This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Marina Cohen to ask about her new middle grade novel, SHADOW GRAVE. Of course, our meeting took place in a remote mansion at midnight. Waves crashed on the nearby cliffs as I lit candles for our interview. Or, you know, something like that.
KIM: The tagline for SHADOW GRAVE is “This town has a secret it will kill to keep…” Tell me more.
MARINA: On a road trip, 12-year-old Arlo, his sister, Lola, and mother become stranded in an old logging town in the mountains of New Hampshire. The town folk are peculiar and some less than friendly. As well, something dark and mysterious lurks in the surrounding woods and when Arlo discovers this secret, it places him and his family in jeopardy. Unfortunately, to tell you more would be to give away the secret…
KIM: Arlo is afraid of everything, but mostly losing his mother. How do you play around with supernatural versus real-life fears? Do you think there’s a special way to do this in MG?
MARINA: Not every book is right for every reader and not every reader enjoys horror. But those who do can handle more than adults often give them credit for. Middle-grade readers bring their own experience to a book and adults often forget they bring with them a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world than younger readers, who experience the darker concepts in my novels on a far more superficial level. So, to answer your question, yes—there is a special way to handle the dark “real-life” horrors in middle-grade. It’s less about the what and more about the how. You must tread lightly on darker subjects, never use graphic violence, gratuitous gore, or unnecessary details. Provide the reader just enough information to give them a soupçon of the “real-life” horrors. As with most things in life—less is more.
KIM: Tell me about the cover and cover artist for SHADOW GRAVE. How did they capture the essence of your story?
MARINA: Hannah Hill is the brilliant cover artist. She has done a superb job of capturing some of the creepy elements of the story—the shadowy figure, the imposing house, and if you turn to the back, the graveyard. The color palate she has chosen is stunning and hopefully will not only catch readers’ attention but give them a slightly unsettled feeling.
KIM: What are you hoping readers will take away from SHADOW GRAVE?
MARINA: It’s been said that if you examine a writer’s works you will find reoccurring themes. Personally, I find myself often writing stories that deal with choice and consequences. Shadow Grave is (hopefully!) a creepy story that will engage readers and give them more than a few shivers—but it’s my hope it will also leave them with big life questions to ponder. At its heart, SHADOW GRAVE is about the human experience, the choices we must make, the paths we choose, and where these paths lead—which is ultimately to the same place—onward. It’s not decision, but rather indecision that is the enemy.
KIM: You’re known for your “twisted chiller(s)” according to Kirkus Reviews. What inspires you to write such shivery tales?
MARINA: Writers write the kinds of stories they love to read. Essentially, we write for ourselves. I love to read horror, mystery, and thrillers—therefore, I aspire to write the same. There is actually a scientific explanation behind the heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat-thrills we enjoy. It has to do with neurotransmitters and hormones release when your body feels the fear, but your brain knows you’re completely safe.
KIM: What advice would you give to writers interested in tackling middle grade?
MARINA: The best advice I can give—the one given to me long ago—is you must read a hundred books in the age group and genre you wish to write. If you’d like to write a middle-grade horror, you must read middle-grade horror. This will allow you to learn from experienced writers, to see what appeals to your target audience, and, from the business perspective, to get an idea of what is selling.
KIM: If readers like SHADOW GRAVE, which of your other spooky books would you recommend they read next?
MARINA: I’d say if readers enjoy this novel, they should give either THE DOLL’S EYE or THE INN BETWEN a try. A BOX OF BONES leans a little too much into fantasy for some horror fans’ liking.
Marina Cohen is the author of several horror and fantasy books for kids and teens including THE INN BETWEEN, THE DOLL’S EYE, A BOX OF BONES, and of course SHADOW GRAVE. Learn more at https://marinacohen.com/.