Katya De Becerra is the author of What the Woods Keep a fascinating young adult novel. I recommend it if you’ve been sleeping too well at night. It’s a book for those who love unbreakable friendships, mysteries, creepy towns, science, and mythology.
On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.
Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.
As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible—something that threatens reality itself.
- Tell us about What The Woods Keep. What is the genre?
What The Woods Keep is my first book. In summary, it’s a story of Hayden, a peculiar and determined young woman, who receives an unexpected inheritance from her missing-presumed-dead mother. This provokes a soul-searching trip back to Promise, Colorado—the town of Hayden’s childhood—where she hopes to finally uncover the truth of what really happened the night of her mom’s disappearance. It’s a genre-mix book (or cross-genre/mashup, if you prefer) as it combines elements of dark fantasy, horror, science fiction and mystery. The reader-me loves weird, disturbing books with spooky atmospherics and subtle terror (think Marisha Pessl’s Night Film or Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, or Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, all of which I’ve devoured in an unblinking trance), so it’s really no surprise that my own debut is a book located between the genres. In the end, genres are what we decide them to be, and I leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds about What The Woods Keep.
- Is there a book that inspired you to be a writer or that had a particular influence on the characters you created?
I’ve recently guest blogged about books that left a huge impression on me in terms of craft, but it’s always tough to choose one book, whether it’s my most favorite or most influential. I think I always give a different answer when asked this question, because what first pops into my head depends on what I’ve been writing lately and whether I’ve been re/reading something. Having said that, when asked about a novel that’s been most influential in my own writing, I usually tend to alternate between Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Roadside Picnic by the brothers Strugatsky. In terms of influencing my characters in What The Woods Keep though, Hayden is kind of a version of the teen-me (weird, slightly antisocial but loyal to her friends) while Del represents the kind of female friendship I yearned for when growing up—the unbreakable I’ll-walk-through-the-fire-for-you kind, that is.
- Tell us the story behind the story. How did What The Woods Keep come to be?
I always find it difficult to pin down the exact moment when I set my mind to write, in general, or to write What The Woods Keep, in particular. Like most published authors, I’ve gone through multiple ideas and drafts before ending up with the manuscript version that I thought was good enough to query to agents. I’m pretty sure there was another book (or two!) before What The Woods Keep that I wrote and even queried, but my memories of all that are now fuzzy:) However, the gist of my writer journey is as follows: I was working on my PhD at the University of Melbourne and, while I loved the process, it was also tough and mentally very draining. So to balance my life, I started writing fiction while collecting my PhD data and writing my thesis. What at first I only saw as a hobby that was making me happy soon became my Big Return to fiction (I wrote—and published—lots of poetry and short fiction before migrating to Australia but then had to stop for a while because life kept getting in the way and I was working long hours at the time). Fast-forward to 2014 when I finished my PhD and also had a shiny new manuscript which I decided to query. And I did. I had some interest from agents, and ended up signing with Amy Tipton (she’s now a freelance editor at Feral Girl Books), who then sold What The Woods Keep (and my second book, standalone, Oasis) to Imprint/Macmillan in 2016. Two years later, here I am, published and excited.
- What inspired you to pare science and supernatural components together instead of keeping them seperate?
The combination of science fiction and supernatural in my book happened naturally—it just felt right when I was writing it. Besides, my brain works in a similar pattern to that of the book protagonist’s, Hayden, as I’m a big science fangirl and like to consider logical explanations for unexplained mysteries. At the same time, what I also find personally fascinating is that fine line between the rational and the unexplained and what happens to human logic when we’re faced with something so bizarre (and scary) that we simply fail to come up with any semblance of a reasonable explanation. I wanted to place that question at the centre of What The Woods Keep, and then build Hayden’s search for identity and truth around it.
- Best advice you have heard on writing?
The best writing advice I’ve ever received was to read a lot and read widely. I’ve never really had any formal creative writing training, but I’ve been reading lots of different books from a very young age. The way we read changes when we start writing, but I find it’s very important to still read for joy while at the same time paying close attention to novels that get deep under your skin. Ask yourself things like how is this book’s structured, how is characterisation working, and overall why is this book affecting you so much? I like meditating on books that I loved dearly. The same goes for cinema and other forms of storytelling. I love being immersed in thought-provoking films and then wonder how certain cinematic structures would translate into a book. In summary, the best writing advice is: engage with art mindfully.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Keep reading. Self-reflect. With time, you’ll identify your strengths and your weaknesses, so that you can find ways to improve your craft. Also: develop thick skin. Along the way, lots of people are going to have lots of opinions about your art. Criticism is different from critique and you need to learn to distinguish between the two. Accept critique from those you trust and ignore criticism from all others. It’s the only way to keep your mind fresh and creative. Oh, and try not to read reviews. Good or bad, they can really mess with your head.
- Your next book Oasis is coming out next year, can you tell us a bit about the story. Also the cover is stunning and what were your first thoughts when you saw it?
Oasis is my love letter to archaeology. I was obsessed with archaeology as a kid (and as a young adult!) and at some stage I have seriously looked into it as an education option, but due to various circumstances I ended up going in a different direction, so archaeology remains my “the one who got away”. The great thing about being a writer though is that I can write books about things I care about and live vicariously through my characters.
What else… Oasis is partially set in Dubai and partially in Melbourne (my adopted home town). The narrator is Alif who is fierce and doesn’t tolerate fools. And this book’s got a diverse cast and scary mystery for Alif & Co to untangle.
Readers can add Oasis on Goodreads now. Its publication date is 15 October 2019 in the US, with more information available soon.
The cover design is by Jeff Miller at Faceout Studio (the same designer who did the magnificent cover of What The Woods Keep). I’m incredibly lucky that both of my books got such awesome covers which perfectly reflect the essence of the stories hiding within. My first reaction at seeing the cover of Oasis was awe and a sense of perfection: everything about it, the impressionist colours, the ethereal skies, the desert, and the hexagon shape front and centre are all spot-on!
- What’s your favourite movie?
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is probably my all-time favorite. I also admire Andrei Tarkovsky, with Stalker (which is based on Roadside Picnic, one of my favorite books) being a huge inspiration in my own craft. I also really like Solaris (the Tarkovsky version), while my childhood favorites were Labyrinth, American Werewolf in London, The Thing, Scanners, Alien franchise (before the reboot) and Donnie Darko. I also adore Spirited Away (and many other Studio Ghibli features). From the newer movies I thought Gravity, Interstellar and Inception were clever and intense in all the right ways. (I know you asked for favorite MOVIE, singular, but clearly I can’t help myself!)
9.Cats or dogs?
I had a little black poodle when I was a kid, so I always and forever have a soft spot for poodles in my heart. Though, I do love cats and dogs equally.
- How can people connect with you?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @KatyadeBecerra and I also have a public author profile on Facebook under the same handle. My blog also serves as my website at the moment—this is where I share my bookish updates, links and interviews with fellow authors. The best way to get in touch is to tweet at me or send me a message via my blog’s contact form. I’m very responsive and love hearing from readers.
If you’d like to watch my review follow this link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4NNdDt3-bUA