Interviewing Maggie Mitchell

Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old when they’re abducted, driven across the country, and imprisoned in a remote, isolated hunting lodge for two months. That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they form a bond which will never be broken . . .

Decades later, both Lois and Carly-May have built new lives and identities for themselves. Lois, a professor of literature, is shaken when an obsessive student reminds her of the man who kidnapped her, a man she saw shoot himself on the porch twenty years before.

Out in LA, Carly-May is drinking too much and watching her beauty-queen looks fade, clinging to the last remnants of a once-promising career as an actress. When she reads a shockingly familiar screenplay, she warily she takes a role she knows is based on events from her own life.

Increasingly haunted by the devastating experience that shaped both their lives, Lois and Carly-May are drawn together again in a world that both echoes and falsifies their beautiful, terrible story.

I picked this book up because I loved the cover and the blurb and thankfully this wasn’t a case of a book’s cover leaving me wanting. I finished Pretty Is as quickly as I could and loved every single page. It’s a gripping tale of two women haunted by an event in their past which they can’t let go and also won’t let them go.

I also had the chance to interview Maggie Mitchell all about Pretty Is and the interview is below the cut. I asked questions about all aspects about Pretty Is and there are spoilers, so be warned.

Enjoy!

I love the title because it reminds me of the saying ‘pretty is as pretty does’ and how for some very strange reason beauty and ‘being good’ are mutually exclusive. What made you choose this title?

I was interested from the start in the relationship between being “pretty” and being “good”…which, as you note, is the crux of the old expression, familiar to most girls through the admonitions of our mothers and grandmothers. Lois and Carly May’s abduction—and its long aftermath—seemed to bring this relationship into focus…and into question.

Pretty Is is an incredibly haunting novel. What made you want to write about an abduction which, as one character says, left no visible scars?

I was more interested in other kinds of scars. Psychological ones, the ones that shape us and twist us and make us who we are….So much has been written about the more obvious kinds of trauma involved in such crimes, and for good reason. But I wanted to tell a different kind of story.

Could you talk about your inspiration behind the characters of Chloe and Lois?

I don’t want to sound all mystical, but the truth is that Lois and Carly May/Chloe came to me more or less fully formed. Obviously Lois, as an English professor, is more closely connected to my own life, and I borrowed certain elements of my life for her character—my spelling bee background, for instance. But she’s not me, any more than Chloe is. They developed out of the backgrounds I created for them. Their distinct voices were loud and clear to me from the very first page, and they became clearer and clearer as I wrote.

Zed as the kidnapper is extremely enigmatic and every time we meet him it’s through another character’s point of view. We get hints throughout Pretty Is of his motivations but it is never fully explained. Do you have a full backstory on the character? Personally I loved not knowing all that much about him!

I don’t know anything more than readers about Zed, really. I do think there are plenty of partial clues to his character, though I was unwilling to provide any easy answers. I don’t think there are necessarily easy answers when it comes to people’s darkest motivations, however we might long for that comfort.

Chloe and Lois’ relationship with each other is also extremely complicated and very deep. I also found it very realistic. Were the scenes where the two of them finally meet up again as adults difficult to write?

Yes, they were. I knew that those scenes would be the heart of the novel, in a way. I wanted to get at both the darkness in their relationship—the envy, the competitiveness—and the intense closeness that the cabin forged. Love, really.

What I found fascinating is that both Lois and Carly-May develop another persona as they grow up: Carly-May becomes Chloe and leaves, or tries to leave, Carly-May in the past, while Lois only uses a pen name when writing her fiction. Sometimes instead of two main protagonists, at times it was as if there were four – what made you chose to do this?

Don’t we all have multiple selves, on some level? I know I do! Some of us to a more pronounced degree than others, of course. It made sense to me that, given their pasts, Lois and Chloe’s identities would splinter a bit—sometimes quite deliberately, sometimes unconsciously.

There is one point in the book when Chloe tries to explain to another character why a little girl would ever get into a stranger’s car. I found that small paragraph, Chloe’s very short speech incredible. Were you ever tempted to have Carly-May and Lois’ kidnapping be more stereotypical (as in with a struggle and a fight)? 

Never. What interested me about this particular abduction was always Lois and Carly May’s willingness to be uprooted from their lives, to take their chances with a total stranger. Children are capable of great passion, fierce desires, reckless impulses. Twelve-year-old girls are especially intense and complicated creatures. We forget sometimes. I wanted to explore that darkness.

For both Chloe and Lois their past has made them who they are and neither of them can ever escape what happened to them. Was it ever possible for Lois or Chloe to escape their past?

No. Is it ever? The past isn’t a sentence, but it can’t be denied, either—not forever. You have to negotiate with it. Ultimately it demands an interpretive act—in life as in fiction.

Lois’ book seems to be an attempt to rewrite her past and take some control over it, especially with her omissions of some of the things which happened. What made you choose to have memory and perception of events play such an important role?

Memory is perception, and perception is all we have. There is no objective past. It’s all narrative. That idea was always the center of the book, for me—arriving at truth through narrative.

Are you currently working on something else and if you are, can you tell us a little about it?

I am working on a second novel—a historical novel, in a way; a fictionalization of the life a an early 20th-century artist’s model who spends most of her life in an insane asylum. Her story is actually intertwined with my family history, so it’s a strangely personal project, for me—and that’s all I can say!

Thank you so much Maggie! 

OK, how interesting does Maggie’s new book sound? I already can’t wait to read it.

Pretty Is is out in paperback right now and available from all good and evil retailers. There is also an audio version that I want to get my hands on – I love audio books and I bet Pretty Is is excellent in the audio format.  I received the book for free. My review is definitely my own and neither it nor my opinions haven’t been swayed by the free book swag.

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