YA Author of FERAL – Holly Schindler – Talks Cats, Creepiness, and Spills Writing Secrets

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Bella getting possessive of FERAL.

As promised in yesterday’s review, I’ve got a nice little treat for you today… Please help me (and Bella) warmly welcome YA Author, Holly Schindler, to our little corner of the interwebs with her fun interview!

Were there times when you were writing FERAL that you found yourself afraid of unexpected noises, or checking over your shoulder for stray cats or creatures lurking near the edge of the woods?

It’s funny—I didn’t.  But my experience with FERAL is quite different than my readers’.  Anyone who picks up the book dives straight into full-blown creepiness (think jumping cannonball style into an ice-cold swimming pool).  For me, the creepiness was more gradual (think edging your way into chilly water slowly, bit by bit).

The book actually started out as an MG mystery, believe it or not.  (When I started revising, the book started getting darker and drifting away from MG—until I felt sure it actually needed to be a YA.)  The MG version was about a girl looking into a cold case—that cold case eventually turned into the far more recent death of Serena Sims as it appears in FERAL.  The death always took place at school, and it always revolved around a “cheating” clue (though “cheating” took on a different meaning when it became YA), and the manner of Serena’s death was always the same.

Once I knew I was going to bump the book up to YA, my main character didn’t work.  (Bumping a book into a different age group SOUNDS simple enough—but oh, boy!  It results in a complete and total overhaul.  Trust me.)  So I had to brainstorm a new seventeen-year-old protagonist.  That’s when I discovered that Claire was the victim of a gang beating—that discovery made me realize the theme would be recovering from violence, and that the genre would be psychological thriller instead of straight mystery (or even horror, as I’d suspected it might be as I started to revise).

I was actually continuing to darken the details all the way through the book’s development once it was acquired at HarperCollins…

I do have a loose idea for a straight teen horror novel, and it’ll be interesting to see how it feels to do the cannonball dive into dark, creepy material.

I am a shameless cat lady and I was genuinely spooked by my little mews, purring contentedly beside me while I read. Where did the idea of these menacing, are-they-or-are-they-not-supernaturally-evil-felines come from?

I’m actually an animal person myself.  I’ve only spent three of my 37 years without an animal of some sort.  I grew up with two cats I loved to pieces—Tuffy, as her name suggests, was born feral.  The creepy use of cats in the book has nothing to do with what I think of cats in general.  I’d love to have another—right now, I’ve got the world’s most spoiled Pekingese.  He’s definitely an only child.  I’m not exactly sure what he’d do if I brought another animal into the house, but my suspicion is that carnage would ensue.

When the book was an MG, I knew I wanted the victim’s corpse in the cold case to be torn apart by Missouri wildlife.  In the original draft, it simply kept the police from accurately pinpointing the manner of death (as it also does in the final version).

Once I started to move the book toward YA (and the murder became recent rather than a cold case), I knew I wanted the cats to play a bigger role.  So much of Peculiar is a mirror-image of the Chicago, reminding Claire of the horrific beating—those cats are a kind of gang, too, just like the human gang that trailed Claire in Chicago.  And Sweet Pea specifically also becomes the vehicle to depict how Claire feels about herself post-beating.

The atmosphere was so beautifully handled and consistent throughout the entire book. You really transported the reader to this small Missouri town and brought it to life, just as if it were a movie unfolding on the big screen. Did you have any audio or visual aides you used while creating the haunted atmosphere of Peculiar, Missouri?

I appreciate that—I think, when you’re writing something that’s a bit more dramatic, plays out scenically rather than internally, hearing that your book unfolding like a movie is one of the best compliments you can receive!

Mostly, I was using my own surroundings.  I’m a lifelong Missouri gal, and I live in Springfield, which is an even mix of urban and rural.  It’s a medium-sized city (third largest in the state) with three universities; I live in a city-style neighborhood, but the end of my neighborhood is marked by a field surrounded with barbed wire.  Barns, hay bales, horses, cows—you can see all that, less than two minutes from my house.

My hometown also got really hammered by a couple of ice storms—one in ’07 and one in ’08.  Those storms made a big impact on me—I’ll never forget the frightening sounds of tree limbs snapping and transformers sparking and not knowing if or when the power would get back on…

I mentioned before that FERAL is a psychological thriller.  It really follows so many classic conventions of the genre: Hitchcockian pace, attention to the main character’s psyche—even those feral cats are a nod to Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.  Psychological thrillers also frequently use water as a metaphor for the subconscious (the shower scene in PSYCHO, much of WHAT LIES BENEATH).  The ice storm is also making use of the water metaphor—here, it symbolizes Claire’s frozen inner state, her inability to move on after a violent attack.

Who were some of your favorite authors growing up, and did any of their stories or styles help you with the crafting of this novel?

I mostly read contemporary realism.  I’m a child of the ‘80s, so you can picture me in a perm and giant glasses, combing the library for Judy Blume books.  I stumbled on a Christopher Pike book in junior high—FALL INTO DARKNESS—and I fell in love.  I’d read a few mysteries before, of course, but this was the first adventure-driven book I’d read.  There was something so compelling about it…I wound up reading every Pike book I could get my hands on after that.  It made a big impact, that’s for sure.

In the spirit of Halloween, and the scary thrill-ride that is FERAL, what’s something that terrifies you now? Or even something that scared you as a kid?

Heights.  I’m terrible with heights.  Probably because my vision absolutely stinks—20/700.  Yeah.  I know.  The silliest thing that makes my skin crawl?  Slugs.  Slugs drive me crazy.

What’s a fun fact that no one knows about FERAL?

It’s kind of a fun fact about me as a writer…If I want to completely turn off my inner critic, I take my glasses off while I draft.  My eyesight’s so crummy, I can’t see the screen.  If I can’t see the screen, I can’t get nitpicky.  It’s cool when a “weakness” turns out to be a blessing in disguise, isn’t it?

Holly SchindlerHolly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud.  Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller.  Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Keep up with Holly online:

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Website

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FERAL jacket copy:

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Interested in watching the book trailer? Check out the link by clicking H E R E.

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15 thoughts on “YA Author of FERAL – Holly Schindler – Talks Cats, Creepiness, and Spills Writing Secrets

  1. Oh wow, this makes me squee with excitment b/c I ❤ THE BIRDS! Consider this reader intrigued! 😀

    Great interview, Kerri

  2. But kitties are fluffly and cute! Heh. Actually, this sounds very creepy, and almost Stephen King-esque. Great interview ladies!

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