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:

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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.

Book Review: FERAL by Holly Schindler

Feral HC

Title: FERAL

Author: Holly Schindler

Imprint: Harper Teen

Rating: Five stars

Holly Schindler’s FERAL promised to be like THE LOVELY BONES meets BLACK SWAN and it did not disappoint. From the first two opening scenes, I knew this was going to be one of those true psychological thrillers, emphasis on the psychological aspect.

*pumps fists*

I was disturbed.

I was horrified.

I was cringing back from the pages, peering through my fingers, and feeling so utterly overwhelmed. I freaking LOVED it.

Schindler did a phenomenal job with making the reader FEEL like they were slowing becoming unhinged and unbalanced right along with the main character. I love books with unreliable narrators, and Claire, the MC, is absolutely convincing in this role. It’s so hard to come across a contemporary novel that really takes the reader on a psychological mind melt, and this work has definite nods towards classic masters (like Hitchcock) in this genre. I felt myself questioning my own sanity and judgment of what was real and what could be fantasy with each new page I turned.

The atmosphere in FERAL was also extremely well crafted. I could clearly picture being in this creepy, foggy town that lived up to its name of “Peculiar.” The entire cast of characters added to this haunted setting – and at times it felt like it had shades of Stephen King’s horrorlicious style. I love how King can make a small town absolutely terrifying, even by having a character simply walk to the store for some milk while you’re screaming “Look behind you!” only to realize that all is safe…for now. Schindler did that beautifully. You find yourself constantly on edge, wondering what horror is going to take place next, and questioning everyone and their motives.

Characters are not all perfect, the good ones have flaws, and blemishes and chinks in their armor. It’s what being human is all about, and FERAL is great with delving into humanity. Victims of violence go through a multitude of emotions, and not all of them are going to be pleasant. Sometimes we have to learn who we’re not before we become the person we’re meant to be. I loved Claire. She had ups and downs, and I was right there with her throughout her journey.

My mews.

My mews.

Hands down, I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of true psychological thrillers. Bella gives it two paws up as is evident in this pic.

I had a wonderful opportunity to fangirl like crazy talk to Holly Schindler after I read the book, and am happy to share some of what she said with you tomorrow on the blog!

In the meantime, Readers, who are some of your most memorable unreliable narrators?

Top 10 Creepy YA Books i’m dying to read

i love all things Fall. i love the crispness in the air, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, the way the soil smells, and how it all culminates into one of my very favorite holidays: Halloween.

i also love being creeped out, no matter what time of year it is – dating back to hiding under my covers and reading Stephen King novels as a middle-schooler. so without further adieu, here are some new titles that i cannot WAIT to get my hands on.

what creepy/horror-rich book are you looking forward to (or have read) this year???

1. THE CURE FOR DREAMING – by Cat Winters

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.

2. OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS – by Jessica Verday

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820’s Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father’s assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they’re letting on.

3.  A MURDER OF MAGPIES – by Sarah Bromley

Winter in Black Orchard, Wisconsin, is long and dark, and sixteen-year-old Vayda Silver prays the snow will keep the truth and secrecy of the last two years buried. Hiding from the past with her father and twin brother, Vayda knows the rules: never return to the town of her mother’s murder, and never work a Mind Game where someone might see.

No one can know the toll emotions take on Vayda, how emotion becomes energy in her hands, or how she can’t control the destruction she causes. But it’s not long before her powers can no longer be contained. The truth is dangerously close to being exposed, placing Vayda and her family at risk.

Until someone quiets the chaos inside her.

Unwanted. That’s all Ward Ravenscroft has ever been. To cope, he numbs the pain of rejection by denying himself emotions of any kind. Yet Vayda stirs something in him. He can’t explain the hold she has on him–inspiring him with both hope and fear. He claims not to scare easily, except he doesn’t know what her powers can do. Yet.

Just as Vayda and Ward draw closer, she finds the past isn’t so easily buried. And when it follows the Silvers to Black Orchard, it has murder in mind.

4. MARY: THE SUMMONING – by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

5. WINTERKILL – by Kate A. Boorman

Emmeline knows she’s not supposed to explore the woods outside her settlement. The enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, attacking at night and keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent.

When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s an opportunity for Emmeline to wash the family slate clean—even if she has eyes for another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where she uncovers a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the village will kill to protect. Her grandmother followed the same path and paid the price. If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.

6. THE FALL – by Bethany Griffin

Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher

7. GATES OF THREAD AND STONE – by Lori M. Lee

In the Labyrinth, we had a saying: keep silent, keep still, keep safe.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her.

Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power

8. SUSPICION – by Alexandra Monir

Mysterious. Magnificent. Creepy. Welcome to Rockford Manor.

“There’s something hidden in the Maze.” Seventeen-year-old Imogen has never forgotten the last words her father said to her seven years ago, before the blazing fire that consumed him, her mother, and the gardens of her family’s English country manor.

Haunted by her parents’ deaths, Imogen moves to New York City with her new guardians. But when a letter arrives with the news of her cousin’s untimely death, revealing that Imogen is now the only heir left to run the estate, she returns to England and warily accepts her role as duchess.

All is not as it seems at Rockford, and Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind the mansion’s aristocratic exterior, hinting that the spate of deaths in her family were no accident. And at the center of the mystery is Imogen herself–and Sebastian, the childhood friend she has secretly loved for years. Just what has Imogen walked into?

Combining a fresh twist on the classic REBECCA with a spine-tingling mystery and powerful romance, SUSPICION is an action-packed thrill ride.

9. FERAL – by Holly Schindler

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….

10. OF BREAKABLE THINGS – by A. Lynden Rolland

A captivating debut about the fragility of life, love, and perspective.

When Chase dies tragically, Alex embraces her own mortality. What she didn’t expect was that she’d have to make a choice: forget the years of pain and suffering once and for all, or linger as a spirit and get another chance at life and love.

Alex doesn’t hesitate to choose; she’d follow Chase anywhere. But the spirit world is nothing like she expected, and Alex finds she’s forced to fight for her life once more. For even in a world where secrets are buried much deeper than six feet under, a legacy can continue to haunt you—and in a place this dangerous, no one is resting in peace.