Sunday, May 10, 2020

Kimberly McCreight

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan
Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Alex Awards and was called Entertainment Weekly’s Favorite Book of the Year. Reconstructing Amelia has been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. McCreight’s second adult novel, Where They Found Her, was a USA Today bestseller and a Kirkus Best Mystery of the Year.

Her new novel is A Good Marriage.

My Q&A with McCreight:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

In this case, my title really is everything! A Good Marriage goes to the heart of the novel’s themes, as well as much of its plot. I was interested in looking at what really makes a good marriage and challenging the idea that there are any true golden rules. My title poses the central question that’s at the heart of the book, which is most definitely also a thriller. What’s funny is that I actually wasn’t sure I wanted A Good Marriage to be my final title. Because it had been my working title all along, I wanted something shiny and brand new for the polished final draft. It was my editor, Jennifer Barth, who wisely convinced me otherwise. She was convinced from the start that it was exactly the right title. I’m so grateful because she was absolutely right. I can’t imagine now the book being called anything else.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not very. My parents divorced when I was very young, so I’ve long wondered what a good marriage looks like. As a teenager, I can also distinctly remember an adult telling me that as you get older you only have more questions about life, not less. (A sentiment I’ve found to be very true.) I think A Good Marriage lies at the intersection of those two ideas—having spent my early life wondering what a good marriage looks like, and realizing that the answer to that question only gets harder as time goes by.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings! Hands down, endings are harder than beginnings. Perhaps that’s especially true with mysteries. But I know for sure that the ending is the hardest part of my books. Setting up suspense is actually pretty easy—a threatening scene, some sketchy characters, the careful parceling out of information—and, boom, you’ve got it. Not only do all the pieces of the puzzle need to click into place by the final pages, but the ending needs to be emotionally satisfying, too. In other words, at the beginning you can keep your cards close to your vest, controlling the show by bluffing your way through. But when the end arrives and you’ve got to lay down that hand, you best be holding a royal flush.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

On a fundamental level, I’m a lot like Lizzie, the main character in A Good Marriage. That actually made her quite hard to write at first. Early on, I was underexplaining aspects of her personality, assuming they were self-evident. I worked hard to create enough distance between Lizzie and myself so that she stood on her own as a uniquely nuanced, well-rounded character. In the published book, she and I are still similar, but we are not at all the same. That said, I share something in common with many of the other main characters in A Good Marriage, which is maybe a little frightening! For instance, like Sam, I am a recovering alcoholic and had long wanted to write about managing an addiction in a marriage.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Conceptual modern art has always been a huge source of inspiration for me. There is nothing more fearless than an artist expressing themselves through something completely abstract. It’s a true act of courage. Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition a decade ago at the Guggenheim comes immediately to mind. Cattelan makes these irreverent, arresting sculptures that also serve as incisive political commentary. In that particular exhibition at the Guggenheim, he’d suspended his sculptures from the museum rotunda like this enormous mobile. It was so bold and forceful and it utterly took my breath away. (Google it, you can still find images online.)

At the time, I was finishing up yet another draft of Reconstructing Amelia—my fifth unpublished novel—all of them written in a similar epistolary fashion with multiple narrators and shifting timeframes, a style I had been told repeatedly was fundamentally unsellable. And had, in fact, not sold. In fact, I’d already been told if I wanted to ever sell Amelia, I needed to pick a lane and simplify the story, take out all the social media elements and make it from a single character’s point of view. I distinctly remember standing in that soaring Guggenheim rotunda, all those insane, brilliant, beautiful Cattelan sculptures floating overhead, and thinking: You know what? I’m not changing a fucking thing.
Visit Kimberly McCreight's website.

The Page 69 Test: Reconstructing Amelia.

The Page 69 Test: The Scattering.

The Page 69 Test: The Collide.

--Marshal Zeringue