1 Author, 7 Questions: Wendy Heard
Dead End Girls begins with one girl trying to fake her own death. Soon, it turns into bodies on the road and a flight for their lives as Maude and Frankie are sent running from the law and their own crimes. “Thrill ride” doesn’t even begin to cover it! We sat down with Wendy Heard to talk Dead End Girls, writing techniques, and her next thrilling project!
What was your initial inspiration for Dead End Girls?
I’ve always wanted to write about faking your own death–what would it actually take to accomplish that in today’s world? That lead me into a ton of fun to research. But at its core, DEAD END GIRLS is an exploration of the criminal potential of girls like Maude: high-achieving, hyper-intelligent teenagers with a bone to pick. I’ve always thought, what would happen if one of these Academic Decathlon girls turned her mind to crime? She’d be unstoppable.
Can you describe your writing process? Are you a pre-plotter or do you develop the plot as you write?
I develop the outline with the major plot points as well as the synopsis, and then I do scene planning to reach the next plot point. I don’t do detailed scene planning all the way through because things tend to change as I get into it, and especially as I get to know the characters better. I work in four acts using beat sheets which helps break things down into bite-sized pieces.
Both our main characters, Maude and Frankie, tow a fine line between unlikeable and utterly loveable. They both do some very questionable stuff, Maude in particular, but I couldn’t help but love them! Was it difficult to craft characters who are so morally ambiguous but still have your audience fall in love with them?
That’s kind of my thing, haha! I find moral ambiguity very interesting, especially with multiple characters doing the same bad thing for different reasons. For example, I think we can all agree that Frankie has more valid reasons to commit their transgressions, but Maude is really the instigator. Exploring their motivations is just really fun for me, and I also prefer to read about characters who have a little bit of instability that keeps you guessing. It’s not quite as compelling for evil folks like me when you trust a character to be 100% good all the time.
I loved the ending! It’s so fresh and unexpected! Did you always know it was going to end that way?
I wanted to give them a happy ending. It was the pandemic, I was trapped in the house, and I grew to love them too much to give them anything else. Maybe I’m getting soft, I don’t know. But I went full wish fulfillment with it, and I’m really glad I did. I wanted this book to feel like a very fun roller coaster—an intense ride that leaves you feeling giddy afterward.
This book is both a thriller and a tale of self-discovery. Did you find those elements particularly complement each other or was it difficult to find the right balance?
I think they do complement each other because it allows you to explore self-discovery in the context of life and death stakes. Often, questions of self-discovery feel life-and-death to begin with, right? May as well add some running from the cops, fighting for our lives, and get the full experience.
What are some books you’ve been reading recently, or would recommend?
A dangerous question! My TBR stack is massive and about to bury me in my sleep. I’m currently reading THE RESTLESS DARK by Erica Waters and am obsessed; she’s such a good writer, it’s almost unfair??? It comes out October 4th. I read and loved THESE DEADLY GAMES by Diana Urban—talk about a fun and thrilling ride—as well as TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE by April Henry, which just came out in May and kept me completely hooked from page 1. I’m also reading or about to start reading PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace Li (incredible), NEVER SAY YOU CAN’T SURVIVE by Charlie Jane Anders, LEMON by Kwon Yeo-sun, SEEING STRANGERS by Sebastian Plata, and a vampire CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE story from the 80s that my friend Mike Chen recommended.
What are you working on now? Any exciting ideas you can share?
I’m very excited about my next YA thriller, WE’LL NEVER TELL. It’s set in LA, my hometown, specifically Hollywood, and is about a group of teen urban explorers who have a popular YouTube channel where they break into off-limits and abandoned spots all over LA, showing their subscribers a behind-the-scenes view of the city. But when they break into the Silver Lake Murder House, the infamous site of a murder from the 1970s, one of them gets stabbed at the scene of the original crime, and the remaining members must solve mysteries old and new before they meet the same fate. It’s got vintage Hollywood true crime vibes and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share it with the world next summer!
In one week, Maude will be dead. At least, that’s what she wants everyone to think. After years of research, Maude has decided to fake her own death. She’s figured out the how, the when, the where, and who will help her unsuspectingly.
The why is complex: revenge, partly. Her terrible parents deserve this. But there’s also l’appel du vide, the call of the void, that beckons her toward a new life where she will be tied to no one, free and adrift. Then Frankie, a step-cousin she barely knows, figures out what she’s plotting, and the plan seems like it’s ruined. Except Frankie doesn’t want to rat her out. Frankie wants in. The girls vault into the unknown, risking everything for a new and limitless life. But there are some things you can never run away from. What if the poison is not in the soil, but in the roots?
This pulse-pounding thriller offers a nuanced exploration of identity, freedom, and falling in love while your world falls apart.
About the Author
Wendy Heard is the author of the acclaimed YA novel She’s Too Pretty to Burn, which Kirkus Reviews praised as “a wild and satisfying romp” in a starred review, as well as two adult thrillers: The Kill Club and Hunting Annabelle. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America, and is a contributor at Crimereads.com and Writer’s Digest. Wendy lives in Los Angeles, California.