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'Shining Girls' book becomes an usual crime drama on the screen

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's the 1990s in Chicago, and a woman named Kirby Mazrachi is trying to solve a woman's murder that bears an uncanny resemblance to an attack she survived years earlier. That's how the drama gets going in the new Apple TV+ show "Shining Girls," adapted from the novel by Lauren Beukes. And though it may seem at first like a conventional crime drama, pretty soon things start to get weird.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHINING GIRLS")

ELISABETH MOSS: (As Kirby) Things aren't how they should be.

AMY BRENNEMAN: (As Rachel) You're just still working through it.

MOSS: (As Kirby) No. No, Mom. It's not that. We've talked about this. Everything is like always, and then it's not.

RASCOE: Silka Luisa is the showrunner and screenwriter of "Shining Girls" and joins us now to talk about it. Thanks for being here.

SILKA LUISA: Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure.

RASCOE: We don't want to spoil too much because this - it's some twists and turns in this show. But I wonder if you could pick up the story where our introduction left off. Tell us about Kirby's journey and what's unusual about it.

LUISA: The show starts six years after she was attacked. And ever since then, her world has been changing. Her reality shifts. So it can be small things - it can be, you know, her desk moves across the room - and then, you know, big, fundamental things. There's a recent murder that she thinks is connected to what happened to her six years ago, and she begins to start investigating that murder. And so she's really solving two mysteries. One is, what's happening to me and why does my world keep changing? And also, how am I linked to these other women?

RASCOE: Yeah. And, you know, the show is based on this book called "The Shining Girls." The title refers to really bright, talented young women that the killer targets. What attracted you to this story?

LUISA: Well, it was really that. What Lauren had done so beautifully was she had really given voice to the victims and to this one survivor in particular, as opposed to just the serial killer. She'd also created this really elegant blend of genres. You know, it was, like, serial killer plus mystery plus journalism plus sci-fi. And I just - as a genre lover, I hadn't ever seen that before.

RASCOE: Yeah. I mean, you know, the thing about these types of shows that can be tricky - and I do love thrillers, and I do love shows about serial killers - but the problem is, at times, the women can become just kind of fuel for the serial killer and not actual, full, realized human beings. Having the story, like, settled on Kirby - how does that change that dynamic?

LUISA: It was really important to us that we were pulling away from the violence and not zooming in on it. And the show really lives in the space of the aftermath of violence, the aftermath of trauma. It's all about the wake. It's not about the act. That, to me, is the more interesting emotional terrain. It's more - something I haven't seen as much. It's challenging because at the same time, you have to show some violence. You don't want to completely sanitize the experience. But what was really wonderful was working with all the directors and really trying to calibrate that at a microscopic level, both in the shooting and in the editing, really going frame by frame and being like, OK, do we need this? We tried all different versions of any time we were depicting violence against women.

RASCOE: Kirby is processing her trauma and dealing with these events, but also dealing with supernatural things, and reality is shifting. And that seems to also reflect how disorienting trauma can be in real life, even when reality isn't actually shifting.

LUISA: The mythology for me was all built around really reflecting that experience of trauma, how all these years later, you feel like you can, you know, suddenly have your life back on track and then the rug's pulled out from underneath you. And you feel disoriented. You feel like people can't believe you. You feel so alone. And so all of that was built narratively to reflect trauma.

RASCOE: This book kind of turned the whole serial killer thing on its head because oftentimes, serial killers, mostly men, are portrayed - they're almost as alluring or kind of uniquely damaged in a way that kind of makes them sympathetic. There's none of that in this, right?

(LAUGHTER)

LUISA: I think there is a tendency with serial killers to have a fascination with them because they seem, you know, very smart. They're very calculated. Harper is definitely not that. He's insecure, small man who - confident women make him feel even smaller. And that, to me, felt more authentic and real.

RASCOE: You know, so much of this subject matter is - it's bleak, right? I mean, you know, you're dealing with murders. But there is this redemptive part of the show, as well. Like, it's not just darkness. Like, why was that balance important to you?

LUISA: For me, the book also had this, which is this throughline of hope and resilience. Even though Kirby's life was completely blown back by what happened to her, you still see her moving forward and you still see her trying to confront what happened to her, trying to confront who did this to her. And that resilience, for me, lifts up the entire show.

RASCOE: And I understand that the supernatural was kind of a part of your upbringing, and it continues to be a part of your writing. Tell us about how the supernatural was a part of your upbringing.

LUISA: You know, my mom was Dominican. We definitely went to a lot of psychics. I was very much in that world. That just always has been where I'm more interested. Like, I love mysteries. Things that, on the surface, seem darker, always seem to draw me more. At the same time, I do like having a hopeful ending. I think the balance between those two is really important.

RASCOE: Silka Louisa is the showrunner and screenwriter of the new show "Shining Girls" from Apple TV+. Thank you so much for being with us.

LUISA: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.