Today on my water monster blog, we have a guest, Cat Scully, author of the much anticipated JENNIFER STRANGE. Wanna know what this talented author is really afraid of? Read on. But first, a little about the book itself, which Claire Legrand, author of Sawkill Girls, calls “devilishly paced and drenched in Gothic atmosphere.”
Jennifer Strange is cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demons a corporeal body with just the touch of her hand. All she wants is to learn how to control her new gift. Instead, her father drops her in the care of her older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.
Jennifer and Liz haven’t spoken to each other since their mother died, but when the supernatural residents of Savannah, Georgia, find Jennifer and her powerful gift, the sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their parents. If they can’t sort out their differences, they’ll not only destroy the veil between the living and the dead, but fall into the hands of a rival family who wants to claim the Sparrow power for themselves.
JENNIFER STRANGE is an illustrated novel – a campy romp for fans of BUFFY, EVIL DEAD, and SUPERNATURAL. Cat’s illustrations unveil the story of Jennifer’s family history in the form of a journal with an art style akin to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.
LL: You set JENNIFER STRANGE in Savannah, one of my all-time favorite cities, and one very connected to the water. Why did you choose that setting, and does the watery nature of the place feature in the story?
CS: I wanted to create a setting that acted as a source of conflict for Jennifer because I really love horror stories where the land is as much the antagonist as any demon. I grew up in Georgia and got the idea that my local city of Savannah would be a great place to set it because I could actively research there, and I knew just how haunted the South is.
What I didn’t know was that they moved graves to create the city, and that they effectively built it on stilts due to the waterways. So River Street faces the water with a set of buildings and shops, and the third floors of those same buildings face the main road in the opposite direction. It’s unique and strange, and it was the most terrible place a girl like Jennifer, with the gift of giving the dead a human body, could exist–though most of America is haunted, so really there is nowhere Jennifer is safe.
The other reason I chose Savannah is Jennifer’s older sister wants to be an artist, and the best school in Georgia for that is the Savannah College of Art and Design. It was the perfect blend of meeting what the characters wanted for themselves versus the antagonist of the story–ghosts, demons, and the people who hunt them.
LL: I’m dying for some good recommendations for graphic novels that feature water monsters. Lay ’em on me!
CS: I’m a big fan of Joe Golem, which is a novel and a comic book series by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola! It features water monsters of the cosmic horror variety. I’ll forever be a fan of the water monsters in Hellboy, from Abe Sapien to the kelpies to the frog monsters and fish creatures. I’m also big on video games that feature water monsters, like the Sinking City, which is again cosmic horror water monsters. I’m currently playing Maneater, where I get to play as a shark! It’s a heck of a lot of fun. I like campy things that are also a bit gory, and Maneater was perfect for that.
LL: I hear you’ve got a work in progress about a seafood chef fighting fish monsters. This sounds absolutely amazing. Do you mind giving us a sneak peek?
CS: I wish I could, but the book needs to be heavily revised. I grew a lot as a writer since I wrote it and got my agent with this book. I’m about to do a polish pass, but essentially it’s about 17-year-old Henry DeSantis, who wants to be a seafood chef more than anything in the world, but his nurse mother wants him to get out of their small island town. It’s based on a fictional island off the coast of Massachusetts, but when they get hit by a Nor-Easter, the citizens start mutating in the rising water. I’ve dealt with the growing red tide problem in Florida and gotten sick from the sheer amount of debris, and that idea grew into a campy B-movie style YA novel that dealt with real-life issues we’re facing with our oceans.
LL: I love the idea of the B-movie style YA novel. There’s a lot of humor in that kind of horror. From a craft perspective, can you tell me a little about how you try to keep that balance of funny and scary?
CS: I try to keep a sense of timing between action and dialogue because I base most things on conversation flow and action flow. I’m an extrovert, but I’m the sort of who likes to listen to how other people speak and watch what they do around me. I’m very interested in the authentic way things flow between people, and I tried to capture that in Jennifer Strange.
I start with a dialogue pass and an action pass, because I have to get the words I hear the characters say out of me. Then I go in for more detail in setting and interiority later, so my first focus is always the banter. I was a screenwriter first, so everything is the action leading to dialogue back to action again. I have to remind myself to fill in the rest.
My sense of humor tends to be dry, leaning into Dad joke territory–think Supernatural or Buffy banter and you’re there. I love how Buffy uses witty puns for every time she slays a vampire, the way Sam and Dean bicker and name-call through stress, Hellboy’s hilarious quips while he’s fighting literally anything, and how Ash Williams uses constant wise-cracking humor to cope with fighting Deadites in the Evil Dead franchise. I like my action to lean into fearful, downright terrifying and even gory, but then it turns into something kind of funny. That’s where I like to work. I don’t shy away from the gross elements, but I always try to push them back into something funny because the first thing I do when I’m scared is laugh.
LL: What’s your all-time favorite water monster movie, and why?
CS: There are so many to choose from! I love The Host, which was a huge influence on me with the idea of toxic chemical waste we dump coming back to bite us. I also love Jaws and any shark movies, which led me to check out 47 Meters Down and the sequel Uncaged, both of which were a lot of fun. I’m very into shark movies and sharks, and they feature in all of my books at some point, even in Jennifer Strange.
LL: Looks like you and I have a lot of the same movie tastes.
CS: Looks like we do! I love meeting people with the same movie tastes because you never know what recommendations you’ll end up falling in love with! I’m always looking for some new media to try.
LL: Imagine yourself at the mercy of a real life water monster. Which one would be your absolute worst nightmare?
CS: Oh, it’s definitely sharks. I have a love/fear relationship with them, and every time I’m stressed, I dream I’m in a flooded warehouse being chased across the floorboards by a massive great white. I decided to make friends with that dream because I’m a horror person, and fear interests me. I found that meditating on being in open water with a shark and facing the manifestation of all my anxieties, actually helped me face a lot of real-life fears.
While I’m terrified of them, I absolutely believe sharks should be protected because the hunting of sharks out of fear is a huge problem that does a lot of damage to our oceans.
LL: Your dream sounds absolutely terrifying and reminds me a little of a scene in DEEP BLUE SEA, when the characters make their way through the flooded underwater station. And you’re right, fear is interesting, which is a good thing, seeing that we both write about it.
Thanks so much, Cat, for being on my blog! And to all those people out there who find fear as interesting as we do, you can head to Cat’s website to learn how to pre-order her amazing graphic novel, Jennifer Strange, which comes out July 21. You can also get it at IndieBound to help your local bookstore.