MysteryPeople Q&A with Danya Kukafka

Danya Kukafka’s Girl In Snow is an impressive debut, especially when you consider she was only 19 when she began the novel while at NYU and 24 when she finished it.The thriller, set in a small suburb of Broomsville, Colorado, begins with the discovery of the dead body of Lucinda Hayes, a popular high school freshman.

Suspicion immediately falls on Cameron, a boy known to be fascinated by her and to follow her around. Cameron also has erratic behavior and sometimes can’t remember important details. We all know Cameron can’t have done it because it’d just be too predictable…. But who did?

The book shifts from the perspective of Cameron to Jade, who went to school with Cameron and Lucinda and may know secrets about both folks, and Russ, a police officer who had a close relationship with his former partner, Cameron’s father. Cameron’s dad left the police, his family and the town during some suspicious circumstances, which may tie in to the town’s recent murder…

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?

Danya Kukafka: This book began with the idea for Cameron’s character. I had just read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and also The Virgin Suicides, and I took so much from these books about tone and perspective. I started to wonder—what happens if you have a young boy who truly does not know if he has killed someone? Can you find it in yourself to love him anyway?

SB: Why did you want to, to quote the back of your book, “investigate the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory”?

DK: This is such an interesting topic for me—love vs. obsession. Especially in adolescent lives, the line between the two can become blurry, even dangerous. At that age, we feel so much, and in some sense we’re unable to distinguish what is true and what is not when it comes to our feelings, romantic and otherwise. It’s so volatile!

SB: What do you say to those marveling at such a mature novel written by a 24-year-old? And that you began it while just 19?

DK: Oh, people have been very kind about this. Some assume that I got lucky on my first try—which isn’t quite true. I wrote a young adult novel before Girl in Snow that was rejected by dozens of literary agents. So I am always very grateful. 

SB: How did you go about researching this book?

DK: At first I didn’t research it, which was a terrible idea. My editor’s initial notes sort of said, “I don’t think this is how police systems work. Have you talked to any officers?” And I hadn’t! So I did the research far too late— I spoke with police officers from my hometown in Colorado about procedure and ways to get around it—then I had to go back in and rewrite all those details. I did do some research on childhood psychopathy, though, and mental disorders that people can mistake for psychopathy.

SB: What character do you most identify with and how? 

DK: I probably identify most honestly with Jade, and her specific brand of teenage angst. I went through a phase in middle school where I wore fishnet sleeves and begged my parents for a skateboard and listened to a lot of Green Day. It was really fun to pull some of Jade’s character traits from this time in my life.

SB: In this book are you trying to say something about perceptions?

DK: I am— what we see is not necessarily true, especially now that social media exists. I set the book specifically in 2005, when perceptions in a small community were still based on what you physically saw about other people, in your world, every day. And even then, there is so much we can never know about the inner lives of the people around us. 

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

DK: There are varying levels of good and of evil, and nothing is black and white. None of us are “normal.” And— even once we understand that we’ll never know how it feels to be someone else—  human connections still matter.

SB: To readers hearing about this book the topics may sound dark, deterring some. What would you say to readers wondering just how dark this may get?

DK: It gets pretty dark, yes, but not devastatingly so. It’s not gratuitous. I like to think I’ve been kind to all of my characters!

SB: What do you wish interviewers would ask you? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

DK: No one has asked yet about my immigrant characters, Ivan and Ines— I wanted to talk frankly about power, about race and social status, especially from what I observed growing up as part of a small majority-white community in the suburban Mid-west. It certainly was not easy to write about, but I tried to do so carefully because I wanted to recognize that privilege can make you blind to a certain type of domestic atrocity (as seen in the imbalanced relationship Russ and Ines have). I wanted to give Ivan and Ines power, and also to acknowledge how much harder it is for them to gain it. 

SB: What’s next for you?

DK: Another novel! Eventually.

Check out Scott Butki’s bloghttp://thinkingandtalkingandacting.blogspot.com/2015/11/an-index-of-my-interviews-with-authors.html  for more interviews with great mystery writers. 

You can find copies of Girl in Snow on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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