Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
Today we have the great pleasure of interviewing the Queen of American YA horror Amy Lukavics, who since her debut novel in 2015 has become one of the leading lights on the YA horror scene. Amy now has three outstanding horror novels under her belt, “Daughters Unto Devils” (2015), “The Woman in the Walls” (2016) and the very recently published “Ravenous” (2017).
Although all three novels are unique experiences, Amy excels in creating strong believable teenage female characters, brooding horror in familiar family settings with freaky supernatural riffs, a combination which is perfect for captivating teenage readers.
Ginger Nuts of Horror has been a fan of Amy for a while and our reviews of her two previous novels can be found behind the links below. When we reviewed her debut novel we wrote “there is a new kid on the block in the world of YA horror.” How right we were…
Daughters unto Devils:
Woman in the Walls:
I have been involved professionally with YA literature for over two decades and have a lifelong interest in horror, and in all those years I can think of very few YA authors who have written three such vividly strong YA horror novels in succession to begin their career. This is one of the reasons I am very surprised Amy has been overlooked thus far for the YA section of the prestigious Bram Stoker Award which is presented annually by the Horror Writer’s Association? I have read virtually all short-listed books over the last few years, and sure there are some good books featured, but I see the omission of Amy as a major oversight from the HWA. Let’s hope they do not make the same mistake again and “The Ravenous” gets the nomination a novel of its quality richly deserves.
Onto the interview.
GNoH: Family, or family/parental issues, are an interconnecting theme in all three of your novels. What’s your fascination with what goes on behind the curtains?
Amy: I've always been intrigued by stories that delve into family relationships; between siblings, between parents, between grandparents. I just think those dynamics are well worth exploring in fiction, and my characters always become more complex and interesting when I tap into the emotions they have surrounding their family members.
GNoH: Although all three novels are obviously for teens, they are only a small step away from fully fledged adult horror fiction, is this something we can expect from you in the future?
Amy: I absolutely plan on breaking into the adult market eventually! I'm working on my first adult horror now and I'm very excited to see what becomes of it.
GNoH: Apart from the obvious big sellers in the teen market, which YA horror writers do you read/recommend? The obscurer the better, we know it all…
Amy: I'm really into Kaitlin Ward, Cat Winters, Emily Carroll, and Dawn Kurtagich. All for different reasons, but every one of them has successfully creeped me out and/or just filled me with pure horror delight. I was also blown away recently by “My Best Friend's Exorcism” by Grady Hendrix, it was just insanely good.
GNoH: What did you read as a teenager and which authors currently have had the greatest influence on you, horror or otherwise?
Amy: As a teen I read whatever I could get from the school library--Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Sylvia Plath, RL Stine. I read plenty of Stephen King too, of course, and also never really lost my childhood obsession with the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books.
As far as influences go, currently I find myself the most inspired by Shirley Jackson, Jennifer McMahon, Paul Tremblay, Joe Hill, Megan Abbott, Stephanie Kuehn, and Gillian Flynn.
GNoH: There are a distinct lack of men/boys/boyfriends in all three of your novels, why do you write such female driven fiction? This is not a criticism! Only an observation…
Amy: It's not necessarily something I've done on purpose, but at the same time I've always written the books that I would want to read myself. And it just so happens that most of my favourite stories, horror or not, are centred around women. I especially love a good female villain!
GNoH: I think you reveal the inspiration to your latest novel “The Ravenous” through a sequence in the book itself when the sisters are watching TV. Tell us what attracted you to The Blood Benders story?
Amy: I'd had an idea about a sister book similar to “The Virgin Suicides” simmering in my head for months, but there was some big piece missing that keep the idea from feeling whole, so I never pursued it. Then one random day, my husband sent me a link with the message “thought you'd be interested in this.” It was an article all about The Bloody Benders, a serial killer family from the early 1870's. The story was absolutely horrifying, and the 'killer family' element promptly transformed my simmering sisters story into “The Ravenous”.
GNoH: Your debut novel “Daughters unto Devils” is set in the prairie lands of old America. You could probably count the number of YA supernatural stories set in this period on one hand. What attracted you to it?
Amy: “Daughters unto Devils” was my first attempt at a horror novel, which I'd been wanting to do for years but had not yet been confident enough to try. But after I wrote a few contemporary novels that never sold, I figured I might as well write what would give me the most joy. I knew I wanted it to be a historical horror, and was going through potential settings in my head before I came across the thought, “What if Little House on the Prairie had been a possession horror?” And it was like a light switch going off...I had to do it!
GNoH: Your protagonists thus far have all been damaged but very engaging teenage girls. Is there much of yourself in these characters? You really put these girls through the wringer! There might even be a career as a ‘straight’ YA writer waiting for you?
Amy: While none of my characters are directly inspired by myself, I can certainly relate to some of the feelings they've experienced—the pressure they put on themselves for whatever reason, or the constant worrying they endure (I'm most certainly a worrier!) As far as the damaged element goes, well...who isn't damaged in one way or the other? Ha-ha!
GNoH: Although for the most part your novels only have sporadic moments of bone crunching violence, I’m thinking of the hammer and eyeball scene in “The Ravenous” do you feel you’re holding the blood back a bit for your youthful audience or has your editor reigned you in?
Amy: No, never, and I get asked this question quite a bit. I'm extremely fortunate to have an editor who totally gets my stories and has never once commented that I needed to pull back on violence or gore, which was a delightful surprise. Some people insist that YA horror needs to be less gory than adult as well as have a happy ending, both things of which I disagree with.
GNoH: If you had a 100% guarantee one of your novels was to be filmed which would it be? Who would star in it?
Amy: Oh man, that's a hard question. I feel like “The Women in the Walls” could make for a really eerie and atmospheric movie, but there's also so much potential cast-wise when it comes to “The Ravenous”. I always thought it'd be awesome to have Taylor Swift to play the 'bad' sister, Juliet, and to have Shannon Purser (Barb from Stranger Things!) play Mona.
GNoH: When I read “The Women in the Walls” one of the things I really liked about it was the vagueness of where and when it was set. I’m also pretty sure there was no social media and I don’t think either of the girls either mentioned boyfriends… It is all very ‘unteenlike’ but helped create a tremendous atmosphere of isolation. Was this deliberate? What were the influences behind this ghost story?
Amy: It was deliberate. One of the most important things about the setting for “The Women in the Walls” was that it was isolated. This meant keeping the cast small and doing what I could to deny them instant access to the outside world, so I left social media out of it. As far as influences go, I was really inspired by the trailer (the movie itself had not yet come out) for “Crimson Peak”. I wanted to capture that dark, eerie, Gothic vibe in my own story!
GNoH: Getting back to your latest novel “The Ravenous” which features five sisters… I had already thought of “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides before the sisters started watching the film. I take it this was both deliberate and that you’re a fan?
Amy: Yep, I was very inspired by “The Virgin Suicides” for “The Ravenous”. I first discovered the book in high school and ended up loving it so much that I went back to highlight all of my favourite passages like a total geek. I am also a big fan of the Sofia Coppola movie adaptation, and the soundtrack as well.
GNoH: “The Ravenous” is seen through the eyes of one of the middle sisters Mona, who was both a sympathetic and sad character, I’m particularly thinking of her telephone friend, which had a fantastic reveal. Why were you so tough on her? Perhaps it’s tough being the middle sibling…
Amy: Ha! See, I don't really view it as me being tough on my characters, because they aren't pre-existing beings that I inflict horror upon on a whim. Usually when I come up with a character, I already have a pretty good idea of what will happen to them ultimately, even before the more personal details about their struggles come to me, so their experiences are pretty built in from the get-go. Mona was fun to write because of how many conflicting feelings she had on everything from her living situation to her sisters to her mother. And being the middle sibling absolutely had an influence on her character, the poor dear.
GNoH: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Amy: It wasn't really advice, but I was really inspired by Paul Tremblay when I was fortunate enough to do a panel with him at San Diego ComicCon in 2016. He was just such a genuinely nice guy who was so encouraging when I mentioned that I wanted to break into the adult market one day. It really meant a lot to me to see someone represent the horror community in such a positive and welcoming way, and it made me want to work hard and write the best books that I possibly can.
GNoH: Can you tell us about your future projects?
Amy: My next book, out fall of 2018, is called “Nightingale” and is a psychological horror that takes place in an asylum in the 1950's. I am so, so excited for it!
GNoH: Amy Lukavics, the Queen of YA American Horror, It has been an absolute pleasure having you on The Ginger Nuts of Horror and we wish you all the best for “The Ravenous” and future projects.