A family Thanksgiving at the beach led to the setting for Tara Laskowski’s debut thriller, ONE NIGHT GONE.
“There was something about being in a beach town in the off-season that made me think it would be fun to set a book there,” she says.
Though Opal Beach, the oceanside town that is the setting for the novel, is her own creation. “I actually looked at the Jersey shoreline on Google Maps and I picked a spot that looked about right, then sort of made it my own. It has all my favorite things—a pier, a carnival, shopping, and a private beach where terrible things can happen! Haha.”
Another element Laskowski wanted to include in her novel was the idea that houses have energies that grow and change based on the people and events within their walls—plus, her love for cold cases.
Characters came last, but the first to appear was Allison Simpson, the recently divorced, unemployed meteorologist who agrees to housesit during the off-season at Opal Beach. Laskowski liked the idea of “writing about someone whose life was torn apart having to start anew, but instead getting herself into more trouble.”
More trouble comes as she gets involved with the 30-year-old disappearance of Maureen Haddaway, a teenager who arrives at Opal Beach full of dreams, determined to change her life and destiny.
ONE NIGHT GONE follows the lives of these two women by allowing each to tell her own story. Using alternating chapters and first-person narrative, Laskowski immerses us in the life of Opal Beach, summer and winter, now and then, as seen through the eyes of her main characters. It’s interesting to note she uses first-person, past tense for Allison and first-person, present tense for Maureen. This is not by accident.
“I purposely chose that, because Allison is more reflective, cautious, as though she is always analyzing what happens to her, whereas Maureen is sort of a carefree, live by the moment kind of person. So it seemed fitting to present them in this way.
“I realized I didn’t want to just have a missing girl in the book without telling her story. I wanted readers to connect with her and understand her beyond just ‘the missing girl.’
“In a lot of books about missing or dead women, you never really get to hear the dead woman’s story. You may get a little bit here and there or you have a character talk about her and how she was, but you often don’t really get to be in her head or understand what led to her troubles. So one thing I want to do was to make sure that our victim has a voice. That even though she was gone, she was still there.
“Everyone’s stories are important. That’s the core message in the book—everyone’s life matters—and I purposefully told the book from two points of view because I wanted to make sure my readers knew Maureen’s story. I wanted her motives and hopes and flaws to be understood, so that readers really feel something for her when they find out what happened to her.”
Laskowski started her novel knowing that “Allison was going to house-sit in a beach town and eventually start investigating a cold case disappearance. I also knew I wanted some vaguely supernatural elements in the book—creepy things! —but that was about it,” she says. “This ended up not being the brightest idea because I ended up writing a lot of scenes that needed to be trashed. I finally stopped when I had about 100 pages and said, ‘Okay Tara, you should probably plot this out.’ I then created a lengthy outline and figured out some major plot points to roughly road-map the rest of the book.”
ONE NIGHT GONE is Laskowski’s debut novel, but her short fiction has won numerous awards. She felt writing a novel was the next logical step even though she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to do it. She liked the challenge but admits when she thought of the novel as a giant book, she panicked. This is when she told herself: scene by scene.
Laskowski is influenced by Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and Tana French. “They do all the things I want to do in my fiction—tell a good story, have interesting characters, and write beautiful, beautiful prose.”
Laskowski isn’t planning to launch a series featuring Allison, but she “would not be sad if someone decided this would make a great idea for a TV series or something.” She’s working on a proposal for her second book (“I’m afraid to talk more about it lest I jinx it!”) and always has short stories and flash fiction in the works.
Tara Laskowski is the award-winning author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, which was named a Best Book of 2017 by The Guardian. Her debut novel ONE NIGHT GONE will be published in October 2019 by Graydon House Books. She is the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly, an Agatha Award winner, and a member of Sisters in Crime. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.