Saturday, July 28, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Susan Dennard, author of Something Strange and Deadly

Congratulations to Susan Dennard, whose thrilling tale of spirit-hunters, society and the Dead, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, came out from Harper Teen this week! Publishers Weekly says "Dennard creates a roaring--and addictive--gothic world" and Kirkus says: Mystery, romance, humor, action, a sure-fire setting: Dennard delivers."

Susan was kind enough to sit down with Lucky 13er Amie Kaufman for a chat about —among other topics—her debut, time travel and her trusty sidekick.


The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

1. Now, I seem to recall hearing that you were lazing about in the south of France when you signed with your agent -- sounds like the life! Tell us a little about your journey to publication. Was it all champagne and sunshine?

Ha! I wish! There was lots of sunshine and a surprising amount of escargot (not joking--my husbands family loves it! Me? Not so much.), but no champagne...

As you mentioned, it all began while I was on vacation and barely had access to the internet. I had just started querying. I figured I wouldn’t hear from anyone for a while, you know? So I sent out my queries and then went off to the south of France for a week…only to get requests for fulls the same day! Then a few days later, I got my first offer of representation.

Once I decided to sign with my agent, we went through a quick round of revisions, and two weeks later, I went on subs. I was pretty nervous, obsessively checking my email, trying to do ANYTHING but think of my book in editors’ hands.
Fortunately, I didn’t have too stress out too long. Harper made an offer six days later, and after a day of negotiations, I was an official HarperTeen gal!! 

But--in all honesty--I really feel like my luck with Something Strange and Deadly all boils down to two things: how much I revised the book before I even began querying (I totally over-revised! But maybe my perfectionism paid off…er right?) and timing. The premise for Something Strange and Deadly was exactly what my editor was looking for at that exact moment, so it was all very “stars aligning”, you know?  And I thank those lucky stars every single day!

2. One of my favourite things about Something Strange and Deadly was the use of detail to create a gorgeously vivid setting! You used a thousand little details to bring the story to life, from dress to dialogue and everyday habits. How did you get it all so right? Do you have a time machine?

Boy, a time machine sure would've made things easy...But alas, I relied heavily on primary sources. Because I wasn't living in the US, I couldn't just pop over to a library to research the era. However, there is a FABULOUS (seriously, I could sing its praises until I die) resource online called It has thousands upon thousands of primary documents scanned in, and its growing everyday.

I read a lot of guides to 1876 Philadelphia, so that I would know my way around the city and the Centennial Exhibition. I read original guide after original guide to that first American World's Fair, and I red a lot of people's journals or accounts of their own visits. On top of that, I read actual guides to etiquette from the time and had old copies of fashion magazines to guide what my character's wore. And almost all of it came on

3. Something Strange and Deadly defies description, but I'm going to call it a gothic historical paranormal -- it's not every day you see the dead rising in the middle of a society tale! Was there a spark of an idea that started it all? How did you end up telling this particular story?

Oh, it's such a silly answer...but...the idea for Something Strange and Deadly actually from a dream! You know how you have those dreams that, when you wake up, leave you feeling changed? They sit with  you the rest of the day(or week), and something about those emotions just needs to be tapped into ?

Well, in this dream, I had an older brother who was missing, and I knew I would do anything to find him--even join that weird team of outcasts (yes! This really was in my dream!). So then I took that initial idea and "fleshed it out".  I found a setting I thought would be interesting and provide a great source of conflict: 1876 Philadelphia, when the first American World's Fair took place, and when women were restricted by claustrophobic etiquette and patriarchy. It was all very scientific of me (not inspired at all--I really just thought 1876 Philly would be "very cool"). From there, I added characters that could both help and hinder my heroine, and because I love being scared, I thought I'd throw in a paranormal twist.

I literally scanned my bookshelves for something that scared me, and when my eyes settled on Garth Nix's Abhorsen series, I knew I'd found it: walking corpses, murderous ghosts, and necromancy. His books always give me the shivers! Ultimately, my take on necromancy is very different from Nix's amazing and mind-bogglingly clever approach, but the initial idea was taken from how his creepy stories!!

4. Your keep a fantastic blog and you're a founder of Pub(lishing) Crawl, so you're always full of great advice. What's the one most practical suggestion you'd offer to aspiring writers?

Dream big and NEVER give up. I spout these words a lot, but only because I truly believe them! If you set your sights high, work hard, and don't let the tough times get you down, you'll get there eventually! I PROMISE! Patience and elbow grease are the keys to success every time.

5. Here at the Lucky 13s we love to ask about writing superstitions and lucky charms! Do you have one?

My dog, Asimov, was definitely in my office with me for every step of the Something Strange & Deadly journey--books 1, 2, and 3! He's possibly more moral support than luck, but hey--moral support is something you can never have too much of!

Susan is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels–and not novels about fish, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, or facebook

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Amie Kaufman, whose YA sci-fi novel THESE BROKEN STARS will be released Fall 2013 from Disney*Hyperion. 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 especially loved reading about the where the spark of an idea for SS&D came from. I just started reading it, and am DYING for edits to be done so I can sink into it. So good!

  2. Wow, wonderful interview, beautiful book cover. Can't wait to read it.

  3. Wonderful interview, and huge congratulations to Susan, who was one of the first people to mention my own book sale on her great blog. Can't wait to read SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY!!

  4. SS&D sounds SO good, and the cover is fabulous. Can't wait to read it! I And I love that your dog is called Asimov, Susan!