This week was an incredibly cool one. Thanks to the generosity of Simon & Schuster, and the author herself, I was able to chat with LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE author Jessica Knoll about her debut novel, her career, and her current reads! It was a dream come true for me to get to talk with the author of one of my favorite thrillers of the year. Jessica was extremely personable, well-spoken, and thoughtful, and I'm so excited to share what I learned from her with you!
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
I did not record my conversation with Jessica. Instead, I will paraphrase a few of my favorite bits of information that I learned from my conversation with her!
- Many of Ani's experiences in the magazine world are loosely based on Jessica's own experiences. Before writing her debut novel, Jessica worked at Cosmopolitan and Self. I was curious how closely her own experiences matched Ani's—specifically, I wanted to know if the NYC magazine publishing world really is so obsessed with labels. (That's totally foreign to me, in my reference book publishing world.) Of course Ani's personal obsession with building the perfect appearance for herself factors into the intensity of the label-obsession portrayed in this book, but Jessica explained that during her time at Cosmo, a definite shift occurred towards a more fashion-forward culture, and she wanted to reflect a bit of this in the world she built for Ani.
- The magazine publishing world is full of strong, driven women committed to their careers. This was one of the coolest things I learned from Jessica. She explained how one of the things she loved about her own experience in publishing (which she subsequently factored in to Ani's experience) was getting to work with so many women who are so fiercely committed to their careers. She wanted Ani to reflect this commitment—Ani takes great pride in her job at the magazine, a feeling which Jessica and her coworkers shared. As a young woman just starting out in publishing, I found this totally inspiring!
- A whole lot of research went into crafting the characters of the boys who become the instigators of the story's school shooting. I was incredibly impressed with the amount of research that Jessica put into creating this aspect of the story. She described to us how she was inspired to create these characters through research of the tragedy at Columbine, referencing Dave Cullen's Columbine as integral to her understanding of this tragedy. Through her research into the perpetrators of that mass shooting, Jessica discovered that the media's portrayal of those boys as bullied, isolated loners was entirely incorrect. She told us how surprised she was to discover that the boys who committed that awful crime weren't loners at all; they were social, they were not the victims of bullying, and they even attended prom. This discovery prompted Jessica to delve deeper into researching the mental state of these boys, applying what she learned about psychopathy to the creation of her story's killers. Jessica's thoughtfulness in crafting these characters totally impressed me. Listening to her speak about this topic, it was very evident how much thought and effort went into this aspect of the story.
- She understands the potential fatigue we readers might have with the constant stream of Gone Girl comparisons. Surely I'm not the only one who has noticed this. It seems like any thriller with a female lead of dubious morals that has come out in the past 3 years has been compared to Gillian Flynn's massively successful novel. A Gillian Flynn fan herself, Jessica nevertheless understood that for us readers, it might seem that this comparison is made too often. She explained that while she was writing her book, she wasn't at all thinking of potential comparisons to Gone Girl, but since her novel's release, she has become more aware that these comparisons are made very freely. I appreciated her ability to put herself in the reader's shoes! Let the record show, I actually liked Luckiest Girl Alive better than Gone Girl, making me even more inclined to say it's time so stop trying to find the "next Gone Girl." Let's let these thrillers stand on their own merit!
- Jessica is writing the screenplay for the film version of her debut novel herself. While we were Skyping, she told me that she was going to finish the screenplay after we finished up our conversation. How darn cool is that?! She explained that one of the trickiest things about screenwriting is the limit put on how long the script can be. This requires the writer to shift focus, and learn how to include gestures and body language that will convey meaning, because there simply isn't room to write out everything you might want the characters to emote. I tried to ask her what actress she pictured playing Ani, but she very graciously explained that she can't say that at the moment, as they're in the process of weighing different options right now. She explained that she doesn't get a say in casting, but that she has been informed of some of the options that are being considered, she just can't divulge them. Personally, I'd love to see Mila Kunis in the role of Ani!
- She has awesome taste in thrillers. I seriously could've talked books with her all afternoon! She just finished up Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark Wood (my current read), is currently re-reading Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects, and is starting on Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts soon (aka that's next on my reading list now, too). Seriously, who better is there to get book recommendations from than a best selling thriller author?! I totally loved her enthusiasm for this genre!
I am so thankful for this experience. Talking with Jessica was such a pleasure. She is totally genuine, humble, and incredibly articulate. It's so inspiring to talk with a woman who not only loves thrillers as much as I do, but has also made a mark on the crime fiction world with her debut novel. I'm still star-struck, to be honest! A huge thank you to Simon & Schuster for setting this up, and to the lovely Jessica Knoll for taking the time out of her busy schedule to chat with a huge fan. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited for the movie of Luckiest Girl Alive, and to read more of Jessica's work in the future!