Interview with Remigiusz Mróz (buecher.de Krimi des Monats)

It’s unusual for a thriller to focus on a social issues as much as your book. Why did you choose that?

Actually I didn’t. The social topics in my books rather choose themselves, based on what is going on in the story. When I start my process, I’m literally staring at a blank page – I don’t know the entire history yet, I’m unfamiliar with the characters. It’s the things they do, that create the main theme of the book. In that case it was domestic violence. Why? Because Kasandra’s husband was a monster. And why was that? Well, that’s the question that every author asks. In this case the answer is pretty simple. It was rooted somewhere deep in my soul, since my mother left my biological father because of the abuse, when I was a little child.

Nevertheless “The Girl who was never found” works very well as a page-turner. How did you manage the balance between the drama of a personal, intimate tragedy and the rules of the crime genre?

I’m letting the story unfold as it wants to. I’m merely a recorder, so I don’t have much to say in that matter. Just like my biggest literary authority, Stephen King, I believe that stories are something, which you find – not create. They exist somewhere and it’s up to the author to convey them to the readers. Where are they? What are they? Nobody knows. Yet those are the questions that make the entire process of writing so intriguing.

Your book is partly a road novel. Did you go on that trip yourself? How did you do your research? 

God no, I do not travel often – I have an incurable case of workaholism. I believe that the two most important aspects of writing are empathy and creativity. If you can expand them by sitting at your desk, that’s ideal. It’s not always the case – sometimes the borders of our imagination need some external broadening, and that’s the time for travels.
Research for this book was the toughest of all. I wasn’t sure, if the women who were victims of domestic abuse would even want to talk with me about it. Eventually they did – and told me stories, that were absolutely crushing and overwhelming. My biggest fear was that I won’t be able to do them justice by conveying all the emotions onto paper. I was relieved by their reactions – and moved by the fact, that many other women decided to call the number of a help line, that was placed at the end of the book.

Does being a lawyer make it more easy for you to identify with victims or even with perpetrators?

Perhaps, however the key is again the empathy. Being a lawyer helps in realizing, that the perpetrators are also people – normal people, who we met every day. Our neighbors, our friends, sometimes our relatives. Monsters look like people because they are people. What’s more, good people do bad things – and the job of a writer is to understand why. In that regard it’s somewhat close to what lawyers do.

Your book refers to pop cultural phenomena like Star Wars and the German band Rammstein. Are these more sentimental references to your own teenage days or would you like to point out a certain martial influence on society by certain bands and tales?

It depends. I write as a feel, it’s a very intuitive process. Sometimes I feel a connection with certain character and decide to give him or her a piece of me – e.g. the liking for rock and metal music. Sometimes it’s the theme of the book, that forces a reference – all the pieces are interconnected and if some elements of pop culture can strengthen the message, I think the author should make use of it.

How did the readers react to your novel so far? It seems like especially in Poland art, movies, novels can have a deep impact on the public opinion.

They surely can! We’ve placed a phone number, that the victims of domestic abuse can call to get help. It’s anonymous, people from a certain foundation are there 24h a day to help whomever is in need. I wasn’t sure, how much can a book do in that matter, but it turned out to be a turning point for many women. I was absolutely moved, when the people at the foundation told me, how the book impacted the victims – and how many of them decided to call. That’s the real strength of literature, I believe.

Do you feel some kind of duty to try to change things for the better?

I think every author does, in one way or another. I’m became the ambassador for the campaign “I love. I respect”, which aims to fight with domestic abuse. We want to stress, that every woman has the right to be happy. It’s as simple as that – and yet it’s one of the toughest things to convey to the victims. In Poland there is a case of domestic violence every forty seconds! And yet only 20% of the perpetrators are convicted. That has to change.

What can we do to fight against domestic violence?

Change the narrative. If we hear about domestic violence, oftentimes our first though is: what has she done? How did she provoke him? And if so, why is she still with him? Why won’t she leave? This last question is crucial – it shows, that we do not understand the problem. She can’t leave. She is a victim, it’s not her choice to stay in the toxic relationship. She is scared, intimidated and bullied by the person she loves. Because she does love him. He didn’t prove himself to be a monster on the first day – on the contrary, he was charming and loving. To a point. Domestic violence is such a difficult case precisely because of love.

Your output as a still young writer is impressive. How do you manage that?  

I do not wait for an inspiration, I just sit down and write the story that is unfolding in my mind. When I decided not to pursue a career as a lawyer, I’ve entered into a contract with myself: ok, you can bet everything on writing, but you have to do it everyday for at least eight hours. I can manage that thanks to my midday running – I write till 2pm, then reset my mind on a run, and write again until midnight. It works well… at least in the that regard, that I wasn’t locked in an insane ward. Yet. (Laughter).