Hi! I’m Megan Lally, I’m a young adult author who specializes in psychological thriller and horror— all the creepy things that go bump in the night. I’m represented by Mandy Hubbard, at ECLA, and we’re working on edits of my latest manuscript right now, actually. It’s a YA thriller about a girl who wakes up in a ditch, covered in blood with no idea who she is, only to be collected at the police station by her father and brought “home.” But it’s not home at all, and he’s definitely not her father.
From Planning to Published
When did you start writing and why?
Author: I started writing in 2009? I think? Somewhere in there. My son was just born and someone gifted me the box set of Twilight for my first Mother’s Day and it was the first time I ever read YA fiction. After that, I started reading everything, and eventually I started picking apart characters and endings and wishing they’d done it differently, etc, until I eventually opened a fresh document and started writing a book of my own. It was terrible, haha, but I loved the process! I loved being creative in that way. And I just never stopped writing stories down. I’ve been writing for about 12 years now. Which makes me feel super old.
How long did it take you to finish your first book?
Author: My first book probably took about a month, month and a half to draft. Haha. BUT, that’s because I knew nothing about writing a book, so it was 120k words of nonsensical word vomit. There was no plot, or character development, and the dialogue didn’t make any sense at all. People just wandered around being surprised about everything for 30 chapters.
I’ve found that the more I learned about writing the longer it took me to get the words down, because I’m constantly applying all that knowledge to every scene. So now it takes quite a bit longer to reach “The End.” If we’re talking about how long it took for me to finish the book that got me my agent, that’s closer to 5-6 months or so, and my latest book took closer to 8 months.
About Your Work
What type of content do you write and why? Fiction Novels? Poems? Songs? Screenplays? Short Stories? Epic?
Author: All fiction, all the time. Couldn’t do a memoir, my life has been too boring. Haha. And I’m not made for short stories. They all end up being 40k words, because I’m long winded.
What genres and subgenres do you write in?
Author: Thriller and horror mostly, though I do love to dabble with fantastical elements so I may try a horror fantasy combo in the future. I also have a long lasting love of historical/historical fantasy, so that may make an appearance some day too.
What is your author brand (genre, mood, image, theme, message, etc)? How did you decide on it?
Author: This is still evolving a bit, as I work my way toward a debut, but I think my author brand is probably a collection of terrible, creepy things, happening to incredibly strong people. All things dark and terrifying, but with a twist of hope and a whole lot of spunk and sarcasm.
Name some common elements in your writing: villains, magic, red-herring twists, the unfortunate ensign, mysterious phenomena, asyndeton, sentence fragments etc.
Author: I’m a big fan of red-herring twists, and almost every book I’ve ever written has had a thread of romance. Even in the midst of the creepy and terrifying, there’s always another connection there, and it’s kind of like a balance between the light and the dark, in a way. I’m also a huge fan of the em dash, snarky dialogue, and badass girls who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
What was your first goal when you started your journey to becoming an author? Has that changed?
Author: My first goal probably goes back to me reading all those YA books and imagining them happening in different ways. There would always be books I’d read, and sigh, and hold tight, thinking, “I wouldn’t change a single thing about this one.” I wanted to be the one who wrote one of those for someone else to read and sigh and hold tightly with that same feeling. I still want that.
What do you want your readers to get out of your works?
Author: That the darkness in the world doesn’t always win.
Which authors write similar books to yours? How did you find them?
Author: Courtney Summers, Karen McManus, Kendare Blake, Barry Lyga, Maureen Johnson. I found most of them from the book store in the thriller/horror section, or on Goodreads. Also from recommendations from friends and fellow writers. LOVE them. Courtney Summers is like, my idol. I love her.
Have you always read in the genre you wanted to write in? Do you think that’s made it easier or harder to create new stories?
Author: No, I started reading in romance and YA paranormal, and I actually started writing in that vein when I first started, before I discovered my love of creepy things and true crime. But I still read very widely. Romance, fantasy, science fiction, YA, MG, thrillers, contemporary, contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, historical. They can all teach you different things.
I think it’s vastly important to know your genre really well and understand what kinds of tropes and trends are out there, but it’s equally important to read ALL the things. You can learn a lot from the types of books you write but being widely read will teach you things about world building, character development, romantic arcs, endings, twists, tension, opening pages, and prose that you can’t always get from reading the same types of books over and over.
What is your writing process, from idea to polished work? Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?
Author: I’m a HUGE plotter. I can’t pants a book, it would give me anxiety. I can pants a chapter, sometimes? If I know what needs to be there, I don’t need all the details but I’m a tangent writer so if I tried to pants a whole novel I’d start off on chapter one, and end up writing a whole different book, and ghosts and dragons would show up in the middle, and it would be a mess. I need the structure of plotting to keep the story on track.
Typically I start with post-its. I’ll take my spark of a book idea and break it up into the major plot points I want to happen and I’ll write them all down on a separate post-it. Then arrange them in an order that makes sense on one of those foam presentation boards. Then I add more, to fill out the scenes in between. What starts out as 5 or 6 major plot twists, will turn into 30 or 40 scenes, all sketched out on the tiny squares. Then I group them into chapters. After that, I transfer all that information to a word document, broken up chapter by chapter in bullet points. Then I add more details, and sometimes snippets of information and dialogue. My outlines are typically about 5-10k words long. Sometimes longer. Once it feels like it has enough detail, I start with a fresh document and I start writing.
Where do you network most with other writers, authors, and creative types? LinkedIn? Wattpad? Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere else?
Author: Twitter and Instagram mostly.
Do you sprint-write like a starving cheetah, or are you a totally chill turtle writer? Somewhere in between?
Author: I sprint. A lot. I typically procrastinate with a lot of my writing time, and then I’ll get really into it and fast draft like a whole chapter in a couple hours, and then I need a nap. Haha. My creative energy has always come in bursts. I’ll never be a writer who can sit down and stay on task for 8 hours a day, but when the burst hits, I can draft quite a bit in a short amount of time, so I guess it all balances out?
What has been the hardest thing to overcome on your journey to authorship?
Author: The self-doubt. 100% the hardest, though I don’t think I’m alone there. Self-doubt is the enemy of so so many authors because being creative is hard! It takes such a long time to not only learn how to do this writing thing, but then to trust that we know what we’re doing. Every time I start a new book I somehow convince myself I’ve forgotten how to write, when the reality is, I’ve just been in editing mode on a much more polished draft, and a fresh manuscript and all it’s flaws is a very different beast.
Struggling with something doesn’t mean you’re incapable, or bad at it. Writing is hard, revising is hard, querying is hard, going out on sub is hard, and you can struggle through all of those things and still be damn good at what you do. That’s been the hardest to learn and internalize.
How has the writing and querying or publishing process affected you emotionally? Do you have any tips for budding writers?
Author: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. A lot of excitement, a lot of waiting, and a lot of anxiety. Haha. It’s just really hard to take this thing you’ve poured your heart into and fling it out into the world for other people to read and have opinions about. I was a mess when I went out on sub for the first time, but it’s a whole process of growing that thick skin that authors need so badly.
So my advice is to remember that not everyone is going to like your books. Some people may hate them, and that’s fine. I’ve read some hugely popular books that I didn’t like either. Personal taste is a real thing, and it’s real when you’re querying, it’s real when you’re on sub with editors, and it’s real as a reader. It’s been a long process to learn how to not take that personally and step back enough to ask myself “Am I happy with what I made here?” and let that be enough, ups and downs be damned. Write for yourself. Write books that you love, and there will always be someone out there who will love it too.
Do you have any tips or recommendations for those who want to go the final step and become authors?
Author: Grow that thick skin. Don’t shy away from feedback, every “problem” pointed out is an opportunity to make your book even better. Get yourself some quality critique partners, and swap pages. Get used to taking good and bad notes with stride. Learn the market. Read widely, and read critically— seeing how authors pull off difficult scenes, how they describe things in that “wow, I can really see this” way, how they engage you with the dialogue, how they keep the tension. Learn everything you can from the authors you love the most, and it’ll all morph together in your own writing style. And most importantly, keep going. Even when it’s hard— because it will be hard— don’t give up on yourself.
How do you combat writer’s block?
Author: I try to write my way through it. Usually writer’s block is brought on by a sense that you’ve lost your way a bit in your story, so I’ll take a look at my outline again, and the scenes that came before I got stuck, as well as what I had planned for the next scenes. And then I’ll set a minimum amount of writing time a day (typically around 30 minutes) where I tinker with those scenes until something lights that bulb and I find my way through the problem. Talking things out with critique partners is also immensely helpful. If you look at “writers block” more as “I am lost” it becomes a mission to find your way back, rather than a wall you can’t break through.
What do you listen to while you write?
Author: All the things. I have about a hundred Spotify playlists for various projects. I’m a big fan of writing to music with lyrics, which I know a lot of people hate doing, but I also have a bunch of classical lists, or ambient noise for when I’m struggling to focus. I love making playlists for fight scenes or kissing scenes, or super scary scenes (there are a ton of classic songs that have been slowed down and remade to sound SUPER creepy and I’m totally here for all of them.) The music is a big part of my writing process.
Is there a fun word or group of terms you like to put into your writing?
Author: Not a specific word every time, but one of my best friends challenges me to throw random words into each manuscript. This latest one was “eggplant.” Haha.
Where do you write your stories? A tiny office? A loft? The kitchen table? In the bushes while you secretly people-watch like a total creeper? Or a warm café with mocha in hand and feet up on an ottoman?
Author: Tiny office, for sure. My house is pretty old (1930’s) so I think it used to be like a micro bedroom or something, but it’s mostly just a desk, a loveseat, and piles of books everywhere. I also have a whiteboard on the wall for drafting or revision notes, and a big board hung up for my post-it plotting. It doubles as a guest room when we have company. But there’s a really cute coffee shop a couple blocks from my house that I love to write in too. It’s all bricks and mismatched furniture. They make an amazing lavender latte.
What is your favorite literary trope?
Author: I’m a sucker for a good love triangle, and enemies to lovers!
What is your favorite writing snack and drink?
Author: Coconut covered cashews from Trader Joes, and lavender lattes!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Author: “The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to exist.”
Or possibly, “Don’t compare published books to your first draft. Published books have been revised a hundred times, and you’re on draft 0, that’s not fair.”
Both have been immensely helpful to me, in really seeing how unfair the expectations I put on myself are sometimes. A first draft will NEVER be perfect, it’s just not going to happen. So if it’s a little messy and filled with notes and problems, that’s fine. That’s what revisions are for. But I can’t revise what doesn’t exist. And it can’t exist at all if I expect it to be as perfect as a twelve times polished published novel. That’s like cracking an egg into a bowl and wondering why it doesn’t look like the quiche I saw on Instagram.