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Interview: Katie Alender

July 7th, 2009 (03:11 pm)
thirsty

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: George Cukor documentary

Katie Alender is a television producer by day, writer by night, and dog lover 24/7. Her debut novel, Bad Girls Don't Die, will appeal to fans of possessed-by-a-ghost stories, such as those published for kids and teens in the eighties and nineties. In addition to our shared fondness for this type of tale, Katie and I also have a favorite poem in common, this famous acrostic by Lewis Carroll. When I interviewed Katie, we spoke of her fears, her film studies, and her fun jobs. 

What inspired Bad Girls Don't Die? Have you always been fascinated or frightened by stories of ghosts or possession?

 

The initial idea was born one day when I imagined two sisters telling each other stories to ward off loneliness and to fill in gaps in their family history. As I wrote, the story just grew up around (and in some ways away from) that idea.


I’m fascinated by and scared of ghost stories. I think what gets me the most is the idea that you can move into a new house and make a new beginning and there’s something already living in the house. It could happen to anybody, and there’s something really frightening about that. It’s not like going and disturbing the mummy’s tomb, which is something most of us will never do - all you did to the ghost was enter its territory. (Note - I’ve never had any ghostly encounters myself, so I can’t say for sure whether they exist or not.) I’m also drawn to the idea that something can be scary without being gory. Blood and guts just don’t do it for me.
 

Do you have any favorite ghost stories? (Be they film/TV or classic tales or novels.)

 
One of my favorite movies is “The Others.” Another ghost story I love is a classic movie called “The Uninvited.” Reading-wise, ghost stories I’ve enjoyed include Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” But I’m actually kind of a sissy when it comes to scary stuff, which is why I surprised myself by writing this type of book!

 
What did you feel was the biggest hurdle on the road to publication?

 
Before my sale, I’d say my biggest roadblock was myself.

I don’t get writer’s block, but I can disconnect from a project for months at a time. It’s easy to get so busy with your everyday life that a project ends up just sitting around and waiting for you. After the sale, I was challenged by the fact that Bad Girls is a pretty complex story. I tried to weave things together very tightly, so revising meant pulling threads that might unravel an entire element of the storyline. That was fun but tricky to deal with.  

 

How much say did you have in the title? The cover art?


The title came from my list of ideas, but I had put it on there - dare I say it? - as a joke. Everybody at Hyperion loved it immediately, and after the initial shock wore off, it grew on me steadily. My editor was very nice and advised me to live with it for a while and see how I felt after time had passed. Now I honestly can’t imagine any other title.


I didn’t actually have any say in the cover, because I didn’t need to - I loved it the moment I saw it. It exceeded my wildest expectations and all I could do was swoon.


What led you to film school?


I went to an arts high school for Communications. Initially my focus was writing, but over time I became more interested in videography - probably because of the instant gratification factor. By the time I went to college, I wanted to be a director - but what I found out after film school is that when you’re a writer, you get to do all the directing you want, using language. In a way, having experience with actors helps a lot as a writer, because you learn to work with body language and movement, instead of just adding a line of dialogue to say, “I’m nervous!”


What was your favorite class?

My favorite class in film school was Film Aesthetics, where we explored what we liked and why we liked it. When you know why you automatically lean toward one choice over another, it makes it that much easier to challenge yourself.


My favorite non-film class was an honors class called “History of Life on Earth.” It was amazing. We sat around for three hours a week and talked theory. I almost switched to a Geology major at one point. Now I read papers I wrote for those classes and I can’t even understand what I was saying.


Tell me about your day job.


My day job is the best job ever. I produce televised dog shows. I’m responsible for putting together a script that we use for the voice-over session once the editors have shortened the show (there’s a fair amount of lag time at the initial taping) and jazzed it up for TV. I’ve produced 19 shows, and every time, we strive to make the show better, more fun, more interesting than the one before it.


What I do also involves writing a lot of dialogue and hearing it read aloud. I’ve learned to listen to the way people talk, their speech rhythms, the sounds they pronounce well or not-so-well, and the vocabulary they use, so I can reproduce it in written form in a way that sounds like they’re really speaking. It’s like the world’s best dialogue writing exercise.


Plus I get to bring my dog to the office with me, which rocks.


Has your dog ever appeared on any of your shows?


Yes, Winston and I both had the dubious honor of appearing in a promo for one of the show sponsors a few years ago. His job was to look cute and my job was to look like I was a crazy woman obsessed with my dog (well, technically it was “dog owner,” but it turns out my normal dog/owner interaction with Winston makes me look like a crazy woman obsessed with my dog). We both played our roles convincingly. He also had a guest spot on another show my company did a few years ago, but the actor stepped on his tail and that kind of wrecked his puppy mojo. He stayed as far away from the guy as he could.


Oh, poor puppy! Moving back from TV set to bookshelf: Name your ten favorite books.


In no particular order…

 

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

This Place Has No Atmosphere, by Paula Danziger

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

On Writing, by Stephen King

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Fair and Tender Ladies, by Lee Smith

The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand



Visit Katie's website and blog.

Related Booklist: Mind Readers and Ghostly Visitors