How Kit Frick Sits Down & Writes
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier's classic Gothic novel 'Rebecca', Kit Frick takes readers on a suspenseful journey to an ending they won't see coming.
What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…
When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nannying gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl whose been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.
Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.
I Killed Zoe Spanos is perfect for fans of Sadie by Courtney Summer and the Serial podcast.
We caught up with Kit about writing advice pet peeves, finding story inspiration, and outlining the final act of a thriller.
Q: Where do you like to write the most?
At home! I write almost exclusively on the couch in my living room or in my home office.
Q: When do you like to write the most?
Weekends are writing time for me; I block out a big chunk of nearly every weekend for writing.
Q: When it comes to drafting, do you prefer writing on a computer or freehand?
Computer all the way. I draft and do big picture revisions in Scrivener, and I do more fiddly edits in Word.
Q: Are you more of a plotter or pantser?
With each book, I’ve become more and more of a plotter. In an ideal world, I like to spend two or three months developing a story concept, characters, and outlining. Then usually two to three months intensively drafting and many more months revising. In reality, other commitments, my day job, and life often intervene, and that window for intensive, daily drafting is rarely as concentrated as I’d like it to be. But somehow the books still happen!
Q: Stephen King has a great line in On Writing that says “the scariest moment is always right before you start. After that, things can only get better.” That scary pre-start moment often inspires procrastination in writers. Suddenly, you have to clean your entire house, do the laundry and play Candy Crush for an hour before you can actually start writing. Is there anything you need to do before you can actually sit down and work?
Hah! I don’t know if I have any specific “procrastination rituals” that I need to complete before I start, however I write best when I’m free from the commitments and distractions of my day job and from the “business” side of being a writer (i.e., promotion, publicity, and so forth). So I don’t do freelance work or respond to work emails over the weekend, which helps me clear my head and make the space I need for creativity.
Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what music? Is your choice of music inspired by the project you’re working on?
I don’t! I’m very boring in this regard. I need quiet to write, and I’ll use noise-canceling headphones or even earplugs to block out background noise.
Q: Some writers believe you have to write every single day. Is that true of your process? How often do you write/how long for each session?
Ugh, this is one of my “writing advice” pet peeves. The dictum that one must write every day to be a writer is fundamentally untrue, and in general I’d say any writing tip presented as an imperative (you MUST or HAVE TO do this) is probably unsound advice. As I’ve mentioned above, I write mostly on weekends, which is because like many writers, I have a day job. I work from home as an editor (both as a Senior Editor for Black Lawrence Press and as a freelance editor through my own business, Copper Lantern Studio) and so the majority of my 9-5 time is absorbed by my day job and by the non-writing components of being a professional author, especially around the time of a book release, like right now!
So during a typical week, I write on both Saturday and Sunday for anywhere from three to eight hours a session. That wholly depends on where I am in the drafting or revision process.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring author?
Read widely in your age category and genre. Get to know the playing field. Seek out trusted readers for your work and listen to their feedback. Know that you don’t have to take every piece of feedback. Revise. Revise more. Remember that publishing is not a meritocracy. There’s a lot of luck and timing involved in getting a book published, and while both of those factors are beyond your control, understanding that they play a key role can help put your experience and others’ in perspective. Also, don’t call yourself “aspiring.” Just do it.
Q: Where do you normally find story inspiration?
As a crime/thriller author, I often find inspiration in podcasts, which was certainly the case for I Killed Zoe Spanos. When the story idea was bouncing around in my head, I’d recently re-read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for the fourth (fifth?) time and couldn’t help wondering: What if Rebecca de Winter had gone missing today, in the age of Serial and The Vanished and Bear Brook and all the other excellent true crime podcasts that have sprung up over the last five years? In this book, there is a podcast-within-the-novel, so the inspiration was very direct and immediate, but my other novels and in-progress works tend to draw from the world of true crime reportage and audio storytelling in less on-the-nose ways as well.
Q: What about Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca inspired you to write your own version of that story?
I’ve loved Rebecca since my teen years—it’s so creepy and atmospheric and haunting. I’ve also never been entirely satisfied with the ending. Without giving anything away to readers who haven’t yet picked up Rebecca—and you should!—let’s just say there are some discoveries in the novel’s final act that I felt were in need of a feminist elevation in a (very loose) retelling of the classic. So I was drawn to Rebecca both for what I love about it and for the ways in which it let me down as an adult reader. That’s my ideal relationship to source material—there’s the drive to honor it but also to change it in ways that make the story wholly your own.
Q: In addition to Rebecca, you reference a few other books/shows/poems throughout Zoe Spanos, including Grey Gardens, The Hazel Wood and “The Lady of Shalott.” It’s certainly an eclectic mix of references—how did you come to include these references and fit them into your larger narrative?
Good eye! Grey Gardens (the documentary) was, along with Rebecca’s Manderley, a key source of inspiration for my development of the fallen-from-grace Windermere estate where the Talbot family lives in I Killed Zoe Spanos. (In case you’re not familiar, Grey Gardens is located in the town of East Hampton, and it’s undergone several renovations since the documentary was filmed in 1975. You can just barely glimpse it from the road!) The Hazel Wood gets both an in-text mention (the protagonist Anna is reading the novel at one point) and an epigraph to open one of the book’s four parts. The Alfred Lord Tennyson poem “The Lady of Shalott” (as well as the painting by John William Waterhouse) both play a role in Anna’s tangled memories and the construction of the book’s multi-layered mystery—you’ll have to read to find out how!
Q: I Killed Zoe Spanos is broken up into multiple sections. When you were writing your first draft, did you know the book would be structured that way or did that come later in revisions?
Hmm, I’m trying to remember! The sections fell into place during drafting, so it was early on in the process. I don’t remember if I knew as early as the development of the initial outline or if it was something that emerged during the course of the first draft, but it was definitely an early-stage structural decision.
Q: Did you know going into writing this book how it would end?
I had the basics down before I started writing (whodunnit, and how, and why) but I didn’t know how the scenes would unfold, how information would be revealed. Many writers despair of the “murky middle,” but it’s endings that give me the most trouble. Not because I don’t know where I’m writing toward, because I generally do, but because getting all the necessary information to the reader in a mystery novel in a way that is both organic and surprising is a real challenge. It took many drafts to get it just right.
Q: The mystery of Zoe’s disappearance isn’t the only one in this novel. Do you have any tips for keeping track of multiple subplots/mysteries and how to make sure they all come together in a satisfying way in the end?
One of the things I love best about this book is that there are so many elements to the mystery, so I can almost guarantee the novel’s final act will hold surprises for every reader, even if you’ve figured out an element or two along the way.
In terms of tips and tricks, I outline in a brief way—a sentence or two about what each chapter will accomplish—before I begin, which allows plenty of room for play and discovery during drafting while also forcing me to think about the arc and structure of various plot threads from the get-go. As I draft, I’ll make further notes on my outline to keep tabs on where I might drop a clue or cast doubt on a character or develop a red herring.
Q: There’s definitely some dark material in I Killed Zoe Spanos, but it seems like writing a mystery novel with so many twists and turns would also be fun to write. What did you enjoy most about crafting this twisty thriller?
The story is certainly dark in places—I Killed Zoe Spanos deals with a lot of the questions I struggle with myself as an avid consumer of true crime media: whose stories get told, and how, and to what end.
Despite the darkness, or perhaps in part because of it, I had so much fun writing Zoe. Some books are hard as hell to draft and revise and others seem to write themselves, which is of course a gross exaggeration, but Zoe was one of those books that came together without a knock-down, drag-out fight. I got to play around in the sandbox of some of my favorite obsessions—Rebecca and true crime podcasts and the mystery of memory and the strange world of the Hamptons, and all of that was undeniably fun. I hope readers will come away from the book thinking deeply about some of the larger and darker questions it poses while also reveling in the thrill of a twisty summer read.