An Interview with Kate Horsley by B. Lynn Goodwin
Delving Under the Surface
Twists, turns, drama, angst, and fresh perspective combine to make Kate Horsley’s The American Girl a mystery to savor. The Blavette family has gone missing, and every character, including the American girl, a 17-year-old exchange student staying with the family for the summer, has a motive for making them disappear. Quinn Perkins, the American girl, comes staggering out of the woods with amnesia. Her appearance creates quite a stir. She doesn’t even know her name and while the Twitter search, #the American girl, creates quite a stir, it also brings out a journalist who will stop at nothing to get her story. Molly Swift, who works for a gossipy, sensationalist website, impersonates… I have to stop there. Spoiler alert! Let’s just say that I wanted to get into the head of author Kate Horsley, and I’m delighted to share her answers to my questions here.
LG: Tell us about yourself. When did you know you were a writer and how did you become so good at it?
KH: My mom always encouraged me to make up stories. When I was small, she used to write them down for me and I’d illustrate them. She made a whole book of them for me to keep and that’s when I caught the “bug” of writing books, I think. I’m happiest when I’m writing. When it’s going well, it’s a lot like the feeling of reading: you just want to know how the story is going to end!
LG: Was it your own experiences as an exchange student or something else that inspired this book? How has the book changed since you first got your idea?
KH: My own experience of staying with a family in a small town like St. Roch in my early teens inspired the book. When I was staying in the South of France more recently, the whole thing came back to me and I did a lot of research there, as well as drawing on my teenage diaries to recapture the sense of being in France at that age. As the book developed, the young exchange student became Quinn and I added the character of Molly, a do-anything-for-the-story reporter from Boston, which changed the book a lot.
LG: I’m always thrilled when diaries or journals trigger a story. Do you identify more with Quinn, the 17-year-old or Molly, the journalist? Why?
KH: Molly. I think perhaps because she’s closer to the age I am now and I used a lot of my experiences of living and working in Boston to create her backstory. I really enjoyed writing her scenes and missed her when the book was done.
LG: This is so well plotted. Can you give us any tips for using effective twists in novel writing?
KH: That’s so kind of you to say! I suppose I read a lot and watch a lot of crime drama on TV. I think sometimes when you hit a bump in the road with plotting, reading or watching something in a related genre gives you good ideas for how to solve the fix you’ve got yourself into.
LG: I like that. It’s nice to know that my “breaks” in front of the TV may be feeding my creativity. Or am I taking too much license? What do you hope readers will learn about honesty? About amnesia? About justice?
KH: I think that with all three of those things, my main idea for the novel was that not everything is quite as it seems. Like Molly, I’m interested in delving under the surface of things and finding moral grey areas to explore. If my novel managed to provoke debate on those topics, I’d be thrilled.
LG: What is your process for writing a novel? What steps do you take once the first draft is done?
KH: I keep getting up earlier and earlier so that I can fit some writing into every day along with my other work and childcare and life’s various demands. I think I’ll be getting up at 4 am eventually! I try to fit the first draft into a fairly short space of weeks to keep up my own sense of intensity about the project. If I have time to let something “rest” between drafts, I do. Otherwise, editing for plot and structure begins straight away, followed by successive edits for character, scene, dialogue etc.
LG: How did you find the right agent, and how did she find your publisher?
KH: I was so happy to find an agent as fantastic as Oliver Munson at A.M. Heath. A mutual friend put us in touch. I sent Oli a few pages of The American Girl and he was excited about it and really encouraged me to produce a finished draft. When it was done, he sent it to his list of publishers and got an offer from William Morrow about a week later. I was over the moon and have loved every minute of working with Oli and the amazing teams at William Morrow and Harper Collins UK.
LG: What training do you recommend for people who want to improve their fiction and creative non-fiction?
KH: I don’t think any training is necessary, except being a keen reader and writer and doing those things regularly. The best pieces of advice I’ve had are “write what you love reading” and “write every day”. I think the former is really important because the more you’ve read of the kind of thing you write, the more you’ll know about it and the more you’ll enjoy writing it. The latter is hard, especially since life is busy and there’s a lot to fit in, but even writing down the odd note or two about what you’re working on helps keep your mind working on a project.
LG: Thanks. Your last sentence makes this possible. Maybe these tips are so common because they work. What is your most successful technique for promoting books?
KH: I co-edit the crime review site crimeculture.com with my mom, Lee Horsley. We read a whole lot of crime books and review them and interview authors. Over the years, we’ve built up a social media presence for the site and also gotten to know some wonderful authors. I think that involvement with the crime writing community has made it easier to plunge into Twitter and Facebook to promote my own work.
LG: What are you working on now and where can people learn more about you?
KH: I’ve been working on a follow-up to The American Girl, which will be finished in the next couple of months and I feel very excited about it at the moment. I blog on katehorsley.co.uk and post reviews and news on crimeculture.com and can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads if you want to get in touch
LG: Thank you so much for making your experiences and background accessible to us.
By now I imagine you are working on revisions of the follow-up to The American Girl. I was delighted to find out that your mom and you are both authors and that you are pooling some of your efforts. Now I understand how her helping you as a child made so much difference. You are clearly a strong influence to contemporary authors just as your mother influenced you. I wonder what mother-daughter stories might enter into your work as time passes.
If you like psychological thrillers or are curious about varying points of view or you are just plain curious, you should read Kate Horsley’s The American Girl. Once you start, you’ll want to keep reading.