Sundays With Writers is my favorite feature on MomAdvice and I am so excited to share with you today an exclusive interview with Jessica Knoll, the author of Luckiest Girl Alive! This dark and twisty thriller recently hit bookshelves and today Jessica is sharing a little bit behind her story in this interview. Of course, I am particularly excited since this book got picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s production team so I get to give you the scoop before we see this one on the big screen!
How can this book not be on your top list? The title has GIRL in it (like this, and this, and this…), Gillian Flynn’s name is dropped on the front cover for the endorsement, the narrator is unlikable, AND Reese Witherspoon will be producing the movie version of this book (only just recently announced). I’d say this has a winning combination for this to be the book that everyone will be talking about this summer.
Much like other thriller books, I don’t want to give away the plot too much so that you have the satisfaction of discovering the twists yourself. Ani is a girl who never has the ability to fit in at her prestigious private school, no matter how many brand name clothes her mother buys her. When Ani intrigues the popular kids, they decide to invite her in and Ani discovers, maybe it was better to have never been a part of the group at all. In a horrible turn of events, she finds solace in another kid at school that will, ultimately, change the destiny of the school and the kids in it forever.
The book flashes back to Ani’s painful teen years and then alternates chapters as they film a documentary about what happened at their school and how much happier Ani is now that she is working at a high-profile magazine, beautiful, thin, and has the guy of her dreams. Of course, things are never as good as they seem and getting to the root of why Ani is so unlikable helps the reader to connect more as the story progresses despite the excruciating shallowness and weight obsession of this woman.
With just the right amount of sass to balance the darkness of this book (think Gillian Flynn for how dark we get), this read is a quick page-turner that I can’t wait to see adapted into film.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars in our must-read books list for April- did you catch it?
Grab your coffee and settle in for an interview with this fantastic author!
Let’s start with the most exciting news, Luckiest Girl Alive had the movie rights acquired by Lionsgate and Reese Witherspoon is set to produce the film version of your book. Do YOU feel like the luckiest girl alive and how/when did you find this out?
I cracked this joke to Bruna, Reese’s producing partner, and she quickly corrected me by telling me that I’m not lucky—good things come to those who work hard to develop their craft and talent. I really appreciated that! There is certainly a degree of luck involved, but I was also very, very calculated in terms of setting myself up for success. I fought tooth and nail to land a job in the magazine world right after I graduated college, knowing that once you get your foot in that door, it’s a great place to develop your voice and improve your writing and storytelling abilities. Most important, you make a lot of great connections working in magazines, and publishing people like magazine people because you have a whole network of friends who are willing to support the book. I met my agent years before I ever wrote Luckiest Girl Alive, and I met other people in the industry who had lines into Hollywood. One of those lines happened to be to Reese and Bruna. Their involvement has undoubtedly granted the book a certain amount of visibility that any author, let alone a first time author, could only dream of, and I’m so grateful to them for their unwavering support. The luck part comes into play as I got to know them both, and realized how incredibly collaborative and inclusive they are. I really lucked out in terms of being paired up with two smart, powerful women who are also willing to help a first time writer develop and grow. I have so much to learn from them, and lucky for me, they want to teach me.
The unlikable narrator seems to be a growing trend in fiction. I won’t drop the Gone Girl comparison, but why do you think authors are gravitating towards a different dynamic with the narrators of their story? Do you think Ani is unlikable or just misunderstood thanks to her past?
In my eyes, Ani isn’t unlikable at all. She’s flawed, yes, but isn’t everyone? That’s what makes her real and honest. And real and honest are two very likable qualities. That being said, I think we are living in a very exciting time for strong, female driven narratives. I will make the Gone Girl reference here, mostly because it was such an absolute phenomenon that it goes to show you that audiences are interested in the anti-heroine’s story too. There’s a demand for Tony Soprano and Amy Dunne, Don Draper and Ani FaNelli. Let’s give the people what they want!
At the heart of it all, Ani just wanted to be liked, even when she is mistreated in a truly devastating way by the popular kids at school. Do you think this happens more than we know (perhaps, not to this gravity) and did you face any struggles with fitting in when you were in school? Were there any real events that were the inspiration for your story?
Speaking from personal experience, I think it’s incredibly common. Kids can be cruel, and up until recently, sexual assault and slut shaming culture was not something we discussed openly. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t truly understand what rape looked like, and I know a lot of my friends—guys and girls—didn’t either. How can we expect kids to make the right decisions, and treat each other with dignity and respect, when we don’t give them examples of what that does—and doesn’t—look like? What happens to Ani in the book isn’t new. It’s a story old as time. But this sudden willingness to talk about bullying, slut shaming, and sexual assault is new, and that’s a good thing.
Since you have worked as an editor for magazines, did this background prepare you for writing your first novel and how hard was it to transition from writing/editing article pieces to a book? How long was the process of idea into book for you?
It absolutely did. I could not have written this book in my early and mid twenties. That was an important, developmental time for me in terms of discovering my voice, and learning how to find a story’s unique angle. Once I had that skillset to draw on, I spent a good year or two really thinking hard about what I wanted my book to be about, and high on that list was for it to make some sort of commentary about the world and times we are living in. Magazines taught me to have that strong perspective. Once I actually sat down to write Luckiest Girl Alive, it was extremely liberating to be able to write in my own voice. When you write for a magazine, you have to appropriate a ‘house’ voice. But Ani was all me. It was so freeing to tell her story that I churned it out in nine months.
If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’ve been tweeting about this book a ton, and I am probably starting to scare the author a little. But it’s a stunning book—gorgeous prose, and an epic and powerful tale about friendship.
You can connect with Jessica Knoll on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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