Q&A with Jennifer McMahon

I recently read Don't Breathe a Word, which might get the prize for creepiest book read in 2011 so far! It was great -- a perfect summer read. I'm thrilled to share my Q&A with the author, Jennifer McMahon. See the bottom for another chance to win a copy of Don't Breathe a Word.

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

I wrote my first short story in third grade, "The Haunted Meatball." I'm hazy on the details, but the meatball rolled off the table, and chased someone, probably seeking revenge. It may have glowed green (to indicate how haunted it was, of course!) In it, I took an everyday object and did my best to make it as creepy as I could. In some ways, I guess my writing has come full circle! What I remember most about that first story was this feeling of absolute magic -- I had created a world in which I could make anything happen. That sense of magic is still with me every time I sit down to begin a new book.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

With a young child, I write where I can, and when I can. I was pregnant when I started working with my agent, and she was nearly two years old when I signed the contract for Promise Not to Tell -- she just turned seven, so the where and when have definitely evolved over time! I have an office at home, but I carry my laptop all over the house to work -- the living room couch, kitchen table, porch, even the hammock. Sometimes if I'm stuck with a scene, just changing my own physical location will help. I bring my laptop to ballet lessons, ice skating lessons, etc. Sometimes even if I'm kid-free, I'll head out to a cafe to write for a while. My head is clearest in the morning, so that's usually when the writing flows the best. My only ritual is more of a habit -- coffee, and lots of it!

Was Don't Breathe a Word the original title of your book?

It didn't have a title when I was working on it. I just called it "The Fairy Book". I actually have a horrible time coming up with titles that stick. Promise Not to Tell was Potato Girl, Island of Lost Girls started out as Rabbit Island. Now I don't put much energy into a proper title while writing, knowing we'll figure it out when the time comes.

As you were writing Don't Breathe a Word, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Evie was full of surprises. I honestly didn't know what was going on with her for awhile -- did she truly have Lisa's best interests at heart, or was she up to something? Also, the Fairy King. When I was writing the first draft, I didn't really know who he was -- was he real? A figment of people's imagination? As I worked on the book, he got scarier and scarier to me, to the point where I was sure I could feel him behind me in a dark corner, watching while I typed. I guess it's a good sign that I creeped myself out with my own writing!

Read any good books recently?

I'm reading Room by Emma Donoghue now. I'm really loving it, but it is a difficult read for me -- very intense. After this, I'm planning to re-read a some classic horror: Frankenstein, Island of Dr Moreau, Dracula, things like that.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. McMahon for her time!


I'm very excited that the publisher is offering a copy of Don't Breathe a Word to a lucky reader!  Just comment on this entry with an email (or another way to get a hold of you) to be entered.  Closes 6/10, open to US/CA.  For another entry, comment on my review!


  1. Creepy. I have heard that Room was great.. but so intense. Not sure if I want to go down that path right now. But I definitely want to read Don't Breathe A Word.
    marieburton2004 at yahoo dot com

  2. I have Room waiting to be read. I want to read it but once I start it's going to affect me very much. I'm strangely hesitant to start! Nice interview, as always! I'm not sure if I entered this one or not so: jeskimo.kimono@gmail.com :))

  3. Marie & Jessie: I just finished Room this morning -- it was intense but not kill-yourself-miserable, as I anticipated. It's shivery but...oddly upbeat in many ways. I understand know why there's so much hype about it. I'm still working on a review.

  4. I do like the title :)
    As for titles, I am also really really bad at coming up with them...I mean truly bad

  5. You are right. It was one of the creepiest. Nice to hear from the author a bit.

  6. This sounds so creepy and awesome! I've been seeing lots of great stuff about this book lately and you know that I can't resist a scary story so I'd love to be considered for the giveaway!

  7. So cool! This is really high on my wishlist and I just featured it last week, so it is awesome to see an interview with Jennifer! Love that she is reading classic horror soon - I love Frankenstein!

    Please count me in!

    stephaniet117 at yahoo dot com

  8. Frankenstein is on my list of books to read in my pile of classics I have yet to tackle. Enjoyed the Q & A.!


  9. ok, got me at haunted meatball. i'll go for it ;-D
    vvb32 @yahoo.com

  10. On, this one is on my wish list! Thanks for the giveaway!

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  11. no need to enter me in the giveaway. I really love the interview...the haunted meatball....hilarious, yet creepy....my first short story was about a 20-something who left her small town for the big NYC to become a lawyer...LOL

  12. Looking forward to reading this one. Count me in :)


  13. this book intrigues me...thanks for the opportunity to read it :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  14. i commented on your review of this novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  15. This book sounds so interesting and different from what I expected
    throuthehaze at gmail dot com

  16. every time I see something about this book, I squee a little! :D


  17. book sounds so creepy.Would love to read it.lomazowr@gmail.com

  18. i just love all jennifer mcmahon's books! saw a post for this site and i will be back! and would like a chance at the free book! thanks! tmgfive@att.net

  19. Add me to the Haunted Meatball fan club....there should be tee shirts!

    Have been looking forward to another book by Jennifer McMahon, can't wait to read it. If I win a copy, you can find me at greeneking at aol.com or regardez403 at gmail.com


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