From Spec Fic to Crime Fiction

By Nina Laurin

GIRL LAST SEEN, my psychological suspense, came out June 20th from Grand Central Publishing. Getting there took five years and more rejections than I can count (for real—I had a special inbox that I affectionately dubbed the Inbox of Doom, and the email count is in the high three figures).

When I started to write with the purpose of being published, I wrote manuscripts that couldn’t be more different from GIRL LAST SEEN. Sure, some themes I’m fond of always turned up in my stories: difficult women, messed-up family dynamics, unhealthy relationships. Except back then, I wrote speculative fiction aimed at young adults. It was the big popular thing, and I’ve loved fantasy and sci-fi since I was a child. Yet for some reason, things just weren’t working out. It seemed like for every step in the right direction, I’d get knocked back five. There was a pattern to the rejection letters: agents and editors didn’t like my dark themes and reckless characters. I could rewrite a plot, fix a premise, but the themes and characters were things I was unwilling to change. They made my writing mine. Besides, I liked the darkness! I’ve always gravitated toward the gritty.

Eventually, things reached a boiling point and I was hopeless and frustrated. The books that used to offer me an escape from all the stress of life now became the source of stress. It was time to make changes.

I’ve always enjoyed crime shows, and once I discovered GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO back in 2010, suspense became my go-to genre whenever I hit a reading slump. But until then, it had never crossed my mind to try to write it. And I began to realize I’ve been writing speculative fiction for the wrong reasons. I didn’t trust myself to write something set in the real world where I didn’t make the rules. I didn’t think I had what it took as a writer to make it interesting and engaging or to do my characters justice.

The turning point came when domestic suspense became a trend. I was reading Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS when it hit me: you can write suspense about perfectly ordinary people who aren’t police officers or detectives or lawyers, and instead of limiting your possibilities, it opens up new ones. Everyone has watched something particularly gruesome on the news and wondered how would I handle being in that situation? (So have I, and my answer, most of the time, is “extremely poorly”.)

It was only a matter of time before the right idea came along. And it did—in summer of 2014, the main character of GIRL LAST SEEN began to take shape. She wasn’t a person you’d want to be friends with, she’d had a rough life, and her demons may not have been the literal kind that I was used to writing, but they threatened to consume her just the same. I knew I had to tell her story.

When I wrote the first draft, I was stumbling around like a newborn baby deer. Pacing and characterization work the same way across genres, but when it came to details, I was completely lost. Several times, I was close to giving up. Then, inexplicably, I took the manuscript out of the metaphorical drawer and rewrote more than half of it.

This time it was like a curtain had lifted. It turned out I just needed some distance from the manuscript to see what didn’t work. Working on this rewrite made me realize that psychological suspense may be the genre for me.

Querying took several months, until I sent one email based on an agent’s #MSWL request on Twitter. (It sounds like a premise of a crime novel: one email can turn your life upside down!) A few hours later, I had a request for the full manuscript, and two days later, I had an offer of representation from Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Rachel and I spoke on the phone, and I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice. Call it intuition, but I knew right then this was it. A couple of months later, I had a deal with Grand Central Publishing and with several additional countries.

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada. GIRL LAST SEEN is her first novel.

To learn more about GIRL LAST SEEN, click on the cover below: