Kara Thomas has written for everything, from her high school newspaper to Warner Bros. Television. She is a true-crime addict who lives on Long Island with her husband and rescue cat. She is the author of The Darkest Corners, Little Monsters, and The Cheerleaders. To learn more about Kara and her books, visit her at kara-thomas.com or follow @karatwrites on Twitter and @kara_thomas on Instagram.
Katelyn Wildman: Your first novel was written while you were still in college. What were some of the difficulties you faced being a young writer and trying to get your work published? How did it feel to have your first novel published at such a young age?
Kara Thomas: The most difficult part of trying to get a novel published while I was in college was balancing the demands of my classes with finding time to write. I spent pretty much my entire time in college trying to get published, so my summers were spent researching agents, crafting query letters, and sending my work out into the world (and waiting). During the year I focused on school, which relegated my writing time to late nights and weekends. My first book was published when I was 23; for perspective, I started trying to get published at 19.
KT: Dennis Lehane and Gillian Flynn are my favorite authors and write the type of morally complex books that I want to write. Growing up, I was inspired by Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, and Stephen King.
KW: What authors or books have inspired you and your writing?
KW: So far, your novels have all been psychological thrillers, do you plan on continuing in this genre, or switching to a different one?
KT: I love the crime/thriller genre, so any book I write will probably have some sort of mystery element, but a lot of the ideas I have for future projects are very different from what I’m writing now. The idea I’d like to work on next is actually a science fiction thriller. I’m also working on an adult crime novel.
KW: Your books all surround a murder mystery, how do you come up with the twists that keep your readers coming back to your stories?
KT: I think a good twist is believable and thought-provoking. I don’t like twists that pull the rug out from under the reader and flip the whole story on its head. I try to come up with my twists by asking myself how can I add another layer to the story at the ending– either by giving the character a moral dilemma to deal with or revealing another layer to a character and their motivations.
KW: How did you come up with the idea for The Cheerleaders, or what was your inspiration?
KT: I was loosely inspired by the story of Dryden, New York, and the tragic events that took place there in the late 80s-90s. I read a fantastic long-form article by E. Jean Carroll about the town, and I came away with a lot of questions about how one community can absorb so much loss.
KW: In The Cheerleaders, part of what made me so attached to the story was the older sister/younger sister dynamic. Was this relationship a reflection of your own experiences?
KT: I’m actually an only child. A lot of readers think I must have a sister, since all of my main characters have relationships with their sisters that factor prominently into the plots of my books, but I don’t.
KW: What made you want to focus on the group of cheerleaders as opposed to another group that might be found in a high school?
KT: What happens in the town of Sunnybrook is the quintessential American tragedy– the most beautiful, popular girls are the ones who are killed. I wanted to examine society’s perverse obsession with these stories, where the more likable the victim is, the more attention a crime will get. Monica doesn’t want to be a victim, and she doesn’t care about being likable, so I thought she would provide a contrast with the traditional view of the American cheerleader.
KW: Which character do you relate to most in The Cheerleaders?
KT: I felt myself empathizing the most with Jen while I was writing– I never lost my friends to tragedy the way she did, but the emotions she experiences in her sophomore year, realizing that her friends are growing apart from her, was something I dealt with as a teenager. Her crushing loneliness and feeling like her friends are slipping away is something I’m familiar with.
KW: Why did you decide to do the switching from Monica’s perspective to Jennifer’s perspective?
KT: I thought it was really important to get Jen’s perspective of the weeks leading up to the tragedies. Monica can only uncover so much of the truth with the information she has on hand, so Jen’s point of view allowed me to raise more questions for the reader and thread in suspense.
KW: With Ginny’s character, you touch on the topics of domestic violence and alcoholism without making it the main focus of the story. What made you want to include these topics in your novel?
KT: A theme I wanted to hit on was that the people you encounter in high school are complicated and things aren’t always what they appear. Ginny is the quiet girl who is dealing with some seriously heavy stuff at home, but no one would ever guess it by looking at her.
KW: The “villain” caught me completely off-guard! Did you plan for this character to be the villain from the beginning, or did your idea change as you wrote?
KT: I knew from the beginning who was responsible for the murders– the motivation and how it all played out, as well as how the other deaths were connected, evolved and grew with each draft, but it was always going to be that person who killed Julianna and Susan.
KW: What can readers expect from you next?
KT: My next book, still untitled, is about three best friends that go on a dangerous hiking trip… and only one comes back alive.