New York Times bestselling author April Henry visited several Jackson schools on Friday, telling stories about her life as a writer and giving advice on how to become a published author to students at Jackson High School, Jackson Junior High School and Jackson Middle School.
Henry has published 27 mystery and thriller novels for teens and adults – including “Two Truths and a Lie,” “The Lonely Dead,”
“Playing with Fire,” and “Girl, Stolen.” She visits schools all across the country, but Jackson was her first stop of the school year.
“I grew up in a town about the size of Jackson,” Henry said. She said her hometown of Medford, Oregon, had a population of around 16,000 people when she was growing up. While her family was poor, she was “rich in books” through frequent visits to the library.
At the age of 12, she wrote a short story about a six-foot-tall frog named Herman who loved peanut butter and sent the story to famed children’s author Roald Dahl. Dahl read the story and wrote back to Henry saying he loved it. Dahl also sent the story to the editor of an international children’s magazine Puffin Post, who reached out to Henry to publish her story.
“It maybe was a sign that it was hard to make a living as a writer, at least at first, because I was not paid for the story and in order to get the issue with my story in it, we had to subscribe to the magazine for a year.”
As she got older, Henry didn’t think writers came from places like Medford, so she stopped writing. “You are the only one who can make you give up, and that’s what I did for years and years,” she said.
When she was around 30, she finished a book she hated that was released by a major publisher and thought if writing a terrible book is all you need to do to get published, she was capable of writing a book of her own.
Henry said all her book ideas start with a “what if” question, with many of those ideas taken from her life or from a real-life event. She also usually has to make the idea bigger or worse, because “usually my first idea is not big enough to carry a full story.”
Her book “Two Truths and a Lie” centers on a group of high school kids who are trapped in an old motel during a blizzard. Henry took her experience of being trapped inside a hotel for two days because of a Nebraska blizzard and used several details from that hotel in the book.
Henry also spoke about the research she does to make sure her books are as accurate as possible – from researching guide dogs to better write a blind character in “Girl, Stolen” to touring old RVs to find the best way to escape in “The Girl in the White Van” to running with handcuffs on to better write “The Girl I Used to Be.”
While she has had 27 books published, Henry said she has written closer to 40 books – including some works in progress and others that were never published. She told aspiring authors to make sure to read and write a lot, think critically about what they read and not give up.
“Most people get two rejections from agents and they stop,” Henry said, adding that no one thought of her as a writer when she was in high school and becoming a successful author isn’t always about being the best writer.
In addition to her presentation, students at Jackson High School and Jackson Junior High School had the opportunity to have their books signed by Henry.