Interview with Sarah Jean Horwitz — Author of THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE

Today, I’m super excited to welcome Sarah Jean Horwitz to the blog! Sarah is the author of the new MG novel, THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, out this month with Algonquin Young Readers.

Can’t wait to hear more about this book! The cover…AMAZING! The premise…SO TOTALLY COOL! Let’s dive right in.

First up, time for a few sentence starters.

My main character Clementine is…a somewhat reluctant future Evil Overlord and heir to the Dark Lordship of the Seven Sisters mountains. Clementine is lonely, brave, and compassionate, and has a lot to learn about her potential for goodness and the world around her.  

The Dark Lord Elithor is…Clementine’s father and the current Dark Lord. He’s been cursed by a rival named the Whittle Witch and his magic is fading. He loves Clementine, but can be cruel and uncaring and…well, Dark Lord-Like!

I had the most fun writing…the earlier scenes in the book, where Clementine spends a bit of time wandering around the castle and her father’s estate trying to think of a cure for him. I loved introducing fun details about the story world and Clementine to the reader.

I hope that readers will…love spending time with Clementine (and Darka the unicorn huntress, and Sebastien the aspiring knight, and David the black sheep, and…all the characters!) as much as I did while writing them.

When it comes to good vs. evil…When the oppression and pain of others is built into a system that benefits us, it can be easy to turn a blind eye. But just as Clementine learns that her way of life is not normal, and rejects the notion that cruelty is part of the necessary order of the world, so must we.

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Now for a quick speed round:

Favorite literary villain: Surprisingly (or perhaps not?) I’m not a big villain fan! I find it more interesting when characters are facing off against bigger societal forces or institutions, or even against themselves.

Hogwarts house: Gryffindor! At least, according to my first Pottermore sorting. I’m sticking with it.

Dragons or unicorns: I’d hate to betray my own book here, since it’s rife with unicorns, but I have to say…dragons.

Desert island book: Some sort of survival manual, of course! I’m terrible at camping.

Biggest fear: It’s a tie between dying a painful/violent death and losing my mental faculties from dementia. Cheery stuff!

Dream superpower: Super healing, or some sort of selective immortality. In case you couldn’t tell from the previous answer, I’d like to be in charge of when I kick the bucket.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sarah!

Sarah Jean Horwitz_8x10_Emma YoungSarah Jean Horwitz was raised in suburban New Jersey, where she lived next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy tale theme park. Her love of storytelling grew from listening to her mother’s original “fractured” fairy tales, a childhood spent in community theater, and far too many rereads of Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables. 

She is the author of the Carmer and Grit series. THE WINGSNATCHERS, the first book in that series, was a Kids Indie Next List pick and a Junior Library Guild Selection. The second book in the series, THE CROOKED CASTLE, was released in April 2018. Find her online at www.sarahjeanhorwitz.comor follow her on Twitter @sunshineJHwitz.

Introducing: The Creeping Hour Podcast

Creeps

This week, I am thrilled to welcome the amazing Elie Lichtschein to the blog, who co-created The Creeping Hour podcast along with public media broadcaster WGBH!

Thanks so much for having me! 

Quiz time! Sudden, I know, but that’s how we roll around here. Tell our readers everything they need to know about The Creeping Hour podcast, pretty please…in 280 characters or less.

Haha, my pleasure! (That doesn’t count, does it?) The Creeping Hour is a podcast of scary stories hosted by three horror obsessed friends who listened to too many spooky stories and turned into monsters. The stories themselves are about creepy music that you can never unhear, diabolical orthodontists, flying beach monsters, haunted houses, and more…

Now it’s time for some spine-tingling sentence starters.

The Creeps are… the hosts of the show. They narrate each story and caution the listener that if you’re not careful — and listen and read too many spooky stories — the same nightmarish transformation that happened to them can happen to you!

Axe, Toro and Weta are just regular kids who… turned into monstrous versions of themselves. Before they became Creeps, they would gather in Weta’s basement and share the most awful, skin-curdling tales their fear-obsessed imaginations could conjure. Axe used to love rock music, but now her favorite genre is Creep Rock, Toro is a vegan who eats meat-free monster food, and Weta’s obsession with insects is now evident in the mandibles swinging off her face. 

Listeners should be prepared to… sleep with a nightlight on! 

Scary stories are… the best kind of stories obviously. And October is easily the greatest month of the year.

The podcast really came to life when… we assembled the amazing cast in the recording studio and heard them animate and become the characters with blood-curling energy.

Now that our readers have learned a bit more about The Creeping Hour, it’s time for a terrifying Lightning Round of deep, personal questions:

  • Favorite scary story: “Graveyard Shift” by Stephen King (first read it as a teenager and it still haunts me as an adult)
  • Favorite scary movie: It Follows (or The Shining! Or Rosemary’s Baby! Okay this is harder than I thought..)
  • Biggest fear: Sharks (But it’s a double-edged sword because they’re also my greatest love..)
  • Funniest Halloween moment: When I was three years old I dressed as Lisa Simpson and my five year old brother was Bart. He had a little too much fun making fun of my red dress and all the photos from that night are of me crying. I think he leaned into his character a little too much..
  • Cuddliest monster: The yeti! He’s a big roving ball of fluff that would keep you warm on the coldest winter night!

Final words: how can listeners tune into The Creeping Hour? On Spotify, the podcast app, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also tune in on the website: thecreepinghour.org

Thanks so much for stopping by, Elie! Who’s ready to be scared? Me, me!

Elie Lichtschein is a writer based in New York City. His fiction can be found in the YA anthology IT’S A WHOLE SPIEL (Knopf, September 2019) and he’s the author of THE BOOK ROOM AT THE END OF THE THIRD FLOOR, a Middle Grade mystical adventure novel contracted through PJ Library. Visit him at elielicht.com or on Instagram and Twitter @elielicht 

Interview with S.A. Larsen Author of MOTLEY EDUCATION

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome our very own S.A. Larsen to the blog! She is celebrating the release of a brand-new edition of her spooky middle grade novel, MOTLEY EDUCATION! Without further ado, let’s see that beautiful cover:

Motley Education - ebook cover

LOVE the purple streak in her hair! Okay, now it’s quiz time. I know, so soon. Can you pitch MOTLEY EDUCATION to me Twitter-style (i.e. in 280 characters or less)?

A misfit spirit tracker & her skittish BFF must elude one ornery school headmistress & brave beasts of Norse mythology to retrieve a relic vital to saving the spirit world, only to discover the true meaning of her quest has been inside her all along. #motleyeducation #mglit

What an awesome Twitter pitch! Now let’s learn a little more about the world of MOTLEY EDUCATION. Sheri, can you finish these sentence starters for me, pretty please?

My main character Ebony is…sweet at heart, feisty when cornered, and more courageous than she knows. Her favorite place is the Boneyard, the cemetery between her family’s house and Motley Junior High. It’s where she can be herself. She hangs out there with Fleishman and the only three ghosts she can see – Mayhem, Mischief, and Meandering. She loves them, but they are a constant reminder of how her spirit tracking skills don’t work as they should; her fellow students don’t let her forget it, either. She doesn’t walk around looking injured, though. Instead, she wears a tough exterior – fingerless gloves, miniskirt, tights with skulls on them, and blue and pink strips in her hair. One thing she can’t hide is the guilt she feels for constantly disappointing her mother. See, her mom is gifted. So is her father, younger brother, and weird twin aunts. It’s not fun being different. At least, this is what she thinks at the start of her story. 😉

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Ebony’s best friend Fleishman is…the best friend everyone wants. He’s honest, loyal, kind, and ridiculously smart, which is convenient during homework study. When Ebony gets a bit too feisty, pushing boundaries, Fleishman is there to reign her in. But he’s not without his own issues. He’s too uptight, needs facts to believe anything, and fears pretty much everything . . . with one exception – his legless lizard Nigel that he carries with him everywhere. Oh, and he rarely laughs at Ebony’s jokes. But she figures he’s missing a funny bone, so she lets it go most of the time.

Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted is…a centuries-old school, where kids with special skills related to Norse mythology can develop, grow, and learn in the proper environment. Once a student is accepted and signs the Terms of Enrollment agreement – which is vital because there are instructions on how to avoid a fire giant attack – he or she is assigned to one of the two school groups. The Sensory group explores the realm of psychic abilities, while the Luminary group charts astrology, the stages of the moon, and creates potions, spells…even a hex or two. *Mankind has drifted so far away from its origins that it has completely forgotten about the World Tree – Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, MJH has lots of educating to do.

Motley Education - Full Cover with Text

The spookiest part of MOTLEY EDUCATION is probably when…Ebony and Fleishman meet at the Boneyard and random doors begin appearing out of thin air. Mist and green vapor wafts from all sides of the doors, thickening and creeping. A dim light flickers near one of the Boneyard crypts. It brightens until blue and white mist puff out between the seams of the crypt doors and . . . I’d love to keep going, but I’d be giving a spoiler away.

MOTLEY EDUCATION was inspired by…my youngest son’s love for Norse mythology and his drive to overcome his diagnosis of Apraxia of Speech. For those who are unfamiliar, Apraxia of Speech is a neurological disorder, where there are no pathways from the brain to the mouth muscles. Through intensive therapy, new pathways are built, and the child will begin to speak. It’s all pretty amazing.

I hope that readers will…gain the courage to follow in Ebony’s steps by accepting themselves, flaws and all, and embracing who they are – right here and right now. Ebony wanted so badly to be an amazing spirit tracker now, but she learned that it takes experiences to grow and mature into who she wants to be.

Don’t miss S.A. Larsen’s awesome giveaway happening now on Twitter (ends 10/2/2019):

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S.A. Larsen is an award-winning author, childhood apraxia of speech advocate, and major ice hockey fan, who has watched more hockey games than she could ever count. Her favorite stories open secret passageways and hidden worlds to inspire and challenge the heart. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy romance Marked Beauty (Ellysian Press 2017). She lives in the land of lobsters and snowy winters with her husband and four children, where she’s writing Ebony and Fleishman’s next adventure. Visit her cyber home at salarsenbooks.com.

Website: www.salarsenbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SA_Larsen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sa.larsen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SALarsen.Author/

Get your copy of MOTLEY EDUCATION today at: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords | IndieBound

Add MOTLEY on Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48088441-motley-education

Spooky Summer Writing Contest Winner

This week on the blog, I want to give a huge shout-out to Josie Portell, the winner of our Spooky Summer Writing Contest for Kids. Congratulations, Josie!!! Your story was truly and utterly terrifying! As the winner, you have officially and forever been declared a ‘Scare Master.’ Keep up the good work, and we hope to see many more stories from you in the future.

The story prompt for our contest was:

Spending the summer in a haunted school bus in the middle of the woods was bad enough. Did there have to be killer pineapples?

Now, without further ado, please enjoy Josie’s story entitled:

old-bus-3928535_960_720THE CREEPY, MYSTERIOUS, DREADFUL SUMMER

Spending the summer in a haunted school bus in the middle of the woods was bad enough. Did there have to be killer pineapples? But I’ll get to that later. It was the last day of school. But instead of kids doing fun activities, they were loading their bags on to a bus. They thought they were going on a fun, one night, end of school year field trip. Little did the fifth graders of Cardinal Elementary know that their whole summer was about to be turned upside down.

“Alright kids settle down, put your phones in this bucket,” said grumpy old Ms. Granfield. She was the grumpiest teacher you had ever met. Did she really have to be going on this trip? The kids did as they were told. After what felt like forever, the kids were on the bus heading to their surprise location. Soon enough, the bus stopped in the middle of the woods.

“Everybody get off before this bus explodes,” demanded Ms.Granfield to the students.

“Where are we?” One brave student dared to ask.

“Doesn’t matter Jerry, now get off,” Mrs. Granfield replied angrily.

“There has been a little situation with the bus, and this is where we will have to spend the night,” explained Mrs. Zenoff, another teacher.

“Ugh, whatever,” said Jenna, a popular cheerleader who was forced by her parents on this trip.

forest-2044261_960_720The kids all found this part of the woods a little eerie. They also wondered where that strange noise was coming from. But there was no time to worry when sunset was in an hour! The students hurried to get camp set up while the teachers cooked dinner. “Alright no complaining about dinner, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” Ms.Granfield informed the students.

Dinner was canned meat, canned vegetables and canned fruits. Everyone held their noses as they forced the disgusting food down their throats. Suddenly, the kids and teachers heard a big bump. Everyone ran into the bus, where they were told to sleep. Everything was left still. Then, thunder and lightning roared in and rain poured down.

“Settle in for the night,”called the teachers. “We’ll wake you up in the morning.”

Very few kids went to sleep that night. How could they with all the noise? They were crammed in an eerie bus with suitcases as their bedding. Not the best conditions for sleeping on a rainy night like this.

The strange noises became louder and were joined by a lingering ooh noise.

The next morning, the kids were awoken by their teachers.

“Kids, we contacted all of your parents last night to let them know that we will be spending our entire summer out here. We have the school bus to stay in but that is it,” said Ms. Granfield. All the kids complained in unison.

The oohing noise has stopped, and the kids stayed in the school bus. Something didn’t feel right, and the oohing noise continued.

“Something about this bus is haunted,”said Jenna.

“Yeah,” her best friend Emily agreed with her.

None of the students wanted to spend their whole summer in this creep of a bus, but this was the only option.

The day longed by, and it was time for the kids to go to bed. But one kid, Brandon, could not sleep. He was later awakened by a whispering noise.

“Brandon, Brandon get up, it is me, your grandpa,” said a noise.

“My grandpa died years ago!” exclaimed Brandon.

“I know I did, but come with me,” said the noise frustratedly.

fruit-1850978_960_720Brandon followed the noise deeper and deeper into the woods. They came upon an old cabin that looked even more haunted than the bus. They opened the door. It looked like any old log cabin in the woods. But something felt off. And what were those pineapples doing in the corner of the living room?

“Sit down son, let me tell you a story,” said Brandon’s grandfather.

“All your ancestors and your best friend, Eric’s, ancestors have been living here as spirit. Once a month or whenever someone comes into that abandoned bus, we send certain spirits out dressed as pineapples to kill whoever is in it,” told Brandon’s grandfather.

“But why?, and will you kill me and Eric?” questioned Brandon worryingly.

“No son, not you, but everyone else. Mwah ha ha ha!!” cheered his grandfather. Just as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.

The next morning when Brandon woke up, everyone except him and Eric had been killed, just like his grandfather had said. The boys started heading home and told their parents the whole story. The story of how this summer had turned out to be way more than they had bargained for.

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Great job, Josie!!! So dark and creepy! And to all you young writers out there, fall is the perfect time to get out that pen and paper and start writing. What creepy stories can you create this Halloween season?

 

Spooky Summer Writing Contest

Greetings fellow ghouls! Welcome to our first-ever Spooky Middle Grade Summer Writing Contest. Do you have what it takes to scare the pants off our spooky authors? Here are some quick rules:

  • Must be ages 8-12 to enter.
  • Submit your story to spookymiddlegrade@gmail.com by midnight CST on July 31, 2019.
  • Stories must be submitted as Word documents, 12pt font, double-spaced.
  • Stories should not exceed 1000 words.
  • Stories must start with the prompt (see below).
  • Include your full name and preferred contact email.
  • Ask for your parent or guardian’s permission before entering.

Three lucky winners will have their stories posted on spookymiddlegrade.com. They will also receive some cool, spooky swag and be forever known as “Official Scare Masters.”

STORY PROMPT:

Spending the summer in a haunted school bus in the middle of the woods was bad enough. Did there have to be killer pineapples?

SPOOKY SUMMER WRITING CONTEST

Spooky Writing Tips for Kids

This week, I asked three spooky middle grade authors to share their favorite writing tips for kids. Hopefully these quick tips will help add that extra dash of creepy to your next terrifying tale.

S.A. LARSEN

Use all five senses when writing your scenes. But don’t stress about it. Just close your eyes and imagine what your character smells, feels or comes in contact with through touch. Reach your character’s arms out to let an imaginary breeze sweep along their skin. Have your character take a deep breath and almost taste the dying moss clinging to the trees. Playing with the senses from a creepy point-of-view is so fun in spooky stories!

SAMANTHA CLARK

Keep up the intrigue by dripping details into a scene, each one getting scarier than the last. And don’t forget to use all the senses. Maybe first they hear a howl in the distance. Then smell something dark and musty. Then feel drool drip down their neck…

CYNTHIA REEG

To help me get in the spooky mood for writing my monster stories, I brainstorm creepy vocabulary words before I start writing. Divide a paper into categories for the 5 senses–Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch. See how many words you can think of for each sense. Even if you don’t use each of these words in your story, it will help set the tone for your writing. Scary on!

Thanks Spookies!!! I hope these tips help you add a little bite to your spooky story repertoire.

 

Spooky Author Pets

Here at spookymiddlegrade.com, our pets play a big role in our writing. I asked a few #SpookyMG authors to share stories about how their pets impact their writing.

Kim Ventrella & Hera

Yes, I had to put my dog first 😛 because she’s just too darn cute and she’s been a huge influence on my writing!!! True story, I wrote Skeleton Tree while sitting in a dog bed, while Hera sat on the couch behind me looking over my shoulder. She was basically my first editor, and she gave up her bed so I could have a comfy seat.

She also inspired me to write a story with a dog best friend, i.e. Bone Hollow, and that book is actually dedicated to her 🙂 She’s totally different from Ollie, though, Gabe’s best friend in Bone Hollow. Ollie has a wiggly, carefree spirit, but Hera is a total ball of nerves. She has a major phobia of people and other dogs. Example: when I first brought her home, I had to carry her outside, and if she saw someone walk past the window of their condo (inside) from 200 yards away, she would race back to our house shaking. It would take her 20-30 tries before she could get up the courage to pee. Now, she’s way braver and more comfortable in her environment, but she’s definitely a one-person dog.

Kim Ventrella is the author of Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019), both with Scholastic Press. She’s also a contributor to the New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology coming in 2020 from Harper Collins.

Tania del Rio & Boba & Max

I have two dogs named Boba and Max. Max is a Chihuahua mix about 10 years old, and Boba is a 9 month old corgi puppy.

Max is usually content to lay at my side while I write and it’s nice to have her act as my little personal space heater on cold or rainy days. She’s got really soft ears that I like to pet whenever I’m stuck on a scene and need a moment to think. She’s the “pawfect” writing buddy!

Boba, on the other hand, has a lot of energy and gets jealous of my computer. If I’m not paying attention to him, he lets me know it by crawling onto my lap and getting in the way! He also likes to bark in my face- rude! It can be a bit challenging to get anything done with him around, so I try to take him on a long walk or visit the dog park so that he’ll sleep for a few hours while I work.

Even with the distractions, it’s nice to have pets to keep me company while I write and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tania del Rio is the author of Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye and Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods.

Jonathan Rosen & Parker

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My dog, Parker, is a three-year-old rescue, who we find to be the sweetest dog ever. He’ll usually curl up on the couch next to me when I’m writing. I’ll run ideas by him, and he points out whether or not there are any plot holes. He’s good like that. But mostly, he helps me because whenever I want a break, or am stuck on something, I turn around, pet him, and he basically lets me know that I’m doing okay.

Jonathan Rosen is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset till Sunrise.

Patrick Moody & Wicket, Nym & Zelda

I decided to do a critter photo shoot. As you can see, Wicket the hedgehog is a little shy. He’s often rolled up into a little defensive ball of spikes. And even after two years, our cats still don’t know what to make of him. Nym, our black cat, is a serious cuddle bug (and deceptively hefty). She’s usually stalked around the house by our youngest, Zelda, whose quite the handful. I have a theory she’s part squirrel! She loves her big sister, as you can see by the kiss! These three keep me company when I work from home, never far from my keyboard.

Patrick Moody is the author of The Gravedigger’s Son.

S.A. Larsen & Sadie, Molly, Chloe & friends

This is Sadie, my newest writing pup (on the right)! With her being so active I’ve had to move to the kitchen area to keep an eye on her while I write. Makes for an interesting word count . . . and sometimes not much! 😁

The photo collage is of our fur babies that have been with us a while. Molly the cat is my true writing feline, though. She insists on sitting in my lap while I write when I’m in my office. And Chloe is the jokester of the group. I have a video of her literally dancing on my desk and laptop while I was listening to music and writing. Super cute! 🐾

S.A. Larsen is the author of Motley Education and Marked Beauty.

Jan Eldredge & Mr. Bingley

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This is Mr. Bingley. We’re in constant competition over who gets to claim the desk chair or the top of the desk. Mr. Bingley usually wins. He has also laid claim to my spooky fairytale wallpaper, and he loves to rub against it. This would not be a problem, except it’s a flocked wallpaper, and his yellow fur clings to it like magnets to steel. As a result, a small portion of my daily writing time has to be spent vacuuming my wall.

Jan Eldredge is the author of Evangeline of the Bayou.

Janet Fox & Kailash

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This is Kailash. He’s about 5 years old now, and super friendly and like all Labs he still has a lot of puppy in him. In fact, getting him to sit still for this photo took a bit of wrangling.

He’s too big to get up on my desk (thank heavens) but he’ll occasionally try to crawl into my lap as I’m working. Mostly he is a walking companion, and I walk to get ideas so he’s a great help there.

We’ve never not had a dog for more than a couple of months. And at times a guinea pig or two, a rat or two, and a horse. We’d have a cat but our son is very allergic. But we love Kai. He’s got a big heart and loves everyone.

Janet Fox is the author of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.

Cynthia Reeg & Holly

SkeletonDog Holly

Sadly my dog Holly recently journeyed to dog heaven. She was a constant companion, always ready with ideas and the ability to find perfect napping spots in my office. I can still hear her barks of encouragement, and I know there will be a very special dog in my next spooky story.

Cynthia Reeg is the author of From the Grave (Monster or Die) and Into the Shadowlands.

Angie Smibert & Stella, Maggie, Brick & Hubble

Pet Pics (1)

Here’s a graphic of my editorial “staff” – Hubble, Maggie, Brick, and Stella.  All of them are rescues. I have a two-year-old Lab mix named Hubble (yes, as in the telescope. I am also a space nerd.). He’s a foster fail, btw. I fostered him for the SPCA two summers ago, fully intending to keep him. Maggie (tortie) and Brick (gray) are about 8 1/2, and I got them together when they were just 8 weeks old–also from the SPCA. I picked Maggie out, and then Brick grabbed me from the next cage. They bicker just like the Tennessee William’s characters they’re named for. Stella is the most recent addition. About a year old, give or take, she was living under the porch of the empty house next door. I, of course, was feeding her on my porch–and when the weather turned really, really cold, she got very friendly, and dammit, I took her in. She is a petite sweetie who’s quite happy she adopted me.

More often than not, my guys distract me from writing since I work at home. My previous dog, Bridget, did inspire the dog in Memento Nora! As an animal lover, I tend to give my characters pets. Uncle Ash–in the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series–has three dogs, all named after beaches in the Carolinas, who follow him everywhere. Plus the third book of the series will feature a ghost dog.

Angie Smibert is the author of Bone’s Gift, Lingering Echoes and other books for young readers.

Happy Book Birthday: The Phantom Hour by Kat Shepherd

I am super excited to welcome our very own Kat Shepherd to the blog!!! Her new book, THE PHANTOM HOUR, releases today!! I recently had a chance to chat with Kat about her new book, a brand new mystery series and much more.

Q: You have a passion for animals, traveling and the outdoors, among many other interests. How have those passions found their way into your writing?
 
A: Like any author, I pull a lot from my own life to put into the stories I write. Lots of my characters are based on former students of mine or other people I know, but there’s always a little bit of me in there, too. In the newest Babysitting Nightmares book, THE PHANTOM HOUR, Clio shares my passions for travel and history and glimpses into the past. And in Book 2 we’ll meet Ethan, who has a really strong connection with animals. I train and foster dogs, so I really wanted to put a character in the series that reflects my own bond with animals.
 
Because I write suspense, I rarely put pets in my scary books, and there’s a really good reason for this. Anytime I see a pet in a scary movie or book, it immediately distracts me, because I get so worried that something is going to happen to it. (I blame Stephen King for this. Animals rarely fared well in his books!) So I intentionally avoid putting pets in, because I don’t want my readers worrying about them like I always did. But in PHANTOM HOUR I couldn’t resist bringing back my favorite dog, Wesley. He passed away in 2013, and I miss him every single day, so it was wonderful to get to write about him and see him come alive on the page. It was a little like getting to spend time with him again.
 
Q: Tell me more about microphilanthropy. Does it ever crop up in your books? How can readers get involved?
 
A: It’s important to me that my protagonists be kind and show compassion and generosity. Not because I’m trying to teach some big lesson to kids or anything, but because I have to spend a lot of time with my characters, and I don’t really like to be around people that aren’t kind or compassionate. Generosity and compassion are driving forces in my life; they absolutely give my life direction and purpose. That’s not to say that I am this supremely generous and compassionate person, but those are the qualities I am continuously striving toward. Failing to get there a lot, but always trying.
 
One of the biggest challenges of my life was that I have always wanted to be this great philanthropist, but I don’t really have any money. So in trying to figure out how to give meaningfully when the size of your wallet doesn’t match the size of your heart, I started pursuing a concept I call microphilanthropy. It’s based on the idea that you don’t need a lot of money to make positive, measurable change in your community. You just need people.
 
Basically, it’s crowdfunding, but rooted in the community. I find local organizations that need small, concrete projects funded: a science club at the library, blankets for the zoo’s chimpanzees, emergency rental assistance to keep a family from becoming homeless. Each project costs anywhere from $100 to $1200. Then I throw a party and invite the organizations to come a pitch their projects to my party guests. Then everyone at the party puts whatever money they can spare into jars we set up for each project. At the end of the night we count up and distribute the money, and the organizations go on to fund their projects. The average donation about $10 or $20 per person, but when you pool that money together, it makes these incredible things happen.It creates a really strong connection between people and their communities, and it feels really powerful to see that you made something amazing happen. The best part is seeing the excitement on my guests’ faces when they realize that they are the reason the library has a science club now, or a family didn’t lose their home. It wasn’t some rich person who did that. It was us.
 
I actually just wrote up a little how-to guide for folks who want to throw their own microphilanthropy party. They can email me at my website katshepherd.com, and I’m happy to send it over or help them strategize.
 
Q: What should readers expect from Book 2?
 
A: While Book 1 of Babysitting Nightmares took the girls into the Nightmare Realm, Book 2, THE PHANTOM HOUR, feels a little more grounded in this world. Clio gets a job babysitting for the Lee family, a new family who has moved into an abandoned old mansion at the edge of town. The Lees are lovely, and Clio is thrilled to get the chance to explore the old mansion… until she starts to realize it may be haunted. Luckily Clio has help from her friends and Aunt Kawanna, and she also gets some unexpected help from her new friend, Ethan, who has a few secrets of his own. Readers should expect a spooky ride of suspense, thrills and chills as Clio works to unlock the mansion’s mysteries before it’s too late.
 
Q: Are any of the thrills and chills from BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES based on real-life experiences?
 
A: Several generations of women in my family have had regular contact with ghosts. Ethan’s Great-Grandma Moina is based on family stories, but I made her backstory a lot more exciting than my own family’s. For my own great-grandmother ghosts very matter-of-fact and not at all mysterious; they were just around all the time. It was much more fun to make Moina a glamorous, professional medium who performed big, showy seances! To figure out how to do that I did a lot of research on the Spiritualist movement and the history of psychic mediums in the US. I even went to a seance in an old Victorian mansion! What I learned was that there were lots and lots of seances back then, but not a whole lot of ghosts. The magician Harry Houdini helped prove that most of the so-called mediums were faking it and using tricks and illusions to fool people into thinking that they were seeing and talking to ghosts. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or relieved to learn that!
 
Like the house in PHANTOM HOUR, my own house was vacant before we moved into it. We are only the third owners, and the last person who lived there was a woman who had lived there for 40 years. After she died her daughter held onto the house for another decade because she couldn’t bear to give up something her mother had loved so much. So we felt a little worried when we moved in that might find her ghost hanging around.
 
A few months after we moved in I went to bed early and my husband was still awake. For some reason he always keeps his dress shoes on after work, and it can be annoyingly loud when he walks around the house. I was awakened by his footsteps in the middle of the night, and I was super irritated that he hadn’t taken off his shoes. But then I rolled over and my husband was asleep next to me! I woke him up, and we both heard a man’s footsteps walking through the house. Our burglar alarm had been set and our dogs were sleeping peacefully, so we knew it couldn’t be an actual person. For some reason nothing about it felt scary at all, and we just went back to sleep. Our house was built by a judge, and we wonder if it was his otherworldly footsteps we heard. So we did end up having a ghostly encounter, just not with the ghost that we expected!
 
Q: What advice do you have for young fans who may be interested in writing their own stories?
 
A: I think one of the best things writers can do is to read a lot. Reading helps give you an instinct for story and language; you learn by seeing how other people do it. I also think it helps to read critically, with the eye of a writer. Read for enjoyment, but then take a minute to think about why you loved the story and what made it so good. Then think about those moments that weren’t so good. Did the story drag? Were there parts you got bored, or the action moved too fast? Reading like a writer is a big part of how I developed my own storytelling style and voice.
 
The other big part of writing your own stories is to WRITE THEM! Put them in a notebook, get a cool journal, or learn to type and store them electronically. If you’re excited to write but feel stuck for ideas, sometimes fanfic is a really fun place to start. Think of your favorite book and write a sequel, or choose a character from a book you love and put them on a new adventure. Create a mashup of your two favorite series. What would happen if the characters met? Spooky stories are also a great way to get started, because it automatically puts your writer’s imagination into overdrive! I teach a spooky story writing workshop, and I’m always happy to email aspiring writers the ideas and exercises I use to get started.
 
Once you get your stories down on paper, make sure you share them! Writers need readers. Ask your friends and families to read your work and share any moments where they got confused or needed more description, as well as those parts that made them laugh or jump out of their seats. Take that feedback and use it to make your story really sing. Writing a first draft is important, but revising is where the magic really happens. Most writers I know absolutely love to revise, because it lets us forget all the nitty-gritty and just focus on making the story the best that it can be.
 
north starQ: What can readers expect next from Kat Shepherd? I hear you may have a new mystery series coming later this year?
 

A: I have a new mystery series The Gemini Mysteries, that debuts on March 5 with THE NORTH STAR. I have been a huge mystery fan for as long as I can remember; so much so, in fact, that I have a mystery-themed tattoo sleeve that continues to evolve as I add more favorites to it. One of the things I loved most about mysteries is the interactive experience of reading one. You’re constantly taking in information, evaluating, predicting, and then re-evaluating based on a changing landscape of clues. So exciting as a reader, and such a great tool as a teacher! This series is especially fun because there is a picture at the end of every chapter with a clue hidden in it, and the reader gets to work alongside the detectives to find the clues that lead to the next step in the mystery.

 
It’s been fun for me, because Babysitting Nightmares and Gemini Mysteries are so different, but there is a lot of crossover between mystery and horror. I like to write fast-paced adventures with a little bit of humor and lots of suspense, and I think both series allow me to do that. I hope my readers will have as much fun reading them as I have writing them!

Spooky Stories All Year Round

There are many different types of spooky stories. Some feature humor, adventure and straight-up chills, while others explore sensitive topics and tug at readers’ emotions. No  matter what type of story you love, spooky books have a place in the classroom, library and beyond all year round, not just at Halloween. To delve deeper into this topic I spoke to some of today’s foremost authors of middle grade spooky stories.

Jan Eldredge

Why do you write spooky stories?
I guess I write spooky stories for the same reason I love to read them. They allow us an escape to dangerous, exciting worlds, worlds that we get to explore from the comfort of our safe, everyday lives.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories are chock full of benefits, particularly for young readers! Reading about young protagonists defeating evil can be very empowering for children. Spooky stories can also provide safe ways for kids to explore fear and experience a sense of danger, sort of like trying on a costume to see what it feels like to be someone else for a while. Spooky stories are great reminders that our boring lives aren’t quite so bad after all.

S.A. Larsen

Why do you write spooky stories?
For me, spooky stories are like passageways into the unknown and the misunderstood, mysteries that keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve always been curious about the great beyond and the aspects of life we can’t see – like what really goes on inside a cemetery when none of the living are watching. Writing spooky tales with otherworldly or ghostly elements gives me the freedom to explore life themes such as the importance of family, self-esteem and confidence, and friendship in new and unexpected ways for young readers.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Tales with spooky and eerie elements explore the same important life struggles, hopes, dreams, and challenges that contemporary stories do. They also help kids see that fear is a part of life – fear of change, fear of a new school, fear of taking a test – and helps them see and workout solutions to overcoming fear. These are universal emotions and challenges that can be discussed throughout the year. The possibilities are endless!

Janet Fox

Why do you write spooky stories?
Really, the spooky part of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE was accidental! My original idea was more mystery/fantasy, but as I wrote the antagonist she became darker and darker and more nuanced for it. And the darkness of the antagonist reflected something in my own mood, something I needed to sort through. But my son said something recently that was inspired in this regard. He said that he loves dark, spooky stories because that one tiny glimmer of hope within the darkness – even if it’s just a candle – can feel like a brilliant light. And I thought, yes. That’s what I like, too. Magnifying the light in the darkness or the happiness within the spookiness. That’s the secret.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
I would say that’s why spooky stories are always in season – they offer that recognition that hope flickers brilliantly in the dark.

Samantha M. Clark

Why do you write spooky stories?
I get scared easily when I’m reading spooky stories, but I still love them. Spooky stories get my blood pumping, and I need to know if everything’s going to end safely. When it does, it helps me know that when I’m scared in real life, everything can be okay. So when there’s an opportunity to put some spookiness into my own stories, I jump at the chance. Getting scared can be fun, especially when we know we can always close the book if we need a break.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Halloween is, of course, when we celebrate spooky stories the most, but reading spooky stories is fun and good for us at any time. They remind us that it’s okay to be scared, and show us that we can be brave just like the characters in the stories. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” And with spooky stories, we can build courage and confidence safely while facing our fears within the pages of the books and with the characters as our guides and companions. Spooky stories help us grow, and that’s a good thing every day.

Jonathan Rosen

Why do you write spooky stories?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. Much more so than horror. I like the creepiness factor of the unknown. What’s there lurking in the shadows? The mystery, to me, is much scarier and interesting, than having the monster actually appear on the stage. Why is the ghost there? What’s the story behind it? How was that monster created? I loved these stories as a kid, and always felt fascinated by them. I like to write to my younger self and kids who were like me.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
There is no bad time to read scary stories. Yeah, they’re much better to read at Halloween time, but the kids who love them, don’t want to be relegated to one season a year for books. Kids like to be scared, to a degree, but then they know they can put the books away. They’re safe again. I also read a long time ago, and it’s true, spooky stories give kids the consequences of not following rules. Your Mogwai will turn to a Gremlin if you don’t follow them. Your vampire neighbor can get in your house, if you don’t follow the rule about not inviting him in. Spooky stories also open the mind to think of different possibilities. I know when I read them, I always went searching for more. More stories about the subject. I wanted to read about haunted places. The times when the ghosts came from. I think reading leads to more reading.

Kim Ventrella

Why do you write spooky stories?
I have always been interested in the intersection of darkness and whimsy. I love the space where macabre tales meet deeply-felt emotions and discoveries. Adding a spooky element allows me to explore difficult real-life topics in a way that I find more palatable and easier to understand.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories aren’t just about Halloween. They’re about exploring the mysterious all around us, searching for new possibilities, confronting our deepest fears and stepping out into the darkness to find that courage and resilience that resides within us all.