Josh Roberts & THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE

Welcome today to Spooky MG Authors–debut MG author, Josh Roberts!

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Josh, I really enjoyed reading your modern twist on the witches of Salem, which also highlights upper MG issues like friendship and blossoming young romance. Where did the idea for The Witches of Willow Cove come from?

Growing up in New England, I was always aware of the Salem Witch Trials and how important they were to our local history and lore. But what really fascinated me was the fact that the witch trials actually occurred in what’s now an entirely different town. Salem gets all the tourists, but the real witch history happened a few miles away in another town that’s hardly ever mentioned.

As I was brainstorming ideas for this novel, I kept coming back to the concept of a town with a secret history. And as I often do when imagining a story, I started asking questions. What if there were kids growing up in that town who discovered an important personal connection to its secret history? What if that connection impacted their lives in some important way? What if the past literally came back to haunt them? What if I wrote something that was part Gooniesand part Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

Once I had the kernel of an idea, the rest of the setting began to fall into place for me. Then it was time to start thinking about who these kids would be and where the story would take them. That’s always the fun part of writing—getting to know your characters and then seeing where the ideas go from there.

Oh, I agree about how fun it is to get-to-know your characters. I’m always surprised when these invented characters start leaping from the page and surprising me with their words and actions—especially my monsters.

Why do you like to write spooky stories?

 

I lived in a three-story Victorian funeral home for most of my childhood, complete with creaky floors and drafty windows and a secret room sealed off from the rest of the house, so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d be attracted to writing spooky stories.

 

I think spooky stories have some great narrative advantages going for them, too. Atmosphere is very important to any story, but especially in something spooky, and that can be a lot of fun to write. Pacing is crucial, too. I love when I’m reading something that induces a growing sense of dread inside me—this sense that something is about to go wrong for a favorite character. I love it even more when I’m writing it.

 

I also think spooky stories lend themselves to twists and turns and surprise reveals. In many ways, spooky stories are like mysteries. There’s usually something unexplained going on, and what’s more exciting than solving a mystery?

 

That’s a great comparison of spooky stories and mysteries—twists, turns, and reveals. What other interesting things did you discover while working on your story?

 

Writing is hard work! You probably know that already, though. I think for me, the biggest discovery was to trust the process of writing, revising, and writing again. I spent a lot of years trying to get everything “right” in my first drafts, which I think most authors would agree is pretty much impossible. And also a terrible idea.

 

Now when I start a new project, I write what I call an exploratory draft: I try to explore the story and characters and see where they go without focusing too much on if it’s “good” or polished—just figuring out what I’m trying to say first and leaving room to surprise myself. There’s always time for rewriting. (Writing is rewriting. I wish I’d really taken that message to heart years ago.)

 

Excellent point about rewriting! And I love your “exploratory draft” concept. I think the less pressure a writer creates for himself, the greater opportunity to produce a fresh, vibrant story.

What are some of the key points you learned as a debut MG author?

 

For me, it’s really about staying true to the story you want to tell and the themes you want to address. The Witches of Willow Cove is somewhere between a middle grade and young adult novel. It has one foot in each category and so it’s maybe a little hard to nail down where it should go on the bookshelves, and I’m okay with that.

 

At thirteen years old, my two main characters are a little older than traditional middle grade leads and a little younger than typical young adult protagonists. As a writer sending queries to the literary slush piles, I got a lot of feedback that I should either age them up or make them younger, and I tried both approaches . . . only to realize that this story only works for me as an upper-middle grade book with characters facing the particular set of challenges and struggles that early teens face (albeit with witchcraft and deadly secrets).

 

My favorite reader feedback so far has been that the characters feel and act like real kids their age, and I think that’s so important because there just aren’t enough books for kids in that in-between group.

 

I agree with your reader feedback. The characters felt spot-on to me. As a former school librarian, I believe your book would be well-received by upper-MG and lower-YA readers.

What books are you reading now or plan to read next?

 

I’m reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia right now (talk about a spooky story!) and next on my list are two spooky middle grade books, The Stitchers (Fright Watch #1) by Lorien Lawrence and Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie.

 

I’ll have to add the first two to my TBR list! I have read Scritch Scratch and I loved how Lindsay combined history and don’t-turn-off-the-lights spooky intensity. It re-enforces your earlier statement about spooky stories paralleling mystery stories.

 

Who do you feel was the biggest influence on your becoming an author?

 

There are so many ways to answer this question and they would all be true. Many people in my life have encouraged me, supported me, and influenced me on my path to being a writer. My mom, for one, and my wife, and numerous teachers over the years.

 

I think the biggest influence is probably the stories I’ve read, though—worlds I’ve gotten lost in, characters I’ve loved, stories that have stayed with me all the way since childhood. It’s probably true that all writers write because we’ve been inspired to do so by someone else’s writing.

 

In my case, it began with Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and never let up from there.

 

Oh yes, those are amazing stories. I’m so pleased to hear you recommend a modern “classic” like Alexander’s that many young readers probably aren’t reading—but they would love. And ones they should be able to check out from their local library right now, while they are stuck at home.

 

How have you adjusted your marketing/promotional plans with the pandemic?

 

Everything has gone online and I’ve done a number of virtual events and interviews and school visits, which have been great. Mostly I’ve just been trying to keep my book out there in front of people on social media and hoping it finds its audience (which, thankfully, it seems to have done).

 

Right now, I’m also in the midst of contacting a lot of independent bookstores across the country to introduce myself and my book. If there’s been any bright spot, it has been talking to a lot of booksellers who truly love discovering new books for their readers.

 

Yay! for being able to connect with young readers during this tough time and a great idea to reach out to independent bookstores as well.

 

Can you share anything about a new story you’re working on?

 

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to The Witches of Willow Cove, which is entitled The Curse of Willow Cove. It picks up about eight or nine months after the events of the first book and takes the story in, I hope, some totally unexpected directions.

 

I’ve had the idea for this second book in the series since the very beginning, and it’s been a treat to finally work on it, knowing that this time there are people actually waiting to see where the story goes next!   

 

Final question: What is your advice to aspiring authors?

 

Write something that gives you joy. That’s the secret. There will always be ups and downs and frustrations, but if you really love the process, you will stick with it because the writing process can be its own reward.

 

Josh, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us! I wish you continued success with The Witches of Willow Cove and its sequel.

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For more information about Josh Roberts and his books, check out the links below.

 

Links:

 

My website:  https://www.willowcove.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49395271-the-witches-of-willow-cove

Twitter: https://twitter.com/joshwhowrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/joshwhowrites/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshrobertsbooks/

 

Stay spooky and Stay SAFE!

SCARY TIMES

Spooky Middle Grade Authors Talk About Writing During the Pandemic

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During these difficult days, I reached out to the Spooky MG Authors to see how they were coping and if they had an advice for other writers. Here’s their responses:

 

Sarah Cannon

I’m honestly writing more, because my kids’ schedules and working outside the home add logistics that steal a lot of hours from my day. Being quarantined removes all of those things. My day job is a s busy as ever, but I’m back to my old writing routine of settling in around 8 or 9 pm, having a bit of downtime, then writing until I’m too sleepy to keep going.

My main recs, especially for those who typically leave the house to write or write when the kids are gone, are: Use cancelling headphones and music. Any day it’s warm enough, write outside, or kick everyone else outside. Wait ‘til they’re all on tech (or withhold tech until you’re ready to write) then write like the wind. If you’re on Zoom all the time and are sick of screens, go analog and use a notebook.

 

Kim Ventrella

The hard part for me is focus. I’ve done a ton of book promotion and graphic design tasks since quarantine started, i.e. stuff that I can easily do while my brain is somewhere else. The hard part has been conjuring the kind of deep emotional focus I need to write a novel. I’m getting better at it, but it’s taken a while to regain that ability to turn off the real world.

 

Lisa Schmid

I have started a new chapter book series, kind of a Dr. Dolittle Jr. meets bugs with a STEM twist. I have been kind of stuck, so I ordered some books on bees and bus and a few chapter books to get me inspired.

 

Tania Hackett

I’m struggling to write despite currently working from home, which means I have two extra hours in the day that I would normally spend commuting. The only way I’ve been able to write is through Zoom writing sprints or write-ins. Something about hear hearing other people clacking away keeps me motivated. Otherwise I have no focus to sit and write. I feel so anxious all the time.

 

Sheri Larsen

When the Covid-19 scare began, I was mapping out an altered view of an old idea I had for an MG story. I didn’t think the outside world would creep in. But it has. Even turning to my go-to inspiration of research hasn’t helped. Cyberspace is corroded with all the negative, making it hard to research online. I find myself dazing off thinking about all the possibilities. It’s not all tear drops and woes, though. I’ve spent precious time with my husband and kids, and I’ve also had extra time to guide our German Shepherd in her training, which is almost as tough a feat as writing this next MG. I’ve also cut out most of my news watching over the past week or so and turned to prayer, which has cleared my mind. I’ve been able to point some meat on my story ideas, so I’m headed in the right direction.

 

Samantha Clark
I have been writing during the pandemic, but it has been difficult. My motivation is that I’ve been on deadline for my next book, ARROW, so I’ve been forced to get to the page. But it has still been hard to focus. My better days are ones when I don’t look at the news and what’s going on with the outside world. I still want to know what’s going on, but I’ve been trying to limit it to afternoons and only a couple times a week.
When I can focus on my writing, I’m finding it wonderful to be in the story’s world and outside of my own for a short period. To stay focused, I’ve also been trying to find the beauty in my own life, the trees, flowers, birds out the window.

 

Janet Fox

I’ve been able to work on a new book. That’s the good news. But I have a book out late this summer and who knows how that will come together? And another out next summer.

Mostly however, I’m anxious. Both my husband and I are in the compromised group. Our son lives in Seattle. I do not want to get this virus. And I’m worried for the world.

But we have a cabin in the mountains, and that has been such a safe place in the midst of this – it’s remote but has (poor) internet and no television, so we can truly get away. That’s why I’ve been able to write. Being able to walk, to breathe clean air, to feel safe at a distance – that’s a true gift I wish I could share.

 

Angie Smibert

I’ve gotten very little writing done. Part of that is because I’ve had a ton of teaching work to focus. I’ve tried to write but grading other people’s writing has been easier. One thing I’ve done, though, is set up a Zoom write-in with my local writers’ group—plus one or two others. One of my crit partners and I had been meeting in person every Friday afternoon for a couple hours at a coffee shop—pre-pandemic—and it really helped to focus us. (I’d even started something new.) So now we’re meeting via Zoom. Usually 3-5 of us at a time. We chitchat a bit, but mostly we just write (or work). One week we did a table read of my friend’s sitcom for him. That was blast. We’ve also done our monthly manuscript critiques this way.

 

Jacqueline West

I had a baby in winter, and then, you know, the world turned upside down, and now I barely know where I am. Writing-wise, I’m pretty much unmoored. I’m alone all day with one five-year-old and one four-month-old and no childcare (my parents were helping with the baby, but we haven’t seen them or anyone else in over a month and a half). If I get up around 5 am, before anyone else is awake, I can sometimes squeeze in a tiny bit of writing, and that is saving my sanity. But by the end of each day, I am mentally and emotionally DONE. The strange thing is: I am overflowing with story stuff right now. I have four big projects bubbling, and poems and short stories popping up, and all I want to do is sit down somewhere quiet with a giant cup of coffee and lose myself in other worlds, maybe for a very, very long time. But I can’t. And I have no idea how long it will be before I will get to focus that way again, which is a question so big that I try not to think about it at all.

 

Cynthia Reeg

For the first few weeks of the shelter-at-home, as the true impact of the pandemic descended, I couldn’t write at all. I had started a new MG story prior to the chaos, but as the magnitude of the pandemic took hold, I went totally blank. I had to start doing practical stuff like housework, cooking, baking—I’ve learned how to make a sourdough starter and fresh breads! I guess I needed to see something positive accomplished—if only for a short period with the housecleaning anyway. Then with the encouragement of my writers’ group through our weekly Zoom sessions, I made myself start working on my story again. Writing became a way to filter out the real world and retreat to another world, if only for a little while. Although at our last writers’ meeting, we discussed how much our WIP will need to reflect our current changed world—virtual learning, masks, no crowds. It is indeed a challenging time, but I find great comfort in our efforts to stay connected and supportive through it all.

 

A few final tips to help keep your writing on track:

  • Make a Progress/Accountability Chart
  • Set goals—daily, weekly, monthly
  • Carve out a specific writing time/schedule
  • Challenge yourself to generate new ideas
  • Finish a project you’ve already started
  • Or if you just can’t write, participate in webinars or other learning tools on improving your craft

 

The plus side of this crisis—extra reading time. We hope you’ve jumped into some great stories. We will do our best to continue writing them for you!

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SPOOKY FOOD SENSATIONS

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FRIGHTFUL FOOD THAT’S AWFULLY GOOD

When writing a story—whether it’s spooky or not—an author needs to include the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste). I love to do a presentation with students to help them incorporate these senses into their stories and better bring their scenes to life.

One of my favorite senses to highlight is TASTE. While it’s not always as easy as some of the others to readily include, the sense of taste can immediately transport a reader into a story.

Fudgy chocolate. Buttered popcorn. Salty peanuts. Spicy salsa. Even monster cookies.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I’m sure at least one of these examples caused your mouth to water a bit. For certain, you could quickly identify the difference between the sweet chocolate and the hot, tangy salsa.

Food creates the opportunity to include the senses of SIGHT, SMELL, and TOUCH as well. That bag of fluffy, glistening, buttered popcorn in your hands is warm and a bit lumpy. The fragrant steam rising to your nose is totally tempting. When you include food in your story, you have a great opportunity to pull a reader in with numerous sensations.

Okay, enough writing tips for today. Now for the important part—some actual spooky food treats! No—not any of the over-the-top gross food I had such a fun time inventing for my monster stories. The recipes below may look a little ghastly, but they will be amazing taste delights.

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BITE-SIZE BATS

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½ Cup of creamy or crunchy peanut butter

2 Tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

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Stir these ingredients together. You may need to microwave the mixture for 10-15 seconds to blend smoothly.

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½ Cup of old fashioned oats

½ Cup of crispy rice cereal

2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons of mini chocolate chips

Add these four ingredients and stir lightly until combined.

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Broken blue corn tortilla chips (for bat wings)

Tube of white icing gel and extra mini chocolate chips (for eyes; or candy eyes)

When forming the mixture into balls, carefully add a wing on each side. For the eyes, I squeezed out two drops of icing and put a chocolate chip on top. Or you could use this same method and place a candy eye on the icing drops.

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This recipe makes about 10-12 bats. They won’t hang around long though. They are too yummy!

WITCH FINGERS

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Carrot sticks (I used a small bag of baby carrots.)

Blanched almonds

Cream cheese

Guacamole dip  (I used a prepared dip, but you could make your own as well.)

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Top each carrot with a dollop of cream cheese. Attach almond (aka: fingernail). Stick in a bowl of guacamole dip.

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Almost like magic—witch fingers to snack on.

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I hope you scare up some of these goodies soon!

 

Hello Future, Me

An Interview with Kim Ventrella on Her Next Book

 

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Eleven-year-old June is a problem-solver. Some people might call her a busybody, but that’s okay. Just look at all the couples she’s helped find love! (Grateful newlyweds Marlene and Big Vic have even promised June free hot chocolate for life at their café.)

However, when June learns that her parents are getting divorced, she has to face the fact that there are some problems too big even for her. At least, that’s what the adults in her life keep saying.

But June’s convinced there’s a way to make her parents fall back in love. While brainstorming ideas on her new secondhand laptop—purchased from a mysterious store in town called The Shop of Last Resort—June gets a strange IM from someone named JuniePie28 . . . someone who claims to be an older version of June messaging her from the future.

At first, she assumes it’s a prank. But JuniePie28 knows too much about June’s life to be a fraud, and future June warns her against interfering with her parents’ marriage. But June can’t just sit around and watch her parents’ marriage dissolve, not when there’s a magical shop in town that could be the answer to all her problems! Will June prove her older self wrong and stop the divorce? Or will she have to accept that there are some things in life she can’t fix?

An Awesome Opportunity

I had the wonderful opportunity to read a preview copy of HELLO FUTURE, ME, which releases in Summer 2020. I totally enjoyed the clever, fast-paced, funny, endearing story. You can find my review (along with a few other Spooky MG authors’ reviews) on Goodreads.

I was so intrigued with Kim’s latest literary endeavor that I asked if she had time for an interview, and she graciously consented. I’m sure you’ll love learning about her and her writing process as much as I did.

 

The Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking

  1. Hello Future, Me, explores a child dealing with her parents’ divorce. How did you come up with the idea of using the fantasy device of past and future selves to do this?

I actually wrote three completely different versions of the story before discovering The Shop of Last Resort and the magic laptop that allows June to chat with her past and future selves. Each version involved June delving back into her memories by magical means, but it wasn’t until the third version that I decided to personify those past memories in the form of past and future June.

  1. Magic so far has been an important element in your stories Skeleton Tree & Bone Hollow, but in Hello Future, Me the tone of the book is lighter, more humorous. Which stories do you find harder to write? 

Once I found the right version of the story, HELLO, FUTURE ME was a total breeze to write! But like I said, it took me three versions to settle on the right mix of humor, fantasy and emotional resonance. In a way, this story was easier because June sounds a lot like me, both her inner voice and the way she speaks. In other ways it was harder, because so much of my other writing has been focused on loss and grief. Even though all of my books bring a sense of whimsy, hope and many lighter touches, it was still a challenge transitioning to a world of quirky magical hijinks, flying garden gnomes and ALL THE GLITTERbut also super rewarding.

  1. I loved the Bigfoot references! What made you choose this topic as a recurring element in the story?

I want to believe! Yes, it’s the tagline from The X-Files, but it’s also my life motto. I’m a huge skeptic in real life, so when it comes to writing stories, I always like to include magical or supernatural elements. Creating the town of Tanglewood Crossing with its kitschy, adorable downtown and its obsession with bigfoot was pure wish fulfillment on my part. I would love to spend my days hanging around in the bigfoot-themed shops, sipping tea and waiting for bigfoot to walk in and order a latte.

  1. This story includes a bit of tween romance. Was this a conscious choice you made in constructing the plot, or did it happen organically as you wrote the story? 

It happened organically! Calvin did not have his adorably awkward crush in the early versions. In fact, Calvin didn’t even exist in the first version, but I’m so glad I wrote him back in. I love how you see him struggling throughout the story to be honest about his feelings. And then when he finally does mail June a letter, he’s instantly mortified and begs her to never, ever, ever read it. So hilarious and heartbreaking and typical of my tween years, although Calvin is way braver than me at that age.

  1. When the main character uses the magic and it keeps backfiring, she finally comes to the realization that she can’t control others. Was this an issue for you as a child—the inability to make things go the way you wanted them to?

I think that’s an issue for me always, not just as a child J Like June, I definitely embrace planning, lists and setting all the goals. If I’m not actively ticking something off a list, I feel totally off balance. I was an only child, and I spent most of my time alone, so I was very used to controlling my environment. When I got pushed out of that comfort zone, like in social situations, it was definitely a one-way trip to Awkwardsville. June is way more socially adept than I was, but I totally understand the comfort she takes in lists and visions boards. It’s nice to think that you can control your future with nothing more than a collage, a little positive thinking and a whole lot of glitter.

  1. I admired the main character’s determination and her organization. From knowing you, I’d say those are two qualities you also possess. Is June modeled after you in other ways as well?

She is, especially in terms of her voice! She was so easy to write, because I was basically just channeling my inner monologue word-for-word. I was also obsessed with self-help books on positive thinking when I was a kid. I remember my mom having to buy one from the library because I’d kept it so long. So June definitely gets that from me, along with the faith that she puts in things like lists, vision boards and action plans. For me a lot of that had to do with trying to control a chaotic environment. And, also like June, the hardest thing for me has always been letting go and accepting that there are some things in life you can’t change.

 

 A Bit More About Kim

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KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Hello, Future Me (Summer 2020)Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree, and she is a contributor to the upcoming anthology, Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer and French instructor, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Don’t Miss Your Chance

Make sure to add Hello Future, Me to your must-read list. Here’s the information you need to do just that:

HELLO, FUTURE ME on Goodreads or pre-order on IndieBound or Amazon

 

Cynthia Reeg is the author of From the Grave and Into the Shadowlands

 

Scared Silly at Halloween

A Midwest Tradition of Spooky Joking

HandOverCandy   Halloween isn’t only scary. In some Midwest towns, like Des Moines and St. Louis where I live, Halloween is silly too. The tradition of telling a joke before receiving a Halloween treat began in Des Moines during the 1930’s. Kids were encouraged to recite jokes rather than resort to destructive “tricks” like up-ending trash cans or breaking street lights. The goofy ghoulish joke tradition stuck for Des Moines and its suburbs.

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In St. Louis, the origin of the popular joke-telling tradition is harder to put a skeleton finger on. (Sorry but I had to throw that one in. This is story about silly jokes after all.) Both the Irish and the German immigrants to the area in the nineteenth century had practices of going door-to-door and performing for a treat. The Germans did it on New Year’s Eve. In my mother’s German heritage in central Kansas, they called this tradition “winching.” They would sing a song and wish the household a “Happy New Year” for a coin or two.

 

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In Ireland, they celebrated an ancient celtic festival of Samhain each year to prevent the people who had died during the year from returning from the dead. One particularly evil dead creature, “the Muck Olla,” did return each year.  In order to keep it away, the Irish would dress in costume to confuse the creature. By going door to door and asking for a treat, each person would have a treat to give the Muck Olla in case it caught them. To receive a treat from their neighbors, the costumed Irish would tell a joke or recite a poem.

 

A researcher from the Missouri History Museum, Sharon Smith, purposes that the tradition evolved in St. Louis from the combination of such “Old World” influence as mentioned above and the thriftiness of the German immigrants who expected something in return for handing out their candy. Originally it could be a song, a poem, a dance, or a joke. The joke is what has stuck in St. Louis. It makes for a very entertaining night of opening the front door to cleverly-clad ghouls and goblins of all sorts.

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Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland all celebrated Hallowmas on November 1 when wayfaring locals would receive food in exchange for saying prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). This “souling” or “guising,” when the celebrants dressed in costumes and carried lanterns made from scooped out turnips, carried from Europe to the North America. But it wasn’t until after the beginning of the twentieth century that Halloween as we know it began to evolve.

 

The first recorded use of the words “trick or treat” appeared in a publication from Blackie, Alberta in 1927. By the 1930s, Halloween was much more widespread, but even in the 1940s many considered it begging and wouldn’t participate. Thank goodness that fear no longer exists. And of course, it’s totally not begging when each trick-or-treater earns his/her treats with a clever—and usually corny—joke. Below you’ll find a few examples of Halloween jokes from the Spooky MG Authors, so you’ll be able to collect a pumpkin-ful of candy.

                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Spooky MG Authors Halloween Jokes

Sarah Cannon: Knock knock! Who’s there? Sarah. Sarah who? Is Sarah doctor in the house? I’ve been bitten by a werewolf! 

Sheri Larsen: Why are graveyards noisy? Because of all the coffins!

How do ghosts go from floor to floor? By scarecase!     

Jonathan Rosen: I threw a boomerang at a ghost the other day. I knew it would come back to haunt me!

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Lisa Schmid: What does a ghost eat for dessert? I SCREAM!

Angie Smibert: What do you call a haunted chicken? A poulty-geist!

Cynthia Reeg: What do near-sighted ghosts wear to see better? Spook-tacles!

Kim Ventrella: What did the skeleton dress up as for Halloween? Sherlock Bones!

For more jokes, visit my website at https://www.cynthiareeg.com/category/jokes/

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

 

USING MYTHS AND LEGENDS AS A SPRINGBOARD FOR SPOOKY STORIES

As a child, I was lucky in that my early education and storytelling experiences included a great deal of folklore, from fairy tales and nursery rhymes to myths and tall tales. When as an adult I began writing my own stories for children, I often found myself drawn to these rich characters and time-tested plots. Ancient tales are some of the ultimate spooky stories. 

For example, one of my early short stories for young readers, “The Three Sisters,” published in FACES magazine, was a retelling of an Australian legend involving the Aussies’ famous evil monster, the Bunyip. After visiting the Three Sisters ancient rock formation outside of Sydney and hearing of its legend, I wanted to recreate the story with a bit more modern flair for young readers. 

I spent a great deal of time researching the Three Sisters legend and the Dreamtime tales of the Australian Aborigines. I even contacted a native tribal leader to learn their version of the Three Sisters story. However, the Aborigines guard their cultural stories closely within their community, passing them down through the generations primarily by word of mouth. Thus, I could not retell their story. But I could use the popular legend of the Three Sisters. It was a composite of local and European lore created by the early settlers. The legend still made for a magical, creepy tale of evil versus good with a quirky twist at the end.  

In light of my experience of using folklore in modern tales, I thought it would be interesting to see how two of my author friends, fellow Sweet Sixteeners, relied on ancient myths in their spooky middle grade novels. Below are their answers to my questions.

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway, MOMOTARO, Zander and the Lost Island of Monsters 

 MOMOTARO, Zander and the Dream Thief  Disney Hyperion, 2016 & 2017

1.Were you familiar with the original legend/myth before you even began thinking about a story based on it?

Yes, Momotaro was a story my mother told me when I was growing up!

2. How much research did you do for the story?


I did a lot of research, especially for the second, when I took a trip to Japan. Otherwise I read a lot of books about Japanese mythology, samurai code, and then specifically Japanese monsters.


3. How did you stay true to the folklore?

 
The original story has Momotaro with three friends, a dog, a pheasant, and a monkey. In my book, the dog is a dog but two humans represent the others with attributes of those animals. And the fact that he fights Oni is also the same.

4. How did you change it? And why?


In my book, Momotaro is a half-Japanese, half-Irish boy living in San Diego. I wanted to have a character who is mixed like me and straddles these different worlds as well as the different worlds of magic and humanness. 


5. Based on your experience in writing these MG folklore fantasies, what advice would you give to authors writing folklore adaptations. 

            Adapt the story to something that feels personal to you. 

Sheri A. Larsen

Sheri. A. Larsen, MOTLEY EDUCATION, Leap Books, 2016

 1. Were you familiar with the original legend/myth before you even began thinking about a story based on it?

I was slightly familiar with the original legends and myths threading throughout Norse Mythology and the notion of Yggdrasil – the World Tree. I found the World Tree aspect a fascinating concept. It was my youngest son, kiddo #4, who introduced me to the inner workings of this mythology and a few specific legends that surround such characters as Fenrir the giant wolf, Loki, and Thor. 

2. How much research did you do for the story?

Hours and hours, but I’m kind of a research junkie so that’s all good. My youngest was extremely knowledgeable about this specific mythology, so I gained lots of information and insight from him. But each chat we had left me hungry for more. I couldn’t help myself. The Norse world is so interesting, primarily for a reason I’ve answered in the next question!

3. How did you stay true to the folklore? 

Before I can answer this, let me give you one simple fact about the Norse world: where Greek Mythology overflows with in-depth information, descriptions, characters, tales, and worlds, Norse Mythology does not. That’s the major reason I was so fascinated with it. The more I researched and realized that about 70% of the Norse World was barely developed, the more ideas I conjured on how I could expand on the Nine Worlds within Yggdrasil and their characters. My brain was on fire. Specific to your question, I used references to the more mainstream or better known Norse characters and myths – Loki and Thor – staying true to their natures, but I didn’t use them as part of the story itself.

4. How did you change it? And why?

The world is primarily where I exaggerated or used creative license to develop a new aspect that wasn’t there before. For those who aren’t familiar with Norse Mythology, there are Halls that exist within a few of the Nine Worlds within Yggdrasil – Hall of the Souls, Hall of the Slain, etc… In book I, I used Hall of the Souls, but I created this hall to be a vast display of mankind’s creations and the natural majesty of Midgard (Man’s World – Earth). Of course, there are souls there, too. 

I knew from the start that I wanted to find lesser known and lesser developed Norse characters and embellish on their original tales and/or lives. For book II, I’ve used a character that I could only find one sentence of information on. I’ve had a blast developing her. And just a FYI – I’ve made her a villain. 🙂 

5. Based on your experience in writing these MG folklore fantasies, what advice would you give to authors writing folklore adaptations.

Most importantly, be true to the story you want to tell. Use the folklore to your advantage, finding elements that are based in truth to further your tale.

Sheri and Margaret both reiterated an important point concerning why folklore endures—it contains an element of truth. I hope you’ll be able to read Margaret and Sheri’s spooky adventure stories. If you’d like to explore other modern folklore adaptations, look for Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON series and Eoin Colfer’s ARTEMUS FOWL series and many more! 

Cynthia Reeg is the author of FROM THE GRAVE and INTO THE SHADOWLANDS, middle grade monster adventures. Halloween is her favorite holiday. Check out the spooky jokes on her website: www.cynthiareeg.com.

Spooky Moms

When I volunteered to write the Spooky MG Authors blog post airing on Mother’s Day, I knew what topic I would choose. Mothers—of course! After all, don’t monsters have mothers too? For example, Echidna—the half-woman and half-snake creature from Greek mythology—is considered the mother of monsters. Some of her children included Cerbeus, the triple-headed guardian of Hades; the Chimera, a fire-breathing creature who was part goat, lion, and serpent; and the Colchian Dragon, who guarded the famous Golden Fleece.

While we Spooky MG Authors often include monsters in our stories (with or without their mothers), we authors do indeed have mothers of our own. And I thought it quite fitting to ask some of the authors to share how their mothers influenced their writing.

Lindsay Currie(The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street): My mother encouraged and applauded my imagination every chance she got. She scoured garage sales for books I might like, and raptly listened to every story I wrote. Hooray for encouraging mothers!

Victoria Vennerstrom Piontek(The Spirit of Cattail County)  My mom is a great storyteller. She loves quirky people and oddity, and is not opposed to spinning a family story into a tall tale if it makes the telling better. When I tell her stories, she always laughs at all the right spots. As I was growing up, she modeled reading, feminism, and friendship. She also read the pass pages of THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY in one sitting and declared it wonderful. Yep. My mom is awesome.

Samantha Clark  (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast) My mum taught me to read before I started school. So much so that when I started infant school, she was called in because I wasn’t paying attention and Mum figured out that it was because I’d done all the reading workbooks at home already. The teachers gave me story books to read after that and I was happier.

Angie Siebert(Bone’s Gift) My mom was a voracious reader (mostly of romances) and aspiring writer. She took us to the library almost every week when we were kids. I remember coming home with paper grocery bags full of books. She also wanted to be a writer but never quite achieved it. After she died, I found a box full of things she’d written for the Writers Digest correspondence course. (This was in the late 80s long before online courses, and the course materials probably dated from the 70s! )

Janet Fox(The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle) My mom was a closet writer of books for young readers. She was prolific, and attended writing conferences, and won awards, and I knew nothing about this until she suddenly died and left a stack of unpublished manuscripts for me to find among her things. Finding those stories inspired me to begin to write my own.  

Cynthia Reeg(From the Grave) My mom is the most sweet-hearted soul. She always encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do (after my chores were done) and bragged about my accomplishments—no matter how small. She taught me to be a hard-worker and to take pride in my work, as well as to have an eye for details. All three of these traits have served me well in my writing. When I was young, my mom and dad bought our family a whole set of Childcraft books, which was an extravagance for them at the time. The writings in those books—from nursery rhymes to fairy tales and beyond—formed my earliest story foundations and helped foster my lifelong love for literature.  

Thank you, Moms, for all your encouragement and support! 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Cynthia Reeg is the author of FROM THE GRAVE and INTO THE SHADOWLANDS, middle grade monster adventures. Halloween is her favorite holiday. Check out the spooky jokes on her website: www.cynthiareeg.com.

SPOOKY RESEARCH TIPS

Even though the stories we Spooky MG Authors write fall into the fiction category, most of them will have factual elements sprinkled throughout. This helps ground the story. In my MONSTER OR DIEbooks, I used a familiar school setting and then twisted it in evil, slimy ways. I mainly used classical monsters most readers would know, then made them unique to fit my misfit monster world. Think back to the ultimate spooky story Mary Shelley wrote in 1818—FRANKENSTEIN. She based the creature on scientific experiments of the time which used electricity to create muscle movement in dead animals (galvanism). Ms. Shelley took a leap from the factual and used electricity in her story to bring Frankenstein’s monster to life.

When doing research for a story, it’s helpful to know how to go about it. For this article, I asked my friend and writing buddy, Stephanie Bearcefor advice. Stephanie loves to write about all things weird and creepy. If it bleeds, oozes green goo, or explodes, she’s ready to research it! Her 24thbook about the 2004 Tsunami will be released this fall. She is the author of the series TWISTED TRUE TALES FROM SCIENCEand winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for TOP SECRET FILES OF HISTORY WWII.

Below she answers my questions, sharing suggestions and possible sources for yournext creepy research project. 

Where do you start?

I start with the thing that grabs my interest. For example, on my current WIP I was surprised to learn that Ouija boards and seances got their start in America in the mid- 1800s. I got curious and started googling Ouija boards. So usually my research STARTS with google, but it quickly heads to the library and to primary source material.

What are good sources? Are they mostly online?

Fortunately, most sources can be reached online. It is such a time saver. The Library of CongressThe SmithsonianGetty,RefdeskLibrary SpotBBC,and CIAare just a few of the sources that are accessible online. 

I published a long list of sources on Nonfiction Ninjas. Feel free to copy and keep the list handy.

Don’t forget to visit your public library. The librarian is the original search engine and they still know how to locate obscure information and manuscripts. I LOVE libraries!

What happens when you find conflicting sources?

Conflicting sources happen all the time. Especially when you read autobiographies and compare them to biographies! You need to be a judicious reader and understand that there will be slight variances in stories. Lawyers recognize this and witnesses that have the EXACT same story are suspected of collusion. So, if the bulk of the information verifies a fact, you can feel comfortable using that in your story. Again – just keep track of the sources and if you are questioned – you can defend your writing.

Where do you find interesting ideas to research?

Everywhere! I am a story collector. I have been since I was a child. I eavesdrop on people in cafes and listen to stories people tell about their lives and the history they have lived.  I am addicted to podcasts. I read everything under the sun from magazines and news articles to conspiracy theories and alien abduction blog sites. I even joined the spiritualists and mediums society so I could have access to their historical information. There are stories ready to be found in nursing homes, playgrounds, libraries, museums, and even in your own family. You just have to be willing to listen.

When do you know if you have enough information?

That’s a good question. I keep researching until the majority of my source information has similar answers. For example – I had a heck of a time finding the death date of a famous medium. Kind of made me wonder if she had actually died or not… Maybe she refused to crossover? I searched and searched getting different answers, but I finally got a hold of death records and cemetery records in the state where she lived. They assured me she had indeed left the mortal world and had the same dates.

I am determined to give the most accurate information that I can. Sometimes new information will be found AFTER one of my books is published. I can’t control that. But at the publication date – I want to be sure that I have exhausted all KNOWN sources and have the most accurate information available at that time.

How do you stay organized?

I keep a huge hanging file box for each of my projects. I keep hard copies of everything. That way when someone asks me to verify a fact or some information – I have a copy of it. I also keep track of everything with a footnote program (easybib). If you would look at my office – it would not seem organized – but I guarantee I know where everything is in my piles! 

Stephanie, thanks so much for your spooky words of wisdom!

If you’d like more information on Stephanie and her books, visit her website at www.stephaniebearce.com

Cynthia Reeg is the author of FROM THE GRAVE and INTO THE SHADOWLANDS, middle grade monster adventures. Halloween is her favorite holiday. Check out the spooky jokes on her website: www.cynthiareeg.com.