by Ethan Cross
Katie Alender has set herself apart as a master of supernatural suspense for the young reader, earning comparisons to Stephen King. Her new book, From Bad to Cursed, continues the stories of two sisters plagued by paranormal happenings that she began with her debut novel, Bad Girls Don’t Die.
Alexis is the last girl you’d expect to sell her soul for beauty and popularity. After all, she already has everything she needs–an adorable boyfriend, the perfect best friend, and a family that finally seems to be healing after her sister Kasey’s unfortunate possession by an evil spirit.
But then Kasey tells Alexis about the mysterious new club she has joined, and the oath she has taken to someone named Aralt. Worried that Kasey’s gotten in over her head again, Alexis and her best friend Megan decide to investigate by joining the Sunshine Club, too. At first, their connection with Aralt seems harmless. Alexis tries a new — normal– look, and finds herself reveling in her elegance and success.
Still, despite the Sunshine Club’s outward perfection, the group is crumbling from within, and soon Alexis finds herself battling her own personal demons. She can hardly even remember why she joined in the first place. Surely it wasn’t to destroy Aralt…why would she hurt someone who has given her so much, and asked for so little in return?
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Katie.
It says in your bio that you don’t like scary books or movies. Then why write books that make people want to “sleep with the lights on?”
Weirdly enough, it never occurred to me that my first book was scary. To me, it was just a story. Only when my agent and editor told me it had spooked them a little did I realize that it wasn’t just a supernatural mystery. To me, what matters first and foremost is making sure the page-turning element is there. For this series, that meant adding scenes that are creepy. For another series, it could be a whole different set of qualities!
From Bad to Cursed is the sequel to your 2009 debut, Bad Girls Don’t Die. Is it necessary for readers to start with that book before picking up this one?
I’d recommend it, because this book really plays off what happened in the last one. I don’t think a reader would be completely lost if they hadn’t read the first one, because it’s a totally separate storyline. But reading the first book will give you a deeper appreciation for where the characters are (and why).
What would you say sets your books apart from other young adult books on the market today that feature the supernatural?
There are a lot of really great supernatural books for teens out there right now! I think what sets the Bad Girls Don’t Die series apart is the fact that the series is about the journey of the main character, Alexis, rather than focusing on a particular aspect of the supernatural world. Yes, they’re all ghost stories, but it’s not about one overarching adversary. The thread that holds it together is how everything changes Alexis, and how she grows. So in that way, they’re very human stories. Also, my approach to romance is different from a lot of what’s out there—how and when it’s emphasized.
What kind of research did you do for the new book?
One of the luxuries of writing about the supernatural is that you can make things up. So I mostly invented rather than researched, in terms of the antagonist. Then it becomes more about making sure I follow my own rules rather than following someone else’s—and that can actually be incredibly challenging!
This book concerns a group of girls who make an ill-fated pact with an evil spirit—but in return, they get beauty, popularity, success—and as my editor and I were working on the book, she said, “If I could find something like this, I might do it.” After coming out of the first book, where the central conflict was between Alexis and this evil ghost who obviously had to go, I was very excited to write a book where the actual decision about whether to even fight or not becomes part of the conflict. And there’s the element of a somewhat unreliable narrator, which was also very interesting to write. I have really enjoyed finding ways, even writing in the first person, to let the reader know more than the character knows.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?
Right now, I’m reading “Chime” by Franny Billingsley and listening to the audiobook of “Daniel Deronda” by George Eliot.
In terms of my voice and the way my characters address the reader, Paula Danziger has probably been one of the biggest influences. Stephen King has given me a lot to think about as far as writing scary action. Every book I read influences my writing—I think that’s the case for all writers, whether we realize it or not. But the ones that really stand out to me are books written with plain language and beautiful rhythm within their syntax. The rhythm of a book is very important to me. Tana French writes books that are achingly pretty, yet simple and suspenseful. Regardless of the genre, the use of the language seeps in my head and affects the way I write.
What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting? Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
I certainly didn’t know how much time authors are expected to spend chasing down their own marketing and publicity! I spend quite a bit of time trying to get my book out there, and that can become quite exhausting.
My advice for aspiring authors is to embrace the revision process. You can always make something better by going over it again. And read as many writing craft books as you can. You may not agree with all of them, but you will begin to get a very solid handle on the way stories are constructed.
Are you currently working on a new book? Can we get a sneak peek?
I’m just finishing a massive set of revisions on the third book in the series. I think all I can say right now is that it starts in a very dark place and gets darker from there. And that it’s the conclusion of a big journey for Alexis.
The ITW’s yearly conference, Thrillerfest, is rapidly approaching. Can Big Thrill readers expect to see you there? Are there are any other conferences or appearances you’d like to highlight?
I wish I could be there! Between my various deadlines and my nutty travel schedule (I’ve flown across the country and back every month for going on eight months now), I won’t be able to make it. Currently, I’m scheduled to be at ALAN (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) in Chicago this November.
Katie Alender is the author of the Bad Girls Don’t Die series from Disney-Hyperion. She is a graduate of the Florida State University Film School and lives in Los Angeles. When she’s not writing novels, she can usually be found in her sewing room, making things for her friends or her dog (or her friends’ dogs). She enjoys reading, eating delicious high-calorie foods, and hanging out with her husband and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Winston.
To learn more about Katie, please visit her website.