Allison's Book Bag

Interview with April Henry

Posted on: July 8, 2014

For a long time, April Henry has  been looking for a good idea for a teen mystery series that was realistic. Then in 2012, her friends told her that their daughter Sarah was volunteering with Multnomah County’s Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (MCSO SAR). While this group does help find people who are lost, it’s also different in a couple of unique ways:  First, it is an all teen-led organization. Second, thirty-percent of what the teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes.

When Henry heard this, she knew that she was going to write a series based on the group. Within six months, she had made a two-book deal in what is being called the Point Last Seen series, and recently Henry accepted an offer for more books. I recently caught up with her through email and had opportunity to ask some questions.

April Henry and SAR volunteers <br>Photo courtesy of April Henry

April Henry and SAR volunteers
Photo courtesy of April Henry

ALLISON: Who was your role model as a child?

APRIL: My parents worked really hard, and both were great story-tellers in their own ways. I loved to read (one year I wanted nothing but books for Christmas) but didn’t really think I could be an author.

ALLISON: Were your teens the best or worst years of your life? Why?

APRIL: I’m not sure I would call any of my years the worst of my life. The last nine months have been tough (I moved home and took care of my mom while she was on hospice, then was hospitalized with what turned out to be a misdiagnosis), but even then a lot of good things happened as well.

Still, my teen years were definitely not my best. I didn’t really feel like I fit in at high school. I was skinny and smart and looked younger than I was. I had friends but wasn’t popular. Even my voice seemed to me like it was too low.

ALLISON: In your biography, you state that you didn’t grow up dreaming of being a writer. What inspired you to write your first book?

APRIL: I loved to read. Then I read a book that was terrible, but it had still been published. I thought, “I could write a book as bad as that.”

ALLISON: How did you persevere after rejections of three novels? What did it feel like to finally achieve success?

APRIL: Luckily I did not know the future, so with each query or each book, I was sure it was the one that would succeed. I might have been too depressed if I had known the truth.

ALLISON: What is the appeal about writing mysteries and thrillers?

APRIL: That was kind of an accident. My first book, Circles of Confusion, was about a painting looted during WW II that might be a long-lost Vermeer. While it wasn’t a traditional mystery at all, mt agent felt it would sell well as a mystery. It sold as part of a two-book deal as a mystery series. I found that I liked scary things or dark things. Now it would be hard to sell something else under my name.

ALLISON: You juggle writing an adult and a teen book at the same time. How do you juggle those different voices?

APRIL: Maybe I am just young at heart, but I don’t find it hard. But usually my characters are in grave danger, not trying to stay awake in an American History class.

ALLISON: Several of your books are inspired by real events. How much do you stick to facts and how much do you just make up stuff?

APRIL: I kind of take the Law & Order approach. So it’s like I’ll take the first paragraph or two of the real story, then riff from there.

ALLISON: Which takes longer to do, the research or the actual writing?

APRIL: The writing. Research is usually just threaded though all of that. But it takes hundreds of hours to write a book.

Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue <br>Photo courtesy of April Henry

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue
Photo courtesy of April Henry

 The Body in the Woods is the first in a series. What’s the difference in approach for you between writing a standalone book and a book in a set?

APRIL: You’ve got a lot more room for character development in a series. So you don’t want to nail down too much in the first book. You need to leave room for secrets and surprises, surprises that might even surprise you when you think of them. In a standalone, you could kill off every character except for the main one, and not have to worry about maybe needing them later.

ALLISON: The idea for The Body in the Woods came to you when a friend mentioned that her teenage daughter was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue. You have gone on trainings with them. What was the most interesting experience you had? The most frightening experience?

APRIL: Man-tracking was the most interesting, although I know I’ll never be the kind of detail-oriented person who will notice two grains of sand on a twig or whatever. The only really frightening experience was when I went to a training in October and it started to snow on the mountain. I was driving back and slipping all over the road. In an odd twist, the place where the training was held was also where a man had dumped a murdered woman’s body–and a lot of the SAR team had been up there the night before, recovering her body. It was very surreal thinking of them doing that. Once of the girls was recently telling me about the first time she ever saw a dead person, and about how she got “dead juice” on her when they recovered the body. It takes a certain kind of person to volunteer for SAR.

ALLISON: You met real-life teens who do search and rescue. How were you able to separate their personalities from those of the teens whom you wrote about in your novel?

APRIL: I pretty much always make up my people, whether they are teens or adults. I did talk to one SAR person whose mother was bipolar, but I’m not sure I used much of that story, if at all, other than the feelings it engendered. I wouldn’t want to model a person on someone real, because it’s too constraining.

ALLISON: You attended search and rescue training. As part of your research, did you actually go out into the field? If so, how did you get permission? If not, how did you make the process so real in your novel?

APRIL: I did not go into the field on an actual search for a missing person. I went to trainings that were held in the woods. I may do that in the future, but I want to make sure I don’t muddy the waters since I cannot add value on site. I also consulted a lot with real SAR folks and read real-life accounts from other SAR people.

2 Responses to "Interview with April Henry"

Another interesting interview!

Thanks! April Henry is between books and so I lucked out. 🙂

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