I love it when authors immerse themselves in the genre they are writing. Whether it’s gorging on contemporary reads while they are writing their own contemporary story, or doing hours of research for their historical novel, writers who fully engage in their topic just seem to produce better books. Today’s featured author, Catherine Scully, writes YA horror, and loves the genre so much that she is now the editor of the Horror Writers Association’s YA blog. She uses this platform not only to improve her own craft, but to help other writers, which is so important. She is proof that love of something like horror movies can inspire great stories!
Many thanks to Catherine for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: I love that you write YA Horror. What inspires you to write in that genre?
Cat: I’ve always been a fan of horror since I was a teen. I was one of those kids that just couldn’t get enough of Nightmare Before Christmas and Tim Burton since the second grade and that blossomed into liking the darker stuff I think. The first week of college, because I wasn’t really allowed to watch horror growing up (but you know how teens are, I still saw some anyway), I resolved to spend most of college catching up. I still remember my first night in the dorms where someone was watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I stopped in to watch. After that, it was a horror movie a week, usually with some of my best guy friends heading out to the movies together on a Friday night. I still associate horror movies with that time of my life and what a blast it all was. I became a writing major in college and took Victorian British lit and was hooked from the moment I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on dark fiction. Eventually I stumbled on the Horror Writers Association’s guide to writing horror but was too scared to try it myself. I was until I had a screenwriting assignment to come up with a television show pilot idea. What came out of that class was the sixty page pilot of my now agented book series White Hollow.
Amy: You are currently the editor of the Horror Writers Association Young Adult blog. Tell me a little about the blog and what topics you discuss.
Cat: Over at the blog, we try to host opinion and informative articles on what to read in the industry and our biggest news lately has been Jonathan Maberry’s series Scary Out There where he hosts Q&As with prominent authors in the writing field about what they think horror is in Young Adult Fiction. We’ve had a lot of amazing guests so far: Holly Black, Rick Yancey, Kami Garcia, Charlie Higson… and we’re only just getting started. We’re hoping for it to be a year-long series. What Jonathan and I are hoping to do is help people understand that horror wears many faces and are often found within works usually labeled “fantasy” or “romance” or “scifi.” Just because it’s a certain genre doesn’t mean there isn’t horror in it. Take Harry Potter for example. It’s full of werewolves, snakes, monsters, and people dying. All classic horror elements over there. I find a lot of people saying “isn’t horror, gore? I don’t like gore.” Well, actually, neither do I. Gore is only one part of horror. There are so many other facets to it. So many other subgenres that people might enjoy if it was more well-known that horror is really so many things. It’s not just Stephen King. There are so many other voices out there, particularly in the growing field of YA horror, we’re trying to spread the word.
Amy: I loved the book trailer you did for Leigh Ann Kopan’s book, ONE. Is this a service you regularly provide? How did you get involved in creating trailers and illustrations?
Cat: Thank you! I am actually on hiatus from book trailers as they take a lot of time away from my writing and illustrating, which I am focusing more on now. I’m a graphic designer by day, so I was already trained in video, print, web, animation, storyboarding, and writing visually. At the moment, I’m more involved with illustrations projects with authors. I have a few commissions I’m doing like trading cards, character book marks, chapter headings, and single illustrations for short stories and for magazines. My work was in the recent Under the Juniper Tree magazine accompanying a story about a haunting. I’m in the process of looking for more authors to collaborate with creating art or marketing materials with them and I absolutely adore it!
Amy: How many manuscripts have you written? Was the query process long for you or did it go smoothly?
Cat: I had an extremely short querying process compared to some. I rewrote my book during Camp Nanowrimo and started querying in September. I met my agent at a conference in October and I waited a few weeks to query her while I heard back some rejections from agents and fixed my book. I knew she was a dream agent for me so I wanted to do it right and not rush things. I am SO glad I did! I found out later how much she appreciated it as well because she remembered meeting me. When I did query her in November she wrote me back almost immediately for the full. I waited a few months, and since I was getting some offers from other agents, I nudged her in January. She offered and while I did take a few days to think, I knew immediately she was the right agent and went with her. I signed with her January of last year. This is my first book but I’m currently writing another book, a dark fantasy called LO.
Amy: Do you use beta readers or critique partners? If so, how instrumental are they to your writing process?
Cat: I’m used a large number of beta and CPs from the beginning, but since I began agented, it was harder to have so many. I’m part of a critique group called The Off Beats which is a great group of writers and we all write totally different things. Some are romance, some gothic horror, some thriller, and some scifi. It’s such a diverse place for feedback, I love them. My other closest CP is Juliana Brandt, who has been on the same process with me since we were queriers. We queried and entered contests together. Got agents at the same time. Now we’re about to go on sub at the same time. She’s seriously my rock. I love her. I really also tremendously love Sean McConnell, Brian Taylor, Kat Zhang, and Stefan Bachmann who all help me out with my work as they can. I love Brian and Sean because they have an intimate background with horror and so their feedback is stellar. In all of this, I really have to mention Carrie. She’s my biggest critique partner these days and her feedback has been instrumental to helping fix my book. I know a lot of the time people don’t list their agents as their critique partners, but I do really feel she is mine. Her insight is always spot on and she is so respectful that it’s my book, but I always trust her and she’s never steered me wrong.
Amy: What can you tell me about your “call” with your agent, Carrie Howland? How did you know she was the right choice for you?
Cat: I knew from the moment she said she loved Vampire Diaries and American Horror Story. In fact we still bond over AHS whenever it airs because we both love it so much. While I was waiting on her to read my full, we would talk on twitter and I would recommend horror movies to her. I knew she loved them and when I got feedback from her, it was the best I’d ever gotten. It actually made it hard to wait to say yes, but I knew I needed to in order to decline the other lovely offers I received. But I knew she was a stellar agent coming from a 50-year-old agency that works with Fight Club, The Godfather, and Edward Gorey. Plus I loved how much she sincerely cares about her authors even though she’s the busiest person I know. She’s just fabulous. And she rescues dogs!
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Cat: I have a lot of dreams I was trying to do simultaneously. I would say I gave up on other things to be a writer, not the other way around. I was originally trying to be a good enough video designer to make book trailers and to break into broadcasting, but it was seriously too much and I knew, over everything else, I am a writer. No matter what else I try to do in my life, I always come back to it. Even if it means saying no to other things. They’re just not comparable.
Amy: What was one piece of writing advice you got early on that you still use today?
Cat: I pretty much always hear my screenwriting professor’s voice in my head when I write. I would come to class and he would say things like “Catherine, what were you thinking here? Rewrite this.” I have such a thick skin about this stuff I loved it and was grateful to him for being blunt always. Now, as I write, I keep asking myself questions I know he would say: “watch your pacing” or “what are your beats? Where do they fall?” or “is this believable?” or “read it out loud and see how it really sounds. Does that sound like a real person to you? No. Fix it.” I will forever be grateful to my undergrad writing teachers, all of them. I hope to do them proud with what they taught me.
A product of too much James Bond, Lovecraft, Machen, Poe, and Guillermo Del Toro, Catherine Scully loves the dark side of children’s stories. When not writing books and scripts, she illustrates and storyboards, creating art for Middle Grade and Young Adult books and marketing campaigns. She acts as the Young Adult Editor for the Horror Writers Association, where she helps facilitate Jonathan Maberry’s weekly “Scary Out There: What is YA Horror?” contributes articles to Horror-Writers.net and the YA Scream Queens, and is an editorial intern for a small press. She is represented by Carrie Howland of Donadio and Olson.