Jessica Knoll Talks ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’
Luckiest Girl Alive is one of the most buzzed about books of the year. Author Jessica Knoll answers our questions about her debut.
Luckiest Girl Alive is being compared to two of our all time favorites, Prep and Gone Girl. But what did you have in mind when writing?
I’ve actually never read Prep and I really need to! I have no doubt it is a wonderful book because so many writers I respect adore it. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s first novel, is my favorite of her books and was hugely influential in terms of helping me identify the kind of book I wanted to write, which was something dark and shocking.I first read it about seven years ago, after gobbling up a galley of Dark Places that came across my desk when I was an editor at Cosmo. I felt I had to read more from this Gillian Flynn and so I looked her up and ordered Sharp Objects. By the time Gone Girl came out, I was already a huge fan. She was the first writer I’d ever found to write these grisly but vaguely beautiful and poetic stories, and always with a sort of acerbic female protagonist at the helm. I loved that Gone Girl also integrated this incisive social commentary into the mystery of what happened to Amy. For me, a good book needs to have two things—a riveting plot, and it has to say something about the times we live in. Those were two notes I really wanted to hit in Luckiest Girl Alive, which has a big surprising twist but is ultimately a commentary on the pressures placed on women to “have it all,” to fit the mold, to be thinner, prettier, more accommodating, and to land a man by a certain age. It’s a lot to take and it can distort your thinking so that you no longer know what it is you really want out of life. In the end, it was also important to me that the book have a heart. You may not like Ani at first, but give her a chance, because you might start to see bits and pieces of yourself in her, mostly the parts we don’t like to reveal to anyone. At the very least, you’ll come to understand why she is the way she is.
You’re formerly from the magazine world (Cosmo and SELF). How did it compare to the publishing world? How different is the writing style?
It’s absolutely liberating. When you write for a magazine, you have to appropriate this house voice. People always laugh when I say this, but the Cosmo house voice is actually more difficult to master than you think! When I sat down to write my book, I was writing for me, and in the voice that came naturally to me. It wasn’t something I had to learn or force. The hot pink shackles were off!
What was the last book you gave as a gift?
I gave Just Kids by Patti Smith to my mother-in-law as a mother’s day gift one year. It’s such a beautiful book. The book I intend to give next is Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is one of the most powerful writers of our times. Her columns bring me to tears but also make me feel more hopeful about my own life.
What kind of book do you take along when traveling?
Something gripping and dark that makes me want to keep turning the pages. I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt in the car, on the way to a wedding in Newport, Rhode Island a few years ago. It was a nine-hour journey, round-trip, and it flew by (though not for my poor husband, who was driving and had no one to talk to because I had my nose buried in a book!).
What can readers expect next from you?
Luckiest Girl Alive has been acquired by Lionsgate, with Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea attached to produce. Reese and Bruna also produced Gone Girl and Wild, and I’m thrilled that Ani FaNelli will be in the same company as Amy Dunne and Cheryl Strayed. I’m also thrilled to report that I am writing the script. That’s a huge creative undertaking at the moment, but I still carve out time to work on my second novel every day. I feel I have a good momentum going and I want to capitalize on it while I have it!
What books are currently sitting on your nightstand?
Too many! I’m currently reading two books—Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk because I can’t believe I’ve never read it before and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is just as gorgeous and heartrending as everyone says it is. Next up I want to read Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I’m also reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs as research for the second book, along with snippets of Stephen King’s On Writing when I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I find it inspiring and motivational to hear about another writer’s process, and it usually helps me move past whatever creative block is in my way. When that fails, I go for a long walk or crack open a bottle of wine.
Pick up your copy of Luckiest Girl Alive here!
Jessica Knoll has been a senior editor at Cosmopolitan and the articles editor at SELF. She grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and graduated from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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