YEM Author Interview: Margot Harrison chats about growing up reading the classic YA thrillers that led her to writing We Made It All Up

Margot Harrison is the author of We Made It All Up. We Made It All Up is a young adult thriller that follows Celeste who is the talk of the town when she moves to Montana from Montreal. YEM was able to speak with Margot about if anything in We Made It All Up inspired by her life,  favorite part of writing a thriller, and what she learned about herself as a writer since she started writing.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an author?

Margot Harrison: I was eight. We lived way out in the country with no neighbors, TV, or internet, so books were my only source of entertainment. One day I thought, “Hey, I could write my own book! It would be just like reading, only backward! Imagine how many more stories I would have to enjoy that way!” I started writing strange little stories and poems in a notebook, and I haven’t stopped writing since. It took me a long time to craft stories anyone else wanted to read, though!

YEM: What made you want to write a young adult thriller?

Margot: I’ve always loved scary stories and psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators. I love stories that throw you off-kilter from the beginning and keep you there, forcing you to solve the mystery along with the main character. I grew up reading the classic YA thrillers of Lois Duncan, and I loved how she created an ominous atmosphere and vibe that sucked readers right in. I hope to do the same with We Made It All Up.

YEM: Is anything in We Made It All Up inspired by your life?

Margot: The main character of the book, Celeste, writes fanfiction about two boys at her school and uses those stories to process something disturbing that happened in her own life. I have never written fanfiction about real people—and I don’t advise writing it about people you actually know!—but I understand how fiction can be a healing force. I was a shy, insecure teen like Celeste. Also like her, I lived for a while in a small town where I didn’t feel welcome. Books and writing meant so much to me, because they allowed me to imagine other worlds and escape into them. So, while I’ve certainly never solved a murder mystery like the one in the book, that theme is close to my heart.

YEM: What was the writing process like for you?

Margot: This book has a dual narrative—alternating chapters in the present and past—so I used index cards to organize my scenes and keep them all straight. It was complicated! I had help from two wonderful readers—both also YA writers—who pushed me to make the story stronger. My main character is very withdrawn, so one of the biggest challenges was opening up her inner life to the reader.

YEM: What was your favorite part of writing a thriller?

Margot: I’m fascinated (and creeped out) by caves and other dark, twisty places, and I will find any excuse to put them in a book. In We Made It All Up, there’s a sinister cave that hosts meetings of a secret society. It’s where the town keeps its dark secrets, and it’s a good place for my heroine to hide and spy on people. Writing scenes in the cave was great fun for me, though one of my readers said those scenes made her claustrophobic!

YEM: How long was the writing process?

Margot: It took me years to figure out the right shape for this book. At one point I wrote a complete draft that I ended up throwing away to try a new approach to the story. Once I had the small-town setting, I knew I finally had a version of the book that would work.

YEM: Do you have any advice for someone who would like to be an author?

Margot: Read! Print, audio, ebooks, it doesn’t matter—just read lots of stories in the genre you want to write in. The books that you love will teach you how to write your own story better than any writing manual or class could do.

YEM: What is one takeaway you hope your readers gain from reading We Made It All Up?

Margot: High school can feel like a stage where some people have the lead roles (athlete, homecoming queen, debate champion) and others are extras or walk-ons. My characters come from both categories. They compare themselves to the high school stereotypes they see in TV dramas (“the quirky girl,” “the bad boy”), but in reality, they are so much more than those stereotypes. I hope the book will remind readers that everyone is the star of their own life, and even the quietest kids can have a lot to say.

YEM: What have you learned about yourself as a writer since you started writing?

Margot: I’ve learned that I’m not very good at making up a plot as I go along, so I need to outline, outline, outline!

YEM: Who is an author that inspires you?

Margot: Courtney Summers (author of Sadie) was a special inspiration for this book because she’s so good at writing stories about realistically troubled teens that are also absorbing mysteries.

YEM: What is a book that made you fall in love with literature?

Margot: Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was the first thing I read when I learned to read, and then I reread it over and over. It’s a quite dark book for kids, so I guess my early love for it helps explain why I became a thriller writer!

YEM: What is one word that you would use to describe We Made It All Up?

Margot: Twisty.

YEM: What is your favorite quote from the book?

Margot: “Girls get hurt every day. Girls make up dark stories to deal with their hurt every day. Sometimes they share them with people who understand. And the world keeps turning.”

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