The Sirens of Suspense

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An Anthony Award-nominated website on all things mystery.

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Catherine Linka is the author of A Girl Called Fearless, which is a finalist for the SCIBA Young Adult Book Award, an ABA Summer Kids Indie Next Selection, and nominee for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project. With an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Catherine is the children’s and young adult fiction buyer for an independent bookstore in Los Angeles, and a frequent speaker at book fests and writing conferences.


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Your background is in children's/YA book buying. How did that influence what you decided to write? Did it give you any advantages/insight into the young reader?

I’m not sure that being a children’s and YA book buyer influenced what I wrote--you write the book you need to write-- but it helped me know when I was ready for an agent. I saw that A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS was commercial which meant it had a better chance of being published than other manuscripts I’d written. Turns out I was right, because I had offers of representation within days of submission.

During my seven years at the bookstore, I led the teen board, so every month I spent an hour talking to kids about books. It was like attending a monthly focus group of complaints about and passionate defenses of characters, pacing, love triangles, and sequels--which made me conscious of the danger of underestimating the teen reader. I swear I worked twice as hard to get things right in my books because of that experience.


Can you tell us a little bit about A GIRL UNDONE? I’ve heard that you intended A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS to be a stand-alone, but your publisher requested a sequel. What challenges did that pose for you?

You’re right, I didn’t plan on writing a sequel, but now I’m very glad I did. A GIRL UNDONE picks up two days after the shootout that ends A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. Avie’s on the run with Luke, a handsome, enigmatic woodsman. She’s carrying a thumb drive with secrets that can take down the Paternalist party, and possibly free millions of girls to live the lives they choose. But when Avie’s caught and returned to the billionaire who owns her, she has to bargain for her life, and she discovers that living with who you’ve become can be much harder than staying alive.

Writing a sequel was terrifying, because at the end of A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS, Avie declares, “I am fearless.” So in order to write A GIRL UNDONE, I had to figure out Avie’s emotional journey. How would she change during the second book? Once I realized Avie had to be trapped into making choices that could both save and destroy her, I knew where the story had to go. And I am so proud of who Avie becomes by the end of A GIRL UNDONE.


Word on the street is that it’s being developed for television. What’s that process been like? Do you see any challenges in telling the story in that medium?

The process is a lot like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. You’re plunging, jerking along in the near dark with no control over where you’re going while stuff’s coming at you, and at any moment the whole ride could be over. But other than that--it’s fun.

Taking a first person narrative from a book to TV means we can tell the story from an omniscient POV and show scenes that could never be in the book, because Avie wasn’t there. The biggest challenge could be writing the pilot, because we have to introduce the main characters and explain the world--a contemporary America that has been transformed by the deaths of millions of women-- and we only have 40 minutes in which to do that.


How did you approach your protagonist to make her stand out from the sea of strong female characters being developed today? What are your favorite dystopian books (other than your own)?

As much as I love kickass heroines, I wanted to write about how an ordinary girl becomes kickass. When we meet Katniss, she’s already a survivor who kept her family alive after her father’s death. So, I put Avie, a junior in a girl’s school in LA, in an almost impossible situation. When her dad sells her into marriage as part of a deal to save his company, she has to choose between marrying a man twice her age or making a dangerous run for freedom in Canada. Avie’s scared as hell. She can’t drive, has no money, and no weapons, but she’s smart, she tries hard, and she never gives up even in the worst moments.

My favorite dystopians? Of course I love HUNGER GAMES and THE GIVER, but not surprisingly, my faves (like mine) are grounded in settings that feel almost contemporary: FEED, THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, and NEVER LET ME GO. I love when the line between what is real and what is fiction is very thin.


What’s coming next for you?

A blissful fall of writing. Sorry I can’t tell you about the story, but it’s a secret even from my agent....




COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW by using the Comments box further down on this page, or on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of A GIRL UNDONE! (U.S. entrants only, please.)



Book she wishes shecould read again for the first time: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

What she's reading now: Rereading Harry Potter from start to finish.

Book or eReader: Book unless I'm flying somewhere with a 40 lb weight restriction like Longyearbyen.

Favorite online resource: Jane Friedman's email newsletter.

One thing she wishes she had known when she started writing: Publishing is amazing, but writing is the true reward.

Favorite independent bookstore: Tied for first: the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse and Once Upon a Time. Smooches to both!

If she could have one superpower: An incredibly high metabolic rate so I could burn off the calories attacking my thighs.

If she could have a drink with any author: Shannon Hale, because she'd probably make me laugh so hard that chardonnay would come out of my nose.