What scares a top novelist of psychological thrillers?
BY DONNA BOEN ’83, MTSC ’96, MIAMIAN EDITOR
She starts to jog, but soon trips over an untied shoe. She’s uncoordinated and nervous, wanting to be in the car with him, and not alone on the street. The street is dark, far too dark for her liking.
She senses movement out of the corner of her eye. Is something there? Is someone there? She asks, “Who’s there?”
The night is quiet. No one speaks.
She tries to distract herself with thoughts of him, of his warm, gentle hands on her.
She bends over to tie the shoe. Another noise comes from behind. This time when she looks, car lights surface on the horizon, going way too fast. There’s no time to hide.
Q&A with the Queen of Suspense
And with that, New York Times bestselling novelist Mary Kubica ’00 begins her seventh and latest white-knuckle thriller, “Local Woman Missing.”
Mary’s been running fingers of fear up and down our spines since her first novel, “The Good Girl,” came out in 2015.
On the eve of Halloween, we thought it would be fun — and perhaps a little perverse — to ask Mary what spooks her.
Donna Boen: I assume the unfaithful woman running to meet her liaison in the “Local Woman Missing” prologue is Shelby. You’re a runner. Does writing this stay with you and creep you out while you’re lacing up your sneakers?
Mary Kubica: Unlike Shelby, I don’t run after dark. I’ve seen enough on the news to know that I’m safer running in daylight and on well-trafficked streets. Some of my best plotting happens on my runs though. As a marathon runner, I spend many hours per week training, which means uninterrupted time with my thoughts and nothing but my tired legs to distract me.
Donna Boen: What does spook you?
Mary Kubica: Plenty of things! For a suspense writer who rarely holds back in a manuscript, I’m a scaredy cat in real life. I don’t like the dark. Even at 43, I leave the bedroom door open at night so the light from the hallway gets in. I’m scared of bugs and the prospect of ghosts. (I don’t know for sure that they exist, but I think that they do.) But the thing that spooks me most is that something terrible could happen to someone I love.
Donna Boen: Are there methods of disappearance and murder that are off-limits for you? What do you think is the worst way for your characters to die?
Mary Kubica: As a writer and a reader, I don’t enjoy gore. There are times that yes, there needs to be some bloodshed on the page, but for me, the real enjoyment is in the motivation behind the murder. I try to keep death fairly swift, and tread lightly when animals or children are involved; readers, understandably, find this intolerable. The worst way for a character to die would be anything prolonged, anything that involves great suffering.
Donna Boen: Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying, “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” Is this what you’re doing with your books?
Mary Kubica: Yes! I think if I write my worst fears into a manuscript, not only can I explore them in a safe, fictional space, but I can better understand my characters’ emotional response to these things because I feel them too. It’s the same for those of us who eat up true crime podcasts and documentaries; we do so because we’re fascinated with mystery and with gruesome things. We can’t look away, yet, at the same time, we’re relieved these terrible things are happening to someone else and not us.
Donna Boen: Another Hitchcock quote: “Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table.” Many of your scenes seem to follow his philosophy, don’t they?
Mary Kubica: They do. It’s a fact that most people are murdered by someone they know. Random crime is relatively rare. A very high percentage of murdered women, for example, are killed in the home by a partner or an ex. It makes writing this type of book very psychological. There are few psychopaths in my books, but rather, ordinary people who’ve snapped. For me the questions is: What has happened for some seemingly normal person to suddenly want to kill a friend, neighbor, or spouse?
Donna Boen: What is your favorite way to scare your readers? In the process, do you ever scare yourself?
Mary Kubica: It’s all about plausibility! The more a reader feels a situation could happen to them, the more scared they’ll be. When I’m drafting a scene, it’s rare that I spook myself because I’m so caught up in things like pacing and word choice. But when I go back the next day to read what I’ve written, that’s when it happens.
For more about Mary Kubica ’00 and why she started writing twist-filled chillers, read our MIAMIAN story, “Woman of Mystery.”