To celebrate the release of her new novel, The Girl Before Me, we asked the author Laura Wolfe to tell us all about what we should expect! Here's what she had to reveal about the book...
1. The premise for The Girl Before Me was inspired by a true crime documentary. I’m addicted to true crime stories, so when I discovered a documentary called The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel trending on Netflix a year or so ago, I had to check it out.
The tragic tale of a young Canadian tourist who went missing while staying at a hotel with a sordid past in Los Angeles enthralled me. I was shocked that someone had disappeared from a busy hotel without a single witness seeing anything suspicious, the only clue being several seconds of creepy footage caught by an elevator camera. I had so many guesses about what had happened to this tourist, and it turned out all of them were wrong. But the documentary inspired me to write my own story about a missing woman, someone who vanished from her Chicago apartment building in the middle of the night without a trace.
2. The Girl Before Me is set in downtown Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, an area where I lived for nearly ten years of my life. From my early twenties to early thirties, I lived in and around Lincoln Park, attending law school downtown and working as a young professional. I met my husband in Chicago and it was where our two kids were born.
It was a pleasure returning to my old stomping grounds and recalling the sights, sounds, smells, and vibrant energy of the northside neighborhood. I remembered so vividly how exciting it had felt to move into my first apartment, explore the city’s restaurants and nightlife, ride the L train, go running along the lakeshore, and take my kids to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I drew upon these real-life experiences when writing this book.
3. The apartment building depicted in The Girl Before Me is as important as any of the characters in the book. While Roslyn Place is an actual street in Lincoln Park, the exact address (420 Roslyn Place) is fictional, as is the building. I created the 1920s ten-story building at 420 Roslyn Place to further the mystery and unease surrounding the main character.
Much like the Cecil Hotel in the documentary mentioned above, this story had to be set in a building with a sense of history and a feeling of ‘if only these walls could talk.’ The creaky elevator, hissing pipes, thin walls, and shadowy storage cages in the basement all contribute the unsettling atmosphere.
4. There’s nowhere else to turn. Rachel flees to the city with her six-year-old daughter after escaping an abusive marriage. She has sold her car to afford the cost of her city apartment and she had a falling out with her mother, who she never wishes to see again. Having burned her bridges back to her old life, Rachel is isolated and has no choice but to make her new arrangement work, despite the warning signs.
5. Everyone in the building seems so nice. Maybe it’s only because I write psychological thrillers, but I think there’s something slightly creepy about people who are too eager to befriend a newcomer. Are they just being nice? Or could there be a more harrowing reason they’re so desperate to make a new friend? Rachel’s new neighbours have welcomed her and her daughter, Lily, to Roslyn Place and are excited to have a child living in their midst. Still, Rachel can’t help wondering if some of her fellow tenants are a little too nice. When Rachel becomes especially close to Alex, the handsome man in the apartment next door, she can’t shake the feeling that everything about her new love interest may not be as perfect as it seems.
6. I researched tourist attractions. Confession: I have not stepped onto the glass Skydeck at the top of Willis Tower. This was one tourist attraction I never experienced when I lived in Chicago or the times I’ve visited since.
When I wrote about Alex, Rachel, and Lily inching out onto the glass enclosure high above the city street, the scene was based on several hours of online research, not personal experience. And now that I’ve seen the 2019 video of the glass floor at Willis Tower cracking under visitors’ feet, my chances of experiencing the Skydeck firsthand have plummeted further!
7. Rachel hears so many strange noises at night. When writing about Rachel’s move-in day on Roslyn Place, I relived my own experiences of what it had felt like to move to the big city as a single young woman. It was the first time I’d lived without roommates, and I’d initially enjoyed the freedom of living by myself. But I also recalled how difficult it was to fall asleep those first nights when my ears weren’t used to the frequent sirens and boisterous late-night conversations from people outside. Even then, the constant noises made me think that it would be difficult to know if someone else was inside my apartment.
Now, years later, that unsettling idea was perfect for a psychological thriller. Are the creaking floorboards coming from upstairs? Next door? Or from her living room? Rachel is never quite sure as she hides under her covers, wondering how many keys the previous tenant gave out to her neighbours.
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