By Leslie Lindsay
“The first thing you should know is everyone lies. The second thing is that it matters.”
I love this line and it adequately summarizes the fourth novel from Carla Buckley, a spellbinding domestic thriller about an entwined family forced together in the eaves of an ICU in which both of their daughters, cousins-close-as-sisters lie in precarious prognoses.
Today I am honored to have Ms. Buckley with us as we learn more about the dark secrets we all have buried within.
Leslie Lindsay: Carla, I am so honored to have you join us today. I’m always interested in what ‘flipped the switch’ for you when you set out to write THE GOOD GOODBYE. What was your ‘ah-ha’ moment?
Carla Buckley: Hi, Leslie. Thank you so much for having me; I’m delighted to be here today! My “ah-ha” moment for THE GOOD GOODBYE actually occurred several years ago, when I learned about a true event in two college girls’ lives. It made the national news at the time and the two families involved ended up writing a memoir about what had happened to them. Their horrifying experience raised haunting questions in my mind, and I tucked it away for a time when I might be able to explore what it might be like to walk in their shoes.
L.L.: I am in awe with the way you depict the emotional complexity of family life. It’s authentic, it’s engaging, and overall very well balanced. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?
Carla Buckley: You’re so kind—thank you. It means a lot to me, actually, to hear you say this. I never imagined, when I was growing up and dreaming of one day being published that I would end up writing about family life in the suburbs. Oh, no. I planned to talk about grander topics on a bigger stage, and I wrote eight novels along these lines. Every single one of them was rejected. It wasn’t until I turned to my own life to talk about the things that truly mattered the most to me—discovering who you are and what you’re made of when you’re driven to your knees by circumstances outside your control—that I finally broke through. My hope is that my readers see themselves in my stories and ask themselves, what would I do if something like that happened to me?
L.L.: THE GOOD GOODBYE alternates narratives of the two college-aged girls/cousins (Rory and Arden) and Arden’s mother, Natalie. The story crackles with family drama, rift with secrets, and the horrifically mysterious accident that leaves both girls burned and in the ICU, and one friend dead (this is not a spoiler, it happens right away). Was this your intention all along, or did the story take on a life of its own as they so often do?
Carla Buckley: Before I began writing, I knew a few things: my opening scenes, the big central revelation, and my ending line (and who would speak it.) I also knew that I wanted Natalie to be a professional chef because I thought it would be fun to talk about that world (and research it), but most of all I wanted the fire in the girls’ dorm room to feel inevitable, as if nothing else could have happened that terrible night. When I started writing the book, I thought I knew who had set the fire, and why. But as my characters slowly revealed themselves to me, their story took off in an unexpected direction, and my initial assumptions about what had caused the fire proved to be wrong. That was the biggest surprise to me, and the most satisfying.
L.L.: Rory and Arden’s POVs are backtracked in time to when they were healthy college freshman, yet are “told” from their unconscious state. This is a unique structure, and one I would find a challenge to write. Can you speak to that, please?
Carla Buckley: The idea came to me one day when I was thinking about how all things being equal, it’s the structure of a novel that sets it apart and makes it something new. So I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to pick a pivotal event in a woman’s life and have one character tell her story entirely in flashback leading up to the event, while another character told her story from the event onward? I’d never approached writing a novel this way and the biggest challenge for me was balancing revelations in the past and in the present, while keeping both storylines moving forward as one. My editor described it as having to juggle dinner plates without dropping any of them. It turned out to be enormous fun. I really loved writing this story, and only wish I could write another novel using this approach.
L.L.: Reading as a mother, this story really pulled at my heartstrings. It made me want to reach out and hug my girls and keep them close. (Sorry girls, you’re not going to college after all)! You’re a mother as well. Did writing THE GOOD GOODBYE open your eyes to some of the challenges and fears our own kids are facing these days?
Carla Buckley: I actually wrote part of THE GOOD GOODBYE while sitting in my son’s ICU room. I’d been on book tour when my husband called to tell me our son, away at college, had been in an accident. We dropped everything and rushed to be with him. As the surgeon explained when we arrived at the hospital, it was a fluke that had saved our son from being completely paralyzed. I’d already started writing THE GOOD GOODBYE and now I found myself living it. I sat in that dark hospital room and looked at my son. I felt numb. Here was everything I had feared. In the end, my son recovered completely and our lives went on. The entire ordeal reaffirmed my conviction that although parenthood makes us unbearably vulnerable, it also grants us exquisite joy. I hope I reflected that in THE GOOD GOODBYE.
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Carla Buckley: So many things! The daring mama fox that’s taken up residence in my neighbor’s abandoned backyard, The Walking Dead, Gwen Stefani’s Used to Love You, Ted Koppel’s terrifying Lights Out about a cyber attack, the search for the perfect bath towel, rosemary and olive oil Triscuits, and the tantalizing beginning of an idea for a future book about trying to speak up but no one listening because of who you are…
L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse into your forthcoming title, THE RELUCTANT MOTHER*?
Carla Buckley: In the novel I’m currently working on, I explore a few questions that have always intrigued me. What makes a family? What holds a family together? When a woman running away from her previous life finds herself living next door to a family in crisis, she’s forced to confront her own past and fears, only to realize that she’s the only person who can help. [*title is currently in flux]
L.L.: Thanks so much, Carla for joining us today. It was such a treat!
Carla Buckley: Thank you for having me, and asking terrific questions that really made me stop and think. It was a true joy!
Carla Buckley is the author of The Good Goodbye, The Deepest Secret, Invisible, and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a best first novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Wharton School of Business, and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She serves on the board of the International Thriller Writers as Vice President, Awards, and is currently at work on her next novel.
For more information, please see: www.carlabuckley.com