Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Katie McGarry, Author of PUSHING THE LIMITS

Happy Book Birthday to Katie McGarry, whose contemporary YA romance, PUSHING THE LIMITS, hits bookstores today, and has been chosen as a Summer 2012 Kids' Indie Next List title. This novel has it all: deeply compelling characters, a fully realized love story, and a missing memory that kept me turning pages.

From YA Fusion: "In PUSHING THE LIMITS, two teens, brought together by their court ordered therapist, work together to learn the secrets of their case files, but neither foresaw the shattering consequences of learning the truth regarding their families or of falling in love."

I'm very excited to share my interview with Katie, so let's get to it!

"Bad boy falls for good girl" is a common trope in romance novels, but Noah and Echo rise above this concept from the first page. Both are three-dimensional, original characters whose histories and personalities are rich and compelling. How did you go about brainstorming and creating their backstories?

By writing. When starting a story, I will free write the first couple of chapters in order to discover my characters' voices. After that, I'll spend time plotting. My characters' backstories are developed when I resume writing again and combine their voices with the plot. By allowing my characters room to play as I write, they will often "tell" me things about them that I was never aware of before.

For instance, Echo had a typical, everyday name when I began the story, but after I met her mother, I knew my heroine was destined to be named after a character in Greek mythology.

I fully believed Echo and Noah's love story. I rooted for them to be together, and to help one another let go of the past. Did you know much about trauma, therapy, and recovered memories? What about the foster care system? How did you research the components you were unfamiliar with?

While I have never experienced anything as traumatic as Echo, I have experienced a memory loss. I was bitten by a dog in second grade and repressed the memory. It is a very odd experience to know that something has happened to you and to have no memory of the event.

I chose to write about a character in foster care because of a conversation I once had with someone when I was still in school. They had talked about how they were becoming attached to their current home and didn’t want to leave. Whether or not they stayed was never in their control. That story always stuck with me.

Yes, I did research the components I was unfamiliar with. I never thought of myself as someone who would enjoy research, but Pushing the Limits, and the following stories I have written since then, have sparked the excitement within me to learn about new things. Everyone I have met while seeking answers has been very kind and generous. My advice to fellow writers is to not let their fear of the unknown stop them from telling a story: ask questions—research!

The book's cover is probably the most accurate I've seen in terms of fitting the character descriptions. It's exactly how I pictured them, and sets the perfect tone! Can you tell us how the cover came to be? Did you have any input?

I absolutely adore my cover! I have to give major credit to the Art Department at Harlequin. This cover was their baby and I'm thrilled with the results.

As for my input, I was asked to submit what my characters looked like and what type of clothes they wore. One joyous day, my editor sent me an e-mail with this gorgeous cover!

It was refreshing to see Noah's pot smoking and Echo's occasional beer drinking portrayed realistically instead of simply being demonized; the behavior is considered less than ideal but not the end of the world. How did you find that balance? Were you consciously aware of a responsibility to your teen audience when referencing those aspects of your characters, or did that not factor in?

I wanted Pushing the Limits to feel realistic to readers, and that meant creating characters that teens could empathize with. Echo and Noah might not always make the best decisions, but they do face the kind of choices I think teens deal with all the time. And then they have to deal with the consequences of those choices, just like in real life. Yes, I was very much aware of my responsibility to my teen audience. Because of that, when my characters make the occasional choice to drink or smoke pot, they make sure they don’t get behind the wheel of a car.

Most chapters alternate between Noah and Echo's POV. (Being privy to character intention makes a big difference to the reader's opinion of each person's actions.) How did you decide which scenes should be told from which point of view?

I always asked myself who had the most at risk emotionally within the scene. There are times that I flipped POV during a scene so the reader could be fully immersed in whoever was feeling more at the time.

To continue that thought, did you ever write a scene from Noah's POV and realize it worked better from Echo's, or vice versa?

Yes. I first wrote the pool hall scene from Echo's POV, but soon discovered that Noah had more emotionally at risk than Echo did. This was the first time she was letting Noah in on her secrets and he felt punched in the gut at her revelations.

Echo's mother is rarely seen, but looms large over the narrative because of the huge affect her behavior has on Echo. By the time we meet her it's pretty terrifying. Did you write the story in order, and build up to that scene, or did you write it out of order and insert it when the time came? Was it nerve-wracking to finally show Echo's mother in the flesh?

I write in order. As I said above, I will free write, then plot my story. Plotting for me can mean that I have a general idea of where the story will go, but I may not know specifics. Because of that, I'm uncomfortable writing out of order. My characters will "tell" me things as I write and I'm terrified I’ll miss out on those huge moments if I write future scenes first.

For instance, when I first envisioned the scene between Echo and her mother, I thought it would take place in her mother's apartment. Thanks to the revelations during the story, I realized that the scene would take place at a cemetery.

I was worried about finally bringing Echo’s mother to the stage. She plays such an important role in the story and I knew that the meeting between these two characters was going to be very emotionally charged. I was worried whether or not I would be able to pull the scene out. And this is where I give a shout out to my editor for helping me create such a heart-wrenching moment between Echo and her mother.

Your upcoming companion novel, DARE YOU TO, features Beth, Noah's tough female friend from PUSHING THE LIMITS. What made you decide to focus on her for your next book? Has it been fun revisiting the location and setting from LIMITS?

I fell in love with Beth and Isaiah while writing Pushing the Limits and knew they had stories they were dying to tell. The moment Noah saw Beth bleeding in the kitchen, I found her story. Because of that, she demanded that her story be told next.

Yes! I have loved revisiting the location and setting from Pushing the Limits. It has been a guilty pleasure to drop Noah and Echo in as secondary characters!

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your book release?

While writing this interview, my plans are still in the works. I'm hoping to have a book signing at a local bookstore.

Because we're the Lucky 13s, we have to ask: Do you have any lucky charms or superstitions?

When I was in high school, I always wore the same (washed) pair of socks for my tennis games. But now? Not really. I do feel weird though if I go out of the house without my rings and bracelets.

After her youngest of three children officially slept through the night, Katie McGarry, a stay at home mom, decided to pursue her passion for writing. The news was a shock to most since she graduated from college with a BA in Political Science. She never told anyone, besides her best friend from childhood, that she wrote anything beyond her own name.

Katie was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. Writing, as Katie often told her best friend, is cheaper than therapy.

Barnes & Noble

Where to find Katie:

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Sarah Skilton, whose Contemporary YA novel BRUISED will be released Spring 2013 from Abrams/Amulet Books. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.


  1. Great interview! I think I might have to buy this book...

  2. Great interview and the book sounds great!