Boats, an Island, and Murder

Our exclusive interview with bestselling author Rachel Hawkins about her latest thriller, Reckless Girls.

Rachel Hawkins was born in Newport News, Virginia, but lives in Alabama. She is the author of the bestselling thriller, The Upstairs Wife, which is followed up by her latest adult thriller, Reckless Girls (St. Martin’s Press), now out in hardback. It follows six visitors as they boat to Meroe Island—a desolate spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With their arrival, secrets are revealed about their pasts, a shifty stranger appears, and alliances form and change. It’s a thriller you won’t want to put down.

Konstantin Rega: So how long did you live in Virginia?

Rachel Hawkins: I was born there, but we moved when I was pretty little to Alabama. When I told my mom that I was doing an Interview with Virginia Living, she said, “Make sure you tell them that your dad was in the Navy and that we vacationed in Williamsburg when you were 12.” For that trip, I remember I wasn’t really enjoying it, but then I got a book of ghost stories about the area, and I was totally into the trip afterwards.

So would you say that living in the South has influenced your writing?

Yes, it definitely influences my writing. I really enjoy writing books set here because we’ve seen so many stereotypical depictions of the South, and I’m always interested in reflecting something a little bit more authentic to where I live.

That’s certainly true for The Wife Upstairs. It being Southern Gothic and all. But Reckless Girls takes place on an island. 

I was definitely thinking about that. This book is a weird mis-mash of inspirations. I was actually inspired by a true crime book called, And The Sea Will Tell. About a couple on an island and a murder taking place. Though it’s fallen out of acknowledgement now. 

In Reckless Girls that you’d wanted to write this type of book since you were 12.

I’ve wanted to write a “boat-murder” book for a very long time. My dad was a sailor, and that’s why I was born in Virginia; he was stationed in the Navy, Newport News. So, I grew up around boats. Whenever I thought about writing something like that, I wanted the story to be set somewhere wild. A South Pacific vibe.

The title itself sort of hints at the ending—though certainly doesn’t spoil it. How did you come up with it?

I’m really bad at titling my books. I was calling it “Boat Murder” in all my emails to my editor. Another option I came up with was “Over My Head,” but I just didn’t like it. Reckless Girls came from my editor’s boss and it just fit. It’s about these girls and what they’re doing. I thought that nodded best to the themes, and I also thought it sounded exciting and sexy.

As a thriller writer is it a challenge to stay one step ahead of your reader?

My go-to advice is always: be kind to yourself. With thrillers I think the main thing to remember is that you can’t surprise every reader. They’re going to see some of the twists coming. Even if you can’t surprise every reader, try to make sure you satisfy them. 

You’ve written several young adult books before these two “adult” novels. What made you decide to branch out?

I’m a big believer in always listening to my gut and those were just the stories I wanted to tell and I was running out of stories to tell. I think for books for kids you need to be very authentic about the stories you tell and if I couldn’t do that anymore, then it was time for me to move on. It has been ten years and 11 books in kid’s lit, and it just felt like the right time for a change.

When considering the characters for this new novel, how did you map them out?

It was one of those things where the characters sort of came first. My main character was who I was interested in writing about from the jump. I knew there would be a boyfriend and other exciting characters to get them to the island. Adding in Jake and Elisa gave me a couple extra plot links. I never wanted so many characters as to be hard to keep the story straight. Three pairs, units. And then breaking them apart and shifting alliances. You need an outlier to mess things up. It’s a fairly organic process. Always what best serves the story.

There’s a gritty realism at play here. Lux, near the end, talks about all the lies being fed to her. And it’s ironic that working as a maid in a Hawaii hotel she sees these lies being told—but not to herself.

It’s not all glamor on these trips. It’s the people behind the scenes that see the worst of people in a lot of ways. But I think Lux doesn’t want to see them. I also joke that there isn’t a police presence in my thrillers; no one’s ever trying to solve them.

With this one published, what can readers look forward to next?

I do have another thriller coming out in 2023. It’s about two best friends who vacation at a lovely Italian house where a murder happened back in the 70s. There’s a mix of the present and what happened in the past. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. Reckless Girls has a lot of stuff about grief and class and gender. I wanted to talk about friendship between women. It’ll also discuss art, which I haven’t been able to get into my previous books.

And finally, with your books, what do you want people to get out of them?

I hope that people have a good time. For two hours readers can enjoy the problems these characters are going through, taking them away from their own problems in the real world. I joke that my greatest thing is that people buy my books at airports. You know? Go on vacation with my books.

Get a copy at The Bookshop

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review,, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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