Megan Miranda, best-selling author of All The Missing Girls, comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest tale of psychological suspense, The Perfect Stranger, on Thursday, April 20th, at 7 PM. Before her visit, we asked her a few questions about the book and her upcoming projects.
- Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
Molly Odintz: The Perfect Stranger, to wildly summarize, is a murder mystery about friendship and identity. What did you want to convey about the (sometimes loving, sometimes competitive) nature of female friendship?
Megan Miranda: Well, I think every female friendship has their own nuances, but in this case, I wanted to explore the type of friendship that stems from a pivotal moment in someone’s life—and then becomes idealized, in a way, in their mind. I also wanted to explore how friendships can sometimes act as a mirror, where we only see who we are reflected in someone else’s impression of us. And that the flipside can be true as well: sometimes we see what we want to see in another, believing they are who we want or need them to be.
MO: I really enjoyed the casual treatment of male characters by female characters in the novel – I would love to see more depictions of the intense, late-night bonding between women following disappointing one-night-stands. The women in this book, whether friends or relatives, seem to have far more concern for the women in their lives than the men. Even though there are male characters that play important roles in the plot, they are ancillary to the women’s stories that make up the bulk of the novel. Did you set out to focus on a world of women, more encumbered than aided by men? What did you want to say about gendered community?
MM: I did set out to focus this story around women, mostly because of Leah’s character. The people of importance in Leah’s life at that moment are, largely, a cast of women: Emmy, her sister, her mother, the colleague she most connects with. Meanwhile, men have been more transient throughout her life. Even her father has left and started a new life. So I think she’s biased to build her trust around women. These are the people in her life who can see below the surface of each other—or at least they think they do—because of their shared experiences. I think it’s these shared experiences (not necessarily reflecting gender) that ultimately create tight connections between the characters.
“…there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.”
MO: The Perfect Stranger goes to the heart of how well we can possibly know another. We can know someone’s scent, dreams, habits – all while knowing nothing of their life story. Is to know someone to know their physical presence, their minds, or their past?
MM: Yes, I think that’s exactly the question, and…I’m still thinking about it! When I started writing this book, this was something very heavily on my mind. I think of a theme sort of like a question to explore—not necessarily that there’s an answer, but that there’s something worth digging deeper into. Which is what Leah has to do in this story. I’d say there are different ways to know someone, just as there are different ways to tell a story in order to get at the truth. I think it’s definitely possible to know someone without knowing their past, but as Leah realizes, the less you know, the more you may be complicit in creating a version of someone you think you know.
MO: The Perfect Stranger is full of manipulative masterminds. Without giving anything away, what did you want to explore about gaslighting?
MM: There were a few different elements on my mind here. One was to wonder if someone could become so focused on their own goals that they were blinded to what they were doing, and who they were becoming. And then on the other side, I was interested in how difficult it could be not only to recognize that this was happening to you, but also to let yourself believe it. And then, even more so—to prove it.
MO: Like quite a few writers in the mystery section, you’ve plenty of experience with other genres – how did it feel to transition from writing YA to writing crime fiction?
MM: Honestly, the shift from YA to crime fiction felt like a natural progression, especially because my YA books were in a similar genre. My YA stories center on these big events that happen when the characters are 16 or 17 years old, and a lot of the writing process for those books involved me looking back at that time of my life in hindsight. When I wrote All the Missing Girls, the narrator was doing much the same: peering back at this big event that happened when she was 18, trying to see it with more clarity, in hindsight. It felt like taking a journey together.
“What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.”
MO: Both All The Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger have received praise for their fiendish plotting. What is your advice to mystery writers for how to really blow the minds of their readers?
MM: For me, plotting is something that develops as I get to know the characters. It’s actually the element I tend to approach last, because the story has to feel authentic for the people and place and backstory first. I usually start with character, a theme, a setting, and start writing. For the mystery itself, I think of the beginning sections as discovering the puzzle pieces. And then the goal is to create the overall puzzle. I do try to think of the major turning points. What are the moments that turn what we think we know on its head? It’s rarely one big twist, but lots of little shifts that reposition the pieces, so what you thought you were working toward at the start may not be the end picture at all.
MO: The characters in The Perfect Stranger have porous, unstable identities, sometimes bleeding into each other, feeding off each other, or transforming those surrounding. The title itself connotes a complete unknown – a perfect stranger – or the exact right kind of stranger, perfect for a purpose. What did you want to say about identity? Can we claim a solid foundation to our knowledge and opinions, or are we more defined by those who think they know us best?
MM: I love this question because this is something I was also thinking about a lot when I started, and also something I thought about in All the Missing Girls as well: How maybe we can be defined more by how others see us than by how we see ourselves. On that same note, I think we can also become different people for different friends, and our identity can shift from relationship to relationship.
I wonder sometimes how much of our identity arises from just ourselves, in a vacuum. Can we be the “perfect” stranger for someone else? Or, are we in fact “a perfect stranger,” always. A chameleon of sorts. Honestly, even after writing this book, I’m still not sure.
MO: What is your next project? Will you continue with the crime genre? (I certainly hope so!)
MM: Yes, I’m working on my next psychological suspense! I can’t say too much about it yet, as it’s still a work in progress. But it has two points of view on the events leading up to and surrounding a crime—with two different suspects. I’m really enjoying writing it!