Saturday, May 29, 2010

April Henry : Face of a Writer

April Henry doesn't have much time for time sucks like social networking. She's too busy writing dozens of witty mysteries and fast-paced thrillers for young adult and, well- old, fully-mature adult audiences.

The first in her Triple Threat Club series, Face of Betrayal, co-written with Lis Wiehl, was on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks. April's first young adult novel, Shock Point (Putnam, 2006) was an ALA Quick Pick, a Top 10 Books for Teens nominee, and a New York Library's Books for the Teen Age book.  Her books have been short-listed for the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, and the Oregon Book Award. They have been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, German, and French.

April's next YA Girl, Stolen (Henry Holt, 2010), about a blind teen who is kidnapped, will be out on shelves in the fall. I read an advance release copy that grabbed hold of me so tightly that I imagined being blind for the next two days until I nailed my knee on a door jamb while pretending, thus jolting myself back into reality. Embarrassing, but sadly true.

 April took time to answer some questions about what it's like to write different genres, how she conducted research for Girl, Stolen, and surprisingly, confides that she herself once engaged in an act of thievery as well!

AB: You and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl have formed a successful partnership co-authoring the New York Times bestselling Triple Threat Series. Lis brings her experiences as a federal prosecutor, reporter, and daughter of an FBI agent. You bring your skills at crafting a compelling narrative. How did this opportunity arise for the two of you?

AH: Lis's agent originally contacted my agent, and then after that it was kind of like an arranged marriage, where we had to figure out if we liked each other or not.  Thankfully, we did.  Lis is very down to earth and so stunningly beautiful that when you first meet her you have trouble talking. Our first book in the series, Face of Betrayal (Thomas Nelson, 2010), is about three women (an FBI agent, a reporter and a federal prosecutor) who set out to solve the mystery of a missing Senate page. Our second book Hand of Fate (Thomas Nelson, 2010) was released in April. The three colleagues must uncover who killed a polarizing radio talk show host.

AB: You did a lot of research for Girl, Stolen, including working with guide dogs and blind consultants, one of whom is a high schooler. What was your favorite part of the process of constructing this page-turner?

AH: Setting up cliff hangers for most of the endings.  Oh, and after I talked to an opthalmologist and learned that most people blinded by this type of injury have a blurry sliver of sight left, I spent a lot of time walking around my house with my hands over my eyes letting in just one faint crack of light on the outside edge of my left eye.  Oh, and being blindfolded and walking a guide dog.  Actually, I enjoyed the whole process.

AB: How does writing YA differ from adult material for you?

AH: YAs are shorter (I normally aim for 50,000 words vs. 80,000 or 90,000 for the adult market), and as a result may have fewer suplots.  Right now, all my books are fairly clean.  After being asked by a teenager in Texas why I used "the b word" in Shock Point, I asked that it be taken out in the paperback.  Writing about sex or having a lot of swear words in your YA means your book might be challenged - and that a librarian could risk his or her job fighting for it.  I'm not saying writers shouldn't do it - we should just do it for a reason.  
Also, in YA, all your point-of-view characters should be teenagers.  And there's a strong preference for the book to be told from a first-person POV, to help teenagers relate even more strongly to the character.

Teen fans are incredibly enthusiastic, whereas adults have been around the block a few times and are more jaded.  

AB: In a mystery, the reader and the sleuth discover clues to the who-done-it together. In thrillers, we read to the end to see if the main character makes it out in one piece. How does writing mysteries differ from thrillers? What, if anything, are the challenges for you to write both of these different genres?

AH: Right now, my YAs are all thrillers, which are so fun to write.  You don't have to plot that much, you can just throw problems at the character and watch what they do to get out of them.  The challenge is that sometimes you don't have any idea how they will get out, or what your kick-ass cliffhanger chapter ending will lead to, i.e, you write, "She opened the door and gasped."  Then you have to figure out what comes next.  
AB: Do you currently write novels full-time? Is there anything you miss about your medical writing position at Kaiser?

AH: I do write full time.  I miss paid vacations, great health insurance, automatic contributions to a retirement plan, sick days, and some of my co-workers.  The work, not so much.  Although I'm still proud of a pamphlet I wrote on necrotizing jaw fascitis (an infection in your jaw bone that some women who take osteoporosis drugs get) that passed the government standard of meeting a sixth grade reading level.

AB: What for you is challenging about being a full-time writer? What marketing and self-promotion do you find helpful?

AH: You have to live on faith, or at least I have to, because you can't count on regular paychecks or even regular royalty checks.  Most of my publishing houses (I currently have three!) want you to Twitter, Facebook, blog, have a great website, etc.  I love blogging, and I do Twitter and Facebook because I feel I should.  They would probably be more enjoyable if I spent more time on them, but I'm on deadline right now and can't afford the time suck.

AB: Describe a book tour. Are you on one now? Do you have one coming up?

AH: Book tours are scarcer than hen's teeth these days.  With the decline and consolidation of newspapers and TV, there's fewer places to talk about your books, in addition to speaking at bookstores.  The last book I got toured for was in 2001 or 2002.  That being said, the publisher for my next YA, Girl, Stolen, will have a Northwest tour.

AB: As a child, you sent one of your stories to Roald Dahl, who liked it so much he passed  it on to a magazine editor who had it published. I’m assuming you enjoyed reading Roald Dahl books as a child. What other books did you enjoy reading as a kid? As a young adult?

AH: I loved The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien so much that I stole it.  (As an adult, I paid the school's library back many times over.)  I also was thrilled by Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl.  There wasn't a lot of YA when I was a kid, so what happened was that I read a lot of sci-fi meant for kids, and then went upstairs and read the same authors in the adult section.  Let me just say that Robert Heinlein and and Robert Silverberg addressed very different issues in their two types of books.  In the books for kids, it was boys in space with slide rules.  In books for adults, it was often group sex on distant planets.  

AB: What do you enjoy reading now?

AH: I read mysteries, literary novels, and YA.  The sad thing is that the longer I've been writing, the fewer books I can enjoy whole-heartedly.  I was really looking forward to Scott Turow's follow up to Presumed Innocent, called Innocent, but I'm 100 pages in and it's not grabbing me yet.  Next up is Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, and then Michael Grant's third in the Gone trilogy.  

AB: I’ve read that you’re experimenting with e-book sales of your out-of-print books. How does this work? How’s it going? Any observations you’d like to share about the e-book industry?

AH: I had old files for almost all my books, so I followed the steps listed on Amazon (for Kindles) and on (for all other readers) and put them up, linking them to their original Amazon pages.  Some people, most notably Lee Goldberg and JA Konrath, make tons of money.  I think the most I've made is $200 in one month, but I also haven't put any energy into promoting them.  

AB: How about your next YA thriller, The Girl in the Mini Cooper?

AH: It's about a girl who doesn't return from delivering pizzas.  It was inspired by a thirty-year old case that happened in Salem.  In my book, two of the girl's co-workers team up to figure out what really happened to her.  I should get my editorial letter for it really soon.  

AB: Anything else in the wings that we can look forward to?

AH: The next book with Lis is about a really scary sociopath - and it was inspired by a real-life case Lis prosecuted here in Portland.  It's called Heart of Ice.  And this summer I hope to wrap up another YA thriller called Finish Her Off.

AB: Thanks for your time, April! One last question: what do you hope to write about in the future?

AH: I'd like to do something with a paranormal element, but not vampires, werewolves, or fallen angels.  More like special powers.  


Anonymous said...

April, Amy, this is such a fabulous interview! I've learned much about the writing process with a co-writer, and got enlightened when you shared how becoming a full-time writer has affected your life.

April, I now can't wait to read your books. I'm hooked by the descriptions and the voice I got a glimpse at in the interview (i.e. pretty straightforward). I hope that your stories get optioned for movies. We could use more kick-ass female characters. :)

Also really glad that you have a blind girl as main character!

Amy Baskin said...

Thanks, Nathalie! April's voice is very straightforward and unfettered, so the narrative carries the reader along effectively. Serious page-turners. Once you've read one of her books, tell me what you think.

Nancy Coffelt said...

Great interview - and so inspiring!

But now I want to read when I really should be writing. :)

Amy Baskin said...

I hear you, Nancy! Thanks for stopping by.