Robin Wasserman is the author of Girls on Fire, “the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset” and Kate Horsley is the author of The American Girl, “a psychological thriller about an American exchange student in France involved in a suspicious accident—and the dark secrets a small town is hiding.” Here Robin chats to Kate about the inspiration behind The American Girl.
Robin Wasserman (RW): I know you studied abroad in France when you were younger, and I’m curious whether you’ve been playing around with this book idea ever since. If not, what sparked the impulse to return to those experiences and that setting all these years later?
Kate Horsley (KH): In my teens, I stayed with a family in a little town just like St. Roch. The combination of fevered adolescence and vivid landscape made my visits pretty intense. When I was staying in the South of France more recently, the whole thing came flooding back to me. I looked back at my (very dramatic!) teen diaries of France and Quinn’s story started there.
RW: This is such an impeccably crafted thriller—every time I thought I knew where it was going, it swerved. How did you manage to design such a finely tuned mystery? Are you a big reader of this kind of story? Are there books or movies that you used as models or inspiration?
KH: Thank you so much! I’m a huge crime and suspense fiction fan. My mom and I run a fiction and film review site called crimeculture.com, which gives me a great excuse to read all the latest psychological suspense and crime novels and watch series like How To Get Away With Murder, True Detective, And Orange Is The New Black for. ..research purposes.
RW: In a strange coincidence, I was in France myself when I read your book, and was really impressed by how well you captured the texture of life there. Could you talk about the process of writing about a landscape and culture that isn’t your own? What kinds of research did you do, and how much were you able to draw on your own memories?
KH: That’s amazing! France is one of my favorite countries to visit. More generally, I love both travel and travel writing: when everything is new and different, my writer-brain lights up like the Fourth of July. My primary research for The American Girl involved visiting places similar to those featured, asking lots of questions and taking copious notes. I wrote some of the novel in the bar that La Gorda is based on and it’s just like the club is in the book, only more so.
RW: The book is told via alternating points of view, but while Molly’s half of the story is straightforward, Quinn’s life is revealed to us in a fascinating and nonlinear pastiche of video transcripts and blog entries. Was that the plan for Quinn’s chapters from the beginning? What appealed to you about that approach?
KH: Quinn’s amnesia makes her seem a victim at first, but as the novel continues, doubts about her story grow. Molly is the story’s detective figure, trying to piece together the mystery that is Quinn; to find out whether she’s telling the truth or creating a clever cover story. Fragmented accounts like blogs and video diaries seemed the right way to me convey Quinn’s confusion. ..or perhaps her duplicity…