March 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJTeen Live! 2016: Suspense and Horror


For those who like to curl up on the couch just to get scared or have their heart race, the SLJTeen Live! “Thrills and Chills” panel delivered. The hour-long discussion featured five prominent YA horror and suspense authors: Eileen Cook, With Malice; Ryan Graudin, Blood for Blood; Leo Hunt, 8 Rivers of Shadow; Lorie Langdon, Gilt Hollow; and Mindy McGinnis, The Female of the Species.

Moderator Emily Grace Le May, YA librarian at Mt. Pleasant (RI) Library, sat down with the authors to talk about their latest books, their tools of the trade, and field questions from the audience.

Discussing With Malice, a thriller about a tragedy during a senior class trip to Italy that shatters the lives of two best friends, Cook explained how the book was influenced by the Amanda Knox case. While the first two drafts were set in Seattle, Cook moved the action to Italy in the third draft after visiting the country while the Amanda Knox trial was taking place. Cook said that the change helped add conflict to the story, giving it the drama of an international crime story. When asked if her books will continue with dark themes, Cook noted that she has always been interested in human nature and why people do terrible things. Her philosophy is that channeling dark thoughts into your writing lets you enjoy life more. Her fans will be delighted to know that a new book about a missing person’s case is currently in edits.

Graudin, author of the “Wolf by Wolf” series, an alternate history in which Germany and Japan masterminded an Axis victory in World War II and now control most of Europe and Asia, has always been fascinated with history. She described the intensive research she undertakes while writing her alternate history stories, which includes reading piles of history texts and consulting every acquaintance who is a history buff, including a World War II gun expert she spoke with while writing Blood for Blood. Graudin explained that you need to know a lot about history in order to be able to come up with a believable alternative version of events. She noted that she would love to see her “Wolf by Wolf” series as a movie adaptation. She would love to see Sarah Gadon playing Yael/Adele, Chris Hemsworth as Luka, and Alexander Skarsgard as Felix—if only they were younger!

Hunt initially didn’t want to write a follow-up to Thirteen Days of Midnight, his dark yet funny debut novel about a teen who unwittingly inherits eight enslaved ghosts from his father, due to his concern that sequels rarely have the freshness of an original. However, when he started writing 8 Rivers of Shadow, he grew confident that it would expand the story of Thirteen Days. So confident, in fact, that he extended the series into a trilogy and has just finished the last book, 7 Trees of Stone. Hunt doesn’t draw inspiration from people he knows—real people are too weird to put into a book, he jokes—but he does admit that the character Elza was inspired by himself at 16, and Ham, Luke’s dog, is a direct caricature of his dog, Ruby. Hunt also shared that he’s been influenced by Stephen King’s novels and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He highly recommends the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

Langdon isn’t sure if she’ll write a sequel to Gilt Hollow, an edgy romance about a girl who falls in love with her best friend, a convicted murderer, but if she did, it would be set right there in the same place. She enjoys creating worlds that have a character all their own, and Gilt Hollow is definitely original. To the excitement of participants, she teased her upcoming projects: an epic YA fantasy novel and a retelling of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

McGinnis is known for including pretty grim stuff, such as rape and animal abuse, in her novels. When asked why she writes about such events in her books for teens, she explained that such bad things happen, and they are experienced or witnessed by teens as well as adults. She hopes that readers can learn about these incidents within the safe world of fiction, while those who have experienced them can find solace in the fact that they aren’t alone. Her fans will be pleased to know that she’s working on two more books. McGinnis also revealed that Not a Drop to Drink, one of her earlier novels, has been optioned for a full-length film.

One of the most fascinating parts of the panel discussion was hearing about the authors’ different writing processes. Cook, a former counselor, is intrigued by people’s motivations, so she spends a lot of time eavesdropping on friends, family, and even strangers. She used to write linearly, meaning that she would take one idea at a time and just sit down and hash it out. However, Cook also noted, ideas need to fester in order for them to grow. Cook said, with a mischievous smile, that she is always looking for ways to make things worse for her characters.

Most of the authors on the panel set a word count and/or time goal for themselves when they write. Cook writes for three or four hours a day, while Graudin works for five, while listening to music. When working on Blood for Blood, she listened to the Mad Max soundtrack and a lot of M.I.A. Langdon sets a 1,000 word goal for herself. Hunt and McGinnis are much more relaxed about their daily processes. Hunt says he tries to write 300 words a day, while McGinnis says that she never really feels a compulsion to work at any particular pace. In fact, she says, as a master at procrastination, she will put off writing for as long as she can, but once she sits down to write, the words flow.

The Thrills and Chills panel and other SLJTeen Live! content can be accessed in our archive.

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Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.


  1. I read and loved Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon’s Gilt Hollow (my review is one Goodreads) – suspense and romance kept me on the edge of my seat!