We’re delighted to welcome Mary Kubica and Holly Brown to the blog today as part of our “Author to Author” series. Both have gripping new novels out that center around teenage mothers and the families pulled into sway. Mary and Holly have each written domestic dramas that grab you by the throat. So it made perfect sense to have them sit down together and compare notes. Up first Holly Brown interviews Mary Kubica about her second novel, PRETTY BABY.
HOLLY: Hi, Mary. Congratulations on your second novel! It is a true page-turner and has some of my favorite elements: delusions, denial, and unreliable narrators. What inspired you?
MARY: Thanks so much, Holly. I’m absolutely thrilled to get the chance to chat with you and to read A NECESSARY END. I truly loved and devoured your novel. It’s such a terrific book, and I’m certain it will be a huge success. Congratulations to you!
The inspiration for PRETTY BABY was really one of necessity, strange as that may sound. I owed my editor a proposal for my second novel, and I had to dig deep to come up with a unique and compelling storyline. After a few unsuccessful ideas and my increasing frustration, out of nowhere it came to me: this image of a homeless teenage girl waiting beside the Chicago L with a baby. I didn’t know what her story would be, but I knew for certain she was the focal point of PRETTY BABY. At once I sat down and crafted what’s now the opening chapter of the novel. From there, the rest of the characters and plotlines came slowly together and I was elated with the way it all worked out.
HOLLY: In Heidi and Chris’ marriage, they both seem to believe in their defined roles: Heidi is the good person, the concerned citizen, while Chris is about making money; even he seems to think he’s selfish. Was this a false dichotomy in their marriage, in any marriage?
MARY: Heidi and Chris are very different people. She is focused on helping those in need, while Chris obsesses with money: he wants all the money for himself. That said, they are fundamentally good people. They’re also quite complex characters, and their purposes and aspirations change as the novel progresses and they’re faced with difficulties in their life and marriage. I think that most people are generally this way, and that we are more multi-dimensional than we may first lead others to believe.
HOLLY: Heidi thought she had come to terms with having only one child, but when she comes face to face with Willow and baby Ruby, that’s called into question. What does she see in Willow and Ruby? How does it fuel obsession?
MARY: Without giving too much away, Willow and Ruby need Heidi in a way that her own daughter no longer needs her. Heidi is a wonderful mother, who goes over and beyond to make the best decisions for her family. She researches motherhood and her daughter’s emerging adolescence; she worries about the stages of life her Zoe is going through. That said, twelve-year-old Zoe doesn’t want a thing to do with Heidi, and so when suddenly there is a helpless teenage girl and her baby living in Heidi’s home, she becomes quite consumed with their daily care. Here are two people who need Heidi to provide food, clothing, shelter and, in time, emotional support, and this changes Heidi’s life on a dime.
HOLLY: Willow seems both older and younger than sixteen. Do you think that’s the abuse, or her temperament/personality, or an interaction of the two? How did you begin to create the character of Willow?
MARY: I loved creating the character of Willow. She is one who has stuck with me for a long time after finishing the novel. Initially, I set out to make PRETTY BABY solely Heidi and her husband, Chris’s story, but then knew Willow needed a chance to tell her own side of the tale. Willow has a dark past, cycling between loss and abuse, which has left her worse-for-the-wear, so to speak. She doesn’t put her trust in many people, and she has seen much more than any sixteen-year-old child should see. This absolutely makes Willow seem older than her age, and yet there’s a naivety to her that is slowly revealed as we get to know her past: because of her upbringing, Willow lacks much real life experience and has a callowness that is due to the way she was raised and the people in her life.
HOLLY: Because of her childhood experiences, Willow initially appears to see the world as good people and bad people, the abusers and the saviors, but she begins to question whether it’s really so bifurcated. And you’ve created fairly ambiguous characters (for example, without giving too much away, a number of the characters can rationalize that they’re doing something good when others could perceive their actions in a different light.) What’s your take on good, evil, and the in-between?
MARY: Personally, I feel that most people walk a line somewhere in between good and evil. No matter how good we are, we all make bad choices from time to time, or are tempted to do something wrong. That said, the vast majority of people could certainly be classified as good, though it would take a dogged persona to never give in to those cravings and desires at times. Willow does see the world as good and bad with no in-between, and this is absolutely as a result of the way she was raised. It takes some time for her to see that world isn’t quite as simple as that. Good people make bad choices sometimes, and those that are thought of as bad, can also do good things. This is a lesson Willow must learn in PRETTY BABY.
HOLLY: Money is an implicit theme in the book: the haves and the have nots, the homeless and the privileged. Chris is admittedly very driven by money, which allows Heidi the luxury of not thinking about it much while reaping the benefits. Is money the root of evil, is it power, or is it something else, in the context of this novel?
MARY: In PRETTY BABY, I’d have to say that power is more the root of evil than money. There is certainly a distinction in this novel between the haves and the have-nots, but the most evil of all comes not from Heidi or Chris, but from those who use their authority and the power of manipulation to bring harm to others.
Thank you so much for these intriguing questions, Holly, and to the ladies of She Reads for bringing Holly and me together for this chat! I’ve loved every minute of it.
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She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.