Gretchen McNeil is the author of YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the upcoming YA mystery/suspense series Don’t Get Mad, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.
Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and was a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
NAW- Tell us about your book, 3:59. What is it about? And how did you decide the title?
3:59 is a sci-fi doppelganger story about two girls – Josie and Jo – who are the same girl in parallel universes who discover that their worlds connect every twelve hours for exactly one minute at 3:59. They decide to switch places with disastrous results.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Josie Byrne. How did you develop the character?
Josie’s been having a tough go of it recently. Her parents are going through a bitter divorce, her mom has been acting all kinds of erratic, she’s in a war of attrition with physics professor at school, and she’s just got her boyfriend hooking up with her best friend.
She’s downtrodden, and feeling hopeless about her future when she discovers the link to Jo whose life is everything Josie wishes hers could be: she’s popular, her parents are happily married, and her boyfriend Nick still loves her.
Josie’s journey is about coming to terms with her own life, her own reality – the good, the bad, and the ugly. To me, that was a huge obstacle of my high school years: wishing my life was something else, something better.
NAW- Tell us about your forthcoming book, Get Even. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
I pitched GET EVEN as “The Breakfast Club with a body count.” I really wanted to bring my love for John Hughes movies and my love of mystery and suspense novels together. Basically, it’s the story of four very different girls who had formed a secret revenge society at their elite private school where they get back at bullies, mean girls and teachers who have victimized their classmates. It all goes well until one of their targets turns up dead, their secret society is implicated in the murder, and the girls don’t know if one of the four of them is a killer of if someone else knows their secret.
NAW- Your books are a bit towards the darker side even though some are suspense novels. What are your favourite suspense authors and did you read a lot of dark novels when you were young?
I loved all things gothic as a teen, and read anything in the genre I could find, focusing on Victorian and Edwardian stories and novels. That’s the dark side. I also loved Agatha Christie and I’ve read and reread her novels so many times I practically know them all by heart. Plus I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock. That’s the mystery and suspense side.
NAW- Tell us about your other works. How difficult (or easy) was it getting your first work published?
POSSESS, my first published novel was the third book I wrote, and my success in finding a publisher was the result of me finally honing my voice. My first manuscript was adult chick lit, and several of the agents who rejected it suggested I had a YA voice. I read some current YA novels and realized I did have the right voice for it, so my next manuscript was YA urban fantasy. That landed me my wonderful agent Ginger Clark, but failed to find a home with a publisher. So I tried again, this time writing a dark, suspenseful YA and BOOM! SUCCESS! All my strengths as a writer and storyteller came together with that book.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m a party girl at heart, so I love to be out and about – with friends or just with my husband. Concerts, galleries, happy hours, sporting events. You name it, I love it.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
I already mentioned Agatha Christie, but I’m also a huge fan of the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Sheridan le Fanu, M.R. James, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, and more recently, Diane Setterfield and Kate Morton.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I usually outline the first act, setting up the main characters and their goals, and taking them to the point where they start their hero’s journey. I almost always know what the ending will be, and maybe a few tent pole moments along the way, but I give myself room to grow and develop the plot in acts two and three. That’s where the magic happens!
NAW-What are you currently reading?
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton