Amy McCaw is a YA writer and blogger. She’s the author of Mina and the Undead, a YA murder mystery set in 1995 New Orleans.
Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her debut novel has elements of all of these. If Amy’s not at a book event or reading, she can usually be found scribbling away in her writing room, surrounded by movie memorabilia and an out-of-control signed books collection. Unsurprisingly, she’s a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and has gone to conventions to meet James Marsters more times than she cares to admit.
Amy also loves travelling and has a particular affinity for America. She’s visited 29 states, 13 Man Vs Food restaurants and many bookish locations, including the cities where Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Diaries were set.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to write a book since I knew that was a job people could do! I remember my mum telling me that Enid Blyton wrote the Famous Five books and that was it for me. Not long after that, an author called Jean Ure came to visit my primary school and asked who wanted to write a book like her. My hand shot up!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I can be really self critical. It slows down the writing process when I’m always itching to edit what I’ve just written and make it as good as it can be.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I’ve always been a mixture of a plotter and a pantser. I do quite a lot of plotting and research until the story starts to feel real and I get too excited to delay writing any longer! After that, I plot as I go along. The story usually keeps the main shape I intended, but I make a lot of changes and introduce new elements along the way. Getting published didn’t really change my method. The main different was that I had deadlines to work to, and I found that really motivating! When I was just writing for myself and the desire to get an agent one day, it was easy to keep moving the end date.
What can you tell us about Mina and the Undead?
Mina and the Undead is a Gothic YA murder mystery set in 1995 New Orleans. Mina goes to the city to visit her estranged sister and she enjoys all of the creepy things New Orleans has to offer, even getting a job at a horror movie mansion. That gives her the opportunity to reconnect with her sister as well as scaring the tourists. Things take a turn when she finds a dead body at work. Someone is killing people in the style of New Orleans myths, and Mina has to figure out what’s going on before she becomes the latest victim.
What inspired the idea for your book?
I visited New Orleans in 2012, and I was captivated by the city. It has such a distinctive feel, from the delicious food and humid heat to the incredible creepy locations. It fascinated me that the city’s history and local legends have blurred together, so it’s hard to know where the stories end and the truth begins. I started plotting and researching on that basis and soon discovered that 1994 was the deadliest year in New Orleans’ history up to that point, as over 400 people were murdered. 1994 was also the year the Interview with the Vampire movie was released. I wanted to explore the aftermath of that and how a murder mystery could fit into a city full of vampire-obsessed tourists.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
The research was definitely tough at times! Although I’d visited to New Orleans, I wasn’t able to go back to check details whenever I needed them. I relied on books, friends who live in and near New Orleans and photographs. I also found the 90s time period worked well with the plot, but it took a lot of time to make sure that was accurate. Another difficult aspect of research was the police procedure. I did a lot of reading and talked to a police officer from the southern states as part of my research. I also wanted to keep the story exciting and twisty, so it was a challenge deciding how to bend the realities of police procedure to fit the story.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
I relate the most to Mina. This isn’t always the case with my main characters, but I decided to give Mina a lot of my interests in macabre subjects and horror movies. It tied in nicely with the plot and meant I could put a lot of the things I enjoy into one book! Our personalities are quite different though. She’s much more impulsive than me and steps headfirst into dangerous situations more often. I think that makes her a more interesting main character than I would be – I’m far too cautious!
If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?
I’m hoping that I will get to write a sequel! I can’t say much without spoiling the first book. I will say that I could potentially write two more books to complete the story arc in my head. I also have a novella set in this world that would be a lot of fun to write and wouldn’t be from Mina’s viewpoint.
What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
In the first draft, most of the important elements were there that made it into the book. I do a lot of editing as I go along, so I’d fixed a lot of the big things that didn’t work. I changed the structure of the book after the first draft, so the historical elements fit more organically into the book. I also took out some plot twists, one that I’m saving for a sequel and one that overcomplicated things. I changed quite a lot of small things to tighten the plot, flesh out characters and enhance the 90s setting. The book also started in the present tense, but ultimately the past worked a lot better!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I always read reviews that people have tagged me in. I started as a blogger, so I know how much time and thought goes into reviews. I try to avoid reviews I’m not tagged in, although sometimes I’ve slipped when they pop up in my timeline.
Reading good reviews is a great feeling! It’s lovely when people comment on things I was proud of or when they understand what I was trying to achieve.
Reading a bad review is hard, because you can’t change anything about the book, even if you agree with a point someone has made. No book is going to be loved by everyone, which is easy to say but not always easy to believe! I think it was Laini Taylor who said a book doesn’t belong to the author after it’s published – it belongs to readers. I always try to remember that.
If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
I’d love to hang out with my characters! If you take out the murders, they have a lot of fun in this book. If I met them, I’d give each of them a very specific warning about how to get through the book unscathed…
Interview : YA SH3LF