Captivating: An Evening with Mary Kubica

Author Book Event – Atlanta, GA

I had the pleasure of hearing Mary Kubica speak at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, GA, as part of her Don’t You Cry book tour. I connected with her on Twitter, @MaryKubica, along with my friend and fellow author Chelsea Humphrey, @suspensethrill, so we were super excited to meet her in person.

I’ve heard many authors speak, reading excerpts from their book and sharing their story, but I have to say, Mary was one of the best! During her presentation, “captivating” was the word that kept coming to my mind.

Mary shared that she loved to write as a child, but never really considered a career as an author. Like most kids, she didn’t necessarily think about the person behind the book or the possibility of writing as a vocation. She became a high school history teacher until her first child was born. She then opted to stay home and raise her baby and began writing The Good Girl. As Mary described it, something about that book felt special, the characters spoke to her. As she spoke, I found myself nodding in agreement – I’ve often felt like I was watching a movie and taking dictation as I wrote Free of Malice.

It took her nearly five years and she wrote in secrecy – I can relate here as well. It was quite a leap to let my mother and fiancé read my book. Mary had no contacts in the publishing world (ditto!) so she looked up how to query agents and got a few bites. As she noted, it’s sometimes easier to share your work with strangers than friends.

Although there was some initial interest, she didn’t get any takers, so Mary shelved her book and went on with her life. Two years later, she received a letter from an agent who asked if her book was still available. This woman had read her book when it was first submitted and had since been promoted to a position to make a decision to move forward. This was in 2012 and Mary was offered a two-book deal, with the gentle nudge that it couldn’t take another five years for her next book, which was Pretty Baby.

When she embarked on her third novel, Mary described how the characters “fought her.” She felt like an outsider looking in and didn’t seem to find a natural flow. Given the success of her first two books, this one didn’t feel worthy of following in the same footsteps and was giving her a good deal of angst. Much to her relief, Mary’s editor didn’t want to move forward with the draft so she set it aside. With a blank canvas, she quickly started writing again and that became Don’t You Cry. With a deadline looming and limited time, Mary described how she would get up at 4:30 am to write and instead of editing along the way, she just kept moving forward to advance the story. From the rave reviews, it sounds like it was a smart plan. Hearing her story was such an inspiration—to learn that she had a two-year wait to be discovered and just experienced putting an entire book aside to quickly write a new one. Amazing!

There is a great deal of tenacity and heart in that petite body of hers and I’m so thrilled to have had the chance to learn more about her and her journey as an author! Thanks to the Margaret Mitchell House for making this event happen and to Mary for stopping by Atlanta on her book tour!


Writing a book is like getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

How many edits, editors and proof cycles does it take to write a book?

Tootie Pops - How Many Licks?!!“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? One, two, three, CRUNCH! Uhm, three!”


How many proofreads does it take an author get to the final version of her book? One, two, ten, fifty, ANOTHER TYPO! Fifty-one.’’

Frankly, I’ve lost count and just when I swore that I couldn’t read my book one more time – well, I did.

I think most authors will tell you the writing/editing process  goes something like this:

After I’d write a chapter, I’d reread it right away and then again the next day looking for tweaks. With as much dialogue as I have in the book, I had to be mindful of indicating who was talking (he said, I said, etc.) without overdoing it. I also would go back and switch up the sentence structure as a book in first person has a lot of “I’s”. (Fun fact – I originally wrote the book in 3rd person but after reading Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, I decided to switch to first – it’s just more raw and personal).  

Once I felt the book was “ready enough” I reviewed it with my first editor, Jan Risher. As you see in my acknowledgements, I call her my Goldilocks—not too much, not too little, but just right. Jan continually asked me, “Are we advancing the story?” which led to a lot of cuts, 30,000 words to be exact but it makes for a fast paced read. She also counseled me to show, not tell, which is an essential skill for a writer to master.

I quickly realized that the first writing of my book was totally for myself.

All the editing that followed was for the reader.

My second round of rereading the book came from an unexpected source, Patricia Coe—a close friend who was also my best critic. Patricia helped me add greater depth to the characters. She encouraged me to highlight the Laura characters’ trauma, suspicions and make her a little more neurotic. She also suggested that I make a  few of the other characters a little more sinister. One small but powerful idea was that we had Laura refer to her work with the Thomas character as her “case”, never her “story”—to show that, to her, it was becoming more real and less hypothetical. Interestingly, Patricia has a sales and marketing background. I told her that she missed her calling but actually her expertise makes total sense as she is used to selling, to telling a compelling story.

We’re done now, right? At this point, I was pulling together my PR team when Julie Schoerke from JKS Communications was recommended to me. Julie liked my book, but wanted one of her editors to take a stab at it before we proceeded. I almost declined. I couldn’t imagine that this poor book of mine could get any more beaten up, but boy was I wrong. Chelsea Apple from JKS gave Free of Malice its final polish—everything from eliminating repetition to having me add a few more tidbits of suspense.

Then there were a few more rounds of fixes based on feedback from advance readers. How we could still find typos at this point was vexing but things like “check” and “cheek” don’t get caught by spell check (no pun intended!). There were also some fun edits from my early book clubs. One of my favorites was when the gals from my neighborhood club assured me that no one wore a little black dress to Eddie’s Attic so we put the Laura character in jeans.

We were now almost ready to go to e-book—that’s the point of no return because changes after that step get complicated. Lynn Epstein on my PR team mentioned that she thought that the sliced up wedding album would show up again. That, along with the fact that the Ellijay chapter had always bothered me led to one more chapter rewrite. I pondered about it for a while over Christmas break before I finally figured out how to make the changes without disturbing the whole plot.

Tootsie Pop icon So, the final notes are now with my amazing graphics designer . . . and I swear, I’m really, truly done ever reading this book again. Well, unless you ask me to read part of it at a book signing—for that, I’ll make an exception. ☺

For those of you who want a bit of nostalgia . . . check out the 1970’s Tootsie Pop “How Many Licks” commercial.


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