What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Transforming all these abstract ideas into an exciting, accessible story. The spark of the idea came during a course about reproductive history, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it an engaging story instead of dry and confusing. Giving the story a mother-daughter relationship at its core helped focus Girl One emotionally. And having Margaret Morrow go missing in the second chapter gave the story suspense. But it took a lot of trial and error to arrive there.
How did you think of the title of the book?
I wrote this novel with a longer, nerdier title, but the moment my agent read an early draft, she said, “We’re calling this Girl One.” I was a little nervous because I know the word “girl” in titles has been a controversial topic, but the way “Girl” is used in the novel—as a diminishing nickname for these parthenogenetic children, a nickname that the Girls eventually come to challenge—makes it fitting, and almost irreverent.
What’s the easiest and most difficult parts of your job as a writer?
The easiest part is having so much control over the process. I work collaboratively with my agent, early readers, and editors—all of whom make my work so much better—but my average workday is me and the words. When the writing is going well, it’s immersive and magical. I’ve been a daydreamer my entire life. Writing sometimes feels like the best kind of daydreaming—daydreaming you can share with other people.
The most difficult part? Also the control! I’m a second-guesser, so having all that choice can be overwhelming. I’m constantly asking: is this the best way to tell this exact story? What if there’s some secret ingredient I’ve overlooked? Why isn’t this character cooperating? But each book I’ve written so far has felt right, by the end of the final draft, and that’s comforting.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
Because I have young kids, I don’t have a set routine. I was homeschooled in a large family as a child, and my brain’s been trained to find small moments in chaos and tune out the noise. I’m accustomed to unknotting a plot problem while I make lunch or writing the next scene in my head as I drive to school pickup. But I’ve tried to create more of a routine lately, as I get closer to a time when my kids are in school full-time. A lot of writers benefit from a small ritual that signals to their brains that it’s time to write. I recently bought a bracelet because it feels easy to slip on and off at short notice—versus lighting a candle or meditating. I’m excited to see if it helps.
Right now, I’m working on my third novel, which takes place in the Arkansas Ozarks. Diving into the weird, mystical history of this isolated place I once called home has been fascinating.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
To look at what works in other people’s writing, even if the writing doesn’t speak to you. It’s wonderful to take inspiration from the books you love—but sometimes work you don’t like can offer secret advice. If you read a book that you privately think is pretty awful, but everyone else is in love with it, ask: what is working? What in this book is so good, so addictive, that it makes people forgive (for example) plot holes or flat characters? It doesn’t always apply, of course, but sometimes I’m able to read books I don’t personally enjoy and come away with surprising clarity about my own work.