“We never knew there could be people in the orchard. Dangerous people.”
When a mysterious explosion kills her sister, Salem becomes convinced the death was no accident–it was a conspiracy. But no one else at her high school believes her, and all she has so far are theories and clues. With Carrie’s killers still out there, Salem’s not sure who she can trust. If she can’t she prove she’s right before it’s too late, the conspiracy might take another life—hers.
Mystery seems like it would be the most difficult genre of all to write, because it’s so hard to come up with a plot line that is believable, yet still results in an ending that will take readers by surprise. What is it about the mystery genre that inspired you to write your own?
High stakes, which is why I wrote a mystery that centered on a murder, and even more specifically, a murder where the victim is a beloved sister. I like caring desperately for justice. It keeps the mood tense. You don’t want your suspense mystery ever reading like a Scooby Do episode! Ever! In Shatter, not only are there killers and a recent tragedy, but the main character Salem also has to grapple with the possibility that the sister she idolized had a dark streak to her personality. Salem wants to be blind to that possibility, but also wants to find justice, which means confronting all the evidence head on. Conflicting emotion like that makes the story real to me. It also made gathering a playlist for Shatter really fun. My thirteen-year-old and I really got passionate about which songs would be best for the middle chase scenes.
I love this book cover. Just reading the lines, “three bodies. two liars. one killer.,” I’m already pulled into the story. How did you approach writing such a great hook for this story?
Ha! By writing twenty of them. No lie. I’ll list a bunch and tell you what I was going for in creating it and why we (my writing group and I) rejected them. I started by brainstorming words about the theme (trust), the central image (fire and orchards), and the genre itself (mystery). Before you continue, here’s a little factoid for you trivia people. I didn’t pick the final tagline. My publisher did, from a list I sent them.
Trust a liar to learn the truth.
Irony sells, but this tagline is very vague. Is this a murder mystery or an episode of Gossip Girls? The cover could have established murder, so I did sent it in as an option, but it wasn’t chosen.
“Trust me, I’m lying.”
Again, irony. Again, vague. Also, it’s a quote from an unknown character. I indented to communicate that a side character was saying this to the main character, Salem. But it could be read that Salem is the speaker. That changes the whole genre, really, and advertises the wrong story. I didn’t send it.
Trust her sister or trust her heart?
Here I’ve got a classic impossible choice, but it hints so much at romance that I’ve buried the mystery aspect entirely. This could be a post-apocalyptic paranormal western erotica for all we know. I didn’t send it.
Three bodies. Two liars. One killer.
This happens to be the second tagline I brainstormed. Three, two, one counts are awesome. They start you off to a race of a story. I tried a variety of fillers like:
- Three lies, two boys, one truth (too much romance).
- Three bodies, two bombs, one strike (too confusing to give a clear mental image. Plus, I meant strike to mean a union protest, but it could be read as a fire)
I really wanted a clear idea that the story was a murder mystery. So I choose body to take care of that. I wanted a charged word that created a sense of mystery. Liar does that for me and fits with the theme of trust, plus two central characters do in fact lie. Finally, I wanted a sense of story direction. Shatter isn’t a horror (where readers watch everyone get killed) or a thriller (where readers watch everyone almost get killed), but a mystery (where readers discover who did the killing.) Ending the three, two, one with the killer as the final, exposed image is kind of a metaphor for the plot’s direction. Anyway, Cedar Fort picked it and I like it.
Now, fun trick trivia questions: Name all three bodies. Huh? Can you? Did I cheat as the author in using the line “three bodies” or can it be justified? Ooh, deep questions.
Is Shatter planned to be a standalone novel, or is it part of a series?
I wish I knew! Lol. Okay, so originally it was intended as a series. Having books be part of a series was all the rage when I got my agent. Then for a microsecond it looked like the series mania was on the edge of falling out of fashion, so my agent had me rewrite. But books as a series never actually became unpopular. But then I broke up with my agent anyway. (I cried.) THEN I got picked up by Cedar Fort (I cried again) and they wanted the ending changed again, leaving even less window for a sequel. I am very satisfied with this ending, BTW. I don’t actually like ending on a hook. As a reader, I find them unsatisfying.
However, despite all this, in my spare time I still plot ways to continue the story. In reality, it will depend on sales.
Books that include conspiracies can be so much fun to read. I love that you never know which characters to trust. What are some books you’ve read that you thought pulled off the conspiracy element really well?
Veronica Mars! Double exclamation point!! Okay, but that’s not a book. It’s a TV show that I love with the kind of passion that makes a full-grown woman look like a loser. Totally worth it. I have to keep Veronica Mars as my response because no conspiracy books are popping easily to mind. Plus, did I mention I love it?
Since this is your debut novel, was there anything about your journey to publishing Shatter that surprised you?
OMG IT TOOK SO LONG AND WAS SO EMOTIONAL. I will grace you with only sparse details. Shatter won one prestigious manuscript contest out of 400 entries only to not make an online contest accepting 25 of 60 applicants THE SAME DAY. Over a year, I got 34 full requests from agents, only to hear back 17 bitter times that I had a no. Got an agent and celebrated. Did four rounds of editing with him over the course of a year. Went on submission for a year and got my manuscript passed around at Scholastic. Got a no. Then my agent broke up with me because he didn’t like my writing anymore or maybe he was clearing out his YA clients because YA was lulling or maybe he woke up with a cold with one symptom, a need to break up with me. (We’re “still friends.” Literally. We are Facebook friends, okay?) Then I submitted to small presses with Indie as my real plan (see: cannot get hopes up again; incapable) and got two offers within two weeks. The up-and-down emotions don’t really stop with publication, what with varying reviews and marketing plans can bust out or just go bust. These days, though, I get to have the quiet calm of knowing that no matter what, I’ll always be a published author. I’m very happy.
What are some of your favorite YA mystery novels? Did you know that there are actual Veronica Mars books written by the creator of the television show? Have any of you read them?