Friday, August 31, 2012

Don't Turn Around

Today we welcome Michelle Gagnon, a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. To the delight of her parents, she gave up all these occupations for an infinitely more stable and lucrative career as a crime fiction writer.

Michelle has four bestselling and powerful thrillers under her writing belt, and now has written a young adult novel in the same genre, which was just released a few days ago. Switching from adult to YA of course got our editorial antennae twitching. So we’re going to bombard her with a few questions.

Dani: Welcome to the Blood-Red Pencil, Michelle. I first have to ask you why, why, why? Why the switch to YA? Are you the parent of teens? What made you jump genres?

Michelle: One of the reasons I switched to YA for this series was that a friend pointed out that I’ve had a strong teen character in nearly all of my adult thrillers, and he suggested I try writing an entire thriller from that point of view. And it was really liberating—I ended up writing the rough draft in a little over eight weeks, research and all. No teens yet, although I swear my six year-old is in training to be one.

Dani: Since my interest and specialty is “voice”, did you have to shift mental gears to get into appropriate vernacular for today’s teen reading audience? What kind of special prep work? Any particularly great reference sites to share with us?

Michelle: I think the most helpful thing for me was having teen beta readers. One in particular was fantastic; he went over the texts being sent back and forth, and made them much more consistent with what teens would actually write to each other. I owe him a huge debt.

Dani: I’m a wimp when it comes to thrillers, and wonder whether you did anything to scale back the terror while writing to a younger audience? Or are teens today able to handle about anything? Did you pay mind to anything in particular considering the age of your audience? And what is the age of YA?

Michelle: This book is geared toward 12-17 year-olds (although really, I think that adults will enjoy the story just as much!).  Although, if you’ve read The Hunger Games, you know that terror in YA has become pro forma. I actually think that in many ways, that was one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read. And hey, Lord of the Flies was pretty disturbing, right? I think that for teens, being able to experience danger virtually is a big plus.

Dani: In a few sentences, tell us what the novel is about, and why a teen would want to read it?

Michelle: How about in just five words? “Teenage hackers on the run.” One reviewer called it, “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the Bourne Identity,” and I love that description. I wrote the book to be read if possible in one sitting.

Dani:  Will I be able to read it without having heart palps? I cringe already!

Michelle: Absolutely- it’s not nearly as gruesome as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or even some of my earlier books). But it is designed to be a thrill ride. Good clean fun, though.

Dani:  Okay, I might be sold. Tell us where we can buy the book. Also, how do we connect with you in other places online? Or even in person. Give us details, please.

Michelle: It was selected as an Autumn 2012 IndieNext pick for Teens, so it should be stocked by most of the independents. And I know that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. all have it in stock. Here are some of my many other links:


Don't miss the party here:

San Francisco
Books Inc., Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness
(Group author Signing with Gretchen McNeil (TEN) and Jessica Shrivington (ENTICE)

Dani: Final comments, Michelle? Supper Club photos, maybe? 

Michelle: Supper Club photos? Ha! Those have all been committed to fire!

Readers, if you have a question for Michelle, please leave them in the comments!

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  1. Hi Michelle - welcome to BRP!

    My question regarding writing for both adults and children or YA is how does one go about differentiating between the books intended for adults and those intended for younger readers. I.e., I worry that young fans might pick up an age-inappropriate book because of the author's name on it. I know one author who uses a pseudonym for her children's books. Do you have any advice?

  2. Michelle, your book sounds quite intriguing. I am amazed how kids gobbled up The Hunger Games, but I'm pleased when something gets them to reading!I just watched Girl With the Dragon Tattoo recently, and I hope they're not reading that one!

  3. Hi Michelle, welcome! I too am a former modern dancer with many odd-jobs to my name. Maybe I should have turned to crime fiction, lol.

    Love the cover of your book! Congrats on all your success.

  4. Welcome to the BRP, Michelle. I love the comment about teen beta readers. I think a good team of readers for every book makes all the difference in the world, and many authors just don't get that. Kathryn, go to the website and watch the trailer if you like the cover. Eek!

  5. Enjoyed the interview and congrats on the new release. It looks like a good read. I agree with Dani about the wisdom of having teen beta readers, and they are usually so thrilled to be able to help.

  6. Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone!
    That's an excellent question, Elle--I think most YA books are clearly labeled as such (although the adult ones certainly aren't!) I considered using a pseudonym, but we were hoping that people who were already fans of my books would pick this up, so in the end we kept the same name.
    I hope kids aren't reading TGWTDT, too--honestly, I felt too young for some of those scenes! I promise, there's nothing like that in Don't Turn Around.

  7. I just did a beta read for an author who wrote a 1960s novel, in which the protagonist is a writer. She used the expression Young Adult, but I think we used to call these novels Teen Readers decades ago, if my memory back to the earlier publishing days is accurate - I was a book rep and the genre was for an older teen (14-17). I don't remember the Young Adult designation at all. I can't find anything online to timestamp that though.

  8. Just checked out the trailer for your new book—awesome!

  9. How high was the cringe factor in having to write authentic-sounding texts? I've seen some that are almost a foreign language. :)

  10. Welcome, Michelle. You have a great resumé for a writer -- what a wealth of experience to draw from, whatever the genre!

    I have a YA novel simmering on the back burner, so I, too, am interested in that transition from adult writing (though my stories are pretty tame compared to many) to the teen scene. Did you find the switch easy once you began, or did you have to constantly keep your intended audience in mind as you wrote?

  11. Thanks, Kathryn, I love the trailer, too!
    Silfert, actually not too bad- I didn't get too crazy with it, but he reminded me to use "u" instead of "you" in chats and texts (which offends the grammarian in me, but is how teens communicate!)
    Linda, I actually found it to be very similar to writing my other novels. The real challenge for me was working with layman protagonists; in my adult series, my heroine is an FBI agent. So finding a way out of dangerous situations for unarmed characters was probably the biggest challenge.

  12. Actually the "u" in text messaging is almost passé. My kids, who both have smart phones, laugh at me when I use it on my flip phone. Even "dumb" phones have slide-out keyboards for those who text a lot. I've heard many teens mock parents who use "u" as if it is a necessary part of texting! Times change FAST!

  13. Kathryn,all the teens in my family still use U to text. A strange-sounding comment, I know. LOL. They use u on Facebook, too. They sound like idiots!

  14. I suppose I can't really call the Beat generation the apex of fine communication though. Mercy.

  15. I'm a bit beyond my teen years. Okay, a huge bit, but I still want to read the book!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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