Today, we’re featuring an exclusive guest blog from author April Henry, as we get ready for the release of her new YA book The Night She Disappeared, in stores next month! Thanks for stopping by, April!
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April Henry: Why I Write Thrillers
I think we all wonder, “What would I do?” if we were faced with a moment where we had to be especially brave or clever.
A year or two ago, a local girl was home sick from school when burglars broke into her house. What would you do? This girl hid, called 9-1-1 and then stayed on the line with the dispatcher even as the burglars began to search the room where she was hiding. The police arrived and arrested the burglars.
Around the same time, Gert Boyle, the 85-year-old former head of Columbia Sportswear, had a delivery man approach her with a gift basket. He followed her into her garage and then asked her to sign a copy of the book she wrote. When she grew suspicious and tried to turn him away, the man pulled a gun. What would you do? She managed to secretly hit a panic alarm and then communicate with the cops when they showed up that things were not all right – even though the man had a gun aimed at her back.
And there was a woman in Atlanta who was tied to her bed’s headboard by an armed burglar who ransacked her house, stole her electronics and took her car. What would you do? She managed to persuade him not to take her work computer. When she couldn’t free herself, she managed to send out a message for help – by typing with her toes!
My fourth YA thriller, The Night She Disappeared, comes out March 13. It was inspired by a true event that happened about 30 years ago. A pizza delivery was called to a false address. The girl who went to deliver it never came back. Her car was found with the door open, keys in the ignition, purse on the seat, and pizza boxes scattered on the ground. Later it was revealed that when the caller made the order, he asked if a different girl was making deliveries that night. I always wondered how it would feel to be that girl, to know that you were the one the killer had originally targeted.
Even if my books are inspired by real events, I change around what happens after the beginning. In The Night She Disappeared, I have two co-workers at the pizza place (who also to go the same high school as the victim) team up to find the missing girl.
I had to figure out all kinds of clever ways my characters could defend themselves, even when it seemed they had no weapons. I set the penultimate scene in a slightly modified version of my own basement. I spent a lot of time looking at my husband’s work bench thinking of all the bad uses his tools could be put to.
My last YA book, Girl, Stolen, was also inspired by a story on the local news. A blind girl was sitting in the back of her mom’s car while her mom ran an errand – and left the keys in the car. A guy stole the car – and only realized he was stealing a girl when she asked if he could let her out! When I watched the blind girl and her mom being interviewed on TV, I thought that it would make a great beginning to a thriller. What if the car thief refused to let you out and instead ending up holding you for ransom? How could you escape if you couldn’t see?
I’ll have a book coming out next year called Finish Her Off. It’s about a girl who comes to on a cabin floor. Two men are standing over her, and one of them kicks her in the ribs and says, “She doesn’t know anything. Take her out back and finish her off.” And she realizes she doesn’t know anything – not even her own name. What would you do if you were in that situation?
I love reading and writing thrillers because I get to live vicariously, and at least think for a few minutes that I would be capable of being clever and brave.