In This Debut Thriller, Surviving the Plane Crash Is Step One

Posted by Goodreads on January 1, 2019
In Jessica Barry's debut thriller, Freefall, Allison Carpenter is the sole survivor when her fiancé's private plane crashes into the mountain wilderness. But her fight to stay alive is far from over, as she must brave both the brutal landscape and elude the men who are out to make sure she never shares her secret. Meanwhile, across the country, Allison's mother is being informed of her death and starts her search for answers. But will she discover the truth in time to save her only child? Barry talked to Goodreads about the real plane crash that inspired her novel, the secrets we keep from our parents, and selling the film rights to your book when you have the flu.

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Goodreads: Summarize your book for readers.

Jessica Barry: Freefall opens with a single-engine plane going down in the Colorado Rockies. There are two people on board: a man, who dies; and a woman, who lives. The woman, whose name is Allison, gathers what she can from the wreckage and takes off through the mountains, though it’s unclear what she’s running toward—or away from.

Halfway across the country, Maggie hears a knock on the door. The local police chief has come to tell her that her daughter was in a plane crash and is presumed dead. Maggie is thrown into shock and grief—not just because her daughter has died, but because they hadn’t spoken to each other in two years and now they wouldn’t have the chance to reconcile. But the body hasn’t yet been recovered from the scene, and this is enough to spur Maggie into action.

The novel alternates between Allison’s struggle to survive and Maggie’s struggle to find the truth—journeys that could put both of their lives in danger.

Goodreads: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

JB: I started writing almost a decade ago, which feels very strange now that I’ve written it down! It all began with a blog I wrote about my dating life. The blog eventually evolved into my first novel, a rom-com called Love by the Book, which was published under my real name (Jessica Barry is a pseudonym). I wrote another couple of books in that genre but found myself itching to write something different and darker, so when the idea for Freefall came to me, I jumped at it. It took me two years to write and about a dozen drafts (ouch), but writing it was ultimately a great experience because it felt genuine. (Maybe that’s just because it was so hard!)

Writing is my second job—I also work in translation rights for an agency, where I get to sell amazing books to publishers around the world. I’m not going to lie: Sometimes it’s tough trying to balance both, but I’m a creature who needs structure and routine, so having a day job (and one that I love) works for me.

GR: What sparked the idea for Freefall?

JB: A few years ago, I read an article about a teenage girl who was involved in a small plane crash in Washington. Her grandparents were on board too (I think her grandfather was flying the plane), and they sadly died, but she walked away from the wreckage pretty much unscathed. She then proceeded to walk for two days and two nights through the wilderness until she finally hit a road and managed to flag down a car. I became, frankly, obsessed with the idea that someone could survive something like that and started researching similar stories (my Google search history was pretty grim for a while…), and over time that obsession developed into Freefall.

GR: Your book is told from alternating points of view (between Allison’s experience and her mother’s). Why did you decide to structure the book this way?

JB: I knew pretty early on that I wanted there to be two perspectives in the book: the survivor (who turned out to be Allison) and the detective (who turned out to be her mother). I thought it would be too one-note to have the whole story told from Allison’s point of view, and I liked the idea of someone digging into her life while she’s essentially off the grid. That got me thinking about who knows what about who, and I was pulled toward the mother/daughter angle because we often think we know everything about our parents (and they think they know everything about us, because when we were little, they did), but as we get older and lead lives that are independent from each other, that knowledge has to be unpicked and relearned.

That started me on the path of thinking about all the things adult children hide from their parents, and what it would be like if a parent was suddenly compelled to dig into their adult child’s life—how they would react to what they found, whether it would strengthen their bond or break it.

GR: Readers have praised your book for its suspense, twists, and tension. How did you approach plotting your thriller?

JB: That is so nice to hear because, oh man, I found the plotting so hard. My poor agent read about nine drafts of the book and kept sending me notes gently asking when I was going to plot it out properly. I had the characters and the premise early on—the plotting came later, slowly and in pieces. It was pretty torturous, but so satisfying when all of the pieces of the puzzle started to click into place.

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GR: Even before your novel reaches readers, the film rights have been sold. Tell us about that process and what’s in the works on a possible adaptation.

JB: It was pretty surreal. It all happened at the same time—the U.S. and U.K. publishing deals and the film option—and it happened just as I was recovering from the flu, so the whole thing has a sort of feverish tinge in my memory. I’m super lucky to have great agents in the U.K. and the U.S. who guided me through the process, so I didn’t completely lose my mind, and as soon as I spoke to Pam Abdy at Makeready, I knew that she was the perfect person to develop the book. They’ve attached a writer now, so I’m very excited to read the script when it’s ready!

GR: What are some of your favorite thrillers, and did you find yourself influenced by any particular books?

JB: I love Dennis Lehane—I'm from Massachusetts and went to school in Boston, so reading him always makes me homesick, and I just think he's a genius at character and dialogue. Gillian Flynn is, of course, amazing—Sharp Objects is one of my favorite books. She's so smart and so good at getting into the female psyche. I've been on a real Tana French jag recently, too. I love how she builds suspense and atmosphere. Plus I think I'm a little in love with Frank Mackey (from Faithful Place, with a cameo in The Secret Place), which I think says weird things about my own psyche.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

JB: I'm currently reading The Witch Elm by Tana French (I told you I'm on a jag) and would definitely recommend it. I listen to the Longform podcast a lot and have had some great recommendations through that—Elif Batuman's The Idiot, Joe Hagan's Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, and I just bought The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy by Paige Williams, which looks great. I've also been recommending the new Kate Atkinson to everyone—I think she's brilliant.

GR: What's next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

JB: I’m currently halfway (hooray!) through the new book, which is about two women driving through the night from Texas to New Mexico. You don’t know how they know each other, where they’re going and why, but things start to go awry for them pretty quickly….

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Marieange (new)

Marieange Sounds like a fascinating read!

message 2: by Mariuki (new)

Mariuki This read sounds great! Waiting for it!

message 3: by Bobbi (new)

Bobbi It IS a fascinating read!

message 4: by Doug (new)

Doug Plot??? Who needs it, when you have
"surviving a plane crash in the wilderness—and gets even more turbulent from there."

Sam'l Goldwyn is supposed to have told a screenwriter, 'Start with an earthquake, and build to a climax.'

message 5: by Emma (new)

Emma Ito Can't wait to read it!

message 6: by Kathi (new)

Kathi Defranc Wow, sounds awesome!! Totally looking forward to reading this one!!

message 7: by jastone27 (new)

jastone27 Can't wait to get my hands on it!!

message 8: by Diana (new)

Diana Howell When is it getting published?

message 9: by Emily (new)

Emily Pare Thank you for letting us know the plot writing was torturous and took 9 drafts! Real writing, is real work!

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