Ask the Author: Ash Van Otterloo
What would you like readers to know about you?
When I was young, I used to get really anxious. Sometimes I was nervous around strangers, sometimes my imagination got the better of me and I scared myself spitless, and often I worried that, somehow, I was too odd or not good enough. I often had trouble sleeping.
I also loved roller coasters and adventure and scary books, so you can imagine that was often a conflicting combo of traits!
My suspicion is that a lot of young readers feel this same way: they crave everything the Universe has to offer, and worry that somehow, they won’t be up to the adventure. So I always want my stories to be the sort of books I would’ve loved when I was younger: exciting and intense, but also carrying the true message that you are enough, exactly as you are.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
Cattywampus tells the story of two young witches—Delpha McGill and Katybird Hearn—who desperately want to learn magic, but it’s been forbidden by their rival witch families due to a magical truce.
But after Delpha’s grandma dies and Delpha finds her family magic book, she decides to teach herself magic in secret. Katybird Hearn finds out about Delpha’s book and demands to tag along.
Trouble is, the girls are different as night and day—each with a challenging history that interferes with their ability to do magic well. During an argument in a cemetery over Delpha’s spellbook, they accidentally cast a hex that wakes all their witch ancestors as destructive feuding zombies.
In order to master the counter-curse that puts the zombies to rest, the girls, with the help of their friend Tyler, have to learn lessons of trust, vulnerability, and self-acceptance.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
Usually, many inspirations collide when I write! For Cattywampus, it was largely realizing I wished for a children’s witch tale set in my home region. I’ve always been obsessed with folk tales and magic books like Terry Pratchett’s, because I think there’s a certain “once upon a time” feel about them that allows for a lot of playful emotional processing and vicarious risk-taking. But there’s something about hearing it in your own vernacular and culture that strikes a deep chord, and that was my hope for Cattywampus.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
I had a lot of fun writing the graveyard scene. There’s a lot going on there—the characters’ banter, the creepy atmosphere of the zombies waking in the abandoned woods, the action of trying to escape! It was a lot to juggle, but I really love a challenge and a good point of no return scene.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
I can’t trace my desire to write to specific place, but my soul is constantly inspired by authors like Octavia Butler, Phillip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Rivers Solomon, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Ellen Oh, Jenny Nimmo, Jonathan Stroud and Kelly Barnhill, to name a very few! Each unique voice and perspective speaks to a different part of my soul.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
It’s almost cliché, but truly: expect your first novel attempts to be horrific. Then, tackle it bravely and without reserve, and take many risks.
Don’t stress over “using up all your best ideas at once”; I promise you have worlds within you. Stay resilient, accept feedback, cry when you need to, and keep writing. You’ll quickly find you have more stories inside you than time on this earth to tell them all!