Kim, what was your inspiration for writing IN HER SKIN?
In Her Skin is inspired by the life of a real-life con artist named Frédéric Bourdin who impersonated a missing boy. His was the most improbable con: Bourdin looked nothing like the boy, and told a far-fetched story of having been kidnapped and held for years. Yet the parents accepted him as their missing son until the FBI proved Bourdin was a fraud. I wondered why any parents would go along with such a ruse, and from that question, my story unfolded.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
There’s a scene where Jo discloses her trick for getting inside someone’s skin. It’s one of the only times she addresses the reader, instead of directly addressing the Lovecraft’s daughter Temple, in her narration. She says:
Every time I switched schools, to avoid getting teased for my backwater accent or my short pants, I’d pick a certain girl—the girl whose laugh could leave you bleeding, the one who moved other kids around like chess pieces, the one teachers let get away with murder. I couldn’t copy clothes, or the smell of clean scalp, or a hard little chin. But I’d get good at the cool rhythm of her speech, her shuffle walk, her nonchalance. Eventually, it wasn’t enough to be on the outside: I wanted in. So I decided things. I thought she might be a late sleeper. That she liked salty over sweet. She tanned easy, and had a stripe of white underneath the woven bracelet on her ankle. The lines around both of us dissolved until I was looking through her eyes, and those eyes were fierce slits. When one of Momma’s boyfriends would block my way, I’d push past him, sweeping my shoulder like he’d shed something bad. If Momma limped from a kidney punch, I spat into the boyfriend’s scrambled eggs and coolly watched him eat. Momma’s scams were just games, games that I played along with because I wanted to, and I could stop at any time.
Inside the girl’s ferocity, I hardened.
That scene tells you everything you need to know about Jo.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
Either way: You and Hidden Bodies by Carolyn Kepnes; We Have Always Lived in the House by Shirley Jackson; Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh; History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund; and, After the Woods, because the urgent, first-person narration are in a similar vein, and the same readers who loved After the Woods seem to like In Her Skin.
How long did you work on IN HER SKIN?
I found Jo’s voice almost immediately, so it took me less than a year, which it had to, given deadlines. The story is set in my backyard (Boston), and the characters are plucked from people I know intimately. I don’t imagine the ease with which this story flowed will ever happen to me again, to be honest. I guess that “flow” was a gift, because shortly after I turned in the final draft of In Her Skin, my father passed, and I had to step away for a while (I actually wrote about writing through grief in this same space last year: How I Kept Writing After My Muse Died). Writing anything that wasn’t fiction helped: articles, essays and opinion pieces, mostly.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
I’ve never experienced the wild times Jo has. Yet, at one point in the manuscript, I realized that Jo is the most autobiographical character I’ve written. While not poor, I was raised in a solidly lower middle class family, in a blue collar town, first in my family to attend college, and dependent on loans, scholarships, and tuition remission to make my way. Like Jo, I clung to the promise of an idealistic life I’d always imagined, with a large family of my own, a good education, and unlimited opportunity. And, like a lot of writers, I’ve had a knack for getting inside other people’s skin since I was very young. Jo’s idealism and skills are also mine.
What do you hope readers will take away from IN HER SKIN?
If readers are to take away one idea, it's that forgetting who you are can bring on a world of bad.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
In Her Skin is my third book. I also wrote After the Woods (2016) and Beautiful Broken Girls (2017). All three are with the same editor at FSG/Macmillan, Janine O’Malley, which has been a blessing. After the Woods took about 4 years from writing to publication, during which I swear I wrote nearly every day, or close to it. Once FSG acquired it, it went through a major revision to excise an unnecessary subplot. It was incredibly difficult, and a learning experience I would not have traded for anything.
I don’t have an unpublished book in the drawer, as they say, but man, do I have an abundance of manuscripts in my head. It’s a library in there.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I used to book the crappiest, most depressing hotel I could find and lock myself in a room for a weekend, writing from Friday to Sunday. I can’t really get away with that anymore, as my childrens’ schedules are over the top (shades of Temple Lovecraft here), and ducking out for three days requires serious machinations. Since my writing ritual is dictated by my deadlines, I work whenever I can. The second the kids leave for school, I turn on Freedom for Mac, and it’s go-time.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
There are so many distractions that can leech your gift. I found peace when, like Jo, I figured out who I am: a writer’s writer, focused on improving my craft, rather than getting glory.
What are you working on now?
I have four unfinished manuscripts in front of me. Two are psychological suspense, one is a retelling of Richard III, and the fourth is an adult thriller. Of course, I keep trying to work on all four at the same time. I’m going to have to pick a favorite soon. What would you like to see me write? Leave it in the comments!
ABOUT THE BOOKIn Her Skin
by Kim Savage
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A dark, suspenseful young adult novel about crime, identity, and two girls with everything to lose.
Fifteen-year-old con artist Jo Chastain takes on her biggest fraud yet―impersonating a missing girl. Life on the streets of Boston these past few years hasn't been easy, and she hopes to cash in on a little safety, some security. She finds her opportunity with the Lovecrafts, a wealthy family tied to the unsolved disappearance of Vivienne Weir, who vanished when she was nine.
When Jo takes on Vivi's identity and stages the girl's miraculous return, the Lovecrafts welcome her with open arms. They give her everything she could want: love, money, and proximity to their intoxicating and unpredictable daughter, Temple. But nothing is as it seems in the Lovecraft household―and some secrets refuse to stay buried. When hidden crimes come to the surface and lines of deception begin to blur, Jo must choose to either hold on to an illusion of safety or escape the danger around her before it's too late. In Her Skin is Kim Savage at her most suspenseful yet.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Have you had a chance to read IN HER SKIN yet? Do you have an abundance of manuscripts in your head? Are you focused on improving your craft? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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