Welcome to our Author Spotlight where we get to interview one of the alums of WBP, Christine Lynn Herman, about her amazing debut novel, THE DEVOURING GRAY. We talk about multiple POVs, Contemporary Fantasy settings, dark themes and debut year! Plus we get some cool insights into the amazing setting and characters of TDG!
1. Christine!!! We are SO excited for THE DEVOURING GRAY! We’ve all been anxiously waiting for it to be out in the world. For people who might not have heard of it can you give a quick pitch about what THE DEVOURING GRAY is about?
STRANGER THINGS meets RIVERDALE in THE DEVOURING GRAY, where four teenagers must uncover their own dark family secrets to save everyone they love from a monster lurking in the woods.
2. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for THE DEVOURING GRAY?
I went to college in upstate New York, in the exact region where the book is now set. There’s so much local folklore and occultist history focused around that area, and I was fascinated by it, but didn’t think to write about it until I left for a semester abroad. It was only after I’d gone somewhere new, hoping to find inspiration, that I realized I’d had a source of inspiration under my nose all along.
3. We know that Four Paths is not a real town in upstate, NY but can you tell us what the inspiration was for it and any cool details or facts about Four Paths that you can share?
I wanted Four Paths to feel like the kind of town you could find if you took the wrong exit off the highway. So much of upstate New York feels that way, like you’re just stumbling upon these tiny little pockets of the world where almost anything could be going on behind closed doors. It’s part of why I love it so much; I could totally believe that there is something supernatural going on somewhere.
One cool non-spoilery fact about Four Paths I can share is that it doesn’t have a graveyard…I wonder why. 🙂
4. What made you decide to write it as multiple POVs?
There was honestly never any other option. The initial idea came to me with both Justin and Violet’s POVs, and I knew almost immediately that I needed a third one, too, even though Harper took a lot longer to reveal herself. It’s a story that’s so much about perception vs. reality, and people with lots of secrets, so I could never envision it as being told from just one person’s perspective–it would be impossible to get the full truth like that.
5. How did you juggle multiple POVs and multiple storylines (with reveals of the past that now affect the present)? Was there a method that worked to keep everything organized as you wrote and revised?
Laying out every plotline and reveal was one of the hardest parts of writing this book, for sure! I write in Scrivener, which made sorting and categorizing all the POVs a lot easier, and I also used an Excel spreadsheet later in the process to break down which characters needed to do what. I also deliberately tried to focus each revision pass on specific characters and storylines, which allowed me to give each aspect of the story my full attention at some point instead of trying to fix everything all at once and getting overwhelmed.
6. What draws you to group casts? Are there any dynamics you’d love to write that you weren’t able to include in TDG?
I’ve always been a fan of ensemble casts, whether in TV shows like Avatar: the Last Airbender or in books like Six of Crows. I love the room they give a storyteller to examine a lot of different angles and ideas, and I really enjoyed getting inside everyone’s head and giving them all the chance to share their unique perspective.
One dynamic that I’m sad I never got to include in TDG was the entire group planning and executing a mission together–even when they’re on the same side, they have so much to argue about. It was fun to write, but in future books, I have full plans to create a friend group that’s a little bit better at working together…at least for a little while.
7. Contemporary fantasy is quickly rising as a genre category. Because it has a contemporary/modern-day setting with fantasy elements layered on top, it could be compared to building a world around a world. How did you decide on your magic/fantasy system and how did you fit it around the real-life setting you used?
In my opinion, contemporary fantasy world-building can be quite difficult for the reasons laid out in this question–it requires weaving the supernatural into a pre-existing world without breaking the reader’s belief in either setting. I drew my world-building from the real history of the Burned-Over District in western and central NY, where many religious sects developed during a short time period in the same region. But using the seeds of this real history and research, I created extra elements I was interested in–dark rituals, a terrifying forest, an alternate dimension, and a monster.
Ultimately, I wanted the kids in my book to feel like actual modern-day teenagers, so I tried to weave their concerns about their supernatural problems in with troubles that a normal high schooler in the United States would face. Yeah, they need to save their town, but they’re also worried about college, family drama, friendships, and (for some of them) crushes that may or may not be going super well. And those things are just as important to them as magic.
8. Some early reviews are saying the dark tone is bordering (or solidly in) the horror genre. Would you agree? What was your thought-process when deciding the “darkness level” for your book?
I wouldn’t consider THE DEVOURING GRAY a horror novel, but it definitely has horror elements. Part of my deep love of contemporary fantasy and paranormal comes from the way I can use supernatural and magical elements to get at the deep emotional truths of coming of age. Because of that, I wanted the magical elements in my book to match the real-world problems my teenagers were dealing with. And in THE DEVOURING GRAY, my teenagers’ problems get pretty dark, especially regarding grief and trauma. Ultimately, I wanted to be honest about the fact that sometimes adolescence can be a horror story–but that it’s worth fighting through the darkness for a better future. (for readers: you can find content warnings that discuss the specifics of this at https://www.christinelynnherman.com/content-warnings. Please stay safe!)
9. As you near your debut week, is there any advice you’d offer to writers coming up behind you (whether they’re in query trenches still or about to go on sub)?
Don’t play the comparison game. Don’t be afraid to let go of toxic people who make you feel like garbage for achieving your dreams. DO trust and listen to the friends who are willing to give you tough-love critiques of your work. Also, it’s so easy to feel like debuting is the end goal–but hopefully, it will be just the beginning, so do your best to plan for the long term when thinking about future projects.
Born in New York City but raised around the world, Christine Lynn Herman subscribes to the firm philosophy that home is where her books are. She returned to the United States to study at the University of Rochester, where she received an Honors English degree. Currently, Christine and her books reside in Cambridge, MA, along with her partner and their extremely spoiled cat.
Her debut YA novel, THE DEVOURING GRAY, was an Indies Introduce and Indie Next Top Ten Pick. It is available now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Titan Books (UK), with a sequel to follow in 2020. She is represented by Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
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