so relate with her views on different POVs and how different readers might connect with different narrators. I fell in love with Jacob Black’s mind in the Twilight saga because Stephanie took us into his mind! She showed us how he thinks. So yeah, I’d love different POVs in a book. Makes the characters seem so much more real and relatable.
Mary Kubica’s advice to her younger self was such an inspiration—to have faith and not worry so much—just what every writer needs.
I haven’t read any of Ms Kubica’s books yet. Would love to read some day!
Local Woman Missing has been on my TBR list for ages. I think I’ll read it as soon as I finish reading The Blue Bar–which is wonderful.
I’m relieved to know that Mary doesn’t have her twists figured out when she starts writing. I’m a plantser–I create a basic outline but leave a lot to figure out along the way–and I can’t help but feel I’m somehow doing it wrong. This interview is reassuring.
Janet, Local Woman Missing is a great addition!
Thanks so much for reading The Blue Bar, and I’m thrilled you’re liking it so far.
I’m a plantser too, I have a basic outline, but I do veer from it a fair bit!
Just ordered the Good Girl. Thanks for the recommend!
Yay! It is definitely on my TBR–I need to read all her work.
Lovely interview. Enjoyed reading her answers. I must pick one of her books soon.
They’re absolutely worthwhile, Rachna.
Great interview with Mary. I’m surprised that she can write her stories without knowing the plot twists or the ending. I’m not talented enough to do that.
I’ve definitely discovered a twist or two while writing, but I did know some of them beforehand. Mary is truly spectacular.
I’ve read Hillier and Ware, and enjoy both, so I’ll have to check all these other authors, including Kubica.
Shannon, if you love Hillier, you’ll love Kubica’s work, especially Local Woman Missing.
Hi Damyanti! When I read your question about plot twists in novels, I immediately thought of Close Your Eyes by Darren O’Sullivan.
Thrillers aren’t usually my genre of choice, but he did a reading of his novel over Facebook Live during lockdown. I still remember how much its big twist shocked me, and I really recommend it to anyone who likes a pacy read with strong characters!
Thanks for the suggestion, Tia. Will check out his book.
Hi Damyanti! I haven’t read Mary’s books but thrillers are on top of my reading list atm. I talk about one especially on my blog today. I’m fascinated by the plot twists thriller writers come up with. Learned a lot from the interview. Thanks.
I’ll be checking out your post, Denise. I’m really intrigued by twists, too, which is why the question.
I enjoyed your interview with Mary, Damyanti. Reading thrillers is always fun, so thanks for the lead on some books to read. I hope all is going well as you write your third book. Have a happy and creative March!
Thank you, Louise. I’m so glad you enjoy thrillers, and very grateful for your read and review of my books. The third book is due back for copyedits soon, so I’m crossing fingers. Hope you have a lovely March as well!
A fascinating interview. I need to check out this author.
Kubica is a wonderfully nuanced author, Olga. You won’t be disappointed.
Thank you! I’ve been needing a good list of thrillers. I’ll be set for awhile now.
Ah good. I haven’t read a few of those, either, so off they go to my TBR.
What an interesting interview, Mary and Damyanti. Lots I agree with, much I wish I’d learned long ago, and plenty of nuggets. A favorite–build your story and your characters organically. What a difference that makes!
That’s my favorite one too, Jacqui! It’s very, very hard to do, especially at the pace that professional writing demands.
Multiple points of view is tough. Three is the most I’ve managed so far, so hats off to you, Mary. I do know my endings before I start though. I have to see that first and then work a path to it.
Hats off to Mary, indeed. I write multiple POVs as well, and they can be very hard.