Kara Thomas, author of The Darkest Corners and Little Monsters is basically our queen of mysteries so we asked Kara about her inspiration, her favorite crime stories, and her writing process . . .
1. You are basically the queen of the twist. What is your writing process like? Do you know the twists and turns you’re going to include from the beginning? Do you start the story with the ending in mind?
I didn’t always plot out my books before I started them, but I learned the hard way that writing mysteries is like making a Jenga tower—if you take out one piece, the whole thing can come crashing down. Now I reverse engineer my stories. I always know the ending and what the main twist is going to be, and I build the book around that.
As I’m writing, though, I usually discover that some twists and turns don’t hold up, and then I have to think of new ones. Even the best-laid outline can go awry!
2. Your books are dark and deal with some pretty scary scenarios. Where do you get your inspiration? Do your ideas ever scare you?
I actually get scared pretty easily—growing up, I always used to bug my parents to double-check the locks and the windows before I went to bed at night. I think I wound up writing about dark things, especially crime, as a way to deal with the uglier parts of life that scare me. It’s sort of like unmasking your fears and taking control of them.
I usually get my inspiration from real-life cases, especially ones that remain unsolved. When a story doesn’t have a resolution, my imagination sort of goes wild. Sometimes the research involved will creep me out, and I have to take a step back. I always try to ask myself why I’m writing about the creepy thing—I never want to glorify the crime itself, or the perpetrator. I’m more interested in the psychology of crime, of what pushes ordinary people to do the unthinkable. So I have to consider that balance while writing.
3. In Little Monsters, one of the elements that gripped me right from the beginning was the depth you give to each of your characters. Do you base them on people from your life? Do you have a favorite from Little Monsters? Tell us about your character-development process.
The main characters in Little Monsters—Kacey, Bailey, and Jade—are an amalgamation of the various girls I knew in high school. Each girl has qualities of real people I knew, for better or for worse. I tend to think of character development in terms of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think it’s important for characters to have qualities that fit into all of those categories. In thrillers especially, characters shouldn’t be 100 percent good or 100 percent evil.
If I had to pick a favorite character in Little Monsters, I’d choose Bailey for a number of reasons, even though she’s not a friend I’d ever want to have! But she was the most fun to write—especially spilling her soul in her journal entries.
4. Do you personally believe in ghosts? Do you have any real-life ghost stories? If not, what is your favorite crime story?
I don’t believe in ghosts in the traditional sense, but I do believe in creepy, inexplicable phenomena. There’s a case where the body of a man who had only been missing for seventy-two hours showed up in a field, badly decomposed. In his pocket were two notes written in code. The country’s most skilled cryptologists have never been able to crack the code, even though the man holding the notes only knew how to write his name, according to his mother.
Cases like those fascinate me—even if there’s nothing ghostly going on, the way they become urban legends is kind of supernatural in itself.
5. What types of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite mystery or thriller?
I love to read everything! I really like nonfiction, especially memoirs that have a bit of mystery to them, like Brain on Fire. I also obviously really like true-crime stories. My favorite mystery of all time is Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane, although I love all of his books. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is another one of my favorite mysteries.
6. If you could invite any authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and what would you ask them?
Definitely J. R. R. Tolkien or J. K. Rowling. I don’t write fantasy, but I love reading and watching it, and I’m dying to know how a fantasy writer’s brain works. I’d love to talk about world building with a pro. And, of course, since I’m such a huge Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter nerd, I’d have a ton of questions.
7. What is one thing you want readers to know about Little Monsters before they read it?
Don’t read it alone at night! I’ve been told it’s unsettling.