Ask the Author: Cat Scully
What would you like readers to know about you?
I’m an illustrator and writer from Atlanta who recently moved up to about an hour north of Boston, but I’ve still got a lot of southern in me. I have worked on about thirty world maps for publishers big and small, and that’s how I got my start in the publishing industry. Before that, I was a writer, storyboarder, and animator for Cartoon Network commercials, so I started off in screenwriting and animation first. Now, I work in video games with part of the team that built Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, Mist, Swat 4, and Perception. So, when I’m not writing and illustrating books, I’m working on a video game whose title the Deep End Games will be announced soon! Very excited to reveal what we’ve been working on the past year. I’m a multi-media writer, and that shows in the cinematic writing style of my first book JENNIFER STRANGE, which is releasing this July.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
Jennifer Strange is about a well-meaning, early high school girl with a villain’s power – she can give ghosts and demons a body, even if it rips right out of the host. It’s set in Savannah, Georgia, one of the most haunted cities in America. Jennifer’s powers awaken in Atlanta during a volleyball match where a ghost attacks her, desiring to live again. Her dad whisks Jennifer away from Atlanta down to Savannah to stay with her older sister Liz while he searches for something to stop her powers. The estranged sisters have to fight off demons and ghosts while figuring out their family curse using only their father’s journal for guidance. The book itself is modeled after the actual journal so you can follow along with the entries and see all of the art. It’s very much like John Winchester’s journal from Supernatural.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
I actually came up with this idea before I ever saw Buffy or Supernatural, back when I was in college and writing tv pilots for class. But Buffy and Supernatural shaped the later revisions and definitely became a huge inspiration for the original premise. The first time I wrote it, the book was from the perspective of both Marcus Blackwell and Jennifer Strange, and it was very difficult to pull off the dual POV with my skills at the time, so I went all-in on doing Jennifer’s point of view. I studied a lot of ghost encounters and people who claim to actually hunt ghosts, like the Warrens or Ralph Sarchie. Having seen a few apparitions myself, it was more terrifying to read the true accounts in some cases than anything I wrote in fiction.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
My favorite scene is the same as many of the readers – the Poltergeist scene. It was also the hardest to write and coordinate. Jennifer must come to grips with the fact she isn’t immune to ghosts or demons possessing her, not just the people around her. I wanted to show that my main character, while powerful, was not invincible or immune to possession herself. I haven’t seen that done a lot in the fiction I’ve read so far, only in movies like Evil Dead where Ash is possessed or the characters of Buffy become vampires for one episode. I’m always there for knocking the hero down a peg and seeing what they do, and in Jennifer’s case, the hits keep on hitting. Every time she brings a ghost or demon over, giving them a body, she’s sucked a little more over to the other side in equivalent exchange.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
I am very much inspired by Amy Lukavics, and I took a lot of cues from her books in how far I could go with my scares. Jennifer Strange gets gory at times, but I look at Amy’s work and I’m like wow. She goes even farther than I do! I was also heavily inspired by Paul Zindel’s horror books, which are all creature features – one is about the Loch Ness monster eating a bunch of people in Vermont, and another is about fish each people off of the Great Barrier Reef. His books are for middle schoolers and they get pretty gory at times, but they’re always funny and fun! I wanted to write something like that where I didn’t shy away from moments that are a bit gross, but I always try to bring it back around to humor and sisterly banter. I also love the work done by so many women of horror in the young adult like Hillary Monahan, Rin Chupeco, Claire Legrand, Courtney Alameda, Dawn Kurtakich, Kendare Blake, Holly Black, April Tucholke, and Kim Liggett. There are so many cool women and female-identifying writers doing awesome work in young adult horror. They inspire me so much. I’ve never felt like I belonged more since I met them and read their work.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
My first piece of advice is the publishing process always takes longer than you think. I remember having lunch with Courtney Alameda and she said it took her about seven years to really become a good writer, and she was right. It did take me that long to really figure out what I was doing, and I was agented all of that time — about seven years. I got an agent fast, getting an offer of representation after three months of querying, but getting published was a much longer journey. I also learned that if you’re stuck on how to fix a book, write another book and come back to the first one. Very few people want to do that. They want to write the next in the series, but I knew I would learn more from writing something else and coming back. Jennifer Strange was my first ever novel, but I went on to write two more before coming back to revise Jennifer Strange for publication – and Jennifer Strange is also a series. My advice is don’t write the sequel before you sell it, because you will go through so many revisions on the first, you would learn more from writing a completely different book or short stories. That helps you see the idea with fresher eyes than living in the same world. You also don’t know if your publisher will want to do a sequel based on sales, and they’ll want to see what else you’ve got. Always be working on a few ideas, but make sure you don’t chase so many plot bunnies you don’t finish a book. Always finish the book. I was a Pitch Wars mentor for five years, and if anyone ever has a question about publishing, they can always tweet me! I’ll try my best to answer anything from writing a series to queries to the dreaded synopsis, which believe it or not, I actually love writing pitches.
Jennifer Strange is cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demons a corporeal body with just the touch of her hand. All she wants is to learn how to control her new gift. Instead, her father drops her in the care of her older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.
Jennifer and Liz haven’t spoken to each other since their mother died, but when the supernatural residents of Savannah, Georgia find Jennifer and her powerful gift, the sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their parents. If they can’t sort out their differences, they’ll not only destroy the veil between the living and the dead but fall into the hands of a rival family who wants to claim the Sparrow power for themselves.
JENNIFER STRANGE is an illustrated novel – a campy romp for fans of BUFFY, EVIL DEAD, and SUPERNATURAL. Cat’s illustrations unveil the story of Jennifer’s family history in the form of a journal with an art style akin to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.
Releases July 21, 2020, from Haverhill House Publishing.