When I learned the theme for this month was “a peek behind the publishing curtain”, it was an easy decision to invite today’s guest for an interview. For as long as I’ve known her, Gretchen McNeil has been a model of grace and resilience under pressure; a woman who feels passionately and has a big personality, yet who makes pragmatic writing decisions when they’ll benefit her career.
Her flexibility has earned her editorial trust and loyalty at a time when such stories are scarce in my world.
Possibly because of this, since her debut in 2011, she’s had steady work through Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. (The YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the upcoming YA mystery/suspense series Don’t Get Mad, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY.) Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.
Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd., and agreed to a frank discussion today about the challenges—and benefits—of being a midlist author.
Jan: Shortly after the publication of your debut novel, POSSESS, you ran into a significant career hiccup. Can you describe it? What were the stakes?
Gretchen: About four months or so before the publication of my second novel TEN, I learned that Barnes & Noble would not be carrying the book in stores at all, due to “disappointing sales” of POSSESS. This literally rocked my world, because TEN was already getting a tremendous amount of buzz, and since it wasn’t a sequel, its supposed success or failure wouldn’t be immediately attached to that of my debut novel. Basically, getting skipped by the last powerful brick and mortar bookstore means that your book will die a slow and silent death. It was devastating news.
How did you respond, emotionally, strategically, etc.?
Gretchen: Well, first I cried. At my day job. Burst into tears right there at my desk. Then I picked myself up and dusted myself off, and did what the Irish do best: fight.