Mystery novelist follows her dreams
While showering in her "ramshackle" apartment in Corbett many years ago, Southwest Portland-based author April Henry heard her kitchen window lift open.
Not wanting to accept the frightening truth, she said, "Who's in my kitchen?" and only heard menacing breathing in return.
Realizing the absurdity of her question, she bolted out of her apartment and into her friend's apartment nearby. Once the police showed up and after the intruder fled, she found her dish towels were missing. She thought this tidbit was amusing — until the policemen told her the intruder likely planned to tie her up with them.
Though she may have escaped horrifying outcomes such as rape or death, Henry believes she could have handled the situation better — which may explain why the bestselling author writes about young women who respond cleverly to life-or-death stakes in many of her novels.
"It drew me to stories about women or girls in jeopardy. You would like to think you would do something clever. Maybe you wouldn't," Henry said. "A lot of my books come from that event."
Henry, who has lived in Multnomah Village for 22 years, is scheduled to discuss her 2017 novel "Count All Her Bones" at Annie Bloom's Books on May 10. She has earned nominations for the Agatha Award, the American Library Association Top 10 Books for Teens and The Edgar Award, and her book "The Body in the Woods" won the Oregon Book Award.
Morbidity has interested Henry throughout her life, she says, and influenced her writing.
Along with the close call in her 20s, Henry witnessed victims carried into ambulances and a dead body wallowing in the grass while tagging along with her journalist father. She also figured out that her great grandfather had murdered her grandmother's boyfriend and that one of her other relatives was murdered at a barbershop in the mid-1800s.
"It would be interesting to go back in time and know my grandma back then. It makes me like her more than I did in the past," Henry said.
Henry wrote stories in elementary school, but as a poor kid living in Medford who thought being a novelist was an aristocratic calling, she grew discouraged. So she quit.
She lived a normal, successful life — attending college and then working in the Kaiser Permanente communications department. But then, at age 30, she checked out a "terrible" book at the library. Her passionate distaste inspired her to become a novelist.
"I finished it and I thought, 'That book sucks and it got published. I could do that. I'm capable of writing a terrible book,'" Henry said.
Since then, she has written more than 20 books, including teen mysteries, and seven books with Lisa Wiehl, a former legal analyst for Fox News.
Henry says she didn't initially set out to write books for teenagers, but she just so happened to write a book about a parent who hires kidnappers to take their child to a rigorous teen camp in Mexico. The book was about a 16-year-old, and she wrote it for adults. But feeling like it might draw more teenagers, her agent told her to shorten the book and take out the swear words. The book was a success and Henry had found a niche.
Since then, she has written many more teen-oriented books and also gives talks at schools across the United States.
"Teens either love you or they're bored by you. Adults are pretty much dispassionate. Kids are more fun," Henry said.
She says there is a dearth of teen-oriented mystery novel writers and is happy to fill the void. She doesn't find the writing process to be any different when writing a book for teens than an adult book, but she says the rhythm of the book release is different.
"Adult books have less time to be successful. They look at 8-10 weeks. Teen books, publishers know it might get a state award or grow over time," Henry said. "There's not as much pressure."
To research "Count All Her Bones" — wich is a sequel to "Girl, Stolen" about a blind girl who is kidnapped and held for ransom — Henry took jujitsu classes for blind people in Northeast Portland and met with a representative of One Touch, an England-based self-defense program for the blind. Because the main character does so in the book, she learned how to take off her watch while wearing handcuffs and unlocking the handcuffs with the watch.
She has also toured police impounds, participated in the FBI's Citizen's Academy and ridden with cops to gain a better understanding of her subject matter.
"I don't want to write about something that isn't right," Henry said.
Henry was planning to discuss her upcoming book "Run, Hide, Fight Back," about a mall shooting, but in light of recent mass shootings, her publisher delayed the book's release date. In the meantime, Henry is traveling the country and planning her next few books. For one, she's planning to write a book about a dead body found in Gabriel Park.
"I've spent a lot of time there trying to find a good place to put a body," Henry said.
Henry says persistence is the key to unlocking dreams; and, in her school talks, she tells kids to never give up.
"I talk about, 'Where do you get ideas from; what do you do when you get an idea; how do you get an idea that can turn into a book, not giving up on your dreams,'" Henry said. "I truly believe if you want to be anything, it's about not giving up. That applies to almost everything."