Psychological Fiction has a new voice in thrillers. Meet Catherine Dang, author of Nice Girls, out now from William Morrow.
Author Interview + Book & Author Info
Nice Girls: Psychological Fiction Meets Thriller
“Darkly delicious . . . Nice Girls is about the girlhood we never really leave behind, and what happens when we dare to confront our past demons. A pulsating mystery with a narrator you won’t soon forget.” — Laura Dave, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Last Thing He Told Me
“If you’re a total true crime addict, Catherine Dang’s debut novel will have you hooked real fast.” — Cosmopolitan
A pulse-pounding and razor-sharp debut with the emotional punch of Luckiest Girl Alive and All the Missing Girls that explores the hungry, angry, dark side of girlhood and dares to ask: Which is more dangerous for a woman—showing the world what it wants to see, or who she really is?
What did you do?
Mary used to be such a nice girl. She was the resident whiz kid of Liberty Lake, Minnesota—the quiet, chubby teen with the scholarship to an Ivy League school. But three years later, “Ivy League Mary” is back—a thinner, cynical, restless failure who was kicked out of Cornell at the beginning of her senior year and won’t tell anyone why. Taking a job at the local grocery store, Mary tries to make sense of her life’s sharp downward spiral.
Then beautiful, magnetic Olivia Willand goes missing. A rising social media star, Olivia is admired by everyone in Liberty Lake—except Mary. Once Olivia’s best friend, Mary knows better than anyone that behind the Instagram persona hides a willful, manipulative girl with sharp edges. As the town obsesses over perfect, lovely Olivia, Mary wonders if her disappearance might be tied to another missing person: nineteen-year-old DeMaria Jackson, whose case has been widely dismissed as a runaway.
Who is the real Olivia Willand, and where did she go? What happened to DeMaria? As Mary pries at the cracks in the careful facades surrounding the two missing girls, old wounds will bleed fresh and force her to confront a horrible truth.
Maybe there are no nice girls, after all.
To purchase Nice Girls, click on any of the following links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Bookshop.org, IndieBound, Target & Walmart
Psychological fiction: A genre of literature that emphasizes the internal lives of characters. Typically investigates motivations and emotional experiences.
Interview with psychological fiction author Catherine Dang
Tell us about your road to publication with Nice Girls.
I finished undergrad in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in English. I’d spent my childhood writing short stories in my parents’ liquor store, but I never thought I could become an author. It seemed unrealistic. But after finishing college, I felt like the world was in front of me. I was 22, and I’d never taken a big risk before in my life. I figured that if I didn’t seriously pursue writing then, I would never do it. I would just keep pushing it off in the future, when life got busier with kids, a family, finances, a career, etc. And knowing myself, I was afraid I’d never try again.
So I gave myself one manuscript and one chance to pursue publication. The summer of 2017, I began working on a thriller novel set in a place similar to my Minnesotan hometown. It focused on toxic female friendships and the struggles of young womanhood. Meanwhile, I got a day job in law. I hated that job, but it only made me hungrier to finish the book. I did a round of edits and began querying agents in the spring of 2019. I think I sent out about 20 queries, one of which was referred to the woman who would become my agent. We edited the manuscript and went out on submission in fall of 2019. I ended up getting the offer for NICE GIRLS a couple days after my 25th birthday.
I feel very lucky with how the road has been so far!
Psychological Thriller: a genre of literature that combines psychological fiction with the thriller genre. Often with a focus on complex, twisted relationships.
What drew you to writing about the dynamics of teenage relationships and their impact on those same girls as they grow into adulthood?
My adolescent friendships were a mess. I was friends with my own tormentors. They picked at my looks, the way I acted, the things I did, my so-called “Asian-ness.” One of them even shoved me against a locker. Of course, I thought friendships were supposed to be that volatile. I learned to cut back at them in my own ways. It’s only in hindsight that I understand these things. I have healthy adult friendships now, but I think a part of me is always slightly wary of people because of those years.
It’s not uncommon for people to have lingering trust or self-esteem issues from their youth, whether it’s from bullying or toxic friendships. I guess as a writer, I’m interested to see how other people have been shaped by these experiences. Some adults shield themselves with sarcasm; others exude so much kindness towards other people because of what they went through. And some awful teenagers do, in fact, become respectful adults.
But I have found from anecdotal and personal experience that some childhood bullies stay bullies. No one ever stood up to them, so they continued as normal. Only in adulthood, these people have more power and means at their disposal. And if they’re smart, they learn how to wield that power in less overt ways.
I honestly don’t think people ever grow out of their childhood selves. There’s still a spark of that youth inside of us. We learn to manage certain aspects of ourselves better (like wallflowers learning to speak up or fiery types learning to be more patient, etc.). But in hard situations, it’s always base instinct. And I like seeing those bits of our childhood selves in adulthood. Even now, I see videos online of women throwing tantrums in grocery stores. So it poses the question: to what extent do we ever change?
What “type” were you in high school? The brain, the cheerleader, the queen bee . . . Do you play a similar role in your adult relationships?
I was a nerd who liked English, history, and drama. My grades were great, and I liked doing musical theater. I also had a lot of weird knowledge about celebrities, true crime, and strange, obscure topics. But in high school, I think I tried to downplay the weirdness and my “braininess.” I didn’t want to scare people away. In my adolescence, I wanted to be accepted like everyone else.
Luckily, adulthood is tiring! It’s a lot of work to keep up a certain act, and I have long since given up. If people like me, that’s lovely (they have good taste). If they don’t, well… not everyone can have good taste. I also think times have changed. True crime is mainstream—it’s not strange to like it anymore. There are communities for weird things. And everyone wants to appear smart now. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter is apparently a genius!
Nice Girls is set in Liberty Lake, Minnesota. Tell us about that community and how the environment plays a role in the novel:
I’m from Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes. I wanted to pay homage to the state’s abundance of water with the most generic yet all-American name possible (sadly Lakeville, Lake City, and Laketown Township already exist in the state): Liberty Lake.
I desperately wanted to get out of Minnesota as a teenager, but in a twist of irony, I felt drawn to writing about a place like my hometown. The real place is not a middle-class suburb made of white, nuclear families. It’s sprawling, a whole mess of different enclaves. We’ve got a diverse set of people here in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, etc. One intersection can take you from one working-class side of town to a comfortably middle-class area. And the wealthiest parts of the city, along with the nicer schools, are further away from both.
The youth mingle with each other in school and extracurricular activities, but I noticed that adults tend to stay in their homogenous social groups. We have a phenomenon called “Minnesota Nice” here, where people are polite yet chilly towards strangers. We can be very skilled at avoiding each other at all costs. There’s this undercurrent of distrust.
And I am a curious person. We can spend our whole lives in the same area, surrounding the same body of water like Liberty Lake, and yet never interact with each other. But what happens when there is perceived danger in this shared space? How would we react? Would this force us to connect or repel us further away from each other? The book was my way of exploring that.
Also, I like to believe that Liberty Lake, the body of water, has becomes its own minor character in the book.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?
I’m very boring. I love watching suspenseful, creepy films and TV (yet I can’t stand gore). I try to run and work out. I like napping, hanging out with loved ones, and futzing through the Internet. I try to read, which has become difficult since it makes me want to get back to work. But I am very much trying to learn how to relax outside of work stuff.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my second novel. I hope it’s wholesome.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
You either do it, or you don’t.
That’s some of my favorite advice ever! Thank you for hanging out with us, your debut is definitely on my TBR. Psychological fiction is one of my favorite genres!
Catherine Dang —Author of Psychological Fiction
Catherine Dang is a former legal assistant based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. Nice Girls is her first novel.
To learn more about Catherine, click on her name, photo, or follow her on Instagram by clicking the link here.
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite on-line retailers.
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For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Foreword INDIE and Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020