Thursday, August 19, 2010

TBG Author Interview: Gretchen McNeil

Wow, we haven't posted anything new in ages! I'm sorry! To make it up to you, I'm proud to present an interview...with soon-to-be-published author, Gretchen McNeil, who's debut novel Banish will be published by Balzer Bray for HarperCollins, in Winter 2012!!! Welcome, Gretchen!

1) Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

No. I always wanted to be a performer. I majored in music in college and grad school – opera and voice to be exact – and while I don't pursue opera anymore, I still sing with a circus troupe in Los Angeles called Cirque Berzerk. Which is totally awesome.
I started writing about three years ago, sort of on a whim. My first novel was…not so great. But my second landed me an agent! And my third has recently sold.

2) How did you come up with the idea for BANISH? Did it just come to you, or was it more of a gradual progression?

I've always been fascinated by the Catholic rite of exorcism which dates back to the 16th century and is still used, in a modernized form, today. I read every firsthand account of exorcisms I could and the plot for BANISH just sort of spun out from there.

3) Where do you draw your inspiration from while you are writing? For example, do you listen to music while you write or sit outside?

My inspiration usually comes when I'm not writing. I get the best ideas when I'm walking the dog, blow drying my hair, or sitting in LA rush hour traffic. When I write, though, I prefer to do it with benign white noise in the background: sports and FoodTV work best.

4) How do you stay motivated to write? Even though you are almost a published author, have you ever wanted to give up? And if so, how did you pull yourself back from the "edge"?

I think the nature of being a writer means that every once in awhile you want to through your laptop off a cliff and never write another word ever again. When I get to that point, I give myself a break. A day or two off usually does the trick before my brain starts spinning out plot points again.

5) Tell us about your writing habits: where you write, when you write, how much you write, etc.

I think I do everything "wrong." I write in bed mostly, with laptop in my lap and a glass of white wine within reach. Almost always with the TV on (a habit I've had since high school – I always had to do my homework with the TV on. *shrugs*), usually at night and with frequent internet breaks. When I'm writing a novel, I usually try and write 1K words a day, 5-6 days a week. That's my max output and I can get through a rough draft in about 3 months.

6) How do you deal with constructive (or not) criticism? And if it's negative, how do you deal with it?

Criticism is a tricky thing. I want to hear if there are problems with my manuscript. I want to know if a character didn't resonate, a plot point not make sense, a description fall flat. But in the end, criticism is one person's opinion.
There are some readers whose judgment I trust implicitly. If they tell me something doesn't work, I sit up and take notice. But not everyone's opinion is going to resonate with me. There are some readers for BANISH who really didn't like the book or my writing for one reason or another. Their opinion is totally valid, but it doesn't mean I agree. ;)

7) How many stories did you start writing before you found a "winner" and how did you know you'd found a keeper?

Oh, I've got lots of "started" manuscripts on my hard drive. Actually, BANISH used to be one of them. I wrote 15K words, got stuck with a major plot point, and put it away to write something else. A few months later I came back to it after some prodding by my agent who loved the concept. Suddenly, I saw the answer to my plot snafu and BOOM, finished the rough draft 2 months later.
You know you have a "winner" when you can't stop writing. The words are flowing, the characters practically writing their own dialogue, the plot forming itself before your very eyes! That's the excitement of a good idea, an idea you're passionate about. I don’t know if I could crank out a manuscript unless I really loved the idea.

8) Do you have any new writing projects in the works? Can you tell us about them?

Well, I'm currently researching a sequel for BANISH (one word for you – Antichrist) and I have both a post-apocalyptic idea and a YA contemporary idea knocking about in my brain. We'll see which one wins.

9) What were the most difficult and best parts of writing BANISH?

The climax is always my most difficult part to write. It's got to be big! It's got to wrap everything up! It's got to be entertaining! Usually by that point in the writing I just want to be DONE. My rough draft of those final chapter will be filled with sidebar notes like "Fix this," "Do something BIG here," "Add a funny line." It's like I can't think about it anymore. Thank god for editing!
The best part was Bridget Liu, my main character. I heart her. She's prickly, closed up and more than a little bitchy sometimes, but I loved being able to open her up throughout the course of the novel. She's fun like that.

10) What did you do to celebrate when you found out that you were getting signed by your agent?

I had a bottle of Dom Perignon that had been sitting in the back of my fridge for months. I popped that baby open the day I got my contract!

11) What did your friends and family think when you told them you were writing?

I kept the whole thing pretty hush-hush until I signed with Ginger. I just didn't want to be one of those people who says "I'm writing a novel" and then everyone and their mom asks you for the next 10 years when your novel is coming out! So I waited until I was at a more concrete place in my writing career. And yes, just about everyone was completely shocked.

12) Now that you're almost a published author and a more experienced writer, what advice would you give to your unpublished self?

Don't be so hard on yourself, Gretch. I was striving for the "right" way to write a novel back at the beginning and the truth is – there's not right way. Just a right way for ME. And I had to give myself leave to figure out what that was.

13) How long did it take you to write The Witch’s Eye from concept to outlining to completion to sending if off to agents?

It went pretty fast. I started writing it in June and sent my first query December 1st of that year. I signed with Ginger two weeks later.

14) Can you briefly detail your journey to publication after finishing The Witch’s Eye? (Finding an agent, an editor, promoting the book, etc.)

Well, I signed with Ginger right before Christmas, did a round of revisions for year in January and went on sub in February 2009. We had several close calls but the novel, unfortunately, didn't sell. For now. Meanwhile I wrote a historical adventure novel that is still waiting to get revised and then in November I wrote the bulk of BANISH. BANISH went to Ginger in May 2010, I did a quick round of revisions and then it went on sub in June and sold in July. It is currently slated to be published in Winter 2012.

15) What kind of atmosphere do you prefer to write in, calm or chaos?

Somewhere in between. Let's call it "controlled chaos."

16) What is your writing process like?

I research a lot before I start plotting. Like a LOT. It helps me come up with ideas, put plot pieces together in my mind, and find inspiration. Then I usually outline just the first act (I work within a three act structure) because I find that acts two and three will change a lot after I actually start writing the damn thing.
Oh, and I haven't written a novel yet where I haven't had some massive brain wave about 2/3 of the way in that requires me to go back and change a whole bunch of what came before. It sucks but I guess that's just how my brain works!

17) Do you have any odd and unusual habits which help you in regards to writing?

I like to have a glass of wine (or three) while I write. And nibblies – jelly bellies, preferably.

Thank you so much for the interview, Gretchen! I loved chatting with you and I cannot wait till Banish hits shelves, I'll totally be the first one in line at the bookstore to snag myself a copy!!! :)

To find out more about Gretchen and her books, visit her awesome website at:



Dawn Kurtagich said...

What a fantastic interview. I love Gretchen - cannot wait to get my hands on BANISH. I am going to jump as high as needed to get me an ARC!

Kate Hart said...

Your comments about criticism just helped me tremendously. Thanks Gretchen!

Gretchen said...

You guys are awesome. :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I bump into Gretchen online, and I can't wait to read Banish. Also, #11 is totally me--I kept my writing hush-hush. I didn't want to be bombarded with questions.