Entering the scene in 2012 with her first novel/series of novels, Pushing The Limits, Katie McGarry was destined to become a household name in the YA romance/contemporary scene. Since her initial debut just over six years ago, McGarry has published twelve novels with her 13th, Only A Breath Apart, released last month (January 2019) by Tor Teen. Full of emotional scenes and heavy subject matter, her narratives leave the reader raw with every chapter, sweeping the audience away in a wave of emotion.
I had the privilege of asking McGarry some burning questions covering her journey in publishing, her favourite characters and getting the low down on her latest novel.
You write within the Young Adult genre of romance/contemporary rather than the larger adult romance. Was this a specific choice? Or did your writing/characters guide you in this direction?
My characters guide me. They come to me with a story they want me to help them tell. I think that since my own teen years were an emotional rollercoaster, experiencing adult problems while also facing the challenges of being a teenager, I’m drawn to write these complex characters.
Your novels are all extremely emotionally charged with their content and references. How do you counteract the toll it would take upon you to be constantly writing such in-depth and heavy hitting stories?
I eat chocolate. Kidding, but not kidding. Writing is like therapy for me. I take emotions that I shoved down from experiences I’ve been through and pour them out onto the page. It’s a very cathartic release. By writing, I’m able to work through and process emotions that I buried deep within me—emotions I couldn’t quite process at the time of the experience.
As with Only a Breath Apart, I wanted to write a story where the lines between contemporary and mystical blur. After a death of my best friend, I had a psychic tell me something that only my best friend would have known. Her death hit me hard and that psychic reading made me think a lot about destiny. I used Only a Breath Apart to work through some of my emotions and questions about the universe. Was the psychic real? A con artist? That is how the character Glory was born and thus her relationships with Scarlett and Jesse.
Do you have any habits/rituals you undertake during the writing process (e.g. No TV during editing, meeting a word/time goal every day, specific research processes for your characters)?
I don’t have a set writing time in order to have a habit or ritual. I typically carry my laptop wherever I go. I have written in carpool lines, in airports, and I even wrote the original opening to Only a Breath Apart while I was a patient in a hospital.
I do like to research my character’s interests. For instance, in Only a Breath Apart, I researched palm reading and tarot cards in order to write the scenes between Scarlett, Jesse and Glory.
Prior to writing your first novel, did you undertake any specific education (college, creative writing courses, workshops) for writing or have always been naturally blessed when it comes to putting pen to paper?
I’m a natural verbal storyteller, but I had to learn how to put my stories onto paper. I took online courses on the craft of writing plus I read numerous books on writing. My favourite online course was by Margie Lawson, and my favourite craft book is John Truby’s Anatomy of Story.
When you write, do you produce your works on paper first? Or head straight to the word processor from the inception of your idea?
I hardly ever write anything on paper—I have terrible handwriting.
If you could tell your younger self one thing about the journey to being a widely published author, what would it be?
To focus on your friends and family. It can be easy to get lost into a story and all the work associated with being published, but even the best review or sales never makes you smile as much as being around the people you love.
I recently read your upcoming novel, Only A Breath Apart and I absolutely loved it, including that the title had changed. Was this a personal decision? Or one determined during the editorial process?
The title change was the result of the editorial process. I love writing novels, but often struggle finding the right title. I originally titled the book Breathe—Jesse’s farm is almost its own character in the novel and there is a discussion in the book about how when the characters connect to the land, the land breathes. But as we were editing the book, we decided the title should focus on Scarlett and Jesse’s relationship with each other and the land.
Your characters in Only A Breath Apart, Jesse and Scarlett, both come from violent familial circumstances but neither knows this fact about the other initially. Was there ever a temptation to have them bond over this fact or was it always going to be a secondary theme within the work?
No, there wasn’t a temptation to do this. Scarlett and Jesse are very private people and have spent a good majority of their lives hiding this part of themselves from other people—including each other when they were younger.
Jesse sees his past as a curse and wouldn’t bring it up because of his fear of the Lachlin curse and what he believes is the curse’s ability to hurt the people he loves. Scarlett has been trained since a small child to keep her parents’ secrets. In order for Jesse and Scarlett to tell someone their secrets, they would have to deeply trust them so that would mean a bond would have to be formed first.
Many writers say they put a piece of themselves into their characters. Did you do this with Only A Breath Apart? If so, to which character do you best relate?
I gave nearly all of the characters in Only a Breath Apart a piece of myself. I understood Scarlett’s panic attacks and the crushing need to make the world believe things are perfect when they aren’t, I understand Jesse’s love for his land and his loyalty to his family and friends, and I definitely understood that sometimes you need time and a change of scenery to figure out who you really are.
Do you have a favourite supporting personality?
I have two! I fell in love with Glory (Jesse’s older cousin and town psychic) and V (Jesse’s eccentric best friend).
The farm/Lachlin land has a personality of its own and becomes more of its own character throughout the novel. Do you have any opinions relating to the underutilisation of settings being their own characters within the world of fiction?
I love novels where the setting becomes a character. There is something very mystical about it that draws me in. Only a Breath Apart is a book I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Creating a setting that is a character was one of the reasons why.
You have written whole series based on certain characters, compared to Only A Breath Apart being a standalone. Can we expect more of Scarlett and Jesse in the future? Or do you feel like their story has already been told and want to allow your readers to guess where they are headed in life?
One of the things I’ve learned is to never say never. As of right now, I don’t have plans to continue Jesse and Scarlett’s story in their own novel, but if they decide they have a story to be told and won’t stop pestering me about it—I’d write it. In the meantime, my next novel with Tor Teen features V from Only a Breath Apart. Jesse and Scarlett become secondary characters in her story.
If a reader were new to your various works, where would you suggest they start their journey?
I’d suggest starting with Only a Breath Apart and then read the Pushing the Limits series.
Last question, do you have any sage advice for those endeavouring to write their first manuscript/enter the publishing industry?
My advice would be to read a lot and to write a lot. I’d also suggest studying the craft of writing and to find a good critique group. Rejection is part of the publishing process. Remember—you only need one yes, so don’t get caught up emotionally in the no.
Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction
Plotter or pantser? Plotter
Favourite bookish trope? Bad boy or girl and good boy or girl
Least favourite bookish trope? Love triangles
Coffee or tea? Tea
Pizza or pasta? Pasta
Beach holiday or hiking in the bush? Beach
Convention crowds or smaller signings? Convention crowds
Sunny or rainy? Sunny
If you could pick a single holiday destination for the rest of your life, where would it be? Disney World
Music, books or Netflix – you can only pick 2? Music and books
Only A Breath Apart is available now from Tor Teen and is a standalone YA Contemporary novel. You can find my review here