I was lucky to receive an ARC of Kelly Andrew's The Whispering Dark, and I absolutely fell in love with the story and characters. Today I'm so excited to share this interview, because it was such an honour to get to talk to Kelly about her writing experience. She's a big inspiration to me and I highly recommend her book to writers who want to study great prose and characters.
Kelly Andrew lost her hearing when she was four years old. She’s been dreaming up stories in the silence ever since. She lives just outside of Boston with her husband, their two daughters, and a pernickety Boston Terrier. When she’s not writing, she enjoys picking away at her giant TBR and getting intentionally lost in the woods.
The Raven Boys meets Ninth House in the most exciting debut of 2022 -- a dark, atmospheric fantasy about a Deaf college student with a peculiar connection to the afterlife.
When and why did you start writing?
I lost my hearing to Meningitis just before starting kindergarten and went into public school with zero residual hearing. Because of this, I had a hard time engaging with my peers. Reading, and eventually writing, became a hobby to escape into when I was feeling lonely.
What are some of your favourite stories that have inspired you to be a writer?
The book series that was most formative for me was The Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth. I’d only been able to find male-led fantasy at that point, and a middle school art teacher gave me her collection to read. I absolutely fell in love with the magic of it. (It was also, notably, where I came across my first enemies-to-lovers ship)
Where did the inspiration for The Whispering Dark come from?
When I was young, I had an old gilded painting of a girl gathering flowers in a garden. I used to pretend I could step through to the world on the other side. Years later, I found myself staring up at a painting of Mars and Venus on a trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I started thinking about the game I used to play when I was small, and the rest of the story fell into place little by little after that.
How do you so successfully write a dark, creepy atmosphere?
I attribute a lot of my creepier vibes to the sole fact that I am, at my core, a coward. I don’t tend to watch scary movies because my imagination can’t handle it, but I’m fascinated by the storytelling elements of horror. Most of all, I love those slow, silent moments that make your heart race—that specific, insidious dread you feel when you just know something horrible is waiting right around the corner. I tend to chase after that feeling in my own writing, and I tried to work it into my prose in The Whispering Dark.
How do you balance horror themes in a young adult/new adult novel? Are there limits on how far you can go, and if so, how do you still make the horror effective?
There are certainly some themes recurrent in the horror genre that would be considered too dark for young adult, but there are ways to scale them back to make them more palatable for a younger audience. It is, I feel, the difference between a film with an R rating and one with a PG-13 rating. Some of that is common sense while writing, and some of that came from editor feedback in the revision process.
I loved Delaney, and Colton Price is a love interest to die for. Could you tell me what work went into crafting your characters, and creating such great chemistry between them?
For Delaney, I wanted to create a protagonist who was soft without being meek. She is someone who has spent a lifetime being underestimated, and that heavily impacts how she responds to the world around her. In Lane’s chapters, Colton comes across as rude, brusque, and occasionally manipulative. Once we get in his head, however, we see that he is largely informed by his neuroses. There’s a lot of panic happening! I think that a dual POV helped me shape the banter between them, because I got to play with both of their reactions to one another.
Did you outline the novel, or do you prefer to write as you go?
I consider myself a discovery writer, so I largely like to feel my way as I go. I do tend to
outline at least two to three chapters ahead of where I am, just to give myself somewhat of a road map.
The Whispering Dark has a lot of mysteries that are revealed throughout the book. How do you balance being deep in two POVs while still keeping secrets from the reader?
One of my favorite tropes in scary movies is when we, the viewers, can see the scary thing standing right behind the protagonist, but they can’t see it. We’re sitting there yelling, “it’s right behind you!” but obviously they can’t hear us. There’s a very specific sort of stress in that, and I wanted to replicate it in The Whispering Dark. Having multiple POVs allowed me to reveal secrets in one perspective but not in the other, so although maybe Delaney hadn’t realized something important just yet, the reader is held hostage by their own understanding.
What was your publishing journey like, from querying to having the book out in stores?
My publishing journey was incredibly non-linear, and The Whispering Dark is far from my first book. I shelved quite a few others on the way, and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes because they weren’t getting bites in the querying trenches, sometimes because they died on submission. In the end, I wrote The Whispering Dark during a time in my life where I was deeply frustrated with the trajectory of my career. I sat down in the midst of pandemic lockdown and wrote this one just for me, to keep my mind occupied. In the end, all the pieces ended up clicking into place fairly quickly. Whether that was because I finally wrote the right book at the right time, my craft had improved, or the timing was right, I really can’t say, but I’m endlessly thankful for whatever stars aligned to get me to this point.
What were some of the things you enjoyed most about publishing a book?
Meeting readers has been, hands down, the greatest part of the process. I was a lonely kid. I joke a lot that I wrote my way out of loneliness, but the truth is that writing is an incredibly solitary task. Having people read The Whispering Dark and then slide into my DMs, or tag me in posts, or come up to me at events has been so truly wonderful and humbling and I’ve met so many lovely people in the process.
What were some hardships of publishing your book?
The hardest part of publishing was likely the switch between a passion project and work. I’ve always written books for the fun of it, but suddenly it wasn’t just me staying up late to write self-indulgent snippets anymore. There were copy-edits and cuts to be made and industry metrics to be met. I still absolutely love every second of it, but there has definitely been a notable change in my approach to storytelling.
As a deaf writer, did you find that the publishing industry was accessible to you, or were there extra hardships?
In this pandemic world of Zoom meetings and virtual events, there’s certainly some accessibility issues for a deaf writer trying to engage in online spaces. I struggle to hear on video format, especially with lagging or unreliable captioning. That’s always a little bit daunting when it comes to speaking engagements.
However, it’s worth noting that there are so many wonderful and accommodating people in this industry. Everyone I’ve met has always gone above and beyond to make sure the experience goes as smoothly as possible. The most notable anecdote is probably when I attended a Zoom event with no captions and lagging service, and my publicist hopped on and transcribed every single question and comment in the sidebar as it was being asked. I don’t think I would have been able to fumble through without her!
Do you have advice for disabled writers on breaking into the publishing/writing industry, and writing ownvoices stories?
My advice would be to write a story that is true to your personal journey, and to surround yourself with people who uplift that and respect your desire for authenticity. I have been very fortunate to work with a team who isn’t afraid to ask me clarifying questions about my experiences, but who are also very supportive of my approach.
Do you have any advice for writers who might want to include a deaf character in their story?
My advice would be to work with deaf sensitivity readers. For so long, there has been a very narrow concept of deafness in our society. Historically, when hearing people portray deafness in media they tend to fall back on harmful stereotypes. Reaching out to deaf readers can help with respectful representation.
How have you marketed and advertised The Whispering Dark?
So much goes into marketing a book and preparing it for launch, and there are so many people behind the curtain who pulled off amazing feats to get The Whispering Dark storefront ready. For me, personally, I’ve spent a lot of my time engaging with readers on various social media platforms and getting the word out that way. I was also fortunate enough to be invited to several book festivals and trade shows ahead of launch. I met so many amazing booksellers and librarians with a real passion for what they do, and that was an amazing experience.
What has been your experience with using social media as an author?
One of the coolest things about debut year thus far has been seeing readers responding to the book on various platforms, whether through memes, reels, or carousels. I think every writer worries whether or not their book will find its audience, and I feel like through social media I’ve been able to watch The Whispering Dark find its readers in real time.
Is there anything else about writing or publishing that you would like to talk about?
I would love to take this opportunity to name drop my second book, Your Blood, My Bones, which comes out in Spring 2024. Although it isn’t a sequel, it takes place six months after the harrowing final act of The Whispering Dark. The story is based around three former childhood friends trapped in their old summer home. Colton and Lane have a small but notable cameo, so readers can expect to see them again!
Buy The Whispering Dark via Kelly's local indie @riverbendbookshop, or find more options here: https://linktr.ee/KellyAnneDrew