Have I got a spooky treat for you, today! Kristin Thorsness is here to share her debut middle grade novel THE WICKED TREE, her characters, and a teeny excerpt. Make sure to scroll to the bottom to enter her giveaway. But first, let’s see that book baby.
Deep in the woods, a gnarled tree grows. Its thick, black trunk twists angrily up into the night sky. Held in place by the magic of a long-ago patriarch, it has waited centuries to lure a descendant into its trap.
Eleven-year-old Tavorian Kreet hates it when money troubles force his mom to move them in with his great-grandmother – though the historic house and grounds are pretty awesome. Tav is told to stay out of the estate’s woods, but he can’t resist the chance to explore.
After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.
Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.
While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.
Ooh, this sounds so eerie . . . and that cover!
Hi Kristin! It’s spook-o-liciously awesome that you and your wicked book baby are visiting our humble crypt. Welcome. Let me dust off a seat for you. Oh, and excuse the cobwebs, please.🕸️🕸️🕸️
So now that our readers have seen all the wickedness that is your baby’s cover, how about you give us a description of The Wicked Tree using three adjectives and three setting comparisons.
Let’s see, three adjectives that describe The Wicked Tree … I’ll have to go with: atmospheric, creepy, and ultimately hopeful.
As for setting comparisons, The Wicked Tree will appeal to fans of the historic house and grounds of Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak, fans of the creepy atmosphere in Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, and fans of the nighttime exploration in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
Oh my . . . great description comparisons! Next, care to share your main character Tavorian with us and then a bit about what makes his new friendship with Harper special?
Tavorian Kreet (Tav) is smart and introverted. He wants to be brave, but he’s a worrier. He’s been through a lot at the beginning of the story, and will have been through even more by its end, but he never lets his circumstances dampen his desire to do the right thing—even if it’s not always clear what the right thing actually is. He sees the best in others, wants to find a friend, and loves his eighteen-year-old cat, Mosley.
At the beginning of the book, Tav desperately wants a friend. He sets his sights on Harper—who’s a year older—but unfortunately for him, she’s not really interested. Tav wins her over eventually and they become an unlikely pair. In many ways, Harper is Tav’s opposite. She’s sure of herself, knows what she wants, and goes after it. The combination of their two personalities (his overthinking and planning with her bravery; her stubbornness with his willingness to bend) is what allows them to be successful in the end.
The house and grounds in the story have historical elements attached to them. (Love this, btw!) What can you tell readers about this? Maybe even a fact that was left out of the story.
When I was young, I spent summers at my grandparents’ Gothic Revival house (built in 1844). Their whole town (Marshall, MI) was full of gorgeous one-of-a-kind houses complete with historical markers detailing things that had happened in the 1800s; and walking the streets gawking was always one of my favorite activities. I absolutely fell in love with historical houses, history, and architecture and consequently, every story I’ve ever written has been set in a cool old house.
I’m currently working on a sequel to The Wicked Tree and in it, Tav and Harper (spoiler, they both make it out of the first book!) learn a lot more about the history of the Kreet estate and the happenings back when Solomon and Hester first lived there. One thing I can share that’s not a spoiler is that in the late 1800s, some people adopted orphans, not as a way of expanding their family, but to get free labor until the orphans reached adulthood (eighteen for girls, twenty-one for boys).
Mystery oozes from one page to the next as Tavorian and Harper forge on their journey. Would you classify the story only as a mystery or something else, too?
My very favorite stories (books, movies, tv series …) are ones where there is a lingering sense of “something creepy is going on, but I’m not quite sure what it is,” and this is the vibe I tried to bring to Tav and Harper’s story. It’s a mystery, yes, but with the level of spooky/supernatural happenings, I wouldn’t call it straight-up mystery. When pressed to classify it, I’ve often described The Wicked Tree as “horror with heart.”
I. Love. That. “Horror with heart.”🖤
What would you say is the spookiest part, element, or scene of the story?
Writing spooky scenes is my favorite, so I’ve quite a few to pick from! I think my favorite creepy scene is probably when Tav and Harper are exploring the house when they’re supposed to be in bed. Here’s an excerpt from it:
The portrait hall was nothing short of terrifying at night. It was so long and dark, it was like looking into an endless cave … Every step Tav and Harper took sent ear-splitting creaks echoing down the hall. They paused every few steps to listen and make sure they hadn’t woken anyone. They both had their phone flashlights on, and the beams bounced around the walls, floor, and gilded frames, creating weird, angular shadows. Tav could feel the eyes of the somber Kreet women boring into him as he passed each portrait.
Ooh, totally creepy! And spooky, of course. There’s lots of heart weaved throughout The Wicked Tree. What do you hope stays with readers long after they’ve finished reading it?
That there’s always hope. No matter how dire things get, if you can muster the courage to face your fears and do what you know is right, you can find the strength to make it through anything. Also, that offering grace and forgiveness to others is important, but it’s equally important to learn to forgive yourself.
Such an important emotional lesson to show young readers. Thank you for joining us and all the best with The Wicked Tree and your future books! Oh, be careful on your way out. Bulbous our bullfrog tends to be a little protective. He tongue-lashes, but doesn’t bite. 😉
Kristin Thorsness is a former 5th and 6th grade teacher who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their son and daughter, and two spoiled dogs. She likes dark chocolate, strong coffee, and creepy stories that keep her up reading late into the night. For more info, or to get in touch, visit her online at http://www.kristinthorsness.com.