By P. J. Bodnar
At the age of 23, Lindsay’s best friend, Edie, dies during what should have been the greatest time of their lives. Ten years later, Lindsay finds out that not all of their former friends think it was a suicide.
Lindsay, now faced with the fact that her friend may have been murdered, must confront her own demons to learn what really happened—even if it means uncovering some hard truths about her personal role in Edie’s death.
A journalist by trade, THE LOST NIGHT is Andrea Bartz’s first thriller. Here, she takes time out of her busy schedule to discuss her remarkable novel with The Big Thrill.
In your other life you write freelance features. What drew you to write thrillers, and which format do you prefer?
I always loved reading thrillers, so when I decided to try my hand at fiction, I knew I wanted to write a mystery. I like exploring the dark side of things and (safely) feeling afraid—one reason I love horror movies—so I figured I should write the kind of book I’d love to read. Drafting a novel is so different from writing magazine features because with the former, there are no limits or parameters on what happens, and while that can feel overwhelming, it’s freeing, too. I’ve been a journalist for so long that I can almost write a reported feature with my eyes closed, so I’ve enjoyed the challenge of creating an entire world with its own characters and events and rules, and shaping it into a narrative.
In a 2010 article for the New York Post, you discuss how in your first book, Stuff Hipsters Hate, you enjoy presenting information in a visual format, and are a visual thinker. As a pantser, did you use a visual prompts during the writing process for THE LOST NIGHT?
I didn’t! Stuff Hipsters Hate was a very different beast—it was a book based on the humor/culture Tumblr my friend Brenna Ehrlich and I wrote together, and since it was faux-anthropological, I had a lot of fun plotting out charts and graphs to serve as jokes. But for THE LOST NIGHT, it was just me banging away on a Google doc. I write from my tiny studio apartment in New York City and don’t even have the wall space for a bulletin board or dry erase board or whatever else other authors use to stay organized. For me, the writing prompt was always: Today you’re going to write another “X” number of words—what will happen in them?
Although you have said that you aren’t a hipster, you have written two books about this particular counter culture. What about this group do you find so compelling?
Especially with the benefit of hindsight, I think the emergence of the subculture points to an interesting flex point in American culture. In the Great Recession, one in 16 employed Americans lost their jobs, the stock market fell by half, and it really did feel impossible to get or keep a job—so of course those of us graduating around then felt disillusioned. We’d been promised we could get a degree and then get a full-time job and then buy a home and save for retirement, and suddenly the rug was pulled out from under us.
And the reaction, at least from my POV as a 20-something in Brooklyn, was to party and create with wild abandon. There was no money or jobs to be had anyway, so people published their poetry on Tumblr and everyone became photographers, and writers stapled together zines, and there was this fascinating combination of nihilism and apathy as well as creativity and passion. That makes for fascinating interpersonal drama and rich, memorable characters.
On a more granular level, I was thinking about how one of the nerve centers for the “hipster” scene was a couple of beat-up loft buildings in Bushwick, where hoards of young, artsy people lived cheaply and collectively threw the wildest parties. I thought: What if, after one of those choose-your-own-adventure Friday nights in such a building, there was a dead body in one of the lofts? The idea for THE LOST NIGHT grew from there.
In your freelance journalist work, you have said you are beholden to the truth. Your main character, Lindsay, is a fact checker obsessed with finding the truth. While writing this book, what truths did you discover or were beholden to?
Lindsay is determined to figure out what really happened to Edie all those years ago, and to figure it out she has to delve back into all the twisted relations and agendas and dalliances going on back then—some she was aware of and some that are new revelations to her. As Lindsay looks back on her 23-year-old self and her friends from that era with the benefit of time, distance, and maturity, she starts to realize that everyone was just doing their best—including herself. I had a similar revelation when I was writing the book; it was cathartic to revisit the things from 2009 that felt epic and huge and shameful or hurtful, and to forgive my friends and myself for the things we did in the past. In that sense, I felt I discovered a new truth and perspective toward my own 20-something years.
Mental illness is a major theme in this novel. With that in mind, where does one cross the line from drive to obsession?
Where is the line? It’s a question the book poses but can’t quite answer. As a society, we value hard work and focus and ambition and single-minded pursuit of answers, but of course, not everything (or, in this case, everyone) is knowable. In THE LOST NIGHT, Lindsay’s forced to face down the demons of her own past, with the hope that she can save herself and make things right before it’s too late. If it were easy, or if she shrugged her shoulders after that first destabilizing dinner with Sarah and decided not to pursue it, well…there wouldn’t be much of a book.
Memory and technology play major roles in THE LOST NIGHT. Both are proven fallible over time. If we become dependent on technology to remember, what happens when we can’t access it or it fails?
I loved drawing these contrasts between 2009 and today because it was a hinge point in terms of technology: Most people didn’t have smartphones yet, Instagram didn’t exist, iPads didn’t exist, iCloud and other forms of cloud storage didn’t exist, Twitter existed but hashtags didn’t, and so on. Today, of course, we document absolutely everything and trust that it’ll be automatically saved for posterity and easily accessible. There’s scientific research demonstrating that if I take a picture of something, I’ll later remember it less well: I offload the job of remembering to my phone. As Lindsay is scuba diving around in her own past, trying to piece things together from the limited technology she can access, I wanted to imply exactly the question you raise: What if, 10 years from now, the bytes and pixels into which you funnel your life become inaccessible? Hopefully, that’ll motivate a people to put their phones down and actually be present.
In THE LOST NIGHT, Edie is adored by her circle of friends but no one seems to really know her. Ten years later, Lindsay is the center of her friends. Without giving anything away, do they really know her? How much does the average person choose to divulge of themselves?
Edie is different things to different people, and the same is true of all of us: I’ll act differently around a boss than around a childhood friend. What’s interesting to me is how convinced we all are that our versions of our friends is the “right” one. I wanted to push the reader to think about how we all only see a certain side of everyone in our lives—and we only present a small portion of ourselves to the world. By telling the story from Lindsay’s perspective, I forced the reader to spend a few weeks in her head, reading every thought—including the ones that don’t make her look so good. (Wouldn’t everyone seem narcissistic and manipulative if you read a transcript of their inner monologue?) After finishing the novel, one friend told me she loved the book but “hated Lindsay.” Then she thought about it and corrected herself: “Maybe I should say she made me uncomfortable and aware of how often I’m just waiting for my own turn to speak.” Lindsay holds things back and isn’t always forthcoming about her insecurities or shame or anger or true intention, but couldn’t we say the same thing about…everyone?
You have your second novel, The Herd, coming out in 2020. How was the process different from the first?
I’m super excited about my second novel, which also takes place in New York City and goes deep on female friendship and what happens when high-achieving women’s perfect veneers begin to crack. Writing it was a very different beast from writing THE LOST NIGHT; this time around, I had a publisher on board (I sold it from a treatment and two sample chapters), and I had a hard deadline, and neither was true when I was banging away on my debut manuscript. I also learned a lot about pacing and character development from writing and editing THE LOST NIGHT, so for The Herd, even though I was writing without an outline, the twists and fun plot points were cropping up at the right spots. I had so much fun writing it, and I can’t wait for it to come out next year.
Andrea Bartz is a Brooklyn-based journalist and coauthor of the blog-turned-book Stuff Hipsters Hate (Ulysses Press, 2010), which The New Yorker called “depressingly astute.” Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Elle, and many other outlets, and she’s held editorial positions at Glamour, Psychology Today, and Self, among other titles.