Gretchen McNeil: ‘The setting of a horror story is as important as the plot.’

By Maryann Yin Comment

Happy October! In honor of the Halloween season, we’ll be interviewing horror writers to learn about the craft of scaring readers. Recently, we spoke with young adult novelist Gretchen McNeil.

In September, HarperCollins Children’s Books published McNeil’s latest novel. When Barnes & Noble decided not to carry this title in their stores, she launched an internet marketing campaign called the “Army of TEN” and offered incentives for readers who helped to promote the book.

Currently, this title holds the #88 spot on Amazon’s list of bestselling teen books in the “mysteries” category. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: What’s your advice for aspiring horror writers?
A: Horror is equal parts atmosphere and scary moments. They go hand-in-hand. If you can ratchet up the tension, spinning it out until your readers are literally on the edge of their seats, biting their nails in anticipation of what might happen next, the “gotcha” moment will be that much bigger, that much more effective. Also, I’ve always felt that the setting of a horror story is as important as the plot. That scary old house, abandoned town, isolated island or ghost ship – they need to act as characters in your story.

Q: How did you land your first book deal?
A: My agent Ginger Clark starting pitching my teen exorcism novel POSSESS as I was doing the last round of edits. She sent it to my now editor Kristin Daly Rens as soon as it was finished, and she read it in a day. Kristin was such a passionate advocate for the book, after a few revisions and an amazing phone conversation, I had an offer from Balzer + Bray. Honestly, I’m so lucky to have Ginger and Kristin on my “team” – they truly believe in my writing.

Q: What are your favorite scary books?
A: I’ll start with the obvious: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is one of the scariest books I have ever read. I’m a huge Christopher Pike fan – Remember Me is my all-time favorite – so getting a blurb from him for Ten completely blew me away. I also have a love for creepy, gothic stories like Henry James‘ The Turn of the ScrewEdgar Allen Poe‘s The Tell-Tale HeartDiane Setterfield‘s The Thirteenth Tale and Daphne DuMaurier‘s Rebecca.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: My next novel 3:59 comes out Fall 2013 with Balzer + Bray. It’s sci-fi horror about two girls who are the same girl in different dimensions, who discover that their worlds connect every twelve hours – at 3:59 – for one minute. When they decide to switch places for a day, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

After that I just sold a two book series, also to Balzer + Bray, for 2014 and 2015. Get Event and Get Dirty are books one and two in the Don’t Get Mad series about four very different girls who have formed a secret revenge society, getting back at bullies and mean girls who have terrorized their classmates, which all goes well until one of their targets turns up dead and the society is implicated in the death.