Saturday, May 2, 2020

Book Chat: Kimberly McCreight, Author Of "A Good Marriage"

A Good Marriage
By Kimberly McCreight
Harper; hardcover, 400 pages; $27.99; available Tuesday, May 5

Kimberly McCreight is the author of the New York Times bestseller Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Alex awards; Where They Found Her; and The Outliers, which is a young adult trilogy. She is a resident of Park Slope, where she lives with her husband and two teenaged daughters.

McCreight's new novel, A Good Marriage, centers on Lizzie Kitsakis, who is an attorney at a soul-crushing, elite corporate law firm. This was the last place the former prosecutor expected to end up. Lizzie's marriage has problems, but whose doesn't? It's hard to worry about the home front now that she's stuck working around the clock.

Lizzie's life is upended when she receives a late-night phone call from Zach Grayson, an old friend from law school. His wife, Amanda's body was found at the bottom of the stairs in their lavish Park Slope, Brooklyn, brownstone - and he is the prime suspect. 

As Lizzie is reluctantly dragged into defending Zach, she is drawn into the dark heart of the glamorous couple's seemingly-idyllic community, prompting her to think: Is their close-knit group of friends hiding troubling secrets of their own? Did what happened to Amanda have anything to do with the annual Sleepaway Soiree and its illicit upstairs affairs? More importantly, were Zach and Amanda who they seemed to be? 

In the end, what Liz uncovers will force her to confront the heartbreaking truth about her own faltering marriage, leaving her to decide not just whether it can be saved, but whether it should be.

VIRTUAL AUTHOR EVENT: The Community Bookstore, located in Park Slope, will be hosting a virtual conversation with Kimberly McCreight and Laura Sims, author of Looker, on Wednesday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to register, click here.

Kimberly McCreight. Provided by HarperCollins.

A Conversation With Kimberly McCreight:

Jason Schott: What's it been like promoting this book while under quarantine?
Kimberly McCreight: It's just been a little bit, this started about two months ago, March 13th, so we were very much in the lead-up. Events had already, obviously, long been set, and it really took, I think all of us, the world, a couple weeks to accept that this is really actually happening, so then, there was just this moment of silence, where my publisher, my agent, they all had to start working from home, so they just had to get their systems set up, and just be able to work remotely, so that took a couple of weeks. Then, it became, what do we do about the events? Certainly, like a lot of people, there was panic, should we move the publication date of the book? 
In the end, first of all, my book is a certain kind of book. It's super-escapish, and I think, even right now, who isn't asking what a good marriage is, especially now in quarantine, so it's timely in that way. It's also timely in terms of when the book takes place -it's really a summer book - so I was tied to the notion from the start of the book being published really at the beginning of summer, so as you're reading it, you would have that feel. Obviously, people will then read the book all different times of year, hopefully, but it really takes place in the summer.
Like I said, I think there were a couple weeks where it was, like, everyone was kind of afraid, but I would say it's absolutely been kind of remarkable in the way we've all adapted to so many of the same thing in the past couple of months. Everyone's just transitioned, and it's really short notice, so my launching at the Community Bookstore - they kind of were completely closed, and then they came back, now they've got online events, so my launch is back up and going online there - so the extra layer of challenge, I'm home and dealing with doing interviews and stuff. I don't work at home; I work at the Brooklyn Writers Space, which is really an office, so doing that kind of intellectual work in your home isn't easy, but everyone seems to be so innovative. There's something really remarkable about the artistry that has gone into changing everything around, so it's a lot of do-it-yourself, figuring it out as you go along. I have all this tech knowledge, all this equipment now, I have a microphone, a light, I know what shirt looks best with the background I set up. You learn, but I'm not going to lie, one of the great things about writing a book is you do it alone for so long, and then you get a launch, and no matter what happens, there's uncertainty in terms of where your book succeeds, but your book comes out, that's one of the great things. Your book comes out, and you get to share a launch event, and you sign that book, and you see the people's faces, and this moment where this thing you did alone becomes this thing you share with the world. 

JS: How much are you looking forward to doing a virtual event?
KM: I'm really excited, it's going to be great. I just have to block out the fact that my voice is being broadcast out to who knows how many people, and then I've got another one where I'm taking over the HarperCollins Instagram, and that's going to be a lot of people, so for us authors, it's really kind of adjusting to being televised in a way that we're not used to. I'm so excited the Community Bookstore is doing it, that I hope people buy lots of my books from them, they're such an awesome bookstore.

JS: Your book is set in Park Slope, where you have lived for about 15 years, and you describe how a unique thing about it is how informed and involved everyone is in the community.
KM: I've been here 15 years, my kids have gone through the public high schools here, elementary and middle school - my oldest daughter is in high school, she's not going to school in Brooklyn anymore - I haven't lived anywhere longer than two years, so for me, Park Slope is really my home. I love that I have all my memories, of having kids and a family, are from here. I love that I recognize faces of people I don't know, but I can tell you where they live. Since I moved around a lot, I never really had that sense of home, so Park Slope is very much that for me. I had Reconstructing Amelia set here, and this book, so while there are a lot of controversial, racy things that happen in both books, you know, sometimes I'm asked if Park Slope is a bad place where bad things happen, and definitely not is the answer to that. I hope that my love for the neighborhood and the people shines through, and I think that the things that happen in my books happen everywhere, they just probably look different depending on where you live. 
I love writing about my neighborhood and the real places that are here just because I'm so attached to it. I think it's a really unique place, as you said, a lot of smart, creative people. The number of writers and journalists and professors, teachers, it's just a dynamic, thoughtful place.

JS: You also are a lawyer, did you ever work at a big law firm, and  how much did that form Lizzie's character?
KM: I did practice for about three and a half years, and I was at one of the biggest law firms. I worked at Cravath, Swaine, and Moore right out of law school, but I didn't stay there very long, just wasn't a good fit for me, and I left there, went to an equally large firm, Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison - those are two of the biggest law firms and I worked as a corporate litigator at both, and I also interned at the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is where Lizzie was before she goes to the firm. I absolutely could not have written this book without being a lawyer because it's definitely part domestic suspense, part legal thriller. At the same time, I didn't have, except for that stint at the U.S. Attorney's Office as an intern, so I don't really have experience in criminal law, and I went to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, they don't really teach you specifics on that - you mostly sit around and talk theory, which is great, it's awesome - but I didn't know a lot of the technical aspects. I knew enough as a lawyer to know what I did not know, and so I sat down and mapped out what I was going to do and consult experts, and I knew which kind of experts I needed. So, I got a criminal defense attorney, who was kind enough to take me with him to Rikers, so I could see Rikers Island and I got to shadow him at various hearings, and he read the book when I was done. I consulted a prosecutor in The Bronx who read it when I was done so I could get both sides. I consulted homicide detectives and fingerprint experts because I really wanted to get those details right, trying to make it perfect. I could watch an episode of Law & Order, and there's probably not real things in there, but it's enjoyable, like I wanted it to be real enough that no one with experience would get pulled out of the story by something unrealistic. I consulted all those people, so generous of their time, experts you consult like that, and they're so kind about telling you when you got things wrong, and you're like 'look at this,' and 'no, not even a little bit, where did you get that idea?' (she says laughing) I write everything because the thing that's driving my story is a scene,then the character, and then the plot, and when I get to things about research and details, etc., I will find out what has to happen and I will go back to my story and tweak it to make it factually right. There were a couple of times where I have find something out and I have to make significant changes, but usually, you can just shift some things around and you can find out, if this person would have known this, you just have to add some shading to work around that, explain why they wouldn't know that.

JS: Lizzie and Amanda inhabit different worlds, but there seemed to be some similarities in these strong women. Did you get that sense also in writing them? 
KM: Yes, they end up being somewhat mirror images, again without giving away the story. In the end, there are these thematic similarities, they're mirror images, they're kind of flipped backwards in some ways, and that's meant to be seen in the book. I would never in a million years have been like, let's sit down and do this thing, two characters like this. I'm sure there are some writers that can give you that, I and not one of them. I write from a very instinctual place; I don't outline in advance. I have this general theme, in this case, what is a good marriage, I wanted to look at that, and then I come up with my characters and the general spine of my plot, and then I write my way into it. 
When you think about that parallel between two major characters, Stephen King talks about it in his writing book, which is such a good book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he would talk about leaving bread crumbs for himself and then he would see, okay, I'm talking about the color green again and again and again, why am I doing that? Then, he would think about why he is doing that and amplify that; it's almost like working with your subconscious, right, so it's something like that. I wouldn't say I did that mirror image intentionally, but afterwards, once I saw it, then I was able to control it and do something with it that was intentional.

Nicole Kidman's review of "A Good Marriage" on Instagram. Provided by HarperCollins.

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