April Henry is the author of more than 26 titles, from adult thrillers to YA. Her new YA mystery, Girl Forgotten, dives into true-crime territory as the new girl in town, Piper Gray, stumbles across the unsolved murder of Layla Trello from 17 years prior. As Piper begins to untangle the mystery on her true-crime podcast, someone starts to send her anonymous threats to keep her quiet. Henry spoke with PW about the ethical dilemma of telling crime stories, the perfect victim myth, and her advice for those looking to return to writing.

What is your relationship with true-crime podcasts and what about them led to Girl Forgotten?

I have listened to true-crime podcasts, and I also like true-crime documentaries that are done well like The Making of a Murderer. I have to admit that because I am usually on multiple deadlines and traveling, I don’t always have a true-crime podcast that I’m listening to. I won’t say who it was, but there was one I was listening to and really liked. I thought, “Oh, I wonder if that could serve as the premise for a book,” and then I Googled it and they had gotten some of the facts wrong. For me, especially if you’re talking about real people, you need to get your facts right, so I am a little more wary and not trusting everything I hear.

I had seen a story about somebody who got curious about a grave next to her grandmother’s or something, and it turned out to be a body of an unidentified woman. That’s where the original spark of the story came from: what if you saw a grave and you became curious about what happened to this young woman?

There seems to be a rise in YA authors using different forms of narrative structures. What was your intention behind utilizing podcast transcriptions and newspaper clippings?

I’ve done it for a while. I’ve always liked things that are almost like a scrapbook or a collection of things. I wanted to do podcasts and then when I originally submitted the manuscript I had the full podcast episode, but they are very repetitive with the intro and outro. My editor said nobody’s going to want to read something that you just had 30 pages ago, so I ended up cutting the intro and outro after the first one.

Were there any other challenges you faced during the writing process?

I think if there was another challenge, it was trying to decide how it all worked, and what the answer was going to be. I wanted it to not be an expected answer.

I think it's an existential question. How do you balance entertainment and taking from real life?

Girl Forgotten incorporates social awareness into the mystery—specifically, the perfect victim myth. Why was it important for you to discuss this topic?

If I watch the news tonight there is going to be a story where they talk about the missing mom or the murdered teen, and it’s never a murdered old person or a missing homeless guy. There’s always this idealized victim who’s young and pretty and white. And yes, that is actually who the victim is in my book, but I wanted Piper to address that. It’s not so much those things that are drawing Piper in; it’s the fact that they went to the same high school, that she’s seen her grave, and that she feels these parallels with Layla, rather than she’s just drawn because that’s the kind of thing that the media is always interested in.

How did writing this novel change your perspective on the ethics of true crime?

I think it’s a balancing act because there’s entertainment and then there’s what really happened to people. What do you owe the people? A long time ago I wrote a book, Learning to Fly, and it was inspired by a huge multi-car accident in Oregon. I had the accident reports, but I made it that no one died in the same way that the people in the real accident died. I tried to think of different ways. I think it’s an existential question. How do you balance entertainment and taking from real life?

Girl Forgotten marks your 16th YA novel. How has your writing evolved over the years?

When I started there wasn’t an internet, and that’s changed everything. I used to have to do research by going to the library. It was harder to write accurately because it was harder to access information. Now I can not only access accurate information, but I can also get in touch with people for research.

You’ve written about how you started writing books on the side while working a corporate job. What words of advice do you have for those looking to return to writing, but are not sure where to start?

Start really small. I think many people set themselves up with an idea that they need three hours and they don’t ever have that, so then they don’t do anything. Set the timer for 10 or 12 minutes and tell yourself that you’re not going to stop moving your fingers. You’re just watching the words appear on the screen. Turn off the editing part of your brain—the part that starts judging. When it’s done, you’ve succeeded because you need to build up the habit of success rather than feeling like you’re a failure.

What can readers expect next from you?

I have a book coming out in 2024. It’s about a girl whose mom is a senator and they’re on her mom’s private plane when a bomb goes off. The daughter’s the only survivor and before her mother dies, she gives her something very important and tells her she has to give it to somebody.

Girl Forgotten by April Henry. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano Books, $18.99 Mar. 28 ISBN 978-0-031-632259-1