Samantha M Clark here, and I was recently interviewed by Q.L. Pearce for the Haunted Nights Live! podcast. I had a blast talking about THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, writing and the fun of spooky middle-grade books. Since Q shares my love of spooky MG, I thought I’d get to know more about her and the podcast she helps to host. Here’s what she said…
Thanks for joining me on Spooky Middle Grade, Q! What made you want to write spooky books for kids?
My family is British, so ghost stories are programmed into my DNA. When I was a child, we moved to Florida and lived on an island in Tampa Bay. There were a few kids about my age on the island. We’d often hang out and trade comics. While my friends picked out Archie or Superman, I forked over my allowance for House of Mystery and Strange Tales. I also loved TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone. It didn’t take long for me to start writing my own stories, which I would share with my friends whether they wanted to hear them or not. A neighborhood mom once complained to my mother that her daughter couldn’t sleep because of my spooky stories. I was sent to my room early that night. My mom crept in later with a bowl of popcorn, and I shared my scary tales with her.
I won my first school writing contest at age nine and my first city-sponsored contest at age eleven. By that time, I was hooked on the horror genre. Swimming Lessons, the opening story in my first Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs book, is based on something spooky that happened on the island when I was a kid.
Can you tell us about some of your recent books?
I write in a variety of genres and age ranges, but my favorite is scary middle grade. My most recent is Spine Chillers: Hair-Raising Tales. There’s no link between them, but Spine Chillers is in the tradition of Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. It’s a collection of short stories that includes classic ghosts, a monster or two, invented urban legends and one tale that is an homage to The Twilight Zone. The stories are created for reading aloud at a sleep-over or under the covers with a flashlight.
Picture book author Mem Fox once said, “Writing for children is like writing War and Peace in haiku.” I think that describes short stories perfectly. They oblige the writer to develop characters and plot concisely, while still telling a satisfying tale that’s fun to read. I’m currently working on the next collection.
You host the YA and MG days of the Haunted Nights Live podcast. Can you tell us about the podcast and how you got involved?
Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights Live! has been part of the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network since 2014, and it’s one of their top-rated shows. The hosts, legendary horror writers, Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross, have interviewed many of my favorite adult horror authors and filmmakers. I was thrilled when they decided to expand the show to include books for younger readers and invited me to join them as MG/YA host. I have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to guests, so I also cover mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. It’s a wonderful opportunity to chat with the authors of books and films I admire. The show can take some surprising turns, and it’s always fun and illuminating.
Tamara and I are close friends. We started chatting at a book signing some twenty years ago and haven’t stopped talking since. We occasionally take road trips together to visit haunted hotels, abandoned buildings, and ghost towns for research. I must admit that Tamara is the brave one and I’m a chicken. When we encounter something a little bit frightening, I’m the first one to the exit.
Why do you think spooky books are important for young readers?
Of course kids have varied likes and dislikes when it comes to reading, but I think spooky books can have many benefits for those who enjoy the genre. Children of all ages deal with tough feelings like anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Books are a safe way of experiencing a scary situation without any real risk. A scary book gives kids a chance to think through difficult circumstances and build confidence. They can also put the book down if they feel uncomfortable. Scary stories can help children recognize the consequences of making poor choices; like going into that abandoned old house alone! In a very real sense, it empowers kids and can turn reluctant readers into lifelong book lovers. Still, horror for young readers is a balancing act when it comes to age range. What’s scary to a first grader probably seems silly to a fifth grader, so an author has to know the audience well.
What were your favorite spooky books when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, I didn’t read a lot of scary books specifically for children, but I devoured scary comics. On the first Saturday of every month, I’d ride my bike across the bridge to Mr. McKelvey’s drug store to buy a cherry Coke, a Clark Bar and the latest comics.
As far as books, I was first drawn to mysteries and fantasy. I read the Enid Blyton books and Nancy Drew, particularly those with ‘ghost’ or ‘haunted’ in the title. The Chronicles of Narnia was a favorite. Finally I discovered ghost stories by Edith Wharton and H.G Wells. That led to Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my two favorite books of all time. The other is Animal Farm. Ray Bradbury is my hero. I love his writing style. I had the opportunity to hear him speak once. He was just as wonderful in person. My favorite quote of his is, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
I love that quote! Listen to Q. L. Pearce interviewing me for the Haunted Nights Live! podcast here.
Q. L. Pearce began her career as a writer and editor with Lowell House/ Roxbury Press in Los Angeles. She has since written more than 150 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. Her published work includes a dozen collections of scary stories and mysteries, such as Scary Stories for Sleepovers and Spine Chillers, as well as film tie-in books for the Fox animated film Titan AE and the Universal animated series Land Before Time. Red Bird Sings, co-authored and illustrated by Gina Capaldi, received the Carter G. Woodson gold medal for nonfiction picture books, the Moonbeam gold medal, and the Eureka silver medal. It has been adapted for the stage by the Ophelia’s Jump Theater Group and performed at the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival. Q lives in California with her research scientist husband, two very spoiled dogs, a talkative cockatiel, a bevy of fish and a host of wild squirrels who believe her life revolves around delivering their meals.