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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed M.M. Chouinard about her writing career, what inspires her, and the work that went into her latest hit thriller, The Vacation.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

M.M. Chouinard, author of The Vacation, interview on The Table Read
M.M. Chouinard, author of The Vacation

I’ve been in love with crime fiction and fascinated by true crime from a very young age. I think my interest in the criminal mind is a part of my larger interest in human psychology. Such a big interest I ultimately got a Ph.D in psychology and was an assistant professor at U.C. Merced.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

As far back as I can remember. I even began plotting a mystery when I was in my early twenties. But, it seemed far more likely that I’d be able to pay the bills by studying psychology, and I figured I’d just write in my spare time.

When did you take a step to start writing?

In 2010 I started saving money seriously so I could afford quit my job and write full time. In 2013, I did, and I haven’t looked back.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I started writing the book that would become The Dancing Girls in 2013, and it was published in May of 2019.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

I signed the contract for The Other Mothers and The Vacation, both at that point just a short synopses, around April 2020. The Other Mothers published in January 2021, and The Vacation published in May 2021.  

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Vacation?

Child abductions have always been very salient to me; growing up there were two girls who went missing fairly close to me, and that made an impact. Also, the added terror of having something like that happen overseas really hit home for me when I learned about the Madeleine McCann case. I wanted this book to capture those fears. 

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Vacation?

I wrote The Vacation during the pandemic, which meant I didn’t get to go do any in-person research on Jamaica! I had to do all my research from my office. As it turned out, spending my days watching videos about Jamaica and putting myself in those settings really helped keep my spirits up when I couldn’t go anywhere.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I can’t say too much without ruining it, so I’ll try to be careful…I really wanted to explore themes around women’s mental health issues, and how trauma can have a long-lasting impact on who we are and the choices we make.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

I have to keep mum on this one or it will give away who the bad guy is!

What is the inciting incident of The Vacation?

The book opens with my inciting incident, when little three-year-old Lily goes missing from her vacation villa in Jamaica. The book then follows two time lines, one that goes back in time to explore the dynamics of the three vacationing couples, and one that moves forward during the search for Lily.

The Vacation, M.M. Chouinard, author interview on The Table Read
The Vacation, M.M. Chouinard

What is the main conflict of The Vacation?

Rose wants her daughter, Lily back, but isn’t satisfied with how the police are handling the investigation. So, she takes steps of her own to find Lily—and these choices cause additional complications.

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Did you plot The Vacation in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I have what I call a ‘road map’ for each book before I start writing—I know who my baddie is and why they did what they did, and I know what the inciting crime is. I also know several of the twists/reveals that will happen along the way. When I start writing, though, I don’t necessarily know exactly how each of those plot points will be hit, and I always discover more I want to put in than I realized.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Vacation need?

My publisher does a structural edit, a line edit, and a copyedit. (The manuscript is also proofread). I’m not the best judge of how much editing my books need—I just know I always expect them to come back completely covered in red, and so far I’ve always felt relieved when I see the requested changes!

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Don’t give up until you reach your goal. It’s hard to write a book, and it’s even harder to get it published. How people feel about your book is so subjective, just because one agent (or thirty) don’t like your book doesn’t mean you won’t find somebody who does. Keep trying, and keep writing more stories in the meantime! That’s how you get stronger.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I just finished the fifth book in my Jo Fournier series, and it opens with two murders instead of my traditional one—and one of those murders is a woman locked into her own closet and left to die of dehydration.

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And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, absolutely it was worth it! There’s nothing like having someone send me an email or DM me to let me know they read my book and enjoyed it. So amazing!

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

My website:

My Facebook page:

My Twitter account:

My Insta account:

My TikTok:

Amazon links to my books:

The Dancing Girls (Jo Fournier #1):

Taken to the Grave (Jo Fournier #2):

Her Daughter’s Cry (Jo Fournier #3):

The Other Mothers (Jo Fournier #4):

The Vacation (standalone):

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