By Leslie Lindsay
Twisty, thought-provoking, dizzying, hypnotic, emotionally-wrenching fifth book from Mary Kubica about identity, motherhood, loss, and insomnia. Mary is here chatting about the origins of the book, motherhood, sleep (yes, you can die from lack of sleep!), and so much more.
Mary completely wow-ed me with her breakout novel, THE GOOD GIRL, and since 2014, I’ve gobbled up every one of her novels. She’s immensely talented and her writing is always darkly brilliant. Plus, she’s sweet as pie, training for a half-marathon, and completely dedicated to her children and multiple furry babies.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (Park Row Books, September 4 2018) a slightly different read from Kubica–erring on the side of motherhood, grief, loss, and identity—providing a unique reading experience.
Jessie Sloane is tired. She’s been caring for her ailing mother for years and her time is coming soon. Dedicated and devoted, Jessie is at her bedside in the hospital but she can’t rest knowing her mother is on her deathbed, that there are just minutes, hours left of her mother’s life.
And then Jessie is hit with a remarkable sense of grief, a horror of living, of trying to re-build. She’s only 20 and suddenly she’s alone, without a home, a mother, and who is her father, anyway?
Told in alternating settings, time periods, and narrators (Jessie and mother Eden), we experience several worldviews and a highly emotional ride.
Please join me in welcoming Mary Kubica back to the author interview series.
Mary, I am always, always thrilled to chat with you. I have to know: what was haunting you when you started WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT? How did this one call to you?
Thank you for having me back. I always look forward to chatting with you, Leslie! I can’t say too much on this one – the twist itself was my initial spark of inspiration, and so I don’t want to give anything away! But my books are heavy on the psychological side. They’re not whodunits or crime fiction per se, but rather use kidnapping, murder, identity theft and such as a means to explore themes of grief, abandonment and wanting. When the twist came to me, I thought to myself: what could be more psychological than that, and was quite pleased to have the opportunity to explore a young woman’s psyche from a different angle than what I was used to. It came with its challenges, but I loved the research involved… all of which I’m hesitant to speak of in any detail for fear of spoiling the book!
“Kubica is a helluva storyteller.”
~ Kirkus Reviews
You tackle so many emotionally-wrought topics in WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT: motherhood, infertility, miscarriage, grief, loss, identity, insomnia, paranoia…I mean, wow! Many of these go together. Was this intentional on your part, or did they arise organically?
They arose quite organically. As you know, I’m not an author who outlines in advance, but take my books one page at a time. There were a few things I knew when I began writing the novel. One, that twenty-year-old Jessie’s mother has just died and she’s left to fend for herself, only to discover she may not be the person she believes she is. And two, that Eden, twenty years before, is a woman so desperate to become a mother that she’d do anything to make it happen. I also knew of Jessie’s insomnia – a blight that plagues her in the days following her mother’s death and complicates her search for self discovery. The rest just happened, a result of the writing process and of getting to know more characters better.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT focuses mostly on two characters—mother Eden and daughter Jessie. Did you identify more with one over the other? Do you often write pieces of yourself into characters—maybe even subconsciously?
There are parts of my life in both of these characters. Jessie loses her mother to cancer in the opening pages of the novel. Her memories of the cancer, of chemotherapy, of her mother’s final days are taken from the memories I have of my grandparents’ battles with cancer, and of being beside my grandmother when she died. Eden is a married woman, struggling with infertility, desperate to become a mother. Back when I was starting my own family, a number of women I knew struggled with infertility. Watching that struggle – that frustrating, expensive, gut-wrenching fight – is something that changed me, especially as I became a mother myself and knew the joys of motherhood. It was heartbreaking and inconceivable to me that this great gift could be withheld from some. I started wondering what I would have done – what would have become of me – if I’d never been able to be a mother. These experiences became part of the novel.
I have to say, sometimes reading about Jessie’s insomnia made me tired. I experienced this sort of buoyant, hypnotic feeling…and just wanted to go to sleep! Ironic, right? Sure, I’ve tossed and turned before, but never to the extent of Jessie. Can one really die from lack of sleep? What research you did to make this piece of the narrative so alive?
Yes, one can die from lack of sleep. Chronic insomnia has very serious physical and emotional effects, which can lead to death. Fascinating fact: the percentage of heart attacks spike as much as 25% on the Monday after we switch over to daylight savings time, therefore losing an hour of sleep. The longest a person has been reported to stay awake dates back to the 1960s, when a high school student set a world record for a science fair. Randy Gardner lasted eleven days (an early title for the novel!) before the fatigue got the best of him and he went to sleep.
These days Gardner says,
“You have to have sleep. It’s as important as – it’s the big three. I call it the big three. Water, food, sleep – you’ve got to have them, all of them.”
While death was certainly a danger for Jessie, the focus of my research was on insomnia and the debilitating effects of it: the grogginess, the moodiness, the cognitive dysfunction, the hallucinations and paranoia, in addition to the more physical symptoms that Jessie experiences in her narrative.
Sleep and dreams have always been an interest of mine. It’s amazing just how powerful one’s mind can be. And yet it can be restorative, protective. Can you talk more about that, please?
I’m not generally a napper. But there are days – especially when I’ve been plugging away at a WIP [work-in-progress] for hours and my mind has turned to mush – that a twenty minute nap does the trick. A quick reboot. I love a good night of sleep. Like many of us, I have a way of working out problematic things in my dreams – whether thorny issues in a manuscript, or in life. It is restorative. On the flip side though, the lack of sleep, insomnia, is a bear. Just a single night of lousy sleep turns me into a different person, a much more unpleasant version of myself!
Often in life, with major projects, we start with the end in mind. Eden wanted a baby. Jessie wanted to sleep. And her mother not to die. But sometimes, we don’t always get what we want. Not in life and sometimes not in a narrative. What might you say to those who are expecting one thing from WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT and receive something completely different? Do you think there are multiple ways of reading a book?
I think the ending will surprise many readers! This book is a bit different than my first few, in that it’s quite heavy on the emotional side and really a hybrid of psychological suspense and women’s fiction. I don’t want any of my novels to feel cookie cutter, but like to be bold and original and explore new styles and themes with each novel I write. As with any book (mine or otherwise), I always feel it’s important that a reader goes in blind, not expecting any one thing in particular from the novel, but just enjoying the ride. There are of course multiple ways of reading a book. Each reader will walk away with his or her own impression. That’s the joy of books (and the reason many make terrific book club books – so many different opinions to discuss!).
Mary, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask—like: what you’re reading, how the training is going, how the back-to-school craze is going, what you’re working on?
I’ve just finished reading Catherine Steadman’s SOMETHING IN THE WATER (amazing!), and am looking forward to devouring ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] from Jessica Strawser and Kaira Rouda next. Half-marathon training is going well, as is the back to school craze! As for writing – I’m just finishing up the final edits on my 2019 release, which I’m so incredibly excited for. It doesn’t have a title yet, but this one focuses on a family of four that’s just relocated to Maine for a fresh start after a number of personal hardships force them from their Chicago home. Their fresh start isn’t so fresh however when a neighbor is murdered in her home across the street, and the family falls under the scrutiny of the community and police. More to come on this one soon!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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