‘Making a Murderer’ inspired author’s new novel

Millions obsessed over the true crime explored in Netflix’s 2015 “Making a Murderer” series. Mankato, Minnesota, writer Megan Cooley Peterson got a worldview shift and a book out of it.

“I remember watching and being super-invested in: Did Steven Avery kill this young woman?” recalls Peterson, whose second mystery for young adults, following “The Liar’s Daughter,” is “Dead Girls Talking.” “But then, the more I thought about it, I thought about the victim and the fact that her family’s worst nightmare was now a hit show. Her story was being used as entertainment and here I was, in my living room, feeding into that.”

Peterson, 43, had long been a fan of true crime, but that interest chilled in the aftermath of “Murderer.” Reflecting on what it might be like to be the family of a victim whose story became a sensation led directly to “Dead Girls Talking,” in which high school student Bettina’s father was convicted of murdering her mother. Her aunt’s podcast about the crime — her aunt believes Bettina’s dad is innocent — has led to a possible copycat killer, as well as unwanted celebrity for the teenager.

“Of course, the victims and their families don’t want to be involved in these things. But they don’t get a say,” said Peterson, who set “Dead Girls Talking” in North Carolina because she liked the idea of exploring the darkness of a sunny, seemingly friendly place.

We spoke to her by phone from her home in friendly Mankato about the twists and turns her book, took.

Q: Were there any big surprises as you wrote “Dead Girls Talking”?

A: The murderer!

Q: You didn’t know from the beginning whodunit?

A: I kind of sort of did know. And then it completely changed.

Q: You’ve written about the several years of your childhood when your family was involved with a religion you regard as a cult. Does that influence your interest in exploring dark subjects?

A: I think it has to. I’ve read criticism of young adult books that the parents are never in them but, in my books, the parents are in them and the adults are usually terrible, I think because I knew a lot of shady adults in that group. And my books a lot of the time deal with questioning authority because I think it’s a dangerous way to raise children, that “Don’t ask questions” way.

Q: Were there any positives from that negative experience?

A: Sure. Taking a step back from organizations, in general, and seeing them for what they are. Questioning things, and not buying into them wholeheartedly. Even knowing my ideas can change and evolve over time was a huge gift I got from that experience.

Q: A lot of that comes out in Bettina, who’s at that age where she is figuring out what she believes. At one point, she muses, “I feel nothing at all. Or everything at once. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.” Is adolescent alienation a recurring theme for you?

A: Yes. I just sold another book. It hasn’t been announced yet. And I have another one my agent and I will be going out in submission with soon. I’m trying to write my first adult horror novel that deals with my own religious trauma. I’m going to keep writing about this stuff!

Q: How is writing for adults different from writing for young readers?

A: When you write for young adults, you have to be very careful about your audience, more careful I think than when you write for adults. You have to be sensitive to things, represent certain experiences in a thoughtful way. There are things I would never write about, like child abuse. I would never want to write about that in a young adult context.