Q&A with Jennifer McMahon, Author of The Invited

Bestselling author Jennifer McMahon knows how to write a chilling story. According to People magazine, “McMahon’s gift is the deliciously twisty way she subverts all of your expectations, keeping you guessing with wry wit and feverish chills.” With her newest novel, The Invited, she does just that.

Jennifer McMahon gives us a little peek behind the story, shares how influential author Shirley Jackson has been on her writing, and what it’s like listening to one of her own audiobooks.


Tell us about the book.
The Invited is a haunted house story with a twist: instead of discovering a haunted house, my characters build one from the ground up. Helen and Nate move from suburban Connecticut to a small town in Vermont to simplify their lives and build the house of their dreams. They soon discover that the land they’ve moved to has a dark and violent past. Helen, a historian, becomes consumed with the legend of Hattie Breckenridge–a woman accused of witchcraft who lived there a century earlier. Helen begins incorporating historical artifacts into the house–a beam from a local schoolhouse, bricks from a mill, a mantle from a farmhouse–objects she has been led to discover and that seem to carry a message, bringing her closer to Hattie and her secrets. As work on the house progresses, it becomes clear that the house and Hattie herself want something from Helen, and that she and Nate are in danger.!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first short story way back in third grade. It was about a haunted meatball. I was hooked from that point on. It was such a rush–being able to create a whole universe on paper where I could make anything happen (including having a glowing green meatball chase a little boy through the woods behind his house). I studied poetry in college then for a year in grad school, and came back to fiction by accident–a long, narrative poem became a story, and the story became a novel. I knew, even as a kid, that I’d always “be a writer” in the sense that I was always compelled to write. I just never let myself imagine that I might actually be able to do it as a job. I visualized myself writing poems in an attic somewhere when I wasn’t out delivering pizzas to pay the bills. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I actually get to make a living doing the thing I love most!

What was the most challenging character you wrote in The Invited and why were they a challenge?
Hmm… I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that there is a character in the book who is not what they seem. I worked very hard on this character’s motivations, backstory, and inner workings so that when readers learn what he/she has been up to behind the scenes, it all makes sense. I’m a big believer in shades of gray–a character who is all evil or all hero falls flat because no one is like that in life.

Is there a certain book, movie, voice, or author that’s been influential for you?
Shirley Jackson has been a huge influence. I was in middle school when I first read The Lottery and it absolutely blew my mind. All of her work is amazing. I love, love, love The Haunting of Hill House, but my favorite book of hers is probably We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Merricat Blackwood is possibly my favorite fictional character of all time. Jackson does creepy atmosphere and builds dread in a way no one else does. Her books and stories often convey this deep sense of “otherness” that I find horrifically unsettling.

Did the experience of listening to your audiobook reveal something about your work that you didn’t expect? If so, what?
Listening to my audiobooks is always a totally surreal experience. I’ve lived with these characters inside this world for so long inside my head. I hear their voices, I see what’s happening around them. When someone else is reading my story, I see the entire story in a whole new way. I always pick up on things I wasn’t consciously aware of when I was writing–little connections, quirks about a character. It’s mind-blowing–in a good way!


Listen to a clip of The Invited:

The Invited

“The latest from McMahon is like a nesting doll—a thriller inside a murder mystery inside a ghost story—and will chill readers with every sideways glimpse of a passing shadow.” —Library Journal

“[A] powerful supernatural thriller…. Whether one believes in ghosts, McMahon’s consummately crafted chiller is guaranteed to haunt.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Browse some other enthralling audiobooks from Jennifer McMahon:

Burntown

“This is a well-crafted story with plenty of suspense…” —Publishers Weekly

The Night Sister

“A dark and compelling story.” —BookPage

The Winter People

“Crisp, mysterious and scary….The Winter People has a consistently eerie atmosphere, and some of its darker supernatural flights are reminiscent of Stephen King.” —USA Today