contemporary YA / Debut Club / Horror

Debut Club: An Interview with Kali Wallace, Author of SHALLOW GRAVES

Swanky Seventeener Sally Pla recently interviewed Sweet Sixteener Kali Wallace, about her debut YA horror novel, which was just published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins

About the Book

ShallowGraves HC C.JPG When seventeen-year-old Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death, she doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious – and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. In life, Breezy was always drawn to the elegance of the universe and the mystery of the stars. Now, she must set out to find answers and discover what is to become of her in the gritty, dangerous world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she finds is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

About the Author


For most of her life, Kali Wallace was going to be a scientist when she grew up. She studied geology in college, partly because she could get course credit for hiking and camping, and eventually earned a PhD in geophysics researching earthquakes in India and the Himalayas. Only after she had her shiny new doctorate in hand did she admit that she loved inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked exploring the real one. She’s from Colorado but now lives in San Diego. You can find her at and on Twitter @kaliphyte.


In the process of getting in touch and arranging this interview, Sally and Kali realized they not only share a publisher (HarperCollins), they also live in the same town—so they were able to meet in person, at a café near the ocean in sunny San Diego, which was just as pleasant as it sounds!

SP: Congratulations on Shallow Graves! The book has just come out, and I’ve already devoured it. I found it hit perfect notes of creepiness and morbid fascination. What a strange world, filled with ghouls, witches, ghosts, and other eerie beings that co-exist right here, right now, beside us mere mortals, although we cannot discern them… Your main character is half-alive, a sort of zombie—and her name is Breezy. I love this name choice so much—and she is smart, funny, and fascinating. Do tell us a bit about the process that brought Breezy, and Shallow Graves, into fruition.

KW: Shallow Graves was not the first novel I’ve written. I’d done short stories, and my first foray into novel-length fiction was an urban fantasy story that’s more or less a prequel to Shallow Graves. In the very first draft, I’d struggled a bit with setting, story and characters. But I figured I’d just try to write through to the end. Just treat it as fun. It took the pressure off, and that helped. I ended up writing the first full draft in three months—which made me think, ‘hmmm, maybe I can actually do this thing!’

SP: That’s amazing—a three-month draft! What was your next step?

KW: Lots and lots of revising. I love revising! The book went through about ten drafts. Then, I went through two or three revisions with my agent, to whip things into shape. At HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, I went through two further editorial revisions, and two copy-edits. The first round of revision was major, and focused on refining character arcs. The second was lighter work.

SP: Tell us about what else you are working on.

KW: I’m going to be working with Katherine Tegen Group again on my second book, a YA ghost story that’s more traditional. I spent a fantastic one-and-a-half hours on the phone with my editor, recently, harnessing and focusing the story, and I’m excited!

SP: What’s your overall writing process like, Kali?

KW: Well, I’m not perfectly logical about it. It’s not usually until after a fourth or fifth draft that I see the whole of the story take form. I rely on a sort of messy, unpredictable magic to kick in. I tend to pants the world-building . . . But eventually, I get to where I want to be. Everything does come together. Also, I like to use Scrivener, because I find it’s great for rewriting thousand-word chunks.

SP: You’re a Colorado native who first came to San Diego to attend the Clarion Writers Workshop—a very prestigious, six-week workshop for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers. I hear one of your instructors at Clarion was George R.R. Martin. What an experience that must have been!

KW: It was amazing. He liked to talk about screenwriting. How even if they don’t make your film, it can mean truckloads of money. He loved that phrase. Truckloads of money.

SP: I can just picture him chuckling to himself, saying that. And then, post-Clarion, you relocated?

KP: Yes. I live in San Diego now and write full-time.

SP: Who are you writing for, Kali—who is your perfect reader?

KW: An unexpected reader, perhaps. Also, I suppose you could say I write for my past teen self. I like to consider girls that don’t fit certain molds, girls who spend time alone in their rooms… I think it’s important to show some of the many different ways of being a teenage girl.

SP: There are definitely many diverse ways of being a teenage girl that warrant exploring, and I’m already looking forward to discovering more of them in your fiction. Congratulations on Shallow Graves, and thanks, Kali!

Lightning Round!

Strangest job:

At thirteen, I had a job painting and spackling doorjambs in an apartment house.

Favorite food/drink?

Coffee. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Starbucks by the Colorado Springs Public Library.

Music to write by?

Soundtracks to Lord of the Rings or Last of the Mohicans.

Fave authors at 16?

Chris Pike, Dean Koontz, Stephen King.

You can order SHALLOW GRAVES through B&N, Amazon, Powells, BAM, or IndieBound.

About the Interviewer


Sally J. Pla has been a desk clerk at a creaky old hotel, a very forgetful waitress, and a terrible back-up singer for a local band. But she’s always loved writing the best. She has a BA from Colgate U. and a Masters in English from Penn State, and has worked as a business journalist and in public education. Her debut, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, will be published by HarperCollins in early 2017. She has three sons, a husband, and an enormous, fluffy dog, and lives near lots of lemon trees in Southern California.




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