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Welcome back to my Author Spotlight series! I was able to interview YA thriller mystery author Kit Frick about her new novel “Very Bad People.” 2021 ITW Thriller Award finalist in the Best Young Adult category from Pennslyvania, Frick is an editor and a poet who studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University.

Set in the world of Tipton Academy, “Very Bad People” follows Calliope Bolan who searches for answers about her mother’s mysterious death. Filled with secrets and a dangerous game of revenge, “Very Bad People” is a dark academia young adult thriller novel for fans of “The Female of the Species” and “People Like Us.”

Any warnings for your readers for this book? What can they expect?

Yes! Triggers include: parental death, murder, discussion of (not graphic or on-page) abuse, discussion of suicide (also not graphic or on-page).

In terms of what else you can expect, if you’re a sucker for the following, “Very Bad People” should be up your alley:

*dark academia

*sister drama
*secret societies
*dark family secrets
*first love
*mysterious letters
*moral quandaries

What inspired you to write “Very Bad People?”

​​In 2009, I had just moved to upstate New York for graduate school, and I was horrified and fascinated to learn of the Diane Schuler case, in which a woman drove the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway, resulting in the crash that killed herself and seven others, including her daughter and three nieces. It’s now well-documented by several podcasts and an HBO documentary.

I wanted to interrogate that kind of traumatic event, the kind that rarely has a satisfying explanation, and explore its impact on one family. I began with the idea of a teen girl revisiting her mother’s mysterious death—a drowning incident that she and her sisters survived—several years later, and her hunch that there was a lot more to what happened than meets the eye.

I knew Calliope, my main character, would want to escape her small hometown where she’d been living in a fishbowl after the tragedy, but where would she go? From there, the idea of the boarding school setting, Tipton Academy, and the secret society, Haunt and Rail, began to take shape. What new mysteries would Calliope uncover at her new school? How would it all tie together? Everything flowed from that point.

When you write, do you start with a certain scene or character? What’s your writing process like?

I usually start with something like I’ve described above—a mystery that fascinates me or some other spark drawn from real life or a podcast or film, something that sticks with me and eventually becomes the seed for a story of my own creation. From there, I typically spend several months puzzling out the plot, the characters, the backstory, until I’m ready to sit down and write.

What drew you to writing mystery thriller young adult novels?

I’ve been drawn toward YA since I first started writing fiction because I still feel so closely tuned into my adolescent self. I’m old now, but I still feel sixteen most days! In terms of the thriller genre, I’ve always loved a good mystery. So thrillers with a mystery for me to build—and for readers to solve along with my characters—are a natural fit for me as a writer. I think YA and thrillers pair so nicely because as a teenager, the stakes of even everyday problems can feel like life and death. I know they did for me! In a thriller, the stakes are quite literally life and death, so the genre feels like an extension of the real teen experience.

Did you have a favorite scene or chapter that you enjoyed when writing “Very Bad People?”

I loved writing all the Haunt and Rail scenes—the secret society that Calliope joins at Tipton Academy. I loved dreaming up their clubhouse, in the basement of the school library, writing their induction ceremony, and devising their “larks,” the society’s word for the pranks/activist actions they undertake to enact change around campus.

If you were one of your teenage characters in this book, which one would you have been and why?

Probably Calliope—aren’t we often similar in some ways to our protagonists?—in that I had a strong desire to leave my hometown as a teen, and I have an insatiable curiosity when it comes to unsolved mysteries.

Which character put you outside your comfort zone, but you still had fun writing?

Ooh a lot of the characters in this book fit the bill! Some of the “ghosts” (i.e. the members of the Haunt and Rail Society) are very different from me, but I had a lot of fun spending time in their dark and passionate world. Particularly, Lee, Brit, and Lucas.

Did any books help inspire “Very Bad People?” Any recommendations or new releases you’re excited about?

“Very Bad People” wasn’t inspired by another novel, but I have some great recommendations for readers seeking more boarding school thrillers or dark academia YA! Check out Victoria Lee’s “A Lesson in Vengeance,” “People Like Us” by Dana Mele, “Wilder Girls” by Rory Power, Maureen Johnson’s “Truly Devious” series and the “Get Even” series by Gretchen McNeil.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors or for people who wish to make it big in the book publishing world?  

I have no idea how to go about making it big in the book world—please let me know if you hold the secret!—but I do have some favorite advice for new writers, that I love to pass on. Read widely in your age category and genre. Get to know the playing field. Seek out trusted readers for your work and listen to their feedback. Know that you don’t have to take every piece of feedback. Revise. Revise more. Remember that publishing is not a meritocracy. There’s a lot of luck and timing involved in getting a book published, and while both of those factors are beyond your control, understanding that they play a key role can help put your experience and others’ in perspective. And finally, don’t call yourself “aspiring.” If you’re writing, you’re already doing it.

How do you think your experience as a poet weaves into your experience as an author?

I came to poetry first as a writer, and studied quite a lot of it, first as an undergraduate and then through an MFA program. Skills I learned in those poetry workshops (primarily how to take feedback and sort through it and use it to become a better writer) have certainly benefited my fiction craft as well. I do think the word- and line-level attention one pays to craft as a poet has benefited my prose, especially in revision. I’m always tuned in to sentence structure and can spend far too much time agonizing over a particular word choice! The two genres feel rather distinct in my creative brain, but I think there’s more interplay going on than I’m often consciously aware of.

When Calliope is first introduced to Tipton Academy, she’s homesick and aware of how she’s not submerged in this bubble yet. How does this compare to your own college experience?

The funny thing is, in my large public suburban high school, I felt very much like an outsider. So while I was never “the new kid” like Calliope is at Tipton, I was absolutely able to draw from my own adolescent feelings of not belonging and existing a bit on the fringes of the mainstream. I very deliberately chose to attend a small “hippie” liberal arts college, where I instantly felt like a weirdo among a sea of weirdos. It was perfect! So while my college had a lot more in common with Tipton than my high school did, in terms of my personal experience, that outsider feeling was very high school for me.

Your writing from Calliope’s perspective seems to be very straight to the point and honest. What helped you prepare to write from her point of view?

As I mentioned earlier, I still feel very emotionally close to my teenage self. I think I’d have to do a lot of work to tap into a middle grade voice, or younger, but writing teenagers comes very naturally because I still remember who I was then and how I felt and how I interacted with the world so vividly. In terms of Calliope specifically, I do think my longing to escape from my home town at her age helped me tap into her mindset right away.

What Starbucks drink would you choose to describe Calliope and why?

Calliope only drinks tea, so she’d be a Grande Passion Fruit Iced Tea with lots of sugar! (Something she actually orders early in the book, at a local coffee shop called Frances Bean.)

You can visit Kit online at KitFrick.com and on Twitter and Instagram. Thank you so much to Kit Frick who answered my questions, and I can’t wait to read “Very Bad People” to discover a world of secrets and dark academia. Special thanks to Nicole Valdez from Simon & Schuster who helped this interview process along. “Very Bad People” is already available for purchase everywhere.

Sabrina Blandon is an English Literature major with a minor in journalism. In addition to Her Campus, she is a staff writer for the Chronicle, the student-run newspaper at Hofstra. She's also president of the Hofstra English Society. She's consumes books like they're oxygen and annotates fairly well.
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