Pen Friends, please welcome Karen McManus, a very anticipated YA debut and Author of One of Us is Lying.
SP: Hi Karen! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and when you started writing?
I was one of those kids who started writing early. I was in second grade when I wrote my first book, and I wrote dozens more throughout elementary school. But when I reached high school and tried to write longer, more complicated books, I faltered. I was convinced I didn’t have what it took to finish a novel, so I started the college-career-family trajectory and let my interest in writing slide.
I didn’t pick it up again until a few years ago, after I’d read The Hunger Games trilogy. I felt so drawn to the world and the voice that I was inspired to try writing again. For the first time in years, I finished a book. It was a terrible dysoptian knock-off, but still: I’d proven to myself I could do it. I found critique partners, studied writing as a craft, and wrote a second, better book. That one generated some agent interest, but almost as soon as I started querying it I got the idea for One of Us Is Lying and focused most of my attention on that.
SP: So, about One of Us is Lying…Congratulations! We hear it’s a very anticipated upcoming debut novel. (One of Us Is Lying comes out Summer 2017 with Delacorte Press/Random House). Can you tell us a bit about it? Where did the idea come from?
I get all my book ideas while I’m driving. Something about having half my brain focused on a routine task gives the other half creative freedom. The song “Don’t You Forget About Me” came on the radio, and I started thinking that it would be interesting to write something inspired by The Breakfast Club. The phrase “The Breakfast Club, with murder” popped into my head and stuck there. I loved Agatha Christie mysteries when I was a kid, and the notion of a closed-room death appealed to me. I started thinking through HOW you could kill somebody in a classroom without it being obvious, and came up with a way. Then I started wondering WHY you’d do it. And that was when the four main characters started taking shape in my mind.
SP: Another congrats on signing with Agent Rosemary Stimola! Was she your first choice? Did you query her or meet at a conference?
Since I’d been inspired to write by The Hunger Games, and Rosemary represents Suzanne Collins, she’d been my dream agent for a while. So, she was the first agent I queried with One of Us Is Lying. I submitted via her online form, worrying the whole time that I was querying her too soon. But I’d gotten great feedback from my CPs on the book, I was happy with my query, and her website wish list seemed well suited to my story. So I took the chance, and I’m so glad I did.
SP: So, your query must have been superb to catch the Stimola Agency eye. Any tips on writing queries?
First, keep it lean. I used to be the queen of the overlong query, but I learned to pare down to the bare essentials of hook, characters, conflict & stakes. Second, make it punchy! Some of the best advice I ever got was to write your query as though it was back copy for a published book. If someone were flipping through titles at a bookstore, would they stop at yours and want to learn more?
SP: Great advice. What’s your favorite aspect of writing?
Getting the first draft out. I love the freedom of a blank page, and seeing where a story takes you. After working with a fantastic agent and editor I’ve come to appreciate revising, but drafting is my happy place.
SP: You are Pitchwars Mentor this year, can you tell us briefly how this has this been a
positive experience? (Am I remembering correctly that you entered the contest but didn’t win, then later got signed by an agent?
I applied for PitchWars last year right before I shelved my first book. It was sort of a Hail Mary play, to see if a mentor might be able to help me fix what wasn’t working. The book was fundamentally flawed, so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t even get a single request, but I enjoyed the community and all the writing tips. As it turns out, not getting in was a blessing in disguise, since I wrote One of Us Is Lying during what would have been the revision period.
I wanted to be a mentor this year because other writers have been instrumental in my growth, and I wanted to pay some of that back. My mentee’s book is a gem—her voice and her characters were crystal clear in my mind for days after I read her first chapter—and she’s such a pleasure to work with!
SP: What piece of advice would you like to give upcoming writers?
Find your writing people. The friends you make as you’re querying and developing your craft are the ones you’ll DM frantically when you get The Call, and the ones who will pre-order your book as soon as it goes up on Amazon. And you’ll do the same for them. Writing can be a solitary business, but the community is so wonderfully supportive.
SP: Awesome, Karen. Where can we learn more about you and your book?
SP: Thank you Karen! Congratulations again!
Nova, signing off.