Interview: Gretchen McNeil Talks “Ten,” Young Adult Horror, and Her Next Book!

The Underground Treehouse is thrilled and honored to introduce our first ever author interview! We have for you a heart to heart conversation with one of our favorite authors. We urge you to read on and get to know her!

Gretchen McNeil:

Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer, and clown. Her YA horror Posses, which is about a
teen exorcist, debuted with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins in 2011. Her follow up Ten
– YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer –
was released September 18, 2012, and her third novel 3:59 – sci fi doppelganger horror
about two girls who are the same girl in parallel dimensions who decide to switch places
– is scheduled for Fall 2013. Gretchen’s new YA contemporary series Don’t Get Mad
(Revenge meets The Breakfast Club) about four very different girls who form a secret
society where they get revenge on bullies and mean girls begins Fall 2014 with Get
Even, followed by the sequel Get Dirty in 2015, also with Balzer + Bray.

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 is a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels where she
can be seen as “Monday.” She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Without further ado, here is our interview with the wonderful, the lovely, and the talented Gretchen McNeil:

Underground Treehouse: In some circles, YA is considered “lesser literature” and adults who read it are looked upon as a little sad. I once heard someone argue that it was alright for a certain popular YA novel to be poorly written because it was “just for teenagers.” What would you, as a YA author who cares about the quality of her work, want these people to understand about young adult literature?

Gretchen McNeil: It’s kind of hilarious to me when people dismiss YA as “lesser” literature. I’m pretty sure the same argument has been made against adult genre fiction as well…

I think one of the beauties of YA fiction as a genre is the wide variety – equaling if not surpassing what we see in adult fiction. Within the confines of YA, we have contemporary, fantasy, adventure, paranormal, dystopian, romance, science fiction, horror, and yes, even literary. Just because the intended audience is 16 instead of 36 doesn’t lessen the impact of the book, or lower the quality of the writing. Do celebrated adult fiction authors intentionally lower the quality of their work when they decide to write YA as well? Of course not. The writing is the same – it’s the focus that changes.

UT: You once said that writing scenes with several characters in them makes you uneasy, and yet the heart of your most recent novel is an ensemble cast of ten people trapped together in one location. Was this an attempt to face your fears as a writer? What lead to the decision to write such a large main cast?

GM: Heh. I told my boyfriend that if I ever again came up with a book idea that required ten main characters he was to take my laptop away from me until I saw reason. 😉

Realistically, the story was too loud in my head, the concept so overpowering, I just had to write it. There are two scenes in particular that require all ten characters to be present and active, and I probably rewrote those scenes a dozen times each. At least. Thankfully, characters start dying right away, and I was able to use the plot to break the groups down into more manageable configurations.

UT: Writers have plenty of ideas and fragments of ideas, but not everything, “makes the cut.” What was it about Ten that persuaded you to put the blood, sweat and tears into its creation?

GM: The idea of going back to the kinds of books I loved as a teen – i.e., Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan – was my first impetus. Books that scare you. Books that keep you turning the pages well after you should have gone to bed. Books that hook you immediately, move quickly, and leave you breathless.

As I developed the plot, the intricately woven mystery kind of consumed my brain. It was like a game of Tetris, as I tried to make all the pieces fit perfectly into that one magical moment when you clear like five rows at once. I actually got hooked on the plotting!

Also, my publisher loved it. 🙂

UT: Both Possess and Ten fit very comfortably into the horror category. Traditional horror can be hard to find in modern YA literature (it is often a bit smothered by the recent flood of paranormal romances). What draws you to the horror genre as a writer?

GM: I love crafting suspense. Horror to me is less about gore or brutality, and more about spinning the tension of a scene or book to such tight point that the drop of a pin will send the reader shrieking. Beyond that, I felt that horror was lacking a bit in YA. So many of the things that scared me as a teen – vampires, werewolves, ghosts – have been romanticized. Which is fine, except they’re not scary anymore! So I set out to bring the scary back, so to speak.

UT: While we have you here, we would love to take a moment to plug your upcoming book, 3:59. We will not ask you to spoil it, of course, but may we ask for a little taste of the premise? Are you still inundated in the revision process, or is the book ready to embrace the outside world?

GM: 3:59 is in the copyediting stage, which means from here on out its just minor tweaks and changes before publication. I’m calling it “horror sci-fi” as it’s a parallel dimension doppelganger story about two girls who are the same girl in different dimensions, who discover that their worlds connect every twelve hours – at 3:59 – for one minute. When they decide to switch places for a day, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

That concludes our first ever author interview. Many thanks to Gretchen McNeil for granting us the honor of featuring her in our journal. With her brilliant, thoughtful, and insightful answers, she has been the perfect first interview! All of us here at The Underground Treehouse are beyond excited for the release of 3:59. Until then, we will satisfy our need for  good young adult thrillers by reading and rereading Gretchen McNeil’s newest published book, Ten, and her other published works!


“TEN is a real page turner! Gretchen McNeil knows how to plot a thriller:
Her setup is flawless and the suspense kept me on the edge of my seat.” –
Christopher Pike, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the THIRST
series and REMEMBER ME

“Gretchen McNeil’s TEN is my new number one! I jumped at every creaking
floorboard in my house and on the page. This is sure to be a teen thriller classic!”
– Nancy Holder, Bram Stoker Award winning author of THE SCREAMING

“You want to read this book. McNeil incorporates all the thrills and chills of a
horror movie into this fast-paced, gripping tale. With its quippy dialogue, it’s like
reading Scream. This reviewer got the willies while reading Ten on a sunny
afternoon.” – Top Pick in Romantic Times, September 2012

“A scary gorefest of murder and mayhem, not for the faint of heart […] a
breathless read.” – Kirkus

“Agatha Christie meets Gossip Girl […] in McNeil’s (Possess) throwback to old-
school thrillers […] has all the hallmarks of a traditional slasher flick, including
imprudent sex, gory slayings, and dramatic revelations.” – Publisher’s Weekly

We invite you to read our published review of Ten!

Published articles mentioning Gretchen McNeil:

YA in the Sun: An Afternoon Basking in YA Literature

Sharing the Table: A Conversation with Gretchen McNeil and Christine Fonseca at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore


2 responses to “Interview: Gretchen McNeil Talks “Ten,” Young Adult Horror, and Her Next Book!

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Ten by Gretchen McNeil | The Underground Treehouse·

  2. Pingback: YA in the Sun: An Afternoon Basking in YA Literature | The Underground Treehouse·

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