Today I am excited to welcome Mary Kubica to the blog, as part of her Pretty Baby blog tour, to talk about her First Draft process. I absolutely adored The Good Girl – you can find my raving review Here and see how she made it onto my top 5 books of 2014 Here. – and Pretty Baby was one of my holiday reads which you can read about Here.
Mary is the author of two novels, including PRETTY BABY (2015) and THE GOOD GIRL (2014), which is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature, and lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Mary enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
I dive right into the manuscript. When I get excited about a new idea, I usually can’t wait to start and so, as long as I’m not currently in the middle of another project, I start toiling away immediately. Sometimes I get a new idea when I’m in the middle of another project, and then I have to postpone it until I can focus completely on the task at hand.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
I don’t. I’m not someone who outlines or does much – if anything – in the way of note taking before I begin a new manuscript, and so I sit down and start writing whatever comes to mind. I generally begin a new manuscript with an indefinite starting point and though I have no idea where the story will take me, I slowly develop my characters and in time they decide where the story will go. In the case of PRETTY BABY, I began the novel with just an image of a homeless girl holding a baby, not knowing who she was or what her story would be, and in time, the story slowly began to unfold.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Straight to the keyboard! I never write with pen and paper. My handwriting is terrible, for one, and I can also create much more quickly on the computer.
How important is research to you?
I research what I need to, but for both THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY, the research required was minimal. I like to use what I already know and incorporate that into my novels, but that isn’t to say that I haven’t had to do some research along the way.
How do you go about researching?
I generally use the Internet, though there’s nothing better than seeing something with your own eyes, so if I can seek out what I need to know that way, I certainly will. I’m also fortunate to have friends in professions that I call on from time to time to help out with arbitrary questions.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
I do keep a file on my phone with random thoughts or phrases I fear I’ll forget, but generally I keep all those ideas and images stored in my head until the time comes to put them on paper.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I simply write. As I’ve said, I don’t outline, but dive right in. Because my novels are not told linearly, I write them in smaller, linear sections and then merge when done. For example, in the case of PRETTY BABY, I wrote the story of Heidi and Chris, and then separately wrote Willow’s tale, and merged the two together when through. I edit as I go, so a chapter needs to be in tiptop shape before I feel comfortable moving onto the next. By the time I’m finished, the first draft is usually in pretty good shape and goes through just a little clean up before getting passed along to my agent and editor.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
Nothing other than a mostly quiet house and a cat or two – or four – to keep me company.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
It depends on the day. There are those magical days I get consumed completely in the writing process and lose all track of time, and there are days when I’m only moderately consumed and can easily be distracted by the world around me. I prefer to be completely consumed.
Fairly sparse and clean. It’s the only space in the house that belongs to me and only me, and is a simple room where I can focus on writing. I have an antique desk that used to belong to my grandmother, which I’ve refinished, and framed images of THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY all around. There is also a pretty comfy armchair where most of my writing gets done.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
Edit as I go. I like to keep my manuscripts clean, and have trouble moving onto a new chapter if the last one feels out of order to me.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression? I don’t keep myself to a certain number of words per day, but rather write when the words are flowing, and when they’re not, I stop. It feels counterintuitive to me to put words down on paper when they’re feeling forced. If I’m struck with a case of writer’s block, which certainly happens, I find it’s far easier to work my way through it when I’m running errands or cleaning the house rather than staring at a blank computer screen.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
This depends completely on the novel. For THE GOOD GIRL, it took about 5 years, but for PRETTY BABY, less than a year.
In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?
Computer screen. It’s rare that I print out a manuscript.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I send it along to my agent and editor for their feedback, all the while agonizing over whether they’ll like it or not.
Thanks for taking the time to do this Mary.
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.