Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Interview with Diana Urban for All Your Twisted Secrets

All Your Twisted Secrets

by Diana Urban
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 17th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary
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This thrilling debut, reminiscent of new fan favorites like One of Us Is Lying and the beloved classics by Agatha Christie, will leave readers guessing until the explosive ending.

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

Can you briefly describe ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS and its characters?

All Your Twisted Secrets is about Amber, a 17-year-old aspiring film score producer who arrives at an invite-only dinner and is locked into the deserted restaurant with five other students. They uncover a tray with a syringe of poison, a bomb, and a note that reads: “Within the hour, you must choose someone in this room to die. If you don’t, everyone dies.” Determined to get everyone out alive, Amber orchestrates friends and foes alike to work together, grappling with the clashing personalities of her jock boyfriend, her nerd crush, her former best friend, the queen bee, and the stoner. But as the bomb’s timer ticks down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to uncover who locked them in… and who’s going to die.

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

I’d be epically betraying my protagonist Amber if I said anyone other than her! Amber’s quirky voice crystalized in my mind very early, and her dreams, hopes, fears, and motivations shaped the events both in the room and in the alternating flashback chapters. Those flashbacks track her struggle to win over the intimidating queen bee Sasha (who’s drama club director) to score the school play and get into her dream music school. This is the heart of the story: her relationships with the others and how she deals with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one. I loved writing her, and now that the novel’s out in the world and out of my hands, I miss her.

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

One day my husband and I started speculating the shortest timespan you could set a book or movie to, throwing ideas back and forth. Could an entire book take place over just fifteen minutes? No way, that’s not enough time to accomplish anything. But what about an hour? What if you locked a group of people in a room for an hour? What if someone died at the end of the hour? What if the trapped people killed one of them? What if they had to choose someone to kill, or else they’d all die? We exchanged this look that was like, “Bingo,” and I raced to my desk and started scribbling down ideas for characters I could put into this crazy situation.

I was inspired by so many things. The Escape Room apps and franchises surely crept into my subconscious as I drafted. I also grew up addicted to listening to movie scores, and Amber fiercely wants to become a film score producer. I was bullied and ostracized as a teenager, and those experiences helped shape some of the major themes in the book — namely bullying and mental health. So my story includes an amalgamation of influences from my life — the good and the bad.

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

Truth be told, I mostly listen to movie scores (just like Amber!), and I haven’t yet found a song with vocalizations that would describe this book. If anyone has any ideas after they read, I’d love to hear them.J

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

Since the majority of characters in this book are teens, I tried not to get attached to any particular dream casting, since if/when a movie or TV show ever gets made, any current teen actors would likely be too old to be cast in these roles. I will say, though, that I pictured David Harbour (the police chief and father figure in Stranger Things) as Amber’s dad!

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

A coffee and an Escape Room venue. You’d need the coffee for the energy to read FAST and finish the book before time runs out so you can escape the room!

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS?

I love Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (though it’s more of a “locked island” thriller!), a murder mystery where ten people at an island retreat are picked off one by one. I used it as one of my comp titles while querying literary agents. Christie is the queen of red herrings, and she said herself this was the most difficult of her books to write. So I’d recommend picking up that one!

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

Thrillers in particular are a daunting genre too write. From effectively building tension, to hiding information from readers until the right time, to strategically placing red herrings… it’s a lot. But it’s important to throw away the notion of writing a perfect first draft. The real magic happens during revisions. Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces out of the box and setting them down in order, from left to right, one at a time—you don’t write a thriller that way, either. Instead you scatter all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel) and then you tackle one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fits together. It can be overwhelming to conceptualize a thriller all at once, but when you break it down and take one element at a time, it’s easier to manage in your brain. At least, that’s how it works for me!

As a reader, what is the “one thing” that a mind-blowing story must have, in your opinion?

A protagonist (or multiple protagonists) with a voice you connect with, where you want to be in their head and are invested in them as a person. As long as that’s true, they can be in any sort of situation, and you’ll care about what happens to them!

What’s next for you?

While I can’t get into specifics here, I will say that I finished revising two different projects in 2020 — both young adult thrillers. Stay tuned!

I’m Diana Urban, and I write dark, twisty thrillers for teens including All Your Twisted Secrets (HarperTeen, March 17th 2020). When I’m not torturing fictional characters, I’m a marketing manager at BookBub, a leading book discovery platform. Outside the bookish world, I live with my husband and cat in Boston, and enjoy reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading mysteries and thrillers and the premise promises an ending I'll never see coming, so this book is on my must read list.