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How long have you been writing? This doesn’t just have to mean publishing books.
I've been writing forever. When I was a child, I kept journals religiously and spent free time scribbling out short stories, poems, and even fake commercials (that I'd force my poor parents to watch as I acted them out). Writing is in my blood. Even if I knew I’d never sell a book again, I’d still write. It’s the way I express myself and explore the world around me.
You’ve probably been asked this many times as a writer, but where do you find yourself pulling inspiration from?
I get inspiration from my family, my city, and my readers! It’s a tremendous honor to get emails and letters from young readers all over the country who tell me they identified with a character, or that a book I wrote got them through a tough time or motivated them to write their own story. Those experiences are magical and inspire me to continue doing what I do!
Can you talk a little about your writing experience at Knox? What sort of writing did you do?
My writing experience at Knox was great! I had fantastic professors who encouraged me to think and write outside of the box. Taking risks is something I learned at Knox and regularly apply to my own writing now. I took a broad spectrum of English lit classes at Knox, all of which functioned to expand my writing skills. However, to be honest, it really wasn’t until my junior and senior years that I think I bloomed as a writer. Prior to those years, I really categorized myself as more of a reader who happened to enjoy writing essays.
You majored in English literature but not creative writing—why?
Well, I certainly never expected to be a novelist, let alone one for tweens. Honestly, I envisioned myself as becoming more of an academic when I was at Knox. I thought I might move on to grad school and ultimately teach literature at either the high school or college level. From that perspective, most of the writing I did at Knox revolved around literary analysis. Very different from what I do now. I believe that my journeys through writing as an adult have taught me that we often have to experience many different types of writing to find our way. My path to discovery started many years ago and while I knew I wanted to write for children, I had no idea the age group I was targeting. I also knew nothing about voice. It took a lot of experimentation, a lot of rejections, and a lot of hard work to figure out where I belonged and what I truly love to write. Middle-grade fiction is the sweet spot for me. Kids that age have one foot in childhood and one in adulthood. They’re young and clever and books written for them always include hope—something I think makes writing for this age range truly special.
Did you take creative writing courses at Knox?
Shockingly, not many! If I had a do-over at Knox, this would be the one thing I’d do differently. I’d definitely take more creative writing courses. That said, I don’t think you need to major in creative writing to be an author. I’m proof of that. However, I think I would have enjoyed it and since college is very much about expanding horizons, I wish I’d explored just a little bit more.
You seem to have found your niche in writing horror for young readers. Why did you decide to write for this particular demographic? Why horror/thriller?
Thank you! I’ve always loved the horror/spooky genre. Even as a child I started counting down to Halloween in August. Also, I love paranormal stories and ghost legends. I believe that writers should always write what they’re genuinely passionate about. The passion is obvious in your work and unlike writing for trends, I believe readers feel it, too.
What was the process of writing Scritch Scratch?
All of my books have a strong historical component in them, which means research is really important, but Scritch Scratch was unique in how much research and how many places in the city I needed to explore/have knowledge of before writing. I went on a ghost tour bus in Chicago (so fun!) as part of my research and loved the idea of the ghost not being rooted in one place like a haunted house, or graveyard, but coming from an unknown location in a list of many, many potentially haunted spots. It’s one of the things that makes Scritch Scratch a unique ghost story, and a fun mystery for young readers!
Scritch Scratch earned a blurb from R.L. Stine (wow). What was that like for you?
Thank you! I was blown away by that experience. I admire R.L. Stine so much, not just because he’s a master of writing spooky stories for kids, but because he’s written books for years that draw in reluctant readers. The ability to inspire kids to read is a special one and there are few authors that do it as well as him. Having him read Scritch Scratch and blurb it was truly an honor and surreal experience!
Can you recommend some of your favorite horror titles (literary or otherwise)?
Yes! I’d recommend Small Spaces or Dead Voices by Katherine Arden. I also really loved City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. Both are spooky and perfect for young readers at this time of year!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Be patient. Believe in yourself and your skills. The key is to keep writing. Keep believing in yourself and trusting that there is a place in the world for your words.