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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 13: April Henry, Thriller Author

April Henry writes thrillers for adults and teens. Her slogan is, "I kill people, but only on paper."

April Henry is the author of more than two dozen mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults. Her novels have won prizes, been shortlisted for other prizes, and have been translated into ten languages. She knows two dozen different ways to kill you.

Show notes:

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April Henry writes thrillers for adults and teens. Her slogan is, "I kill people, but only on paper."

April Henry is the author of more than two dozen mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults. Her novels have won prizes, been shortlisted for other prizes, and have been translated into ten languages. She knows two dozen different ways to kill you.

On April's website, she has a slogan, "I kill people, but only on paper." I asked how she came up with that. "I was looking for something interesting, but also had kind of an amusing twist. So it's a little bit scary, but not too scary. Especially when you're writing for teenagers. You want to attract them, but also not repel their parents."

April had wanted to be a writer for a long time. She grew up in a poor family, and "it probably started with my love of books when I was a kid. And then finally having the courage to realize that it was possible for someone from a little town and grew up poor."

When April was in her thirties, she read a really bad book. That convinced her to try her hand at fiction. "I thought, Wow, this book was published by one of the biggest, biggest publishers, and it's terrible. And if that's all you need to do to get published, I can do that. I know, I can write a terrible book. So I was kind of negative, oddly motivated to do that."

April descends from a long line of criminals, as well as from George Washington. "George Washington and I share a common ancestor. So we're what they call once-removed type relatives. About 10 years ago, I was on a huge deadline, and I shouldn't have been doing anything but work, you start doing things you're not supposed to do. My grandmother was named Effie Satterwhite, and I wondered what would happen if I typed her name into Google. And then this Arkansas State Supreme Court decision from 1907 popped up." In short, April's grandmother was seeing a young man and her father killed him. "He actually appealed his conviction for murder, saying that he shouldn't have to serve any time in prison because he was defending his daughter's virtue. He did not get his conviction overturned, but he only served two years in prison."

Most of April's novels are about girls getting in trouble. "When I first moved to Portland, in, I was still going to college, and somebody broke into my apartment when I was in the shower. I dragged on my wet leotard and went out in the hall, and the only light was behind me from the bathroom. And I said, 'who's in my kitchen?' He didn't say anything, but I could hear him breathing. Then a little voice in the back of my head said, 'You're an idiot, you need to get out of here.' So I ran out. And the police came and he was gone." Some years later, April decided to research cold cases in the Portland area. "Probably within a month of when that happened to me another Portland State student was murdered in her apartment, and they've never solved that. Part of me wonders if it was the same person, but it could just be a coincidence."

April has been using Scrivener since 2008. She starts with the Corkboard. "And I write those imaginary three by five cards and start putting down plot points and ideas for scenes, and then rearrange them. Then I start working on an outline from that, and then I start writing longer pieces and start trying to fit them all together. I use the color coding for different characters, so I can quickly, at a glance, see if one character has disappeared for a long stretch, if I'm using multiple points of view."

April writes thrillers for both adults and teens. She says that she doesn't write very differently for the two groups. "My vocabulary is exactly the same. You have to have your primary characters be teenagers, and I usually make mine 15 or 16, so they have some driving experience, because often there's going to be a time where they're going to need to drive someplace. And I have made the choice that my characters are not sexually active. But I don't really find that I write that differently, other than the characters being younger, and the books are a little shorter. There's usually one less subplot."

April's latest novel for teens, Two Truths and a Lie, started with a true story. She was at a literacy festival in Nebraska, and there was no one in the room. "I thought I had made a wrong turn. But it turned out that a blizzard was blowing in, and most of the attendees were from Nebraska, and they were trying to scramble out of there as fast as possible before this blizzard blew across the plains. The only people I ended up being left in this creepy old sprawling motel were the people who were from out of state. It was just the strangest, creepiest place. And I had to set a book here with a dwindling group of people who are trapped by a blizzard."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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