Author Interviews, Blog

Author Interview: Megan Lally, Psychological Thriller & Horror

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?

Struggles

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.

Fun Stuff

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.

I’m on Twitter! @Megan_Lally

And Instagram! @Megan_Lally_

Author Interviews, Blog

Author Interview: Erynn Crittenden, Poetry

My name is Erynn Crittenden, and my main genre is poetry that explores the darker sides of our nature, though I also dabble in flash fiction, short stories, and professional articles.

My poetry collection, By the Bones, is full of monsters and madness. It was recently released and is available on Lulu, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble!

From Planning to Published

When did you start writing and why?

Author: I started writing poems in middle school, and I used them as an outlet for my imagination, emotions, and to process the things that were happening in my life.

How long did it take you to finish your first book?

Author:  My poetry collection took over a year. It began as the capstone for my Creative writing degree and blossomed from there!

If you’ve published, how long did your first book take?

Author: Again, over a year. Once my book was complete, I sent it to a few beta readers, who gave me some valuable insights on the overall collection. Then, I published it!

(If applicable) Has your publishing timeframe improved at all since your first publication?

Author:   Now that I have a small idea of what to expect, I look forward to publishing more works in the future!    

Are you indie, traditional, hybrid, or vanity, and why?

Author: I self-published through Lulu.com because, unfortunately, it can be a challenge to publish poetry traditionally.

How did you determine your target audience?

Author: I want everyone to enjoy my writings, but I understand that some of my topics are more suited to the teen/adult range, so I base my audience on that.  

What is your publishing process?

Author: Write the book. Format the book. Have someone else read the book. Perfect the formatting and layout. Create the cover. Write the blurb. Publish!

The process looks different to everyone, but this is how I got By the Bones out into the world.     .    

What platforms do you use to publish your works?

Author: I published By the Bones through Lulu.com, but I also publish other poems and writings on my website, Facebook, Twitter, and Vocal.media.  

How do you get critiques, betas, feedback, and edits?

Author: I asked around on social media. Most of my betas were friends and family, but there were a few other authors in there as well.

Marketing

Do you have a platform? What does it consist of?

Author: I run a website that holds my poetry, flash fiction, articles, and a few short stories. I also share these posts on Facebook and Twitter.    

What is your launch plan for your works?

Author: I try to get people excited about the finished project before the release date. Then, I share, share, share!

How do you get reviews for your books?

Author:  Good question! I haven’t gotten any reviews yet, but I’m planning to ask around social media for some.

How do you promote your content?

Author: Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags, mostly, but I am looking to expand it.

What do you think is the most critical marketing component or tactic for becoming successful?

Author:  Word of Mouth. You can’t beat the advertising potential of someone telling their friends about your product, and that is what will make or break your sales.

How do you define success as an author?

Author: Well, I try not to base it off my sales, but that’s what we think of when we hear “success.” However, publishing my book was a huge success for me, not to mention a dream come true, so it depends on how you look at it.  

By the Bones is a graveyard of poems about monsters, madness, and the inevitable darkness that comes for us all.

Within these pages, you’ll find a lost bride, a coven of witches, a failed necromancer, a Wendigo, and more bones than you can count. You’ll also explore real places, such as Japan’s “Suicide Forest,” the Body Farm of Tennessee, and the famous catacombs of Paris.

By the Bones is a Graveyard, but readers beware- You may not want to visit alone…

Find out more at: By the Bones – The Writings of Erynn Crittenden (ladyerynn.com)

About Your Work

What type of content do you write and why? Fiction Novels? Poems? Songs? Screenplays? Short Stories? Epic?

Author: Poetry is my specialty, but I also enjoy writing flash fiction, short stories, and informative articles.

What genres and subgenres do you write in?

Author:  Horror, fantasy, twisted romance, realism, and humor.

What is your author brand (genre, mood, image, theme, message, etc)? How did you decide on it?

Author:  I based my brand on my love of everything dark and macabre, and I chose it because my writings often explore those hidden realms.

How many works have you published?

Author: By the Bones is my only published collection, but I have made contributions to at least five published anthologies- not to mention the 90 or so posts I have on my website.  

(If applicable) Can you tell us a bit about your most recent publication?

Author:   My most recent publication is titled “Snow,” and it’s a short collection of poems to celebrate the first snow day of the year. It’s currently on my website.

Name some common elements in your writing: villains, magic, red-herring twists, the unfortunate ensign, mysterious phenomena, asyndeton, sentence fragments etc.

Author: I enjoy writing about bones, death, religions, the unknown, and how we cope with daily life.  I also like to add a dark twist to my stories- be it a death, a compromise, or an aspect of reality that often goes unnoticed. Those bring out the best emotions from my readers.    

What was your first goal when you started your journey to becoming an author? Has that changed?

Author: My goal was to become a published author, and I’ve done that! Now, my goal is to finish a full-length novel and have it traditionally published within the next few years.   

Do you have other supporting services like a podcast, blog, webinars, courses, video channel?

Author:   I have a website, and I plan to make video updates and a podcast in the future.    

What do you want your readers to get out of your works?

Author: I want my readers to think. To experience different viewpoints, open their minds, and explore places that they’ve never been before.     

What part of the author process are you working on or studying most now?

Author: I’m learning about different genres and how to expand my writing from flash fiction and poetry to full-blown novels. It’s…different…but I’m excited about the challenge!

What has been your favorite part of the writing and querying or publishing process?

Author: I’m not great at querying or publishing, so I’m going to say that writing is my favorite part!      

Do you recommend any programs, courses, or websites?

Author: If possible, I recommend taking some college English/writing courses. When I returned for my degree in Creative Writing, I learned more about the craft than I ever expected! It helped me grow stronger as an author, and I believe it can help other writers do the same.

If college isn’t an option, there are more affordable classes through Udemy, and you can find numerous writing websites to help you in your journey. Personally, I like Grammarly to check my work, Submittable for open submissions, and Atlas Obscura for topics and unique writing ideas.

Which authors write similar books to yours? How did you find them?

Author: I’m not sure what other authors are out there that are similar, but I do know that my works are inspired by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and others like them.  

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:  I read everything, not just the genre I like to write, and that helps me mix different genres and elements into my writings. If you stick to reading one genre, you’ll only write one genre, and I want to write whatever captures my fancy. Therefore, I read them all!

What is your writing process, from idea to polished work? Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?

Author:  Oh, I’m 100% a pantser. When I get an idea, I like to let the story and characters tell me what to write. Poetry takes a couple of hours; flash fiction takes a day or so, short stories take a few weeks, and I’m still working on my novel idea, which has taken about a month to get where I am now.

It all depends on the idea I have and the form I plan to use.     

Where do you network most with other writers, authors, and creative types? LinkedIn? Wattpad? Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere else?

Author:  Twitter is the best for networking with other authors, but I also use Facebook and Instagram on occasion.     

Do you sprint-write like a starving cheetah, or are you a totally chill turtle writer? Somewhere in between?

Author: I’m somewhere in between. For longer works, I have periods of obsession where I can sprint write for days, then I’ll grow bored and let it sit for a few days before becoming obsessed again. For shorter works, I can usually churn it out in a day or so.

Struggles

What has been the hardest thing to overcome on your journey to authorship?

Author: The impostor syndrome!! Who am I to count myself among the great authors of the world? I’m nobody! And yet, here I am, with a full-blown poetry collection. It’s unreal!

How has the writing and querying or publishing process affected you emotionally? Do you have any tips for budding writers?

Author:  It will wear you out. Just remember that the rejections you get, and you will get rejections, are not necessarily a reflection on your writing. Take a moment to grieve, then submit again!   

Do you have any tips or recommendations for those who want to go the final step and become authors?

Author: The publication game is fierce. There are hundreds of books being queried and published every day, and it can be discouraging. My advice is to look at self-publishing.

Self-published authors have such a stigma around them, but some of the best books I’ve read have come from self-published authors. It’s not a bad option.    

If you could do it all over again, what would you change?

Author: I’d start marketing By the Bones long before it was released. Otherwise, I’m happy with what I’ve done.      

Are you a driven & self-advocating author, a gun-shy promoter, or a total marketing procrastinator?

Author: I’ll admit that marketing isn’t my strong suit, but I’m by no means shy about it. I just need to learn how to do it more effectively.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

Author: Coffee. I drink a lot of coffee.

In all seriousness, I try to write one story or poem a week so I can post something new on my website every Sunday. I also write for work, which includes about two articles a week, so motivation isn’t usually hard for me to find.      

How do you combat writer’s block?

Author: I take a walk, read, watch tv, play video games, and play with my daughter. Sometimes, doing anything other than writing is how you get the muses to sing again.  

What literary/writer-based term did you not know when you started that has become important and relevant to you?

Author: Oh gosh, I have learned so much over the years that it’s hard to choose just one. Maybe Syllabic Poetry. 90% of my poems are syllabic in nature, but I didn’t know that until last year.

How did your family and friends react to your writing? Was it what you expected from them?

Author: They enjoy it! Well, most of them. My mom is a little hesitant on the darker stuff, but they’ve always supported me and given me feedback when I’ve asked for it.      

What assumptions about writers and authors do you think are myths?

Author:  That writing is easy. It’s not. It takes work, dedication, creativity, and research to make a story come together, and not everyone can create a good piece of poetry or a good story. But we writers are dedicated to the craft, and that makes all the difference.

Fun Stuff

What do you listen to while you write?

Author: Spotify. I have a wide variety of music that I bounce between, but my recent favorites have been Nox Arcana, Heilung, and a playlist I created of female-led bands with witchy or magical vibes. 

Is there a fun word or group of terms you like to put into your writing?

Author:  I like finding obscure words to add to my poetry, like “pell,” “apace,” and “Ululations.”

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: Mostly at my desk, but I will occasionally venture out into the world and write in a coffee shop or while waiting at the doctor’s office. My desk is where I am the most comfortable, though.     

What book are you reading at the moment?

Author:  The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. As my brother says, “It’s the self-help book that makes the other self-help books work!”

What is your favorite literary trope?

Author:  The enemies-become-friends-become-lovers trope. It gets me every time!   

How do you try to “break the mold” and be unique?

Author: I like to think that I give a unique twist to old tropes and situations. In reality, I’m not sure what makes me unique- I just know that I write what the muses tell me to.

What have you learned about yourself from the writing and/or authorship process?

Author:  I’ve learned that I’m not a bad writer! My words have merit, and I have every right to share them with the world.       

What is your favorite writing snack and drink?

Author: Coffee and carbs make the world go ‘round!      

Do you have a writing companion?

Author:  My dog will usually sit with me when I’m at my desk, but otherwise, I’m on my own.         

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Author: My late grandfather’s last words to me were: “Erynn, always remember PYOA- Protect Your Own Ass- because no one’s gonna do it for you.”

That advice had stayed with me, and it has saved me from more than one questionable situation.

I’m everywhere!

I’m always happy to connect with new people, so drop a line to say Hi!