By Seija Rankin
February 04, 2021 at 10:00 AM EST
Credit: Megan Gunter; St. Martin's Griffin

Courtney Summers continues to build up her YA institution, and her latest edition (on shelves now) follows in her footsteps of eerie, unsettling — and unputdownable — novels. The Project, her follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Sadie, centers around a pair of sisters after the death of their parents. Protagonist Lo is in the care of their aunt, while Bea finds herself caught up (very caught up) in The Unity Project, a cult-like community in upstate New York. The narrative force of The Project follows Lo in her attempts to unbury the group's secrets and extricate her sister from the leader's clutches. Here, Summers answers EW's burning book questions about what started her on the writing path and her experience writing her latest thriller.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

COURTNEY SUMMERS: I don't remember the first piece of fiction that I wrote, but I remember the first time I was consciously aware of writing as a way I could express my most intimate and sacred thoughts on paper. I think I was five. I got a red notebook and promptly wrote MARK PAUL GOSSELAAR WILL YOU MARRY ME in it.

What is the last book that made you cry?

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy brought (more than) a few tears to my eyes. It was lovely.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

I don't have a copy (yet!), but I'm so excited about it — The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass. It's a YA social thriller about a boy who has to navigate being one of the few Black students at his prep school, on top of the fact that he sees ghosts. One ghost, in particular, seems determined to make life very complicated for him. I'm a fan of Ryan's poetry and I'm really looking forward to his YA debut.

Where do you write?

At a desk facing the wall with my back to a window. The blinds are always drawn. Which sounds as grim as the books I write. It might also be why they're so grim.

Which book made you a forever reader?

It was a series! Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitters Club. I loved those sitters. I was deeply invested in their lives. Stacey was my favorite, Claudia a close second.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

Not technically a snack — but coffee is integral to my writing process.

If you could change one thing about any of your books what would it be?

I wouldn't.

What is your favorite part of The Project?

When Lo, one of the protagonists in The Project, confronts Lev Warren, a cult leader, in person for the very first time. It's not at all what she expected.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

Writing the cult leader in The Project was uniquely challenging. I had to filter every sentence of Lev Warren's time on the page through his unwavering belief in himself, his divine purpose, and (to his eye) the unquestioning 'goodness' driving his actions. When it comes to antagonists, we often wait for that moment the mask falls and reveals them. But in the case of Lev, the mask could never fall.

Write a movie poster tag line for The Project:

You have been chosen.

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