This week, I am so excited to welcome Danya Kukafka, whose debut novel GIRL IN SNOW (Simon & Schuster, 2017) was not only a national bestseller, but a book I was blessed to read when it was still in the editing stage! Danya and I once worked together at a time when I knew nothing about what it was like to actually publish a book. As I watched Danya work with her agent to sell her manuscript and then later do revisions with her editor, it was fascinating to learn about her journey. Now, Danya is an invaluable support for me as I go through my own publication journey, and I am thrilled to be able to feature her on the blog!
Before we go on, I want to take a moment to reiterate how valuable it is to have a writing community. So much of what happens in the publishing process is a big mystery until you are actually experiencing it firsthand. If you make friends with others who have already gone through the process, not only will you know what to anticipate, you’ll feel so much less alone. And that’s the driving force behind The Debutante Ball — we want to be your writing community!
With that said, I am exceedingly grateful that Danya is a part of my writing community, and today, I finally get to rave about her mesmerizing book GIRL IN SNOW. Called “a sensational debut” by Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels, this beautifully written thriller has received countless praise. The Wall Street Journal says GIRL IN SNOW “linger[s] in memory after this affecting work is done” and Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, called it “perfectly paced” and “incredibly accomplished.”
Reading GIRL IN SNOW is an absolute treat–one we want to share with you! We’ll be sending a free copy of the book to one lucky winner. More details about how you can enter the giveaway at the end of the post!
SJ: Welcome to the Debutante Ball! Our blog is run by five debut authors and as you know, we love to talk about the twists and turns of publishing a debut novel. Can you briefly tell us about your journey publishing GIRL IN SNOW?
DK: Thank you so much for having me! I love that this space exists.
Girl in Snow took me about five years to write. I started writing it when I was still in college, and finished/published it while I was working as an assistant editor at a publishing house. I’m now a year and a half out from the debut experience (which also feels insane to me), and it’s been really enlightening to look back on the experience after the fact. My publishing journey was thrilling, and scary, and life-changing in a lot of ways, and I also put myself under a lot of unnecessary pressure. Now that I have survived it, and lived to see the other side—which, surprise, just consists of more writing!—I feel mostly gratitude.
SJ: GIRL IN SNOW, a mystery about the murder of a high school student, is one of those delightful books that keeps you guessing all the way to the end. You shared a manuscript with me before it was published and I was in awe of how tightly woven the plot was and how masterfully the suspense was built. I’m curious about your writing process. How much of the book had you plotted before you started to write? Did you know how the book would end early on or was that something you figured out along the way?
DK: I was so thankful to have your eyes on the early manuscript—and a little embarrassed that you saw the mess it used to be! But fiction is always changing, I think. That’s kind of the point. You play with it and play with it until it feels acceptable to you. Much of writing, for me, is a matter of discovery. I had an idea of what the end should look like, before I started writing, but not the specifics— when I tried to plot out Girl in Snow, there were multiple emotional perspectives missing, and I wasn’t able to pinpoint them until I had a working draft. I tend to know my premise, and a general idea of where I want the book to land, then it’s a rather torturous process of surprises and explorations to push through a second or third or fourth draft. Until I know the intricacies of the plot, I always try to maintain the tension on the sentence level, which I think is where voice comes in. I keep saying I’m going to outline, next time around…
SJ: Your book alternates seamlessly between perspectives, heightening the sense of mystery throughout the novel. What kind of research did you do in order to bring each character to life?
DK: Girl in Snow has three main characters: a loner teenage boy, Cameron, a loner teenage girl, Jade, and a thirty-something cop, Russ. The high schoolers were relatively easy for me to write. We’ve all known the feeling of being young, and awkward in our own skin. I did a lot of research when it came to writing Russ, though—turns out you can’t just wing it when it comes to portraying law enforcement. I had to research the details of what his job looks like on the day-to-day, and also the intricacies of his marriage, which required a lot of sensitivity, and thought about the details.
SJ: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors (or a younger, unpublished version of yourself)?
DK: It’s so unhelpful, and I’m sorry: just keep writing. It’s the worst. You can talk about writing, and think about it all you want, but nothing can compare to the time you spend on the page. If you spend enough time on the page—I mean, many thousands of hours—you will eventually have a book, and then another, and then another. Also, it doesn’t really matter if the work is good. You won’t be able to tell, anyway. You just have to keep going.
SJ: Let’s end with a fun question. If you could have any talent (aside from writing, of course) what would it be?
DK: Oh, singing! A beautiful singing voice is something you can appreciate within two seconds of hearing it. I feel like I’d be really spazzy on stage and none of my jokes between songs would be funny, but I have this fantasy where I belt out the most angelic shit you’ve ever heard and all is forgiven.
And now, ENTER THE GIVEAWAY for a chance to win Girl in Snow! Here’s how to enter: Follow us on FB/Twitter and either tweet or share, making sure to tag us. Leave a comment on this blog post for an extra entry. The winner will be mailed a copy!
Danya Kukafka is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Girl in Snow is her first novel.