Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Katie Alender
Not at all spooky like her stories, our current author sounds more like someone we’d like to hang out with! Born and raised in South Florida, Katie Alender’s middle school years might have been bumpy but she found her stride in a high school meant for creative teens. She didn’t wait for high school to start writing; the need to share her stories started back in the third grade. During her years at the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, Alender became intrigued by working with videography and earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree from Florida State University Film School. Drawn to Los Angeles for opportunities to direct in film or television, Alender returned to writing as it was the best way to control all that was happening on screen. Working on everything from a game show to developing television programs, to writing and producing televised dog shows, her readers are grateful Alender dedicated herself to writing fiction full time. When she’s done creating entertainment for others, Katie can be found hanging out with her two rescued shelter dogs, husband, and young daughter, not necessarily in that order, or multitasking her errands and audiobooks–for fun. A girl after our own heart!
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
KA: Oh, wow. Probably as a snarky overachiever. But I went to an arts high school so everyone was an overachiever. And most of us were snarky.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
KA: The best thing that happened to me in high school was high school itself. The environment was one that emphasized creativity and the work of creating art. Even the principal would bring his trumpet to school and sit in the courtyard improvising with the students. It was really pretty idyllic. I had a wonderful time at my school and established friendships that have endured to this day. (In fact, I went to high school with my literary agent.)
Going back to question #1, we did have labels and some stereotypes, based on which department you were in–the dancers were pretty and girly, the theatre kids were dramatic and loud, the visual kids were the goth/grunge kids, the musicians were passionate hard workers, and the communications kids (me) were very verbal A/V club and yearbook nerds. But those labels were only occupational, if that makes sense. No type of person (or art, for that matter) was held to be superior to another type. There was a lot of respect for artistic ability.
So a talented but maybe a little awkward kid who might have been quite downtrodden at a “normal” school was held in high regard by everyone at my school because of his talent. You were never made to feel “less than” because you were passionate about what you did, even if the way you did it was intensely personal to you. You would never think to consider someone as less than you, because they had talents and abilities you didn’t have. It was a culture of respect.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
KA: I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Roald Dahl, Ayn Rand, and Paula Danziger (in particular, This Place Has No Atmosphere, which to me is the perfect fish-out-of-water story).
My favorite food was soup, sometimes eaten at room temperature right out of the can (clearly, I possessed a very sophisticated palate).
My favorite band when I was twelve was New Kids on the Block, and after I outgrew them, I turned more to movie scores. I loved Danny Elfman’s Batman Returns score–I basically had the whole thing memorized. I had all the albums I owned memorized, because I owned maybe fifteen CDs, total. It was the 90s, so we didn’t have the kind of access to music that people have now. There was a much narrower scope.
My favorite television show? Easy–Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was a dedicated fan and went to the conventions wearing the uniform my stepmother sewed for me after I badgered her into it.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
KA: My senior year, the school switched to block scheduling. That was also the year during which the students who took a language every year of high school finally got stuck taking PE classes. Somehow it worked out that a few of my friends and I would go to first period for an hour, then go to two hours of personal fitness, lunch, and then two hours of PE. So we had four hours of gym class a day, twice a week, for the first half of senior year.
It was pretty ridiculous because these were the top students in the class–I think all of us were in the top ten–and we were spending our time lolling around in gym clothes, surrounded by freshmen. On the other hand, we had a total blast. At some point we (jokingly) christened ourselves the Mean Girls (this was pre-Tina Fey) and made it our mission to sabotage all the sports they made us play. The coach was retiring and couldn’t have cared less what we were doing. It was truly some of the most fun I’ve had in my life.
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
KA: I never took chemistry. Well, I tried to take AP Chem my senior year, but it was way over my head. Even the teacher had no idea what was going on and stopped trying to teach us (which was a bit of a scandal at the time). So there’s a chemistry-shaped hole in my heart, you might say. I keep thinking I’ll buy myself one of those Dummies books just so I can get a basic understanding of the topic.
If I could add a class for students, it would be some sort of Human Development class with an emphasis on critical thinking, life skills, community awareness, and vocational development.
SH: If you could be a character from any book, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?
KA: Oh, man. Maybe I’ll get pummeled for pulling from Ayn Rand, but Dagny Taggart from Atlas Shrugged had her own private train car, which is basically my fondest wish.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
KA: My family is close, but we’re not very tradition-ful. My husband is appalled that we wait to open Christmas gifts until everyone is showered, dressed, and fed. Does that count?
SH: If someone else wrote a book about your life, who would you want the author to be, what kind of book would it be, and what would you want as the title?
KA: Wow, that’s very interesting. I always thought that if I wrote a memoir, it might be called Alligator Dreaming, because I grew up in an area of South Florida where we routinely saw alligators, and as a result I grew up plagued by recurring, violent dreams about alligators (one of which is chronicled in Bad Girls Don’t Die). But lately, I have dreams about air travel, which in its own way is just as bad as alligators.
I think I’d rather learn more about life and myself before committing to the topic of a book. I hope the years ahead hold a lot of knowledge and perspective that’s more worth reading than the amount I’ve accumulated so far. I’d like a few more years to grow into myself. But I think the books/memoirs that many well-known authors are writing right now are really great, so if the stars aligned, I could potentially create something like that down the road.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
KA: Hmm. That’s a big responsibility. I guess the answer is “No single book is going to speak to every reader, even the ones that have meant the most to me. I just want everybody to be reading, whatever appeals to them personally. In terms of what I recommend the most lately, that would be The Cuckoo’s Calling (because I think it’s beautifully written and a side of Rowling that grown-up Harry Potter fans might enjoy) and Code Name Verity (because I think it’s a stunning story with awesome characters).
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
KA: Thoughtlessness. In every context.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
KA: Flying, definitely! I have dreams where suddenly I realize how easy it is, and float around as if it’s nothing, and then I wake up seriously disappointed.
SH: Have you hidden friends or family in your stories? Has anyone ever asked to be included?
KA: I use bits and pieces of people, but I don’t believe I’ve ever lifted a person wholesale and plopped them into a book. I borrow a lot of names, because coming up with names is a challenge for me. Sometimes I’ll browse my book’s page on Facebook and grab a name from a reader. Then I try to remember not to kill off those characters, but it happens sometimes in spite of my good intentions.
SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?
KA: Oh, man. Before I was a parent, I used to sew and quilt like mad. I loved it. Now that I have a two-year-old, my idea of the perfect me time is to run errands or go shopping by myself with a good audiobook or podcast playing in my earbuds.
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
KA: I would call myself (well, I like to think I’m) unpretentious, intelligent, and inquisitive. I hope my friends might choose words like smart, witty, and hard-working (I’ve got them all fooled, you see).
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
KA: Okay. Martha Stewart, Lucille Ball, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, and Tina Fey. We’re eating really great Indian takeout.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
KA: “Judge not, lest ye be judged” and “This too shall pass” have been favorites for many years. But as far as really getting me going, it has to be this quote from Robert Heinlein: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
SH: Who was the first person who told you should be a writer?
KA: I’m not sure. I felt a lot of encouragement from my teachers and parents when I was young, so I’m sure it was one of them.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
KA: What makes me happiest is being surrounded by my husband, daughter, and my two crazy dogs. Often the dogs and daughter will actually be piled on top of me or climbing all over me.
What makes me sad is to consider that humans are so capable of being cruel to one another and to animals, and that many of them will never learn, and will essentially spend their lives causing suffering and then die having made the world worse for their time here. What a waste, on so many levels.
What scares me is that everything can change in an instant. And there’s no rewind button. This may be what drives me to write horror, come to think of it.
SH: What is one (or more!) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to your sense of humor to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.
KA: Well, I do have fabulously prehensile toes, but I think what makes me even prouder than that is that I have the ability to approach problems from unique perspectives and to find solutions to almost anything (except chemistry problems, obviously).
SH: A series of choices: Introvert or extrovert? Sweet or salty? Rustic camping or five star hotel? Elevator or stairs? Tea, coffee, or soda? Telephone, email, or text? Newspapers, magazines, or books? Spend or save?
KA: Introvert. Sweet and salty. Hotel. Stairs. Soda. Text. Books. Spend. Hmm . . . that reads like the manifesto of someone with shockingly low self-control, doesn’t it?
SH: What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you? Do you remember why?
KA: In school, I did well at just about everything, and I’m sure it went to my head and made me a bit insufferable. One day, one of my teachers told me to get off my high horse, and it really had an impact on me.
Since then, it’s been an aim of my life ever since to stay off the high horse. To avoid elevating myself on any level above others, especially in any context in which it would make others feel diminished. My goal in life is to “embiggen” others (if I may borrow from The Simpsons). If, by my words or deeds, I am making other people feel like they are somehow not as important as I am, then I’ve failed at being a human. This is very important to me. But I do think it makes me kind of a failure at social media.
Bad Girls Don’t Die
SH: Alexis might be an amateur photographer, but she has really impressive skills and knowledge. Are you an avid photographer or did you do a whole lot of research to get ready for this series? Is there an established photographer you admire?
KA: I took photography in high school and college, so I knew the fundamentals. In writing the books, I did research on the technical aspects of working in the darkroom, but the visual language of photographs is familiar to me.
I’ve always loved the stark honesty of Diane Arbus’s portraits.
SH: Suggesting hidden interviews to reveal the hidden truth on student elections was pretty smart of Alexis. Did you ever have such an insightful suggestion in high school? Have you ever been interviewed by the AV club–on any topic?
KA: Well, I was part of the AV club. I produced and edited and hosted many segments in high school, none of which were as hard-hitting as Alexis’s screen debut. I think that did give me a good foundation for the way in which media can be manipulated, which is probably where that idea was born.
SH: The librarian at Alexis’ school seems pretty unconcerned by the fact that books have been restricted and discarded. Have you gotten much feedback on this? Have you ever had experience with a Concerned Parents Association?
KA: My parents were pretty concerned with what I read, but not to the extent that they would have demanded anything be taken out of circulation. I did actually get a lot of feedback from librarians about this, and when I had a chance to go back and write a sequel, I addressed the issue pretty directly.
SH: Do you have any dolls in your house? Why?! Are there any other items you might be willing to collect instead?
KA: I didn’t really find dolls creepy until after the book was published, when readers would email me pictures of creepy dolls. Now I find them quite spooky. But my daughter has a few. They’re definitely creepy, especially when they start to get worn out and kind of ratty but they’re still these precious, beloved objects. I couldn’t take them away from her now because she luuurrrves them.
I don’t allow myself any collections. I work very hard to counteract my hoarding tendencies. I am starting to amass quite a lot of shoes, though.
From Bad to Cursed
SH: Alexis’ self-portrait sounds remarkable. Did you experiment to see how it would really turn out? What’s the best picture that’s ever been taken with you as the focus? How do you feel about selfies?
KA: Oh, thanks! No, that photo was all in my head.
In my film school photography course, we were assigned self-portraits, and one I liked of myself was me in my bathrobe leaning forward to look at myself in the mirror. The professor was like, “You like the way you look in this photo?” and I was very surprised. Looking at it now, I guess it’s an unflattering picture, because I’m not wearing makeup and I look a little wan. But it felt very honest and natural to me. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best, but it reminds me of Alexis’s self-portrait.
I am not a fan of selfies for myself, because when I do take them I feel like I’m doing it from a place of wanting people to see how cool I am (which is a very natural instinct for humans, I think, but I try to keep that out of the way I present myself to my readers). We’ve all felt that sting of not being included, and I don’t want to cause that feeling in others if I can avoid it. But I don’t begrudge other people their selfies, especially if they’re interesting pictures. They’re just not for me.
SH: If The Sunshine Club were really about learning charm and inner beauty, would you join? What would have been your ideal club to join in high school? What about now?
KA: Nah. I wouldn’t fit in! I’d get kicked out for making too many dumb jokes. My ideal official high school club was class council, because so many of my friends were involved in it and the faculty sponsor was our favorite teacher in the school. Unofficially, my friend and I invented this elaborate jokey “society” that had its own rules and nicknames and secret hand signals. Basically the point was to be as goofy as possible. Many years later, we still sometimes refer to each other by our code names. As for joining a club now, maybe a wine club? Where all the members are my friends?
SH: How did you create the idea and details surrounding Aralt?
KA: He evolved the way all my antagonists do–out of necessity! I can’t recall specifics, but I know it was a bit of a slog to come up with the right backstory for the “big bad,” and when I finished, the result was Aralt. He was the right fit for the story–the “ideal” man, for whom all the girls are willing to completely lose themselves.
SH: Is there any contest or prize you’d be willing to do just about anything to win? What if you could make up a contest of your own? What would be the rules and the prize?
KA: No, there are very few things in life I’d do just about anything to have. Winning a contest isn’t among them.
As Dead as It Gets
SH: Have you ever had an experience with a ghost as angry as Lydia? If you were an angry ghost, what would you use as your signature calling card instead of a yellow rose?
KA: I’m happy to say I’ve never had any experiences with angry ghosts. Although I just found out that the people who renovated our house before we bought it cut down the memorial tree and paved over the ashes of the people who lived here for decades before them. So . . . we’ll see how that works out.
My calling card would definitely be empty 20-ounce diet soda bottles. Or food wrappers. Or dog hair. I’m always covered in dog hair. “A pile of dog hair? Katie must be floating around in here!”
SH: Have you ever seen anything questionable in a photograph? Would you ever go out and attempt to catch ghostly images with a camera like Lydia?
KA: Not me personally, but an uncle of mine once took a picture of me and there’s basically a giant bird patronus in the air over my head.
I don’t think I would go out seeking ghosts. Certainly not on camera and certainly not if I thought I might actually find some!
SH: For a fun treat Alexis organizes the kitchen junk drawer–a girl after my own heart! does this appeal to you as well or would you rather do something a little flashier?
KA: I love organizing and simplifying and all of those things that become so appealing when you suddenly look around and realize you have a house full of stuff and you have no idea how it all got there. So yes, drawer organization would be a treat for me. I’m a chronic office reorganizer. I have to rearrange my office every few months and squirrel all my stuff more efficiently.
SH: A loner in her freshman year, Alexis winds up with five very good friends as her supernatural adventures wind down. Do you have five friends that are as dedicated as Alexis’ friends?
KA: I have many very excellent friends. When I moved to Los Angeles after film school, almost all of my closest friends moved here as well. We’re still very close and they’re all the kind of people I could call up in the middle of the night and say, “Can you come over right now? I can’t tell you why!” and they’d be at my door in about ten minutes. I am blessed beyond measure in that regard.
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer
SH: At first, Collette’s medallion is just a fashion accessory, but it’s so much more than that. How did you decide what the medallion would look like? What would be your servant symbol?
KA: The medallion is actually sort of based on a piece of jewelry I inherited from my wonderful grandmother, who was very into horse racing. I have two lovely medallion-style charms that are horses, and for about fifteen years I’ve been waiting for the right outfit to come along so I could wear one.
If I had a society of people dedicated to me, it would be called L’Ordre du Chien, the Order of the Dog. Because dogs are really important to me. And the medallion would have an adorable dog on it.
SH: Who were you most like most like in high school: fashionable Collette, queen bee Hannah, musical Pilar, or book smart Audrey? Who would you want to be best friends with and why?
KA: A hundred percent Audrey! By process of elimination, because I’m none of the other things, but also because I was always unapologetically smart.
SH: Have you been abroad? Any place you really want to go? What was the best spot Collette was able to visit that you have seen, or would want to see?
KA: I have traveled abroad–not extensively, but I’ve spent time in Turkey, Ireland, Belize, and Paris. I actually went to Paris to research this book (and also because I’d been wanting to go there for many years.) I had the historic sites mapped out in advance, and it was a fantastic way to see the city. Almost like a treasure hunt. There are so many incredible places to visit there. Versailles is amazing, the Catacombs are crazy . . . but the Basilique St-Denis, while low-key, is one of my favorites, because of the sheer number of tombs and the amount of history contained there.
SH: Marie Antoinette seems a sad figure–even as a serial killer. What made you pick her as your villain?
KA: Being a sad figure makes someone an excellent villain (or heroine, if that’s what’s called for). One of the most challenging aspects of writing a ghost story is coming up with an antagonist whose backstory and circumstances are rich and interesting enough to provide a satisfying and believable motivation. You basically have to consider the narrative from two points of view–the main character, and the main ghost. I’d been fascinated by Marie Antoinette since I read Antonia Fraser’s biography. And I thought her life and the pressures under which she lived, especially as a teen, were the perfect mirror to hold up to a modern teen.
Famous Last Words
SH: Do you enjoy shopping at used bookstores? What would you be searching for at a used bookstore, a particular topic or author? Would you have purchased the book that Willa did?
KA: I love used bookstores for out-of-print books. I definitely wouldn’t buy a book about communing with spirits, though! I like to find historic editions of books I love. I once found a copy of Gone With the Wind that’s typeset in columns like a Bible. It’s pretty amazing. If I came across something like that, I wouldn’t be able to resist. And once when I was a teen, I opened a used book at a sale and found my own address written inside.
SH: If someone offered you the chance to contact the spirit of a loved one or to become a famous Hollywood movie starlet, which opportunity would you choose?
KA: I would have to go with contacting a loved one over being a starlet. There would be too much pressure to exercise, ha ha.
SH: How did you become a fan of Old Hollywood? Do you have a favorite era in movie making, a favorite director, or movie star?
KA: I’ve been a fan of classic films since I was about fourteen years old and used to watch AMC. I’d go through the TV guide every week and look for movies that I wanted to see. Then I went to film school, so I’ve seen a pretty good selection of films from different eras. I love the romance of the old studio system, and the musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, in particular–the Busby Berkeley films with the kaleidoscopic dance numbers. I think Judy Garland is awesome, and Fred and Ginger, and Katharine Hepburn. I have a lot of favorites when it comes to anything film-related!
SH: Have you been to a psychic or had your aura read? Were they as accurate and informative as Leyta?
KA: When I worked on dog shows for Animal Planet, we interviewed a dog psychic (I mean a woman who had a psychic connection with dogs, not a dog who was a psychic). First she told me that my dog was jumping at cars to protect me, and that I should explain to him that I appreciated it but didn’t need his help. Then she told me that I was not supposed to be a writer, but rather a teacher. I went home and had a talk with my dog, which didn’t have the desired impact on him, and about two weeks later my book came out. Since then, I’ve continued to be a writer. I actually do love to work with students, so she was right about that in a way. But she pales in comparison to Leyta.
SH: Is Walter Sawamura based on a real person? What kind of feedback do you get on the occult information in your books? Do you have favorite sources to consult?
KA: Good old Walter! He’s not based on anyone in real life. As for the ghosty content in my books, 99 percent of it comes from my head, or is an interpretation of various things I’ve absorbed over my life. If I’m stuck, I’ll browse websites that share advice about dealing with the paranormal, or read over people’s stories of their own experiences, but I never use something literally. I’m looking for inspiration.
SH: If you were able to select one of your books to be made into a movie, which book would you want it to be and who would you want in your cast?
KA: Am I allowed to say that I think they’d all make great movies? Visually, I have a very clear sense of the second Bad Girls Don’t Die book, From Bad to Cursed. But I think Famous Last Words might be the most cinematic . . . so far!
SH: You have a real gift for making historical people and events relatable. Is there any particular time you wish you could time travel to visit? Who would you like meet and what would you like to see?
KA: From a practical standpoint, I’m pretty comfortable right where (when) I am. The hardships of life in another time period are pretty daunting. But I would definitely like to visit old Hollywood for a couple of weeks. I’d also be interested in peeking at pre-Revolution France and England around the turn of the 18th century. But no long stays for me. I’d want to get back to my toothbrush ASAP.
SH: What did you buy with your first paycheck as An Author? Was it a planned or an impulse purchase?
KA: You know, I can’t even remember. I’m pretty sure we just made it a part of our finances, so realistically speaking I probably bought some electricity, some groceries, maybe a few books. Over the years, I have gotten a laptop, some very–uh–“fancy” Ikea office furniture, and my latest indulgence is a standing desk, which has kept me from sitting sixteen hours a day during revisions on my latest book.
SH: Is there a question you wish someone would finally think to ask?
KA: Most of the meaty stuff I never get to talk about is more the stuff of long discussions, so I can’t blame people for not asking. For instance, forming a character arc over the course of a series while also managing the arcs within the individual books is a topic I love, but it’s not the kind of thing I could come up with a pithy answer to, so it’s just as well left for another time!
Books by Katie Alender
Bad Girls Don’t Die. Disney-Hyperion, 2009. 346p. $8.99. 978-142310877-1.
From Bad to Cursed. Disney-Hyperion, 2011. 448p. $16.99. 978-142313471-8.
As Dead as It Gets. Disney-Hyperion, 2012. 422p. $16.99. 978-142313472-5. VOYA August 2012. 5Q 5P J S
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer. Scholastic, 2013. 292p. $18.99. 978-054546809-1. VOYA August 2013. 2Q 2P J S
Famous Last Words. Scholastic, 2014. 312p. $18.99. 978-054563997-2. VOYA October 2014. 5Q 5P M J S
On the Internet
Official Website: http://katiealender.com/books/
Stacey Hayman is … Wha…? Oh, hey there. Um, could you please not bother me right now? I’m reading -Thanks!