The Writer's Practice: Mary Kubica, When The Lights Go Out

The Writer's Practice: Mary Kubica, When The Lights Go Out
Photo: Sarah Jastre

Photo: Sarah Jastre


Novelist Mary Kubica's fifth thriller, When The Lights Go Out, launches this week. The best-selling author told Spine that each of her books starts with the flicker of an idea, which she fans from several angles to see if anything alights. "A book often begins with a small, subconscious spark of inspiration that's then molded in a very conscious way to see if the spark has legs," she said. "For When The Lights Go Out, that first spark was the twist itself, which was exciting because it's never happened for me this way. Usually I have no idea how my books will end, but only a beginning!"

Spine's not going to reveal the twist because Spine doesn't spoil, but suffice it to say our reader was shocked. The twist twisted. Once the initial flicker caught, and Kubica sat down to the harder work of crafting a narrative around it. "From that first spark came the task of calculatedly creating a story — two stories in this case," she said. The book's two stories revolve around the book's two main characters, Eden and Jessie, mother and daughter. The narrative flips back and forth between each, and between different time periods.

Kubica often employs more than one time, one place, one point of view in her books. "To me, the multiple narratives give the reader a more comprehensive view of the story, as well as conflicting opinions of certain events, which hopefully adds to the intrigue and suspense," Kubica said. But while she moves her audience back and forth during the reading, she stays in one place during the creating.

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For When The Lights Go Out, this meant writing the character of Eden start to finish, before diving into Jessie's life. "It might sound difficult, but truly it helps to simplify things," she said. "It keeps each character's voice distinct, while also keeping the varying timelines and plotlines well structured." The bigger challenge is weaving the different stories together. One means by which Kubica accomplishes this is paying very close attention to each chapter's beginning and ending, an effort that takes place during her editing process.

"Even though I write one character at a time, it's so important for me to remember that readers aren't reading my books this same way. When they've been removed from one narrative for a chapter, they should be eased back in with brief reminders of where the character's storyline last left off. I never want my readers to feel confused, or as if they have to work unnecessarily hard to follow the timelines. I prefer that they relax and get lost in the story instead."

Post-spark, post-storylines and weaving and segues, Kubica hands her drafts over to her editor, Park Row's Erika Imranyi. The two have worked together since Kubica's first title, and the author says Imranyi plays a huge role in shaping the final version of her books. "She makes sure my plots and twists are airtight. She ensures that my characters are multidimensional and authentic. She's an ace when it comes to pacing." Slow opener? Imranyi lets her know. Not enough action? Unrealistic characters? Imranyi flags it all, and Kubica says her books are stronger for it.

"I feel extraordinarily lucky to have an editor whose feedback I feel so confident in," she said. "It's an incredibly important partnership in the publishing world."

Find Mary Kubica online at and on Twitter @MaryKubica.

Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.

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