Los Angeles writers Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren are an award-winning coauthor duo. In their YA, Horror Hotel, the YouTube-famous Ghost Gang—Chrissy, Chase, Emma, and Kiki—visit a haunted LA hotel notorious for tragedy to secretly film after dark. They expect it to be just like their previous paranormal huntings (spooky, but harmless) yet soon wonder if they will survive the night.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales! I couldn’t put down your new YA, Horror Hotel. What inspired you to write a scary book for a YA audience as opposed to an adult one?
VICTORIA FULTON: Faith and I actually met in an online writing class for aspiring authors writing for a YA or MG audience. At the time, I was working on a middle grade magical realism and Faith was working on a young adult fantasy. Writing for young readers was our first passion, the spark that ignited the flame of our love affair with writing novels. When the opportunity presented itself to submit a proposal to Underlined, we decided to give it a try and ultimately chose horror because it was so different from anything either of us had written before (and also very relevant to our interests in the paranormal, serial killers, and true crime).
FAITH MCCLAREN: We’d been discussing what we could do in YA together for a while, but hadn’t found the right fit. But this specific decision was really directed by Wendy Loggia’s tweet-heard-round-the-publishing-world, asking for agented authors to submit proposals for YA horror, romance, and thrillers. We both have such a love for horror—now, as adults, and also when we were teens—so it felt like such a natural fit. We were raised on ghost stories, slashers, and paranormal adventures.
CVZ: The main characters feel realistically portrayed. While the story is about their night at the hotel, their friendship anchors it all. The short chapters and viewpoint shifts propel the pacing. What made you choose to tell the story in this manner and how did you keep their four voices distinct?
VF: The Ghost Gang has gotten a lot of Scooby-Doo Gang and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s comparisons (rightfully so), and honestly, we chose to have four perspectives because it just sounded like fun. We created these unique characters and wanted to know what each of them was thinking and feeling as the events of this night from hell played out. We both have a background in screenwriting, and one of the cardinal rules of screenwriting is to give each of your characters a unique, distinct voice so that even if you remove the names from the script, you still know who’s talking. Even if you’re not writing from multiple POVs, it’s a good idea to play in each character’s perspective—it will help your characters feel more real to you and more grounded in reality for the reader.
FM: With horror, you really need to be able to control the “camera” to keep the suspense up, so while Chrissy is the main narrative voice as the psychic truly seeing Hearst Hotel’s horrors in real time, the others all had something unique to offer the reader in their hotel experiences and also helped us tell all the different threads happening through the story. We brainstormed a lot ahead of drafting this, and spent time getting to know who these characters were, what made them scared, happy, pissed off, and their voices began to emerge with distinction from just spending time with them.
Chase is curt and all-business, super smart about practical things, and hyper-focused, but he’s also kind of clueless about his own (and others’) feelings. Kiki is bright and charming, but also deeply empathetic (though not in the psychic sense) and that shapes every choice and word. Emma is brainy, science-minded, and logical, but she is also supremely chill, and very astute when it comes to picking up on details others miss. Chrissy was the toughest nut to crack—which is often the case with the main voice in a story, but especially for guarded, stubborn Chrissy.
CVZ: How did you research the supernatural aspects of the story?
VF: I’ve been reading ghost stories forever and have always had an interest in the paranormal. I even had a science teacher in the eighth grade allow me to do a research paper and presentation on ghosts. (I don’t know how I got an A on that!) I’ve been ghost hunting myself several times and also grew up watching Ghost Hunters and basically any paranormal show my parents’ cable package had access to. I guess you could say it’s been a lifetime of research that led me to co-writing this book.
FM: It did help that I have my own well-established sixth sense. As a child I was quite haunted. I grew up in an old farmhouse in Texas, and came from a long family line of people who dabbled in seeing beyond the veil, and when tragedy hit me at a really young age, it must have kicked off some of my own instincts. Which was terrifying—just like Chrissy says. Mostly, just really, really scary. But beyond my own experiences, we are both huge fans of Ghost Hunters, and other paranormal investigation media. Plus, we did a lot of googling and YouTube viewing while writing!
CVZ: How do you divide the writing responsibilities?
VF: We don’t like to divide up too much or the combined voice gets lost. I’m more of a word surgery gal, and Faith likes to get it all out onto the page in record time. (I don’t know how she does it.)
FM: We’ve played with a lot of different methods, but what generally works best for us is one of us drafting, and the other editing, and then switching off.
CVZ: Your path to publication seems enviably fast (just five days!) yet you were already agented with previous publications. What did you do right to land this amazing Twitter opportunity?
VF: A few years ago we decided we were both fed up with writing in a vacuum, so on a half-whim, we wrote a chapter of an adult romcom and plopped it onto Wattpad. That book ended up with a sizable readership and even won a Watty Award on the platform. It also led to some other opportunities we can’t discuss publicly yet, but did eventually help us land our wonderful agent Katie Boutillier who guided us into this winning submission for Delacorte/Underlined.
FM: When we got wind of the opportunity through some friends, we both felt that gut connection to the offer. We wanted to do the work, so we didn’t hesitate. We sent the tweet to our agent, and she was behind us pursuing it, so we got busy working on a pitch. We knew there would be a lot of authors interested, and we wanted to give our proposal the best possible chance. We felt showing them what we could do in a short stint of time would have an effect, and we did everything we could to get out of our own way and make it happen. A lot of times, we overthink opportunities that present themselves, when all the universe is asking for is a response.
CVZ: In closing, do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
VF: Learn the rules of publishing, but follow your own internal guidance system. Not everyone has the same path to publication, so please don’t fall victim to the widely held belief that there’s only one way to do it. There are infinite paths to publication, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box and if there’s something you want to do that seems crazy to everyone else, do it. It could be the thing that opens a door that leads to something beautiful and unexpected.
FM: Write. Shut out the noise of this industry and write the story only you have the gumption and passion to tell. Authentic storytelling comes from a place of honesty, and if every piece of art is drawn in lines made by outside voices that becomes difficult. So get off Twitter, stop trying to figure out publishing trends, and work from your heart first. Worry about critique later, because writing isn’t hard, but it is work worth doing.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Author photos by Jes Workman. Book cover image courtesy of Random House Children’s Books.