Gretchen McNeil on Writing and Horror

img_7315_resizeOne of the main complaints held by YA opponents is that YA novels tend to be nothing but romance, whether it’s realistic or supernatural. While we don’t really think that’s true, and generally see nothing wrong with romance here at Lumiére, we try to give you a good look at what’s out there.

Hold on to your hats, folks, because here’s something completely different.

Gretchen McNeil is an LA-based opera singer-turned-writer and author of such horror YA novels as POSSESS, 3:59, and award-winning TEN, which is being turned into a movie as we speak. To date, she has written six novels’ worth of YA horror and thriller. Recently, she took a break from writing about murders and uncanny doppelgangers to dip her pen into the genre of contemporary realistic romance in I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL.

We’ll let her tell you the rest!

Since horror seems to be your genre of choice, I’d like to start with talking about that. What drew you to horror, or more specifically horror for the YA crowd? Are you a horror/thriller reader yourself? Do you have any particular favorites?

When I was a teen, I loved reading Victorian ghost stories. There was something compelling about reading a book so atmospheric and terrifying that the hair stood up on the back of my neck and every creak of the house sent chills down my spine. When I began writing for teens, I realized that I could write the things I loved to read, and that there was a gap in the marketplace for it. So when I wrote POSSESS, I went for the subject that has always scared the crap out of me – demonic possession!

And, on that note, how was it writing your latest book, I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, which is quite different from the rest of your bibliography?

It was a challenge! Plotting a book without murder was new for me. I’m a plot-driven writer, and usually it takes me a couple of drafts before I really know who my characters are. So with I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, I ended up with a lot of superfluous plot I ended up cutting while I was swimming around in the story, getting to know the characters. Not my finest writing moments in those early drafts, but I’m really proud of how the book turned out!

“Plotting a book without murder was new for me.”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room! Your highly acclaimed horror YA novel, TEN, is being adapted into a movie, which is really exciting! Where were you when you found out? Have you been an active participant in the process, or more of a proud onlooker? Have there been any hiccups in the process so far? Tell us all about it!

I got the news in January of this year. A producer who’d had the option on TEN for several months suddenly contacted my agents to a deal in place to buy the rights because he had financing lined up. I sort of didn’t believe this was ever going to happen…until filming actually began this month. I’m still in shock, I think! Once the rights are sold, I’m basically an onlooker, which is…interesting. It’s like sending your baby off to college, I’d imagine – suddenly this thing which you’ve had total control over for years is out of your sphere of influence! It’s scary. And exciting.


To shift gears a little, I wanted to ask you about your writing process. Do you find that it stays pretty much consistent throughout different books, or do different books take different approaches? What’s your secret to keeping all the little plot details that go into a book like Ten straight?

It took me a few books to really understand my process. Writing TEN (my fourth novel, though only second to be published) sort of accelerated that process because I had to write the whole book in ten weeks. Talk about trial by fire! I was also working full time, so I had to be very organized. Outline, daily word count goal, and I wouldn’t let myself to back and revise anything until I had finished the rough draft. Instead, I kept a running file of notes – things I needed to fix or change, thoughts as I went forward, concerns, etc. When I finished the draft, I spent the second draft incorporating all these notes. That’s my process! Hasn’t changed much since then, except now I use Scrivener rather than MS Word.

You cannot judge your path in the publication world by what others are doing.

I saw that you’ve written a really great guide for aspiring writers on your blog. Do you have any specific piece of advice you think is especially important for writers, whether it’s aspiring, upcoming, or established?

KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPER! Here’s what I mean by that: you cannot judge your path in the publication world by what others are doing. Their successes and failures do not impact you, and if you spend your career judging yourself based on other people, or being envious of their perceived successes, it will eat you alive. Learn your process, write what you love, strive to improve. Those are the only things you can control.

Finally, to end on a lighthearted note… If you could have any mythological creature as a pet or a companion, which one would you pick?

Pegasus, to be sure. I don’t know squat about horses, but can you imagine the LA commute on a flying horse? Heavenly.

For more information on Gretchen, check out her website here!


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