Authenticity Knocks—and Shocks!
By Dawn Ius
Carla Buckley doesn’t write about terrorists. She isn’t interested in the day-to-day drama of (fictional) presidents. And you’re not likely to find her protagonists facing off against a deranged serial killer.
Buckley’s books are part of the ever-evolving and increasingly more popular “domestic thriller” genre—stories of real families facing real dilemmas.
“I want my readers to be able to put themselves in my characters’ shoes,” Buckley says. “I want them to ask themselves the same, hard questions.”
In her newest release, THE GOOD GOODBYE, the “bad guy” is the question that lurks in every parent’s heart: how well do we really know our children?
Told through three alternating points of view—cousins Rory and Arden, and Arden’s mom, Natalie—THE GOOD GOODBYE is the chilling story of an estranged family forced together after a fire in a college dorm leaves Rory and Arden in the hospital and one of their friends dead. As the mystery of how the fire started begins to unravel, disturbing truths come to light, culminating in a whopper of a plot twist.
“The idea for the novel was inspired by a true event a number of years ago when two devastated families were pushed together under the most terrible of circumstances,” Buckley says. “The event forms the central reveal at the story’s midpoint.”
The journey to this shocking turn is a compelling read, guided by Buckley’s seemingly effortless prose, filled with unexpected curves and an authenticity that truly positions Buckley as one of the genre’s best.
“I work really hard to write tight because that’s what I like to read,” she says. “I focus on scene openings and endings especially, because that’s where you can lose a reader. I chop, chop, chop.”
And just when she thinks she’s got the book where she wants it, she chops some more.
“I love Lee Child’s work,” she says. “He knows exactly where to linger and where to move fast, and he understands his reader perfectly. I continue to learn from him.”
His mentorship has clearly paid off—Buckley admits that THE GOOD GOODBYE was the easiest to write of her four published novels. “When I look back, all I see is a story that wrote itself.”
That’s not to say it was a fast or painless process.
Buckley says she chipped away at the manuscript 1,000 words at a time, focusing on propelling the story forward with an intricate plot and fully-developed characters.
For cousins Rory and Arden, Buckley relied on her own children for advice on “teen” authenticity.
“There may have been some covert eavesdropping on their conversations while driving them around, or making them snacks,” she says. “One of the biggest surprises I’ve had as a parent is the realization that around the age of 11 or 12, children really do start to lead separate lives. They keep secrets. They push boundaries and experiment.”
While Rory is the kind of girl Buckley always wanted to be—the fearless one who takes no prisoners—Arden is the shy artist who lives under her more popular cousin’s shadow.
For Natalie’s character—a chef at a restaurant she co-owns with her brother-in-law—Buckley turned to one of her other passions: The Food Network.
“One of the things I always struggle with in starting a novel is deciding what my protagonist does for a living,” she says. “Sadly, I have no cooking experience. I just had to find a local restaurant in which to do my research.”
But even with knowing all the players, tackling three separate first-person point of views could have been disastrous in less-skilled hands.
“I’m always interested in how different people perceive the same events and feel the best way I can explore that in fiction is through multiple perspectives,” she says. “One of the tricks I employ is to keep a notebook beside me throughout the writing process, tracking pages, quotes, revelations, and questions. Another anchoring tool I use is to ask myself at the beginning of each scene, what does this character want?”
Sage advice for both beginning and seasoned writers. Buckley also advises writers to persevere—despite, or perhaps in spite of, an ever-changing, increasingly-complicated publishing industry.
“I wrote eight novels before selling my ninth,” she says. “And although I wouldn’t wish this track record on anyone, I finally did break through. Believe me, I had some pretty bleak moments—I still do. But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. Focus on the book.”
Buckley intends to follow her own advice. Her 2016 resolutions include trusting herself more as a writer and to not waste time trying to force a bit of writing she loves into a story by keeping a separate file called “Murdered Darlings.” Both resolutions spin out of her current domestic thriller in progress, the story of “a woman on the run from her own life who moves next door to a family in crisis.”
Sign me up!
Carla Buckley is the author of The Good Goodbye, The Deepest Secret, Invisible, and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a best first novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Wharton School of Business, and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband and three children. She is currently at work on her next novel.
To learn more about Carla, please visit her website.