NYT Best Selling Author Karen M. McManus's Inspiring Journey: a Word of Advice & What's Next to Come

Culture

Have you ever had a passion? Something you knew you were destined for? Karen M McManus, author of New York Times Best Seller, One of Us is Lying has known what she wanted to be since she was eight-years-old. And now, years later, she has her fourth book, The Cousins coming out this December!

"I’ve wanted to be an author since I was eight years old. I wrote all the time as a kid, but as I got older it became more difficult to finish anything, and I stopped writing shortly before I left for college," says Ms. McManus, "I didn’t start up again until many years later, when I read The Hunger Games and was inspired to create something of my own. It was so much fun that I haven’t stopped."

Where Did It All Begin?

Like all great origin stories, Karen McManus' is one of trial and error. "I feel like the [YA murder-mystery] genre chose me in some ways". Her first book was dystopian, her second was contemporary-fantasy. Then she landed on this idea of five kids walking into detention, and only four making it out alive. And that's the book that sold!

In Bayview High, 5 kids unexplainably end up in detention. What seemed like a harmless prank, ended up in murder. Who's the killer? Everybody has a secret, but who's are deadly?

Not only did One of Us is Lying sell, but it spent over 130 weeks as a New York Times Best Seller. This amazing story has been picked up by the NBC streaming service, Peacock. The show will be run by Darío Madrona, and stars Chibuikem Uche, Annalisa Cochrane, Marianly Tejada, and Cooper Van Grootel! The series is expected to run for 8 episodes.

In order: Chibuikem Uche as Cooper Clay, Annalisa Cochrane as Addy Prentiss, Marianly Tejada as Bronwyn Rojas, & Cooper Van Grootel as Nate Macauley

Following One of Us is Lying, next came Two Can Keep a Secret. This thrilling story follows the Corcoran twins into the town of Echo Ridge, a town full of twisted mystery and deep family secrets. In Echo Ridge, girls keep going missing, and girls who go missing in Echo Ridge never come back.

One of Us is Next takes us back to Bayview High for a whole new set of mischief and a new set of characters.

One of Us is Lying and One of Us is Next take are centered around a high school setting. Two Can Keep a Secret is an in between being half high school oriented and half family oriented. The Cousins, her newest story takes a whole new perspective, being a mystery set around a family manor.

“I’m usually character first, then plot, with setting a distant third.” McManus said. “I needed the story to take place somewhere that I personally found very compelling, so I created Gull Cove Island, which is like a lesser-known Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard. I grew up visiting those islands and have always loved them.”

"It’s mostly about where the stories take me. With The Cousins in particular, the initial spark of an idea was very family-focused, so a high school setting would only be a distraction. The cousins needed to be away from their normal lives so they could focus on getting to know one another and delving into their family secrets. Since this was my fourth book, I also wanted to challenge myself with setting because that’s never been my strongest suit as a writer."

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised… and curious.

The Process

Every writer has a process that is unique to them. The way you write is important to what you write, and it helps dictate the outcome of your work.

I, for one, am obsessed with how and why things came to be, so I jumped at the chance to ask McManus about her writing process.

For Karen McManus, inspiration most often comes from the media. “The idea for One of Us Is Lying came to me when I was listening to the radio and the theme song from The Breakfast Club came on. I got the idea for Two Can Keep a Secret while watching a true-crime show, and the idea for The Cousins while reading a magazine article about the grandchildren of a prominent family.”

From that first spark she gets a concept. For One of us is lying, it was “the Breakfast Club, with murder”. From there she finds her characters, spending time figuring our the right mix of point of views, the characters' drive, what compels them. She does this so the group will have chemistry. Then after that, she worries about the plot.

I don’t keep a schedule or set word count goals, because I’ve learned that they don’t work for me.

- Karen M. McManus

McManus says if the story's flowing, she'll spend all day and half the night writing “fast and furiously”. But when the stories stuck, she'll step back and figure out what isn't looking for her.

“Sometimes that involves actively trying to solve the problem through brainstorming and conversations with my agent or critique partners, and other times it means taking a break and letting my mind rest until it comes up with a solution on its own,” she says.

Eventually, the story will come to life.

“There’s always a *click* moment where I know I’ve found the emotional core of the story, and once that happens it’s just a matter of getting it down,” Ms. McManus says of the wrapping of an ending for her stories.

When the Story Comes to Life

After the book has made its way through the publishing process is where we come to know it. Karen M. McManus' stories mean so much to so many people. I have friends of all ages who love the stories she has brought to life for us.

Karen is a talented author, she's completely reworked how some people view mystery as a genre. What I find amazing about the whole situation is One of Us is Lying started out contemporary, and the mystery elements were added in later.

"My primary interest was telling the story of the four characters. The mystery elements came later, but since I’d read so many of them growing up, I felt like I had a solid understanding of what would keep a reader guessing," she says.

Drafting is important, and with talent and hard work, Karen McManus has become one of (although in my opinion the) best YA Murder-Mystery writers.

Writing is an art, one in which Karen M. McManus is incredibly gifted. I got Two Can Keep a Secret for my birthday, and it reminded me why I fell in love with reading. A good author writes things you enjoy, but a great author brings you into a world you didn't know you were meant to be part of. Karen McManus is beyond a great author.

Luckily, we haven't heard the last of her. Karen's next book You’ll Be the Death of Me, which she described as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets a YA murder mystery” was just announced. Although it doesn't have an official publication date, she said to expect it sometime around Fall 2021. On top of that, she told me that she just finished drafting her sixth book!

Her Word of Advice for You

I would like to leave you with what I found to be inspirational words from this sensational person.

To the uproar of your creators looking to get into the world of writing, and to people getting started;

“We need your voice! Go forth and create, and don’t worry too much about whether what you’re writing is publishable. You have plenty of time for that. Find what you’re passionate about, connect with other creatives, read as widely as possible, and hone your craft,” she encourages.

“Beyond what I said above, I’d add to not self-reject. That’s what I did in high school, when I decided (all on my own) that I wasn’t a strong enough writer to become an author. Let somebody else tell you no, and don’t get discouraged when they do. Publishing is a competitive business, and even the most successful authors have been rejected many times. Rejection isn’t failure, it’s a stepping stone to success.”

Find what you’re passionate about, connect with other creatives, read as widely as possible, and hone your craft.

-Karen M. McManus

Support Her Author Journey

You can find Karen M. McManus' books anywhere! If you haven't already, go catch up on the Bayview High kids. Delve into the secrets of the town of Echo Ridge. Pre-order The Cousins because it comes out tomorrow and you're not going to want to miss a second of the secrets on Gull Cove Island! And be sure to keep an eye out for what's yet to come.

Alicia Renee
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Alicia Renee is a senior in high school who wants to create in any way she can. She's highly active in the political and social justice community. Alicia likes to spend her time learning, writing, sewing, crafting, editing (photos, videos, essays, anything) and being around the people she loves.