When we launched the Official Future Female Leaders Book Club back in April, we knew we wanted to pick books that not only featured strong women but made strong female readers not want to put the book down for even a second. Our August pick, The Last Flight, absolutely fits that bill, and we were so excited to talk to author Julie Clark about the book!
The Last Flight begins with the wife of a soon-to-be Senate candidate Claire deciding to run. But when she gets to the airport, she decides to switch tickets with a woman looking for her own escape, Eva. But then the plane that Claire was supposed to be on goes down over the Atlantic, things get complicated quickly. The story unfolds in alternating chapters between Claire and Eva’s POV and both women are such fascinating, strong characters in unique ways! Plus, there are twists and turns everywhere you look! This book subverts the suspense genre in empowering ways and still provides a compelling novel you can’t put down.
Check out our interview with author Julie Clark below for some insight into the story.
What inspired you to write this novel, and what came first–the idea of the plane crash or the characters’ interesting narratives?
Definitely the characters. I had the idea for a woman on the run many years ago, and went through several “what-if” scenarios…what if she was a bookie and wanted to get out of the business? What if she uses 9/11 as a way to disappear? Eva came later, as I realized that the 9/11 scenario had already been written, and I wanted to figure out another way for someone to be presumed dead without a body. A plane crash seemed a likely scenario.
You said in the after-questions that writing Eva was easier because she was written in the past. Did you always plan to write it that way? Was the book always multi-POV or did that evolve?
Once I knew that Claire was going to switch tickets with Eva, I knew it needed to be a dual POV story so that we could get the tension from Eva’s real life against Claire’s assumptions about her. It was really interesting for me to explore all the ways we view people we don’t know, based solely on what they choose to tell us and what we observe. I wanted to make sure Eva came as a complete surprise to Claire!
I couldn’t stop thinking about MH370 while reading this book. How much did that influence your writing or your interest in plane crashes? Why do you think society is so fascinated by plane crashes?
Plane crashes actually scare me, and I don’t let myself read about them very often, which is why it’s so ironic that I wrote a book with a plane crash at the center of it. However, notice the plane crash happens completely off the page. I probably did that to protect myself from having to immerse myself in plane crash research. When I see readers shy away from The Last Flight because they don’t like reading about plane crashes, I try to reassure them that I made it as safe for them as I possibly could! I did, however, want to show the emotional aftermath of a crash, when someone known has perished. I find the human aspect of them fascinating, the ways in which we lift up the victims in our media and in our minds, and I worked hard to capture that emotion for Claire. What a complicated feeling that must be, to know that it could have so easily been her.
I loved how you talked about making both women reliable and sane compared to the tropes in suspense that lean into unreliable narrators and “crazy” women. What inspired that? Why do you think it’s so important to have interesting female characters who the audience doesn’t have to doubt?
I think, in today’s society, women’s credibility is constantly called into question. It’s exhausting and frustrating to be doubted and challenged and spoken over by men. I didn’t want to write a book where those stereotypes are perpetuated. As a teacher and a mother, I feel a responsibility to put something different on the page. It’s in the small corners that change can begin to manifest and grow. My heroes are the women of the #metoo movement, in particular Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, for speaking out and making sure truth is spoken to power. In fact, I dedicated the entire book to these women.
Claire is a victim of domestic violence. We recently published a piece by one of our readers about her own experience with being the “picture perfect” couple while actually experiencing abuse at home. What kind of research goes into telling these kinds of stories, and what do you want readers to take away from them?
I listened to a lot of podcast interviews and series involving abused women. Not just physical abuse but emotional abuse too. It’s sad to say, but most women have either suffered from some form of abuse themselves, or they know someone who has. It’s only by speaking out and telling our stories that we can begin to re-frame the narrative. We still have a long way to go. I would love, someday, for readers to find it completely unbelievable that Claire would resort to disappearing as a way to escape an abusive and powerful husband. I would love for them to say, “How ridiculous! We have so many social services in place to support women in crisis! Counselors, generous federal and state funding, and a criminal justice system that’s consistently on their side!” and then be able to hold up several examples of women who have successfully done so – without their reputations being smeared or their credibility questioned. What a dream that would be!
I loved the use of news shows to help Claire tell her story and find safety. Were there any other options you considered? Did you always know Claire would get away from Rory successfully?
I always knew Claire would get away from Rory, but I explored several ways for her to do so. I wanted her resolution to be something she could own herself. And I didn’t want anyone coming in to “save” her…she really needed to save herself by telling her story and not being afraid of where that would take her. Like so many things in life, the solutions can usually be found inside ourselves, if only we’re brave enough to see them, and then strong enough to act on them.
What are your favorite kinds of books to read? What are you reading right now?
I love all kinds of fiction. Of course, I read heavily in the thriller and suspense genres. But I also love literary fiction, historical fiction, and the occasional rom-com. Recent books I’ve loved are Long Bright River by Liz Moore, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, anything by Kate Morton – historical and suspense? Yes please!
What’s next from you? Are you already working on another novel?
Yes! It’s still pretty early but I’m working on a book about family secrets, and what happens when a woman spends her life protecting a dark family secret about her famous father, only to learn the secret she was protecting was so much worse – and dangerous – than she ever imagined.