Brockman’s debut, Tell Me Everything (Ballantine, July), features Malin Ahlberg, a smart and popular college student with manipulative tendencies and a troubled past.
Who or what inspired Tell Me Everything?
I had always been interested in the popular cliques. Going to a small liberal arts college, I noticed that it was similar to high school. You would find your group within the first few weeks and stick with it for all four years. There were some groups who hosted more parties than others, who were more social. There was still that popularity contest. I conceived of a girl who was a part of one those cliques and was not who she said she was. I’m blonde, I’m five foot four, I’m pretty friendly, and people underestimate me because of those things. I wanted someone similar, who felt like she had to fight to be heard and had something to prove, while also trying to hide who she really is. So I came up with Malin.
You attended Bates, which—like the college in your book—is a “Baby Ivy” located in a Maine mill town. How much of your own undergraduate experience is reflected here?
Oh, a lot. These characters are not anyone that I went to school with, but the way they interact is very similar to my own friend group and other people that I met at Bates. The social situations are based on Bates.
What makes a small liberal arts college a good setting for a psychological thriller?
We refer to it as the Bates bubble. We didn’t leave campus much because it was so rural. People lived in dorms on campus. There were a few “off-campus” houses, but they were a block away. It was sort of like a weird social experiment—very small school, you’re together 24/7. It was definitely a pressure-cooker.
What fiction inspires you?
Gone Girl was the first book I read that was a female-perspective thriller. It really inspired me because I’ve always loved writing, but I never thought that I could do it because the genre that I wanted to write wasn’t really a thing. Now, of course, it’s huge. Girl on the Train, obviously, but the thing I liked about Gone Girl was that it was an unreliable narrator, but there wasn’t drugs or alcohol involved. I wanted to stick with that for Malin. It wasn’t like she was in an alcoholic fog—she is unreliable.
You’re also a photographer. Does one artistic endeavor inform the other?
I photographed weddings for six years. I spent a lot of time watching people. That helped with my writing, because I was a firsthand witness to very intimate moments. And weddings come with their fair share of drama.