Saturday, June 8, 2013

What's a nice girl like you...?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: All this week we've been talking about favorite books--and in my list, absolutely is  GIRL,STOLEN  by April Henry. Have you read it? It's--YA, fantastic, about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped, and then...well, more I cannot say. But trust me on this one.  It's terrific.

I met April Henry at--where was it? And (after I gushed for probably too long) we were talking about that book coming out on audio. See how lovely that is? And then I had another question for her:

What’s a nice girl like you doing writing about torture and bio-weapons?

APRIL HENRY:  I’m one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I tip more than 20 percent. I’ve mailed books to kids in foster care and book groups for homeless people. When I’m running, I pick worms off the street and return them to the dirt.

But I also like to write about murder, kidnapping, arson, bioweapons, and what happens after someone yanks your fingernails out with a pair of pliers. Which are just a few of the issues that the main character in The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die has to deal with. I would tell you her name, but in the beginning of the book she’s lost her memory and isn’t sure of anything, not even her own name.

So why do I write such books? It could be that my criminal genes have been watered down to the point where they can only come out on paper.

My bad blood

One of my great-grandfathers was in an arson gang. Even more shocking, another was a murderer. Not only was he a killer, but he gunned down my grandmother’s boyfriend just for kissing her. (Aside: When I learned that, my grandmother’s bitter personality made sense. As writers, we know it’s all about back story.)

Or perhaps I should blame it on my father. My dad was a TV newsman who shot all his own footage. Even when he wasn’t at work, he would pull over to film events. I remember hearing an injured woman screaming as she was pulled from a car wreck. Once we were running errands when he stopped to see why two cops were parked next to a ditch. I remember sitting in the back of the car staring at the legs of a body lying in the high weeds.

Bad things in real life

I don’t do bad things. I don’t even film them. But I do write about them. And most of my books are inspired by real-life events. Girl, Stolen was inspired by a local blind teenager who was accidentally kidnapped after her mom left her in the car - with the keys in the ignition. The Night She Disappeared was inspired by the 30-year-old case of a missing pizza delivery girl.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die was actually inspired by a song lyric, Kathleen Edwards’ Scared at Night, in which a boy is told he has to finish off an injured cat. I was listening to this song on my iPod shuffle when I was running, and I thought, ooh - What if there was a girl? And she woke up on the floor of ransacked cabin and two men were standing over her and one said, “Take her out back and finish her off?”

The more I ran, the more I thought about it, and the more I knew she had been tortured and the two men were mad because she wouldn’t - couldn’t - tell them something they really wanted to know. For the book, I researched fugue state amnesia and bioweapons. I spent so much time researching anthrax, smallpox and the like that it’s a wonder the FBI didn’t come after me. When I ran the scenario past a scientist who is an expert in bioweapons with a top security clearance, she told me it was “very plausible - and evil.”

So have you ever run across a real-life situation that you thought would make a great book?

(Oh, and thanks to the Reds for letting me drop by! I’m proud to say that I gave Julia Spencer-Fleming her very first blurb.)

HANK: And a copy of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die will go to one lucky commenter! And hey, another one will with an ARC of THE WRONG GIRL!


April Henry is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults. Of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, Booklist said, “If you liked Girl, Stolen, you’ll love Henry’s latest tale of abduction, escape and paranoia.”

In 2013, look for A Matter of Trust and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die


  1. Imagination is a wonderful thing, and it often sparks the most amazing story ideas . . . but some of the real-life stories my police sergeant husband tells are simply mind-boggling and I think, what a great book that would be . . . .

    April, I am adding your intriguing-sounding books to my massive books-to-be-read pile [which will soon topple and crush me if I don’t either read faster or stop adding books]. Sometimes I think real life inspires books because the fiction is easier to deal with than the real life . . . .

  2. Oh my April, you make my family sound very dull in comparison.

    Joan, definitely fiction feels easier to deal with than reality...

    But back to April, I'll ask the question that Hallie's been asked. Do you worry about bad people getting ideas from what you've written?

  3. Last century, as a financial reporter, a banker explained the nature of a fraud that his bank's auditors had just uncovered: A newly hired computer technician had set up the bank's computer to take the "round-off" of 0.0001 on all computer-generated interest payments and send the pennies or dollars to a newly created account in his own name (at another bank).

  4. The comments by April really resonate with me - I am a very nice person. I grew up as a Girl Scout and Worked for that organization and taught school many moons. BUT I seem to write horrible acts of violence! Mayhem! Murder horrific! Maybe it is in the genes somewhere back when...who knows??? Thelma in Manhattan

  5. Marianne in MaineJune 8, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    I agree with Joan: my TBR pile is getting huge!

    Thank you, April. So often, real-life can be stranger than fiction. There's been a big story here in Maine lately about a Zumba instructor being charged - and now convicted - of prostitution at her studio. I'm sure there's a book and movie coming from this. It's not murder and violence but I can see this story showing up somewhere.

    BTW, I have to say I finished Deb's THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS last evening. I cannot wait for the next book. Fabulous!

  6. Yikes, April. If I'd known you came from such a violent past, I'd never have hung out with you!

    I'm impressed that you can go to such dark places when you write and yet remain upbeat and detached. I couldn't do that. When I have to kill a character I like, I feel quite sick.
    Hence most of my murder victims are people who deserve it!

  7. Gee, April, you and I have similar-sounding relatives! There have been three killings on my dad's side of my family, involving distant and not so distant relatives. One of them happened when I was in college, while the other two happened long before I was born. I was an adult before I heard about the two earlier ones. So was my dad, and he was shocked. It seems the family was not trying to keep them secret, but just had trouble talking about them. I think. Two were domestic violence and the first was a disagreement between business partners that went too far. Even as I write this I have trouble believing I'm related to such people! After the one that happened when I was in college, my siblings and cousins and I came up with a lot of sick jokes that only people that age can come up with, our way of dealing with it, I guess! I am a quiet person who hates violence and I would never own a weapon of any kind. I refuse to read the sort of mysteries that have lots of blood and gore. Movies that merely hint of violence can give me nightmares! There are other colorful stories from dad's side of the family that do NOT include violence but sound too bizarre to be true! What I like most about mysteries? I prefer series mysteries to stand-alones because I like to see character development over the course of time, and I like seeing people brought to justice in one way or another.

    On the "lighter" side of crime (if there can be such a thing!), when I worked as a paralegal there was an attorney in our office who turned out to have faked all his credentials. There followed a few VERY interesting months in our office! I never suspected anything but in retrospect, I think he thought I DID.

  8. Wow. I don't often get a chance to stop by JRW on the weekend, but something told me to check it out today.

    Boy am I glad that I did.

    April, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die sounds FANTASTIC.

    Another book on the TBR pile.

    Can someone please have a guest on here who can tell me how to survive without my day job, so I can read more.

  9. Like Kristopher, I don't drop by on the weekends often. Glad I did. I'm waving at you, April! Hello. I've gotta get snappin' on your YAs--don't read YA often but jeez, your latest sounds great.

    Glad to know I'm not the only worm savior out there. :-)

    Cheers, Lisa

  10. I knw, I save worms too! And the ants that come into the house.

    Anyway, what a treat to get to introduce April!

    Rhys, as I was reading your comment, I thought you were gong to say..If iI'd known you have such relatives, I would have hung out with you MORE!

  11. Oh, DebRo--your paralegal story is SUCH a good plot idea!

    (Where have I been all morning? well, you'll notice my hair is a little..blonder...:-) )

  12. April not only gave me my very first blurb (Thanks, April!), she also guided me around my first mystery convention (Left Coast Crime in Portland, OR) took me to my first mystery writers party (at Sharan Newmman's house) and held my hand - figuratively and literally - at my earliest book signings.

    I've always known her as an excellent writer in both her adult and YA work. I'm so pleased she's getting the recognition she deserves!

  13. OMG, a new scary writer...I just love it!

    How nice to "meet" you April, looking forward to reading your books. And I agree, Lucy, my family is very dull in comparison!

  14. Our mysterious ancestors. . .who knows what went on? One of my uncles used to joke that the family came to America because they got run out of England for stealing horses. I'm not buying that. Did have a cousin from the other side of the family who abandoned his family,disappeared, remarried and had another family. No one found out until the legal wife filed for social security. No happy ending either; he took the cowards way, killed himself, and left 2 grieving families. My father said he was never a nice person, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised.
    Well, that was happy! I shall look for your books April

  15. Hi April,

    I love your books. They are terrifically scary!

    One of my family mysteries comes out of Poland where my grandmother's father gathered up the youngest children and moved with their mother to Salem, Massachusetts. Several family myths were held to over the years about why. One was the Russian occupation. Another was WWII. Another was they were escaping something horrifying. Yet another was poverty.

    None of these makes sense given anything I've been able to learn about them. The census for 30 years after their arrival in the States shows they self identified as Russian and that Russian was their first language. They arrived in Salem long before WWII. They left their older children and other close relatives behind and corresponded with them for many years.

    At a time when the average factory worker, as my great-grandfather was listed on the census, could not afford such trips, the entire family returned to Russia/Poland to visit the family more than once over the years. They were not in fear or poor.

    Very suddenly, after her father died, my grandmother announced that the family was cutting off all ties with the family in Poland. No one in the family talked about them afterward. About the same time my grandmother's brother disconnected from the family. No one talked about him afterward.

    I'm not sure that I am the one to write the story that could come out of this family history, but I continue to research it, because it is such a mystery. I can only verify the trips home to Poland and their family name, Klosowski, a name shared by a frightening contemporary of my great-grandfather, a man from Poland executed for murder in England and suspected of many others. Could be a coincidence. But is it?