Friday, October 26, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the perks of being a mystery writer is the friends you make along the way. Michelle Gagnon is one of those for me.  We met when we were both guest authors at the Book Passage Mystery Writer's Conference in Corte Madera, California, a few years ago. (Our own Hallie Ephron was a guest author that year, along with half a dozen other writers who have since become good friends.)

I've followed Michelle's career with delight, and am thrilled with the success of her latest book, a young adult thriller called DON'T TURN AROUND.

Michelle's adult mysteries, THE TUNNELS, BONEYARD, THE GATEKEEPER, and KIDNAP AND RANSOM, have been described as utterly gripping, addictively readable thrillers, by the Chicago Tribune. Her latest book, the first in her PERSEF0NE young adult trilogy, has  received starred reviews from both Kirkus and VOYA, and the first installment, DON'T TURN AROUND, was selected for the Autumn 2012 Kids IndieNext list. 

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation threatens his life. But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good. 

When I saw Michelle at Bouchercon a few weeks ago we did a lot of catching up, but here are the questions I didn't get to ask about her new venture into YA fiction:

DEBS: What inspired you to write a young adult book? Was it something you’d always wanted to do?
MICHELLE GAGNON: One of the reasons I switched to YA for this series was that a friend pointed out that I’ve had a strong teen character in nearly all of my adult thrillers, and he suggested I try writing an entire thriller from that point of view.  And it was really liberating-I ended up writing the rough draft in a little over eight weeks, research and all. It hadn’t occurred to me to tackle YA before, but now I’m really happy that I did. I am continuing to write “adult” thrillers too, though (that always sounds dirty to me now).

DEBS: How was it different from writing an adult thriller? Was it easier or harder? 

MICHELLE: This one in particular was easier, but I’m not sure if that was because it was YA. Sometimes the books write themselves, and sometimes it’s like wrestling a giant, vicious alligator into submission. I just finished the second book in the trilogy, and that one was a bit more of a struggle.

DEBS: Are there certain constraints in writing for a younger audience? 

MICHELLE: I did hit a few stumbling blocks, because in my other series the main characters were an FBI agent and security consultant, adults with resources and training at their disposal, and the authority to back up their actions.  Teenagers don’t have those advantages. I also initially wrote a few scenes from the POV of an adult character, which is apparently a big no-no; I revised them to show the teen’s perspective. And I toned down the language a bit during the editing process. I don’t generally incorporate a lot of sex scenes into my work, so that wasn’t an issue. And in terms of the content, it’s just as dark as anything I’ve written previously.

DEBS: What kind of response do you get from your readers?

MICHELLE: It’s been so thrilling to receive fan mail from teens- they’re so lovely and enthusiastic! Plus, they take pictures at events and immediately tweet them, which took some getting used to…

DEBS: I’ve always felt that good YA fiction is simply good fiction, and can contain themes and ideas as meaningful as any in adult fiction. It can not only turn teenagers and young adults into lifelong readers, but shape their perception of the world. Did you—and do you—feel  a sense of responsibility to your readers?

MICHELLE: For me, the pivotal theme in this story is the fact that mainly former foster kids are being victimized. I did a considerable amount of research on the US foster care system (and its many failures), and was alarmed by much of what I read. Consequently, I’ve affiliated with an amazing non-profit called Rising Tides (, that provides financial assistance for education and other life needs to teens who are ageing out of the system, and have no other resources at their disposal. I feel really passionate about that. Without help, a disproportionate percentage of former foster kids end up homeless, in prison, or worse. They really need a support network, and instead, they’re basically pushed out the door once they turn eighteen. I find that unconscionable. Rising Tides is a crowdfunding organization that helps allocate funds to specific teens to help them escape the cycle.

DEBS: I have to mention the super trailer on your website! Did you have any input on that?

MICHELLE: I didn’t, but isn’t it amazing? I was completely blown away by it. I can’t sing HarperTeen’s praises enough, they’ve really championed this book.

DEBS: In 2013, Michelle's YA dystopian thriller STRANGELETS will be published by SoHo TEEN Press. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can find her at, or on Facebook  and Twitter. Michelle will be giving away a copy of DON'T TURN AROUND to a commenter, so be sure to drop in and say "hi." And don't forget to watch the trailer!

(Oh, and our lucky winner of Anna Lee Huber's THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE is Reine! Reine, you can email Anna at info at annaleehuber dot com with your mailing address.)


  1. I have a soft spot for YA fiction. I like to give books to young family members and I usually try to read the book before giving it away, so I've read a lot of the stuff. Your description of the book and the reviews on Amazon were so intriguing, I just bought the Kindle version.

  2. I find myself putting more and more YA novels on my t-b-r list. Thanks for writing. Dee
    grammyd01 (at) comcast (dot) net

  3. My daughter would love it...and so would I!

  4. I love YA fiction. How many of you can remember the first young adult book that just blew you away? For me, I think it was A Wrinkle in Time, which our teacher read aloud to my sixth grade class. Some parts of it still feel as if they happened to me.

    I think Michelle as hit all the cultural markers with hers (the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo for YAs, according to the reviews) and a great story!

  5. Wonderful interview, Debs! I love YA, but until reading this post had no clear reason why that might be.

    When Michelle explained about differences between writing for YA and adults she mentioned the resources training, and authority that teens do not have, and that her adult characters might have. That is what engages me. That teens must rely on the resources that they have and work in an adult world to solve a problem is adventurous. The problems seem larger due to their disadvantage, as do their solutions.

    [I am thrilled to have won Anna Lee Huber's THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE! Thank you.]

  6. I think the secret of all successful YA fiction is that it can be enjoyed equally by grownups! It doesn't talk down to teen readers. I loved Wrinkle in Time, Debs, but I remember having my socks knocked off by Robert Heinlein's Door Into Summer. I think he probably wrote it for adults (pub. 1956) but today it would certainly be marketed as YA.

  7. Wow, thanks for the fantastic introduction Deborah! Loved catching up with you in Cleveland this year.

    Great, Sandi! I hope you enjoy it!

    I've become a YA addict myself. One thing I forgot to include were some lesser-known YA reads that are fantastic: Banished by Sophie Littlefield, The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch, and On a Dark Wing by Jordan Dane.

    A Wrinkle in Time is a classic- I reread it recently, and the story still holds up.

  8. Marcia, I loved Door Into Summer, too. Had forgotten about that one.

    Michelle, am going to look up the others you suggested, too!

  9. Hi to Michelle from me, another Michelle.

    I like Y.A. books. I sometimes like the paranormal ones such as the vampire ones by Richelle Mead. I like historical ones too.

  10. Your Young Adult series sounds quite intriguing, Michelle . . . I am looking forward to reading it . . . .
    Thanks for the suggestions for other outstanding Young Adult books . . . one of my favorite Young Adult series is the post-apocalyptic "Life As We Knew It" trilogy by Susan Beth Pfeffer . . . .

  11. Welcome, Michelle! Did you encounter difficulties in creating the voice for your YA novel? I've noticed a sharp difference in voice between the YA novels I've read late when compared with comparable adult novels--to the point that I've begun to think it's the major point of difference between the two now that so many others, such as "darkness," violence, and even sex, have disappeared.

  12. Hi Linda-

    I actually felt like the voices ere very similar to my adult novels; although since I was writing from the teen perspective, everything was much more "life or death" (especially real life or death situations. But otherwise, I didn't hold any punches.