Monday, October 3, 2011

Author Interview: Gretchen McNeil, the genius behind Possess

This is my first author interview. Yay!! And I love reading these answers. Gretchen really has a way with words! If you want to know my thoughts about her wonderful debut novel, check out the post just before this one.

First, here's a little bio:

Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown.  Her YA horror/paranormal POSSESS debut with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins, August 23, 2011.  Her second novel, TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she currently sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk ( ). Gretchen is also a founding member of the vlog group YARebels ( where she can be seen as "Monday."

Now onto the interview:

ME: Where/when/how did you come up with the idea for POSSESS?

GRETCHEN: I came up with the idea in late 2009.  I wanted to write something scary and The Exorcist is my favorite scary movie.  I started researching exorcism and demonic possession and voilá! An idea was born!

ME: What was the hardest part about writing POSSESS and what did you do to deal with and get past these blocks?

GRETCHEN: The hardest part for me is ALWAYS the middle.  Beginnings and endings have so much momentum, but all the difficult development and exposition seems to happen in the middle.  My “road block” technique with writing is to skip over any scene/chapter that is taking me too much time to figure out.  Without fail, I figure out the problem later and come back it with enthusiasm!

ME: Are you planning a series for POSSESS or is it a stand-alone? Do you think there's really that big of a difference between a trilogy and a four-book saga?

GRETCHEN: Multiple-book story lines are all about the arc. Can you maintain an over-reaching story arc for all of your books while creating a self-contained plot for each individual novel?  Only the author knows how many books a series might have. POSSESS was planned as a trilogy, but the novel itself could be a stand alone.  No cliffhangers. No horribly unresolved story lines.

ME: Where does the novel take place?

GRETCHEN: POSSESS takes place in my hometown of San Francisco, specifically in the Sunset District, which is where my whole family is from.

ME: How much research was involved while you were writing POSSESS? (i.e. mythology)

GRETCHEN: Quite a bit.  I’m a researcher by nature.  I find it to be the best inspiration for plot bunnies.  I read first hand accounts of exorcisms, and books on demonology, hauntings and angelology.  Totally fascinating stuff!

ME: What is your experience with getting your novel published? (i.e. how much time it took for each stage, how many rejection letters you received)

GRETCHEN: This was my second book to go on sub to editors.  The first did not sell.  The very first editor to request POSSESS was also the first to make an offer on it.  We had several rejections along the way, but I’m so happy to be a Balzer + Bray author.  They are amazingly supportive and my editor, Kristin Daly Rens, is ten kinds of awesome.

POSSESS was on sub for a month before the initial request for revisions, then the offer came in about three weeks after that.  It was originally scheduled for a Winter 2012 release, then got pushed up to Fall 2011 so my whole process from sale to publication was 13 months.

ME: Do you have any advice for those of us who want to be published authors, especially teens?

GRETCHEN: Bottom line, you have to write the book.  I know that sounds silly, but you have no idea how many people ask me about getting published and querying agents, only to find out they haven’t actually finished a manuscript yet!  Do that first.  Write it.  Revise it.  Find some trusted readers and get some feedback.  Then revise it again.  THEN you can think about querying agents.

ME: A question for fun! What do you like more: A love triangle or one true love? Why?

GRETCHEN: True love.  I’m a true love kind of girl.  It’s more exciting to find it than to have to decide between two…

ME: How far along are you with any of your other projects?

GRETCHEN: My next novel TEN is a stand alone horror novel about ten teens trapped on an island with a serial killer.  I’m doing the last of the revisions before it goes to copyedits next week.  TEN will be published by Balzer + Bray in Fall 2012. 

ME: Do you have any say over the titles or the covers? In other words, how much freedom as an author do you have over the presentation of your book?

GRETCHEN: The original title for POSSESS was BANISH.  There were a variety of reasons for changing it, and ultimately, I’m thrilled with the title we went with.  It was a collaborative process between my agent, editor and me.  As for the cover, I sort of hit the cover jackpot so I didn’t need to give much feedback!

ME: Finally, how amazing is it being a YA author?

GRETCHEN: Mind blowing! 

I’d elaborate, but honestly?  That kind of says it all!

 Thanks so much for answering my questions Gretchen! Also I'll be giving away one of her totally awesome bookmarks, which I will be adding to my October swag giveaway as soon as I can. And isn't this cover just spectacular?!

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