Like most kids of the eighties and nineties, I grew up reading the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology by Alvin Schwartz with haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. So I could believe that I too could conquer my personal demons. I longed for that catharsis, and it required real monsters.
That’s why I’m so thrilled to have a story in a brand new anthology, DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS: A TRIBUTE TO ALVIN SCHWARTZ’S SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, presented by the Horror Writers Association. For me, this was all about coming full circle, returning to the series that inspired my creativity as a child. The anthology features 35 original tales by 35 of today’s top authors, edited by Jonathan Maberry.
I had a chance to chat with just a few of the contributors to ask them about their contribution and the influence of the original SCARY STORIES series. Here’s what they had to say:
Kami is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and comic book writer of thirteen novels including the Beautiful Creatures novels, BROKEN BEAUTIFUL HEARTS, TEEN TITANS: RAVEN, and TEEN TITANS: BEAST BOY. Find Kami online at www.kamigarcia.com.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Kami Garcia: My story is about a bottle tree and a ghost. My mom’s family is from North Carolina and bottle trees are very common there. My mom has one in her yard. According to the superstition, if you put brightly colored bottles on the branches of a tree, ghosts will be attracted to the color and they will get caught in the bottles.
Kim: Oooh, can’t wait to read it! This anthology is a tribute to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. What memories to you have of that series from childhood?
Kami Garcia: I loved reading SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK when I was in elementary school. They have a timeless quality. I was a teacher before I became a writer and my students loved SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, too!
Kim: Why you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?
Kami Garcia: Reading stories about scary things allows children to experience their fears in a safe way.
Z is the NYT bestselling author of THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD series, as well as INTO THE REAL (coming 10/20), THE SLAYER CHRONICLES series, SOULBOUND, THE CEMETERY BOYS, THE BLOOD BETWEEN US, MADNESS, and more short stories than they can recall. Their pronouns are they/them. When not making readers cry because they killed off a character they loved, Z is an anti-bullying and mental health advocate. Plus, they have awesome hair. Find out more at http://zbrewerbooks.com/.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Z Brewer: When I was a kid, my dad used to warn me that it was bad luck to pass a graveyard without whistling. His mom, my grandmother, had told him that same thing his entire childhood. It was a “fact” that they both passed on in a very serious tone. I was twelve before I was brave enough to not whistle past the graveyard. Fortunately nothing happened to me because of it…yet. But that fear has always been at the back of my mind.
Kim: What memories do you have of the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK series from childhood?
I was obsessed with SCARY STORIES when they came out. The artwork was terrifying. The tales made my heart race. I loved every frightening moment. But my favorite memory is what transpired after I read “The Green Ribbon.” The story is about a girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck at all times. She meets a boy and falls in love, but the boy asks her over and over again throughout the years why she wears the ribbon around her neck. She eventually gets very sick and as she’s lying on her deathbed, she tells him to untie the ribbon and he will understand why she’d never told him why she wore it. He unties it…and her head falls off. It was gruesome. I loved it.
…which is why I took a bit of curling ribbon from a gift that had been opened and tied it around my neck (looking back on it, I can see how stupid and dangerous that was) so I could tell people that if I removed it, my head would fall off.
Did I mention I had no friends?
Kim: HAHAHA, yes! I think we are kindred spirits! Why do you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?
The stories were not at all reflective of children’s books at the time. They were dark. They were gritty. They had imagery that horrified even adults. There was so much about them that was forbidden fruit to so many people. Parents and teachers told kids not to read them, which made them even more tantalizing. Apart from the chill up my spine, I think my favorite thing about them is that SCARY STORIES inspired so many to rebel and pick up the books. I’ve always been of the mind that if someone tells you not to read something, you should absolutely read it to find out what they’re keeping from you. Viva la Resistance!
Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published twenty-four novels in various genres in his fourteen-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I Hunt Killers. His books have been or are slated to be published in more than a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Barry Lyga: I was thinking about something that could happen without reason or logic because those sorts of things, in my opinion, tend to be the scariest. I’ve always liked doppelgänger stories, so the idea of a murderous twin that comes out of nowhere really resonated for me. Originally, I thought a cursed mirror would create the doppelgänger…but then I realized that cursed mirrors have been done to death (literally, sometimes!). So I thought and I thought…and then I looked down at my keyboard…
Kim: Who doesn’t love an evil twin, am I right? Why do you think kids are so drawn to terrifying tales?
There are many different theories on this, but I think it’s because horror provides a way for them to experience and even experiment with things that are dangerous or frightening without actually being in danger. It’s almost like a training session for dealing with the more mundane — but very real — terrors of the real world.
Jonathan is a New York Times best-selling and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and writing teacher/lecturer. He was named one of the Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. His books have been sold to more than two-dozen countries. Find out more at http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/.
I also had the pleasure of chatting with the editor of DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, Jonathan Maberry!
Kim: Sum it all up for us. Why do kids have such an enduring love for scary stories?
Jonathan Maberry: Kids like being scared for a whole slew of reasons. Partly it’s the simple thrill –the physical and biochemical reaction to fear that releases a bit of epinephrine (aka that old fight or flight hormone popularly known as adrenaline) which makes us feel stronger, faster, and more capable of escaping danger or dealing with it on our own terms and with our own resources. Kids, being younger and smaller than adults, have a natural inferiority complex, but the more challenges kids face –however virtual—the more agency they take over themselves.
Scary stories –especially those written expressly for kids—teach problem-solving; they often focus on elements of teamwork and friendship; and they often have better third acts than does the real world.
From a personal perspective, I grew up in a very troubled household that was in a crime-ridden and dangerous neighborhood. I read scary stories of all kinds because in those stories there was always an ending. But the stress in my life went on and on for years. So the stories were true escapism for me. This is something common to many millions of kids –and not just those from bad neighborhoods or abusive families. Kids face the challenges of a scary world every day, but in their stories those frights are encountered, experienced, and ultimately left behind. There is a measure of closure. Or, at least, the promise of one.
Want a sneak peek at the contents?
Here’s the line-up for this totally terrifying anthology:
Editor’s Foreword by Jonathan Maberry
“The Funeral Portrait” by Laurent Linn
“The Carved Bear” by Brendan C Reichs
“Don’t You See That Cat?” by Gaby Triana
“The Golden Peacock” by Alethea Kontis
“The Knock-Knock Man” by Brenna Yovanoff
“Strange Music” by Joanna Parypinski
“Copy and Paste Kill” by Barry Lyga
“The House on the Hill” by Micol Ostow Harlan
“Jingle Jangle” by Kim Ventrella (Oooh, it’s me!)
“The Weeping Woman” by Courtney Alameda
“The Neighbor” by Amy Lukavics
“Tag, You’re It” by N. R. Lambert
“The Painted Skin” by Jamie Ford
“Lost to the World” by John Dixon
“The Bargain” by Aric Cushing
“Lint Trap” by Jonathan Auxier
“The Cries of the Cat” by Josh Malerman
“The Open Window” by Christopher Golden
“The Skelly-Horse” by T. J. Wooldridge
“The Umbrella Man” by Gary A. Braunbeck
“The Green Grabber” by D.J. MacHale
“Brain Spiders” by Luis Alberto Urrea and Rosario Urrea
“Hachishakusama” by Catherine Jordan
“Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” by Margaret Stohl
“In Stitches” by Michael Northrop
“The Bottle Tree” by Kami Marin Garcia
“The Ghost in Sam’s Closet” by R.L. Stine
“Rap Tap” by Sherrilyn Kenyon
“The Garage” by Tananarive Due
“Don’t Go into the Pumpkin Patch at Night” by Sheri White
“Pretty Girls Make Graves” by Tonya Hurley
“Whistle Past the Graveyard” by Z Brewer
“Long Shadows” by James A. Moore
“Mud” by Linda D Addison
“The Tall Ones” by Madeleine Roux
Hold on, what about the artwork?
I know what you’re thinking: The artwork was what made the original books so terrifying, right? I couldn’t agree more, and this anthology will not disappoint. It features gorgeous, ethereal and so-so haunting images by the amazing Iris Compiet.
Iris Compiet is an award-winning artist from the Netherlands. She has worked for a wide range of international clients and contributed to gallery shows and art annuals. She is also the creator of the book Faeries of the Faultlines. Drawing inspiration from European folklore, mythology, fairy tales, and the world around her, she strives to open a gateway to the imagination to ignite it even further.
Kim: Your illustrations are gorgeous, surreal and unsettling. Were you inspired by Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the original SCARY STORIES books? How did you bring your own voice to the project?
Iris: I’ve been working in this illustration style for a while now, mixing ink with pencils and such to create a mood. I always try to adapt my illustrations to the needs of the book and stories, to help get across the feel of them and this style was the perfect fit. Rough and a bit gnarly. I think the use of materials and technique is very important in getting across the feel of the story, the illustration has to give the reader a little bit more information, heighten the mood so to speak. It seemed a perfect fit for these stories and it naturally ended up as a nod to the original scary stories, almost a homage if you will because those originals are pure genius. I wanted the illustrations to just underline that unsettling feel of the stories without giving away too much.
Kim: What scared you as a kid? Do those fears inspire your artwork?
Iris: I think I was afraid of the usual things as a kid, the thing hiding in my closet or under my bed. The creak upstairs at my grandmothers, things like that. I love a good scare and loved watching shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark. When I worked on these stories I tried to tap into those feelings
Kim: You’re known for creating fantastical creatures with touches of darkness and whimsy. How did you develop your unique artistic style?
Iris: Developing a style takes many years and a lot of work. I didn’t set out intentionally to develop my style like this but I love to mix things, I don’t believe something is 100% good or bad. Without darkness there can be no light, that’s the way I see things. So I love to create art that has both in them. Depending on who is looking at the artwork, they’ll be either drawn to the dark or light in a piece. I enjoy creating art that has both.
Kim: Why do you think kids connect so deeply with scary stories/art?
Iris: I think there’s nothing like a good scare, that rush of adrenaline, not just with kids. I think we all enjoy a good scare once in a while, to confront those fears and come out of it as the victor because we ‘survived’ the story. It’s a safe escape, reading scary stories. As a kid I grew up with the real fairytales, the ones with the chopped-off hands and the livers being eaten, things like that. I enjoyed Jaws as a kid even though it made me scared to go into the local pool, because there might be a giant shark there. It gave me a rush but it was a safe rush, nothing would ever happen to me.
Oh, and in case you wanted a sneak peek at the chapter art:
About the Author
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.
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