In Where They Found Her, former lawyer Kimberly McCreight tells the story of a small town that’s rocked by an unthinkable crime. We asked McCreight, who hit the bestseller list with her debut, Reconstructing Amelia, a few questions about this shocking and suspenseful second novel.
Describe Where They Found Her in one word.
How did you approach writing the follow-up to an acclaimed bestseller like Reconstructing Amelia?
Each book comes with its own unique challenges and rewards, even (I can attest from experience) the ones that never see the light of day. All you can do is focus on the job at hand: telling the story in front of you to the best of your ability and hopefully in a way that incorporates a little of what you learned the last time around.
You went to law school and worked for some time as an attorney. How terrifying was it to make the switch to writer?
I was so unhappy working as an attorney that when I finally decided to quit the carpe diem thrill of it sustained me for a long time. Whatever difficulties lay ahead were offset by the comfort of being true to myself and getting the opportunity to devote my life to the work I loved.
That bliss probably lasted a whole 24 hours. Okay, maybe a little longer. But it wasn’t long before the oh-God-what-have-I-done set in. After all, I had just thrown away a successful career that I’d worked years establishing—all to chase a dream. There were real consequences, too, like our income being sliced in half with hundreds of thousands of my law school debt yet to be paid.
It wasn’t until after my third book was rejected that I began to realize just how long and bumpy the road to publication could be. That it might, in fact, never end. And after my fourth book was rejected, I did start to panic. By then, nearly a decade had elapsed and the economy was faltering. Any hope I had of dusting off my legal career had pretty much evaporated.
In the end, that probably worked in my favor. Ready to throw in the towel, but with no viable job prospects, I kept on writing the book that was to become Reconstructing Amelia. I finally did get a job offer—as head writer in the communications department of my former law school—a mere 24 hours before the book finally sold.
There were some dark years in there. To say that I feel incredibly lucky it worked out the way it did would be the understatement of the century.
"To say that I feel incredibly lucky it worked out the way it did would be the understatement of the century."
This book is written from a couple of points of view: A grieving mom and a 17-year-old girl in crisis. What’s it like writing in multiple voices?
Extremely liberating and occasionally very tricky. My favorite part of writing is being able to live in someone else’s skin. Multiple points of view mean becoming several different “selves,” which is all the better. It also gives me the freedom to explore the narrative from several perspectives, making the process of discovery that is so integral to my writing process that much more exciting.
That said, it does take effort to keep the voices distinct while ensuring that each character’s story has a well-formed arc, internally consistent and effectively knit into the broader whole. I do most of that work in early revision, pulling each character out and developing their story separately before revising them as a unit.
Molly has had so much happen, and she still carries on—I was rooting for her! What do you like about her?
There’s so much I love about Molly, but I most admire her ability to recognize her own limitations, while simultaneously having the courage to throw herself headlong past them. She really has a core of brute strength that at the beginning of the book even she doesn’t fully realize. Plus, I think she’s an incredibly kind person.
"My favorite part of writing is being able to live in someone else’s skin."
Molly's husband, Justin, an English professor, leaves notes for his wife with quotes from writers like ee cummings and Emily Dickinson. How did you choose the quotes?
Some of the quotes were ones I was familiar with before the book and some came about as the result of research. The quotes all work on multiple levels, which I quite like.
You called Jodi Picoult your idol in a recent blog post. Which other authors are among your favorites and why?
Gillian Flynn because she’s a Jedi-master of character driven, miss-your subway-stop suspense (and yes, I twice missed F-train stops reading Gone Girl). Sue Miller because While I Was Gone’s combination of character driven story and mystery was such an inspiration, likewise for Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water amazed me with their seamless shifting of POVs and timeframes, as did William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
Also, I’ve been listening recently to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier on audio. I’m not done, but I’m pretty sure it already has me at least 9.5% of the way there.
What are you working on next?
I just finished a draft of the first book in my YA trilogy The Outliers, due out from Harper Teen in Summer 2016. The books are speculative fiction set in the present, each unfolding around the tight arc of a single mystery, but centered on a much broader central question. What if women’s greater emotionality—so often deemed a sign of weakness—was, in fact, our greatest strength?
RELATED CONTENT: Read our review of Where They Found Her.
Author photo by Beowulf Sheehan.