Author Spotlight: Karen M. McManus talks One of Us Is Lying
Today I get to welcome author Karen M. McManus to the blog! Her debut novel, which was released yesterday, has already been racking up rave reviews. Hailed as “flat-out addictive”, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, and PopCrush, have all included One of Us Is Lying on their lists for Best Young Adult Books for May 2017.
Hi, Karen! Congrats on the release of your debut, One of Us Is Lying. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you! The original inspiration was to give a criminal twist to one of my favorite movies, The Breakfast Club. The story starts with five archetypal teens in detention, then takes a dark turn. One of Us Is Lying blends a lot of narrative elements I love: ensemble casts, unreliable narrators, unlikely friendships, and a closed-door mystery.
Kirkus deemed One of Us Is Lying a fast-paced blend of Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and classic John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) that will leave readers racing to the finish. Tension is a tricky thing. Do you have any tips on how to manipulate it to keep the reader engaged?
My goal with this book was to make it hard for readers to say, “I’m just going to read one more chapter” and then put it aside. I wanted each chapter to leave people wanting more, so I ended scenes with mini-cliffhangers as often as I could. Rising stakes are also important—you want to start out with clear conflict and tension, and then keep increasing it until it’s almost unbearable for both the characters and the readers. It also helps to have characters that readers care about, but don’t entirely trust.
One of Us Is Lying has five pivotal characters. When it comes to juggling a cast this size, what advice would you give to writers?
You have to create multiple narrative arcs—one that drives the main story and allows (or forces) the characters to intersect with one another, along with a separate arc for each character that’s in line with their individual personalities and perspectives, but still blends with the whole. If a character’s journey doesn’t have meaning within the framework of the overall plot, then you probably don’t need them as a focus point.
If One of Us Is Lying had a theme song, what would it be?
The easy answer is “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, since that’s what I was listening to when I got the original idea. There’s also a scene in the book where a video of the four narrators walking into school together goes viral, set to the song “Kids” by MGMT, so that would work, too.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
I find it really hard to know when a book is “done” for whatever stage of the process of I’m in. I’m constantly asking myself: is this draft ready for my CPs to read? Is it ready for my agent? Did I take these edits far enough? It’s a good thing there are deadlines in publishing because otherwise I’d just polish the same draft over and over until the end of time.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’m just sitting by my mailbox, waiting for my copy of When Dimple Met Rishi to arrive.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
It’s incredibly gratifying, and humbling, when people take the time to reach out and tell you how much they enjoyed your book. Or when they tag you in a review that makes it clear the book came across as you intended, and that it meant something to them.
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you would give to writers working toward publication?
Go ahead and write the book that scares you. When I started One of Us Is Lying I’d never written multi POV, male POV, a mystery, or a contemporary. I told my CPs it was either going to fall apart or be my breakthrough book. Luckily it worked out, but even if it hadn’t, I had a lot of fun writing it.
I want to thank Karen for her time and for giving us a glimpse into One of Us Is Lying, as well as sharing some really vital tips for sustaining tension, and explaining the importance of multiple narrative arcs when tackling an ensemble. Be sure to add her thrilling book to your Goodreads list, or order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
If you benefited from any of Karen's interview, or if you just can't contain your excitement for One of Us Is Lying, please hop on over to Twitter to tweet Karen directly at @writerkmc. And for more information, check out her author website at www.karenmcmanus.com.