Interview by Cara Meiselman
We recently sat down with Lauren Wilkinson, the author of this month’s GNI Reads book club pick, American Spy, to learn more about how she she was able to weave together equal parts spy thriller, romance, and historical fiction in her debut novel.
Writing and Career
There’s been so much well-deserved praise for American Spy since the book came out. What’s been your favorite response to the book so far?
I try not to read too much about myself or the book because it makes me anxious. But a reader recently tweeted that my book “both needs no sequel and screams for one.” I thought that was a nice thing to say and a cool way to put it.
In a previous interview you mentioned as you explored the world of Marie Mitchell that a lot didn’t make it into the book. Now looking back, were there any stories or moments you would have wanted to add?
Good question! No, not really. They were mostly stories that helped me understand who Marie is, and what motivates her, but they wouldn’t haven’t been valuable additions to the plot.
On the surface, American Spy is a spy novel but anyone who’s read the book knows it’s so much more. The book is historical fiction, romance, thriller, etc. What did you initially set out to write and how would you classify the final product?
I set out to write literary fiction and that’s what the final product is (in my opinion). But maybe I’m cheating a little bit to say that, because that’s by far the most general category.
I read that you spent time in West Africa while researching this book. Did your time there change any of the preconceptions or plot lines you had prepared for the book?
Yes, definitely. I started writing the novel before I visited Burkina Faso, but I always knew that I’d go and assumed that my experiences there would change the plot. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I wasn’t that committed to my preconceptions or plot lines. I was anticipating that they’d be changed by my experiences. And they were!
I also read an article where you shared some of the artistic works that inspired you and I was pleasantly surprised to see Beyoncé made the list! Could you speak more to how she inspired this novel?
This is sort of hard to describe succinctly: I listened to Beyoncé (the visual album) a lot and started to hear a very strong narrative in it about a black woman who’s been raised to embrace certain values before going on a journey of discovery to learn what it is that she actually believes. Marie’s story has the same narrative. Plus, every song on that album is incredible.
You’ve mentioned the concept of double consciousness when describing Marie’s identity as a black woman in America. Were you hoping to tackle this topicexplicitly or did the theme emerge naturally?
It emerged naturally. I think about the concept a lot and the ways in which it relates to my own identity, so it takes up a lot of real estate in my mind. Because of that, it just appeared in my book.
American Spy was your first published novel. What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working as a staff writer on a new TV show, which is a lot of fun! All my coworkers are amazing. After this job is over, I hope to keep working in film & TV. I also have an idea for a new novel and I’d like to start a family soon, too.
What advice do you have for aspiring female authors and writers?
Write the story that you’ve always wanted to read but never have. And it’s okay to say “no” to doing things that you really don’t want to do.
At Girls’ Night In, we’re all about self-care. What does self-care mean to you?
Self-care is the choice to take a break from the things that deplete you in order to do things that recharge your batteries. For me, that means spending time alone (I’m an introvert) and setting boundaries in my professional life.
How do you make time for self-care while writing or working?
Self-care is no longer something I have to make time for. It’s become a necessity. The quality of my writing goes way down if I don’t give myself a little bit of time to rest and recharge.
What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?
The first thing I do in the morning is make a list of the things I’d like to accomplish that day. The last thing I do at night is brush my teeth.
What woman or women are currently inspiring you right now? This list hasn’t changed much in the last few years: Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, and the women in my family — my aunt Nicole, my cousin Jessica, my sister, and my mom.
Beijing Payback by Daniel Nieh.
Favorite way to spend a Saturday night at home?
I’ll take a hot shower then watch old sitcoms.
Ebook, physical book, or audiobook?
I like them all and read in all three ways! But if I have to choose…physical book.
Favorite literary character?
The last amazing book you read?
A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi. Thank you for these questions. They were thought-provoking and interesting!
Lede image by Nicqui Carter