Described as “The Breakfast Club” meets “Pretty Little Liars”, Karen M. McManus’s debut book has exploded internationally as one of the best YA mystery thrillers in 2017. The New York Bestseller focuses on four students who find themselves at the forefront of a murder investigation when their classmate dies inexplicably in detention. McManus briefly discusses the inspiration behind One of Us Is Lying, the E! adaptation of her book and different reader reactions to the poignant storylines of some of her characters.
Why did you choose this story as your debut novel, what kind of message did you want to announce as an upcoming author?
KM: I think the story chose me. I had written and queried two other novels previously, but neither resulted in agent representation. There were a lot of themes I wanted to explore with One of Us Is Lying, but the primary one is that of acceptance—both of yourself and of others. Everyone in the book grows because they become more comfortable with the person they are, instead of the person the world expects them to be.
What’s the significance of the title? Is it supposed to create this false plateau of who do you believe more with these preconceived expectations of high school stereotypes?
KM: It’s a quote from one of the main characters within the text, and I thought it captured the mystery at the heart of the story, as well as the narrators’ unreliability.
The book has been described as “The Breakfast Club” meets “Pretty Little Liars“. How big of an influence were those things to your writing and, alternatively, what (or who) has inspired you the most?
KM: Both were influences—I got the initial idea for One of Us Is Lying while listening to the theme song from “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty Little Liars” is one of my favorite TV shows. I’m also inspired by Agatha Christie, in particular her books “And Then There Were None” and “Murder on the Orient Express.”
It’s been announced that E! is developing the book for TV. Are you taking on any kind of role in the writing of the show or in producing?
KM: We’re still in very early stages, but I’m consulting with the producers and I’m excited about their vision for the show.
Some people took issue with how the plot twists dealing with sexuality and mental illness felt sensationalised and disrespectful. Was that something you were mindful of while writing?
KM: I always try to be mindful while writing, but I understand and respect that reader reaction will vary.
Addy’s storyline has the most feminist undertones and Cooper’s closeted experience is also very poignant. What made you decide to write such topical and sensitive themes like the subtle abuse in Addy’s relationship and Cooper’s outing?
KM: Addy’s POV is an important one, because abusive relationships often start with behavior that can be misinterpreted as romantic. As for Cooper, I wish we lived in a world where every kid felt safe to be who they are and were supported by the people in their lives, but that isn’t reality for many teens. I recently heard from a 13-year old who said Cooper’s story gave him the courage to come out to his family, and that’s one of the best emails I’ve ever received.
What are your thoughts on those who argue that only people who aren’t straight or who aren’t white should write from that unique POV because it undermines the voices of those who write from those perspectives and represent them?
KM: Own voices stories are vital, and those of us writing outside our lane shouldn’t attempt to replicate or replace them. What we can do, though, is create fictional casts that mirror the diversity of the real world.One of Us Is Lying has four main characters, and it didn’t make sense to me that they would all be white and straight.
Why do you think so many producers, authors, etc, create and base their entertainment around teenagers? What is it about those years that make so many people, including yourself, write about later on in life?
KM: The young adult years are an intense and pivotal point of life. I’s the time when your worldview is beginning to take shape, when you experience many things for the first time, and when and you start making decisions that lay the groundwork for who you’ll become as an adult.
Do you have any wise advice about book-writing or writing in general to anyone who wants to emulate your success and breakout into the industry like you have?
KM: I wish there were a formula that writers could follow, because then all books would have the success they deserve. In reality, there’s a lot of luck and timing involved in having a breakout book. However I do think there are things authors can do to be prepared: hone your craft constantly; be respectful and collaborative with all the writers, readers, bloggers, and other industry professionals you meet; and think carefully about the kind of career you want to have so that you can chose the right partners for your journey.
What can you tell us about your second book that’s scheduled to come out in 2018?
KM: The publication date is still TBD, but the book is another standalone YA mystery, set in a small town with a tragic past where history might be repeating itself. We just came up with a title that I love, but I can’t share it yet.