Weird, creepy, dangerous things happen to the teenagers in Natalie Richards' books. The heroine of “Six Months Later” can't remember the past six months. She appears to be living her ideal life—with an excellent GPA and a perfect boyfriend—but has no idea how she attained this or what price she paid. In “One Was Lost,” a school camping trip goes horribly wrong when students wake up from a drugged sleep to discover they are being hunted in the woods of West Virginia.
“My books are scary but not gory,” Richards says, “I'm good at writing what my agent calls ‘unputdownable.'” Her secret? “When I read a book, I tend to skim if passages drag out—so I don't write the parts I would skim.”
The formula works. “Her books are well-loved by the YA set,” says Melia Wolf, owner of Cover to Cover Bookstore. “They're fun to read, and I think they like the challenge and the mystery.”
During her own childhood, “books saved me, without a question,” says Richards. While growing up in Columbus, “I did not have a situation where my life was on a silver platter,” she recalls. “My dad loved books and taught me to read. But no one was encouraging me to be an author.”
Nevertheless, she wrote prolifically, though quietly. “Being a writer felt out of reach for me. I thought you had to have a certain level of wealth and education,” she says. In her late 20s, Richards lost her mother, and that was the catalyst for her to write. “I realized you don't know how much time you have. I told myself, ‘You gotta try it,'” she says.
Her initial attempts were unsatisfactory. “My first couple of manuscripts were a hot mess—fundamentally flawed,” she admits. After joining a writing workshop group, Richards penned several more books and saw her writing improve with each rendition. “I would say I wrote 350,000 words of dreck before I wrote a book that was good enough,” she says.
Richards submitted two novel manuscripts to a contest where one caught the eye of an editor judging the competition. Sourcebooks, one of the largest independent publishers in the U.S., released her first young adult mystery/thriller, “Six Months Later,” in 2013. Since then, Sourcebooks has published five more of Richards' books, culminating with the December 2018 release of “What We Hide.”
“She takes her craft very seriously,” says Liz Deskins, a retired librarian who had a 33-year career in Hilliard City Schools. “Her characters have issues, and Natalie hits a market of kids who need to see themselves in her books.”