Have you heard?!
The cover and world map of Catherine Scully’s Jennifer Strange just went live on Young Adult Books Central an hour ago (find it here!) and I am counting down the days until we get to read it in person!!!
You might know Cat or some of her work based on some of the gorgeous art she’s done–she’s created so many beautiful world maps and character art pieces for other authors and books (see some of them here!), and I think it’s awesome we’re getting to see some of Cat’s own stories come to life now!
Today, I’m interviewing Cat about her debut, Jennifer Strange, as well as just dying over the cover she illustrated herself! Look!
Cat! I’m so happy to be chatting with you about the Jennifer Strange cover that just revealed on Young Adult Books Central today! First though, can you tell us a little bit about the concept behind Jennifer Strange and its ghostly horror?
JENNIFER STRANGE is about a pair of sisters trying to solve the mystery of their families’ past before another rival family hunts them down. Jennifer has the gift of summoning, meaning she can give ghosts or demons corporeal forms. Imagine you’re a ghost and you could have a new body given to you so you can return to the land of the living, no strings attached? That’s what Jennifer can do for you. Trouble is, if a ghost or demon is possessing a person… you can see how giving them a body while they’re inhabiting another one could get… messy. The Blackwell family wants to stop her from using her power before all the undead in Savannah try to use Jennifer to cross over back into the land of the living. And poor Liz, Jennifer’s older sister, knows nothing of all this when their dad dumps Jennifer on her doorstep and asks her to watch Jennifer for a few days. She’s an art student at SCAD. But when the ghosts and demons start to find Jennifer, they also start to find Liz, and the two of them half to team up against the undead and the Blackwell family to survive.
One of the things that first attracted me to Jennifer Strange was actually the idea of illustrations in YA. There’s not a lot of precedent to this (the ones I can think of are And the Ocean Was Our Sky, Language of Thorns, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children–to an extent), but I generally find that it adds to the story. How did you reach the decision to incorporate art into Jennifer Strange? Was it something you knew from the start, or did it come later?
Believe it or not, Jennifer was a TV pilot when I first wrote her ten years ago. It was for a pilot writing class I took in undergrad, where I mainly studied screenwriting. I wanted to pitch “a skeptic and a believer that solve supernatural cases” and my professor told me to go home and watch the X-Files, which I’d never seen. The irony that my name is now Scully by marriage is not lost on me. When I came back to class, I had the core story for Jennifer Strange, which after ten years has not really changed. Jennifer is the believer, Liz is the skeptic. I found it interesting to explore that through sisters as another family hunts them down and wants them dead for in using their uncontrollable powers. The art idea came later. I kept seeing it so clearly visually. I had a hard time explaining it to agents. At first, I kept it just to an illustrated journal the sisters are reading from their parents as they race through Savannah and try to solve their past. Then I saw portions of it so clearly as comic panels, using them to transition scenes in an interesting way, that I couldn’t deny this was what I wanted to do. It’s been done before in Hellboy novels and in one of my favorite books, Joe Golem and the Drowning City. I thought, why not? I can draw. If they can do it, so can I.
I have to admit–I’m not a big horror person. But I’m really attracted to the premise of Jennifer Strange, especially given that it’s more “ghost horror” vs. “jumpscare horror.” How do you think Jennifer Strange appeals to readers who don’t identify themselves as “horror lovers?”
I always smile when someone says they’re not a horror fan. I am the biggest “jump and scream and cover my eyes” person. I’ve actually avoided haunted houses because it would be too real to me and I’d either panic or punch someone. I have hard time watching some horror things, particularly zombies. I get so freaked out! I’ve always loved ghosts though, the scarier the better. And I love the line of comedy and horror, particularly in books like THE AWESOME by Eva Darrows. I wanted JENNIFER STRANGE to be scary in its ghosts, but also funny in the banter between sisters Liz and Jennifer (think Buffy or Supernatural.) While I wanted my scares to be scary, I also wanted to show the girls being brave and kicking butt. I think the art portions will make it easier to digest anything that’s too scary. I’d love for JENNIFER to be a gateway to horror for anyone who might wonder if it’s too scary.
AND YOUR COVER!!! I am so stunned–it is gorgeous and so spooky and haunting and I! I think it captures the premise of Jennifer Strange really well. What elements were you hoping to highlight when you designed the cover, and did you have to leave anything out of the final that you were hoping would make it in?
So, my first cover was a sketch of two hands coming down around the title out of the darkness. I wanted it to represent the forces pursuing Jennifer, and her name absolutely had to be in gold. Without going into detail, let’s just say there’s a cost to her power. My agent saw that cover and went “It’s YA. Where is the girl?” Of course she was right. She’s very wise. I immediately came up with four or five alternate designs but none of them felt right. The cover designer of Haverhill Publishing and I brainstormed, but it still felt off. It wasn’t until my friend Todd Keisling, who is a cover designer and writer, suggested I take what I already did and put Jennifer in the middle. It was a stroke of genius! Everything clicked! I was nervous though. I am very self-conscious of my people designs, even though I’m doing part of it comic. A cover sells the book. I wanted to get it right. I made a kind of lineless version of Jennifer, which my friend Chris pointed out to me looked actually more anime than lineless. So it was back to the drawing board again. I redid her face to reflect my character cards and BAM. That was it! That was the cover!
And before we go, something fun! I personally can’t wait to see more of your artwork inside Jennifer Strange as well as outside! What would you say readers should look forward to the most when looking at the art inside Jennifer Strange?
What’s going to be the most interesting thing to me will be seeing readers react to how many different styles of art are within Jennifer Strange. There’s a style I used, that’s all pencil with very light Photoshop additions, that was for the journal portions. I wanted Jennifer and Liz’s mother Emily to have her own way of drawing, being that her job is illustration and she’s using her art to warn her daughters about the ghosts and demons that hunt them. This style is entirely different to the comic portions, which feature Jennifer and Liz. I did all of these in Procreate, a digital iPad app, that created a more comic book style. I wanted that to feel very YA, as Jennifer and Liz are both teens and their world would absolutely be different than their mother’s interpretation of the monsters. It will be fun to show readers or even fans of my maps just how many styles as an artist I can hop between that look vastly different but it’s still all me. I’ve never seen this kind of thing done in YA before. It’s definitely going to break the mold in a very visual way.
Wow! I loved hearing about what Cat had to say about Jennifer Strange, and I find it reassuring that it’s applicable to baby horror readers like me, ahahahah *sweats nervously*
Plus, I’m always obsessed with the cover design process, and hearing about how Cat mixed different art styles in Jennifer Strange is so cool? Imagine having that much talent?
So I’m so so excited to hear more about Jennifer Strange in the coming months–it’s out on July 23rd, 2019, so get hyped!
(Plus, these cool prize packs with enamel pins that you see above? They’re up in a giveaway over on Young Adult Books Central! Go go go!)
More About the Book
Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully
July 23rd 2019 by Haverhill House Publishing
When her father disappears, Jennifer Strange moves in with her estranged sister Liz in Savannah, Georgia, one of the most haunted places in the United States. When the ghosts begin to tear Jennifer and Liz’s lives apart, the sisters must learn to trust each other again if they hope to uncover the truth about their family history. If they can’t sort out their differences, they’ll not only destroy the veil between the living and the dead, but fall into the hands of a rival family that wants them dead.
Cat Scully’s illustrations bring the ghosts and demons of her fictional world to eerie and beautiful life, harkening back to the style of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK and Ransom Riggs’ MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.
More About the Author
Cat is a writer, designer, and illustrator. When she’s not writing and illustrating books of her own, she works in publishing as a freelance designer and illustrator, best known for her world maps. Her first book, Jennifer Strange, is out on July 23, 2019. She lives outside Boston with her husband and children and very fluffy cat.