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Sweet Home grad turns love of reading into writing career

A barefoot teenage girl, wearing a garbage bag as a poncho, stumbles up to a trailer in Oklahoma, 1,000 miles from Buffalo, where one Annaliese Gordon was last seen screaming and covered in blood. Annaliese’s parents recognize her as their daughter, but the girl knows she’s really someone else.

This is “Another Little Piece,” the impressive, rather gory debut novel from local author Kate Karyus Quinn, published earlier this month by HarperTeen.

“Horror is not really my thing. I don’t even like scary stuff,” Quinn said in a recent phone interview. “I haven’t seen a scary movie or true horror movie in I think almost 10 years.” And the bloody heart decorating her website, “That’s sort of my sense of humor. Nobody else appreciates my jokes as much as I do. It makes me laugh every time I see it.”

Quinn, 34, is a graduate of St. Christopher’s Elementary School and Sweet Home High School, majored in theater at Niagara University and got a master’s degree in filmmaking and television production from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She moved back to the area two years ago with her husband, Andrew, and their young son and daughter after several years in Tennessee.

“Another Little Piece” was sold as part of a two-book deal with HarperTeen. Quinn’s second teen novel, “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” – set in a make-believe place with “a similar mysterious, slightly scary vibe,” she said – will be published next year.

The deal came after four years of writing and revising and rejection of the first two novels she wrote, a romance novel and an urban fantasy.

Several literary agents were interested in “Another Little Piece,” but she went with Alexandra Machinist of Janklow & Nesbit Associations. “It’s just such a crazy feeling,” Quinn said. “You’re trying and trying to get an agent, to get someone to notice you. I had two other books where it just didn’t happen. Then to suddenly have all these agents saying ‘pick me, pick me.’ It was really overwhelming.”

The second-oldest of five daughters, Quinn has always been a voracious reader.

“The Audubon library in Amherst was one of my main stomping grounds for book collecting,” she said. “I went to the library a lot. I would get 10 books at a time. When I got my driver’s license, the first place I drove to was the library. My parents would never drive me there as much as I wanted to go. I’d be, ‘Please, Mom, take me to the library. I need more books.’ My mother would like, sit in the car and say ‘You have five minutes.’ I would go racing in like that supermarket sweepstakes, grabbing books and I’d have a stack of like 15 books juggling in my arms.”

She wrote her first book in third grade.

“I think it was called 'The Dark and Spooky House,’ about some kids who go and explore a dark and spooky house. I think it’s probably like in a box in my parents’ basement somewhere. I should really try and find it someday because I would love to see it again. I remember it really clearly, writing this book. Even as young as third grade, I loved books, I loved writing.”

My best friend at the time, we talked about how we were going to move to California when we were grown up and live in a gigantic house together and write books.”

At Chapman University, her screenplay for a short film won a $5,000 competition to cover production, with undergrads to serve as her film crew.

They got married and stayed in L.A. for a couple years trying to get film jobs, but “it’s really hard to break in,” she said. Her husband got a job working for Charter Media through a film school connection and they moved to Knoxville, Tenn.

After unsuccessfully trying to publish her first two novels, “Another Little Piece” came from a scene she had scribbled longhand in a notebook, “about a girl who feels like she doesn’t belong in her life, she’s at a football game and sees this football player boy and she thinks 'I want to take a bit out of him, literally.’ That’s a scene that made it into the book. I thought 'What is this? Maybe it’s a zombie thing.’ I did some research. 'No, this isn’t a zombie thing, this is something else.’ It was a book that developed organically as I wrote it. I didn’t have a super-great plan, I didn’t know how it was going to end until I was three-quarters of the way through writing it.”

After living in California and Tennessee, Quinn is happy to be home again, close to her parents and four sisters.

“I want my kids to be close to family,” she said. “I think it’s good to leave home for awhile for some people because it really makes you appreciate it.”

“I’m so happy to be home. I’m really glad I was able to move back here,” she said.