Hello, friends! Welcome to the second interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! ICYMI the first time around (and you can check out Katie Bayerl’s interview right here), I’m talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you.
This month, I corresponded with Karen M. McManus about her debut young adult novel One of Us Is Lying (Random House / Delacorte Press, 2017).
From the jacket:
One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.
KIT FRICK: When Simon walks into detention and doesn’t walk out, his four detention-mates become suspects in his murder. One of Us Is Lying is written from the points of view of those four high school students: Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Tell us a little about writing a multi-POV novel. What was your writing process like for developing four distinct point of view characters?
KAREN M. McMANUS: When I got the idea for One of Us Is Lying, I thought about the mystery first: What would happen if five students walked into detention and only four walked out? How could you kill somebody in a closed room like that? And why would you do it? The concept was interesting to me, but it didn’t really come to life until I started imagining the characters that would populate that room.
I knew from the start that I wanted it to be multi-POV, which was something I’d never attempted before. There was something almost magical about that part of the process, because all four of them sprang into my mind fully formed. I wrote the first couple chapters in a frenzy to get them onto the page. I’ve revised those pages a lot since, but the initial characterizations still ring true.
As I continued to write, I had separate music playlists for every character, and I used them to help switch my perspective while writing. I also tried to give each character pet expressions and thought/speech patterns that were specific to them.
KIT: One of my favorite parts about One of Us Is Lying was trying to keep up with the novel’s twists and turns! Where did you draw your inspiration for your twisty, suspense-filled debut?
KAREN: Growing up, I loved Agatha Christie—all those red herrings and dun-dun-DUUUN moments. When I was querying, I comped One of Us Is Lying to Pretty Little Liars and Murder on the Orient Express, which is an odd combination, but accurate.
As I was writing, I thought a lot about layers—how each of the characters were hiding something from the outside world, but they were also hiding things from themselves. So even once their secrets are exposed, you don’t know everything about them.
KIT: Tell us something about One of Us Is Lying that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!
KAREN: Cooper is named after a guy I worked with for about a month when I first graduated from college. I was temping at a paralegal firm with a bunch of other recent graduates, and we were all in one big room answering phones all day. Cooper was from Alabama, and every time he picked up the phone, he’d say “This is Kew-pur” in a great southern drawl. So when I imagined a southern baseball player, his name had to be Cooper. It’s funny how people you barely know can stick with you like that.
KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? Tell us about something that brings you satisfaction at this moment in time.
KAREN: I love hearing from readers who are enjoying the book! I got the most amazing email a while back from a teacher who’d picked up an ARC at a convention. She said the copy was falling apart because it had been passed around so much, and once it was her turn to read, students checked in with her every day to see where she was in the plot. She thanked me for helping create a lifelong love of reading in her classroom, at which point I basically dissolved into happy tears.
KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with plenty of surprises and the occasional curve-ball for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?
KAREN: I was surprised by how much I came to enjoy revising. Okay, enjoy might be too strong of a word, but I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I normally do. Drafting has always been my happy place, while revisions were something to suffer through. I could never tell if my changes were actually making the story better. Working with my editor cut through that murkiness, and I could see the book getting stronger with each round, which was satisfying.
KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?
KAREN: It’s the same advice I give to querying authors—make friends! Publishing a first novel is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, so support from others at the same stage of the writing/publishing journey, or a little further along, is invaluable. I think a lot of first-time authors have imposter syndrome, and secretly believe that they crashed a party everyone else was invited to. Connecting with debut friends helps ease that self-doubt.
Karen M. McManus earned her BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA in journalism from Northeastern University. Her debut young adult novel, One of Us Is Lying, releases from Delacorte Press/Random House in May 2017, and will be published internationally in 18 territories. Karen’s work is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.
Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018).
One of Us Is Lying releases today—May 30, 2017—and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Amazon.