Hi, Abigail! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Dangerous Girls?
Dangerous Girls is told by an eighteen year-old American girl, Anna, who stands accused of murdering her best friend during spring break in Aruba. As the trial unfolds, she struggles to clear her name, but nothing—and nobody—is as it seems...
Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?
My daily word-count is a pretty standard equation: total words left / time left to write them! This is my eighth novel, so I’ve managed to settle into a routine. I’ll spend my mornings dealing with social media, blog things, etc, at home, and then go set up camp in a local coffee shop to write for the afternoon. Living in LA means there’s a ton of great cafes to choose from—and plenty of great people-watching to keep me entertained.
In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?
For me, it’s actually quite personal: once I figure out which part of my own life, or emotional experience I can build into the character, then they really click into focus. There’s always a moment near the start of the book when I really need to connect with the reader, to get them invested in the story that’s about to unfold, and I think the only way to do it is a real authentic, emotional connection. I change details and events, but I have to ground the character in something that’s true to me.
The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Dangerous Girls apart from the pack?
Well, hopefully it’s a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat kind of read! I tried to throw in plenty of unexpected twists and revelations you’ll never see coming, but also strip back the surface of the characters and delve deep into the darker side of their relationships. I hope readers will be thinking about it long after they turn the final page.
Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?
I love building playlists for my books and characters. For Anna and Elise (her BFF), it was all about epic, haunting, dark songs: plenty of Florence and the Machine, Carina Round, Band of Horses. Also more upbeat tracks to reflect the mood when they first met: Ellie Goulding’s album is great.
How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?
It’s pretty much expected now that authors will be active online, which has its good side and bad. I love being able to chat directly with my readers, and see their excitement as they live-tweet reading a book. Doing blog features like this one also lets me pull back the curtain and show you all a little behind the scenes. On the other hand, it’s so easy to get sucked into social media and realize you haven’t written anything on your book today!
Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?
Oh, God, yes. The things I write about may be very different to my own teen experience (I was never on trial for murdering anyone!) but all the emotions are grounded directly in my own experience. I started writing novels when I was still a teenager, so I was able to tap into that period in my life from the start. My romantic comedy novels (written as Abby McDonald) are all coming-of-age stories, and even in these new darker, more thriller-style books, the characters still grapple with first love, new desire, and deciding what kind of people they’re going to be.
There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?
Read everything. This idea of ‘appropriate’ is such a false construct to me—and it’s very telling that the idea of ‘appropriate teen reading’ usually involves straight, white, middle-class teens having very innocent adventures around first kisses and friend problems.
Don’t get me wrong: that was my teenage experience, and it’s a valid one to explore in literature. But teenagers aren’t one homogenous group; they’re a vast collection of young people with different lives and experiences. They have sex, they drink and experiment with drugs, they struggle with rape and abuse and violence—in the home, and from romantic partners. They have children, and abortions, and take responsibility for their families as carers; they deal with racism and homophobia and poverty.
Saying that there shouldn’t be reading material that reflects this complex, often-times dark reality—in addition to a more traditional view of ‘first kiss’ teenage life—is denying a huge swathe of modern teen experience, and risks alienating them from literature by censoring stories that ring true to their own lives.
Thank you so much for your time, Abigail. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?
I have a sort-of companion novel to Dangerous Girls that I’m working on right now, called (wait for it) Dangerous Boys. It’s not a sequel, but it’s another dark psychological thriller, with death and mystery and plenty of twisted relationships. That should be out next year!