Teri Polen reads and watches horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, and anything Marvel-related are likely to cause fangirl delirium. She lives in Bowling Green, KY with her husband, sons, and black cat. Visit her online at www.teripolen.com
Talking with Teri Polen
S&S: I know from your bio that you’re a fan of Marvel, Harry Potter, etc. So how did a horror story win out as the first thing you’d write a novel about?
Teri Polen: Sarah wasn’t actually my first novel – the first one I wrote was about a group of teens who discovered they’d come from another universe. Their parents were part of a rebellion, knew their children would be used as pawns, and sent them to Earth for safety when they were too young to remember them. When they reached their teens, various powers began to manifest. I remember being in the movie theater and seeing previews to ‘I Am Number Four’ with my mouth hanging open because some of the images on screen were exactly what I’d seen in my head – and up until then, I’d never read that series of books. But that was my first book, the writing was atrocious, and it shall forever remain trunked.
S&S: How long did it take you to write Sarah from initial idea to final manuscript?
Teri Polen: Oh my gosh – this is kind of embarrassing. Sarah underwent many incarnations and took probably three years plus from start to finish. Things weren’t coming together, I’d get frustrated and quit for a while, and then I read somewhere about interviewing your characters – and that changed everything. Once I was happy with the story, I struggled with the ending for quite a while until I brainstormed with another writer and things finally fell into place. Vast quantities of chocolate and Diet Coke also contributed.
S&S: Is there anything chocolate doesn’t help? Haha
S&S: What was the first horror book you ever read?
Teri Polen: The first one I can remember was somewhere around third grade – Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan. A teen girl’s cousin moved in for the summer, strange things started happening, and the cousin essentially took over the girl’s life. Mild MG horror, but I was hooked after that and discovered Stephen King a few years later.
S&S: You make some very honest observations in Sarah about the casual way sexual assault is viewed by young men. Was this thread one that you intended to sew into the story or one that developed as the story did?
Teri Polen: I hadn’t consciously intended to weave that into the book, but when Sarah began telling her story, it all came out. I was aware of the higher profile sexual assault cases by athletes around that time, so those may have subconsciously played into her story.
S&S: What theme do you think defines the horror genre at the moment?
Teri Polen: Loss of humanity. I think that’s one of the reasons The Walking Dead is so popular – it’s not the zombies (even though they’re pretty awesome), but the collapse of society as a whole, the post-apocalyptic situations, and what people are willing to do to survive. Magnificent character development on that show. When I looked at some of the most popular horror movies over the past year, many were about atrocities committed against victims chosen at random by people who showed no empathy for others.
S&S: Do you already have another book that you’re working on?
Teri Polen: I do – it’s a YA sci-fi/fantasy involving twin brothers, dreams, and portals. I started it early last spring and was around 25K words into it when I was offered the contract for Sarah. Things have been so busy with getting Sarah ready for publication and promotion, that I haven’t been able to get back to the new book and I’m looking forward to being reacquainted with those characters very soon.
S&S: What did it feel like when Sarah was officially finished?
Teri Polen: I had mixed emotions – happy it was finally finished, but I missed Cain and Finn. When you have those characters in your head for so long, it’s almost like losing friends when the book is completed. And those guys were fun to listen to.
S&S: Circling back around to your love of Marvel – who is your favorite character from Marvel?
Teri Polen: I’m a huge Jeremy Renner fan, so of course I have to say Hawkeye – he got some well-deserved screen time in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Loki is my favorite villain – he’s charming in that villianesque sort of way, somewhat loyal when it suits his purposes, and has an outstanding sense of humor – what’s not to love?
S&S: What’s the most constructive criticism you’ve been given in the course of writing your first book?
Teri Polen: To know what my characters want in any given scene, whether it’s nothing more than a glass of water, and to make sure every scene propels the story forward in some way. It’s amazing how having that focus can keep you on track.
S&S: Where did the idea for Sarah come from?
Teri Polen: We’d moved into a new house with no previous occupants, and our cat, Shadow, would sit at the foot of the stairs leading to the bonus room, fur bristling, muscles tense, hissing and growling at something at the top of the stairs we could never see. That started the wheels turning about how a house could be haunted when no one had ever lived in it. We never found out what freaked out Shadow, but if the house is haunted, the ghosts are pretty quiet roommates.
S&S: I’ve read (and watched) things that talk about how horror changes to reflect the current political/social environment. Do you think this is true? How do you think things are going to change in the next few years, if so?
Teri Polen: One of the biggest challenges facing us right now seems to be a lack of trust in our leaders and the uncertain future that awaits us as a result of this leadership. When stripped down to their core, a significant portion of books and movies in the horror genre are about fear of the unknown – which is what we’re facing right now. We’re afraid to think about where we’ll be in a few years.
S&S: I think you nailed it.
S&S: Give us your favorite horror movie scene!
Teri Polen: I’ve seen too many horror movies to count and none have ever really scared me, but there was one scene in the first Paranormal Activity that gave me goosebumps – and I was thrilled! It was the scene where Katie and Micah are asleep, Katie is pulled out of bed and dragged into the hallway and the door slams behind her while she’s screaming for Micah. Don’t ask me why, but that one raised the hairs.
S&S: I know what one you’re talking about. That one totally creeped me out too!
Seventeen-year-old horror fan Cain Shannon thought helping a ghost find her killers would be the supernatural adventure of a lifetime. Now, he just hopes to survive long enough to protect his family and friends from her.
A bet between friends goes horribly wrong, resulting in Sarah’s death. When she returns to seek justice against those responsible, Cain agrees to help her. But when he discovers Sarah has been hijacking his body, he realizes she wants retribution instead of justice.
Terrified of what could have happened when he wasn’t in control, Cain commands Sarah to leave his house – but exorcising her isn’t that easy. She retaliates against her murderers in bloody, horrific ways, each death making her stronger, then sets her sights on Cain. With the help of friends, Cain fights to save himself and his loved ones and searches for a way to stop Sarah before she kills again. – Goodreads
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