…because spooky stories aren't just for Halloween anymore.
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera.
This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Marina Cohen to ask about her new middle grade novel, SHADOW GRAVE. Of course, our meeting took place in a remote mansion at midnight. Waves crashed on the nearby cliffs as I lit candles for our interview. Or, you know, something like that.
KIM: The tagline for SHADOW GRAVE is “This town has a secret it will kill to keep…” Tell me more.
MARINA: On a road trip, 12-year-old Arlo, his sister, Lola, and mother become stranded in an old logging town in the mountains of New Hampshire. The town folk are peculiar and some less than friendly. As well, something dark and mysterious lurks in the surrounding woods and when Arlo discovers this secret, it places him and his family in jeopardy. Unfortunately, to tell you more would be to give away the secret…
KIM: Arlo is afraid of everything, but mostly losing his mother. How do you play around with supernatural versus real-life fears? Do you think there’s a special way to do this in MG?
MARINA: Not every book is right for every reader and not every reader enjoys horror. But those who do can handle more than adults often give them credit for. Middle-grade readers bring their own experience to a book and adults often forget they bring with them a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world than younger readers, who experience the darker concepts in my novels on a far more superficial level. So, to answer your question, yes—there is a special way to handle the dark “real-life” horrors in middle-grade. It’s less about the what and more about the how. You must tread lightly on darker subjects, never use graphic violence, gratuitous gore, or unnecessary details. Provide the reader just enough information to give them a soupçon of the “real-life” horrors. As with most things in life—less is more.
KIM: Tell me about the cover and cover artist for SHADOW GRAVE. How did they capture the essence of your story?
MARINA: Hannah Hill is the brilliant cover artist. She has done a superb job of capturing some of the creepy elements of the story—the shadowy figure, the imposing house, and if you turn to the back, the graveyard. The color palate she has chosen is stunning and hopefully will not only catch readers’ attention but give them a slightly unsettled feeling.
KIM: What are you hoping readers will take away from SHADOW GRAVE?
MARINA: It’s been said that if you examine a writer’s works you will find reoccurring themes. Personally, I find myself often writing stories that deal with choice and consequences. Shadow Grave is (hopefully!) a creepy story that will engage readers and give them more than a few shivers—but it’s my hope it will also leave them with big life questions to ponder. At its heart, SHADOW GRAVE is about the human experience, the choices we must make, the paths we choose, and where these paths lead—which is ultimately to the same place—onward. It’s not decision, but rather indecision that is the enemy.
KIM: You’re known for your “twisted chiller(s)” according to Kirkus Reviews. What inspires you to write such shivery tales?
MARINA: Writers write the kinds of stories they love to read. Essentially, we write for ourselves. I love to read horror, mystery, and thrillers—therefore, I aspire to write the same. There is actually a scientific explanation behind the heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat-thrills we enjoy. It has to do with neurotransmitters and hormones release when your body feels the fear, but your brain knows you’re completely safe.
KIM: What advice would you give to writers interested in tackling middle grade?
MARINA: The best advice I can give—the one given to me long ago—is you must read a hundred books in the age group and genre you wish to write. If you’d like to write a middle-grade horror, you must read middle-grade horror. This will allow you to learn from experienced writers, to see what appeals to your target audience, and, from the business perspective, to get an idea of what is selling.
KIM: If readers like SHADOW GRAVE, which of your other spooky books would you recommend they read next?
MARINA: I’d say if readers enjoy this novel, they should give either THE DOLL’S EYE or THE INN BETWEN a try. A BOX OF BONES leans a little too much into fantasy for some horror fans’ liking.
The Spooky Middle Grade authors love visiting schools and sharing a love of writing and reading. We visited over fifty classrooms in October alone, sharing writing tips and answering student questions. Our virtual Q&As take place year-round and give us the opportunity to share a love of stories with students all over the country. So to wrap up 2021, I reached out to some fellow #SpookyMG authors and asked them to share their #1 tips for young writers.
Find them all below, and if you would like to schedule a live #SpookyMG visit for your students in grades 3-8, head over to our scheduling form for more info!
The Spooky Middle Grade authors have a new YouTube channel! That’s right, you can find a variety of videos aimed at readers in grades 3-8, including Book Club Live, author interviews, spooky variety shows, writing tips and more!
Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find on our channel. Don’t forget to subscribe now so you never miss a new video!
Book Club Live
On-Demand School Visits
Check out our new YouTube channel for more Spooky Middle Grade fun! Subscribe now!
Teachers, want to learn more about our free 30-minute author Q&As? Your students could meet four #SpookyMG authors in one amazing virtual visit. Schedule your FREE Q&A today!
Today I’m welcoming Jenna Lehne to the Spooky Middle Grade blog. Her debut middle grade novel, BONE TREE, releases today! Let’s take a look at that gorgeous cover with artwork by Uliana Babenko.
Kim: First things first, can you describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less?
Jenna: When Elsie’s best friend dies, she uses an ancient tree with resurrection powers to bring him back, angering a spirit in the process. When she discovers the tree is powered by tortured souls, she has to choose between keeping her BFF or freeing the ghosts.
Kim: Ooh, intriguing! Now for the real challenge. Can you finish these sentence starters?
My main character wants…
Her best friend back and her life back to normal…the way it was before Roman got sick.
My favorite scene to write was…
I think the final scene is my favourite. I don’t want to spoil it, but I’m a sucker for a great goodbye scene. It was really cathartic to get to write out my own goodbye to Elsie, Roman, and the Bone Tree and still have it be a part of the story.
The hardest scene to write was…
When Elsie wakes up to the phone ringing in the middle of the night, announcing that Roman had died. The whole chapter was like carving my worst memories out of my head and putting them on paper.
I hope readers will…
Enjoy the story. I’d love it if it creeped them out, be stoked if they cried haha, but really I just want BONE TREE to be something they finish reading with a smile on their face.
Spooky stories can…
Open up new genres to reluctant readers. Ghosts freaked you out? You should try dragons next!
One surprising thing about me is…
I never wear matching socks and I love freeze-dried candy.
Kim: Love it! If you have more questions for Jenna, I’m doing a live interview with her TONIGHT on my Facebook page. If you miss the live recording, don’t worry. You can always watch later at https://www.facebook.com/kimventrella.
Kim: Jenna’s debut novel BONE TREE is available now! Pick it up wherever books are sold.
ABOUT JENNA LEHNE
Jenna Lehne is a tea-sipping, horror-loving mom of two boys and a cat named Lemons. They live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, though unfortunately not in an igloo. Jenna is a former Pitch Wars mentor, contributor on the blog MidnightSocietyTales.com, and her middle grade debut, BONE TREE, is out April 2021 from Blue Bronco Books.
Today I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing 2021 releases by members of our Spooky Middle Grade team! These books may not all be ‘spooky,’ but they’re sure to thrill middle grade readers everywhere.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Mad Max meets Jungle Book + Fern Gully. Arrow, 12, has grown up the only human in a magical hidden rainforest. As the magic depletes and other humans from the arid outside world find the forest, Arrow must decide between being accepted by his kind or protecting his home.
(Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, June 22, 2021)
Illustrator: Justin Hernandez
My main character…Arrow was born with a limb difference, has been brought up by the Guardian Tree of the forest, and has a best friend who’s a monkey called Curly.
My favorite scene to write was…I can’t choose! Maybe the opening scene, which hasn’t changed much since the first draft. Or maybe the scene when Petari, one of the children from the outside world, meets the Guardian Tree for the first time.
One surprising thing about me is…I went into the Amazon and met some of the Amerindians living in the rainforest when I was 10, and it’s an experience I’ve never forgotten.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: 12-year-old Juniper will give anything to be a stunt horserider on her favorite show, Castle McAvoy. So when her horse Able gets to audition, she tries out too. But when she gets her dream, she quickly wants more, even though it could cost her everything. 2nd book in the series.
(Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, June 29, 2021)
Illustrator: Kelley McMorris
My main character…Juniper has big dreams and is determined to make them come true, loves apple doughnuts, and her best friend is her horse, Able.
My favorite scene to write was…I think the opening scene when Juniper and her horse Able are having fun in their field slaying a giant dragon … which just happens to be the exact shape and size of the elm tree.
One surprising thing about me is…I used to manage a magazine covering the movie industry and got to go to movie sets and premieres. It was fun.
Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and the forthcoming ARROW (June 22, 2021), both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD coming from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House on June 29, 2021. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com. Follow her on Twitter @samclarkwrites, Instagram @samanthamclarkbooks, Facebook at SamanthaMClarkAuthor, and Pinterest at SamClarkWrites.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: A girl with anxiety disorder finds an unlikely friend — and emotional support animal — in the form of an adorable fainting goat.
(Scholastic, July 20, 2021)
My main character…Marvel is afraid of absolutely everything — amusement park rides, food poisoning, earthquakes, and that big island of plastic floating through the ocean. She also obsesses about smaller worries like making friends, getting called on by the teacher, and walking home alone. Her parents and the school therapist call her worries an anxiety disorder, but Marvel calls them armor. If something can happen, it will. She needs to be prepared.
But when Marvel stumbles on a group of older kids teasing a baby goat, she momentarily forgets to be afraid and rescues the frightened animal. Only Butter isn’t any old goat. She’s a fainting goat. When Butter feels panic, she freezes up and falls over. Marvel knows exactly how Butter feels and precisely what Butter needs–her.
My favorite scene to write was…the rescue scene because it’s a life-changing moment for Marvel. Not only does she surprise herself by being brave, but she also meets Butter. I couldn’t wait to get Marvel and Butter together so they could begin their friendship journey.
One surprising thing about me is…I also suffer from generalized anxiety.
Victoria Piontek is the author of The Spirit of Cattail County, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year and a Sequoyah Children’s Masterlist selection. As a kid, she was lucky to have a menagerie of pets, including a goat that liked to follow her to the school bus each morning. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking with her gigantic fluffy dog. Better with Butter is her second novel.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Quinn and Mike reunite once again in an attempt to save their friend Lex from a soul-collecting Ghost-Mother, now living across the street.
(Amulet, August 31, 2021)
Cover artist: Gilles Ketting
My main character Quinn is…sassy and driven. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s always up for an adventure – especially when the truth is at stake.
My favorite scene to write was…the epilogue. (What can I say, I love endings!)
One surprising thing about me is…that I don’t believe in ghosts! I love to read, write, and watch things about them, but I’m still waiting for one to show itself to me.
Lorien Lawrence is a writer and middle school English teacher from Connecticut. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found hunting ghosts with her family.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: LONG LOST is a story-within-a-ghost-story about siblings, strange libraries, small town secrets, and a book that might not exist.
My main character… is eleven-year-old Fiona Crane, a future archeologist (or historian, whichever turns out to be more interesting). Her family has just moved to the little town of Lost Lake so that Fiona’s big sister Arden can be closer to her figure skating club in the Boston suburbs, forcing Fiona to leave her home and friends behind.
Angry and alone, Fiona heads to Lost Lake’s library, which is housed in a former mansion that belonged to a wealthy local family. While browsing in the mystery section, she starts to read a book that has some striking parallels to her new hometown. But when she returns to the library to find the book again, it has vanished. There’s no trace of it anywhere, not even online. And the librarians insist that it never existed at all.
But Fiona knows what she saw. And the deeper she digs, the more clues she finds that tie Lost Lake to the mystery in the book. Soon Fiona is sure that its story, about a girl who vanished from her own little town a century ago, is all true.
She just needs to find out how that story ends.
My favorite scene to write was…Ooh, everything in Lost Lake’s library. (It’s basically my dream library.) The book-within-a-book parts were all delightful too, because I got to use the old-fashioned voice of so many of my favorite classic novels. It was like getting to put on a Victorian costume and then take it off again. And all the sections involving the Searcher—a mysterious cloaked figure that lurks in the woods around Lost Lake—were creepily fun.
One surprising thing about me is…Like my main character, Fiona, I was OBSESSED with certain historical eras as a kid—especially ancient Egypt. I taught myself to write in Egyptian hieroglyphs (again, just like Fiona), and I can still write my name phonetically, even though I’ve forgotten a lot of the other letters. It was very handy for writing secret messages.
Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors and its sequel, A Storm of Wishes, the MG mystery Digging Up Danger, and the MG novel Long Lost, forthcoming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in May 2021, as well asthe YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews, was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Junior Library Guild Selection, and received the 2010 CYBILS Award for fantasy/science fiction. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.
By the author of 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Book The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, a sweeping, emotional middle grade historical novel about a twelve-year-old boy who leaves his family in Cuba to immigrate to the U.S. by himself, based on the author’s family history.
(Macmillan, September 21, 2021)
Cover artist: Geneva Bowers
My main character…is based on my father. It was an honor to be able to portray his wit, bravery, and compassion.
My favorite scene to write was…when Cumba and his friends prank their Catholic school teacher. I love writing mischievous characters doing silly things.
One surprising thing about me is…I have a graduate degree in linguistics and I’m obsessed with languages. That might not be surprising… I’m pretty much an open-book, for an introvert.
Adrianna Cuevas is the author of The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez and Cuba in My Pocket. She is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and son. When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, she is writing her next middle grade novel.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Two sisters struggle to keep their father’s disappearance a secret in this tender middle grade novel that’s perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Poignant and heartwarming.
(Simon & Schuster, August 24, 2021)
Jacket illustration is by Henry Cole, and the cover design is by Lizzy Bromley.
My main character, Lulu, twelve, wakes up in their Suburban – their current home – to discover her father has gone missing. She must take care of her younger sister Serena while keeping the fact that they are without parents, and living in a car, a secret. Lulu loves to sing, and discovers that she loves acting, but how can she have fun when life is so full of worry?
My favorite scene to write was the scene in the Carnegie Library tower, when Lulu is trying to make a thousand paper cranes to make her wishes come true.
One surprising thing about me is that I, too, love to sing, and once upon a time, sang with a rock band. It didn’t last long, which is probably a very good thing.
Janet Fox is an author, mom, outdoor enthusiast, and former teacher. She’s been to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible, and had a brief fling with rock stardom. Her novels are written for children and young adults but have won her fans of all ages. Her newest middle grade novel, CARRY ME HOME, is out from Simon & Schuster in August 2021, and she has more books in the pipeline. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE (Viking 2016), which received a whole bunch of stars and the lovely Crystal Kite Award, is a gothic middle grade historical fairy tale set in Scotland, and is followed by a sequel, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS (Viking 2020). She lives in Bozeman, Montana and is repped by Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find out more at www.janetsfox.com.
Describe your book Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less: Thirteen ordinary kids. Thirteen ordinary towns. Danger lurks around every corner! Even the most ordinary things hide the most menacing secrets.
(Holiday House, August 31, 2021)
My main characters…have no idea what’s coming for them! The poor things.
My favorite scene to write was…about a haunted microwave oven. No . . . wait . . . it was about a spooky ice cream cone! Or no! It was about a terrifying substitute teacher! or a snowman who refused to melt! . . . Oh, it’s just too hard to choose.
One surprising thing about me is…that I’m an English professor who’s taught a semester-long class on superheroes.
Josh Allen checks under his bed before switching off the light each night. During the day, he teaches creative writing and literature at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He’s the author of OUT TO GET YOU, a Junior Library Guild selection published by Holiday House in September 2019, and the upcoming ONLY IF YOU DARE. Learn more at joshallenwriter.com.
Would you like to support the Spooky Middle Grade team? This support helps us continue to offer free virtual visits to schools across the country. If so, head over to our Bookshop page. Every purchase helps us keep these amazing visits free for schools.
Today I’m thrilled to reveal the GORGEOUSLY CREEPY cover of Whispering Pines: Infestation, the second book in the Whispering Pines series by sisters Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski. But first, let’s learn more about the book!
MORE ABOUT INFESTATION:
Caden’s brother Aiden is many things: clever, powerful, vindictive. Unforgiving. And now, he’s also mysteriously free from the hellish dimensional prison that Caden had trapped him in. Caden is sure that Aiden is out for revenge, but since his parents refuse to see the danger when it comes to his brother, he’ll have to find a way to survive on his own.
Meanwhile, Rae, freed from the threat of the eye-snatching, monstrous Unseeing, has once again turned all her focus toward finding her missing father. She believes the town’s shady alternative energy company, Green On!, might have the information she seeks, so she joins their internship program to get answers. Unfortunately this means sacrificing her friendship with Caden, who wants nothing to do with Green On! or anyone associated with it.
When a special assignment from Rae’s internship leads her to uncover an infestation of giant, flesh-eating centipedes that may be alien in nature, she needs to convince Caden to help her get rid of them. The two friends must learn to work together again, because this time, it’s not just Whispering Pines’ fate that hangs in the balance, but the world’s.
INFESTATION is set for publication: September 14th, 2021
Without further ado…
Here’s the beautiful cover with artwork by Xavier Collette!!!
Love it! And Heidi and Kati also answered a few questions about the book!
KIM: What’s the story behind the cover art? Did you work with the artist or ask for changes?
KATI: We actually had a different illustrator for this book than for our first book, so he had to try to match the characters from the original. But no, we did not ask for any changes or anything. I loved the cover as soon as I saw it.
HEIDI: Ditto. The illustrator for this cover is Xavier Collette, and he did an amazing job. I’m also really happy with it.
KIM: What’s your favorite part of the cover?
KATI: I love the huge centipede right behind our characters, and the hint at all the others in the background. Check out all those glowing eyes!
HEIDI: I also love that Vivienne gets a spot on this cover, too. And I like how the characters look so fully dimensional, like they’re about to sprint off the page. It makes me think of an animated TV show.
KIM: What can readers expect in book 2? Do you recommend reading this book alone with the lights out?
KATI: Book 2 will definitely have more of creepy Aiden, plus bugs…huge, man-eating alien bugs. As far as reading it with the lights out, of course! Is there any other way to read this kind of story? 😉
HEIDI: And expect more suspicious activity on the part of the alternative energy company that basically owns the town of Whispering Pines. Also readers will finally learn the secret behind Vivienne and her mysteriously-oversized backpack.
KIM: This series delves into some pretty creepy topics. Do you believe in the paranormal or supernatural? What drew you to these topics?
KATI: I do believe in the paranormal, and I have always loved reading a good ghost tale, or a book that keeps me up in the night.
HEIDI: In book one, our character Rae explains that her dad taught her you can’t prove a negative, so there are no limits on possibility. This is how I feel, that anything is possible. That belief coupled with a very active imagination has been good for writing horror, but bad for those moments when I have to be alone in the dark.
KATI: When we were kids we watched shows like The X-Files together. Heidi was always more into them than I was, but when we began writing books together, I started thinking that a middle grade X-Files would be really fun to write.
HEIDI: Kati suggested the idea, and I was really excited to partner with her on it. Any strong emotion makes for great story fodder, if you can translate it into a plot on the page. And since I’m actually quite terrified of all things supernatural, I felt like this would be a series I could really get into writing.
Yes, I love TheX-Files! I still rewatch it to this day 🙂
KIM: How would you describe Rae and Caden? What makes them the perfect team?
KATI: Rae is someone who throws herself into finding what she needs to find, whereas Caden is the type who likes to hold back, and not rush into anything without a plan. This makes it so their abilities complement each other.
HEIDI: They are also both very independent thinkers, which, coupled with certain mysterious life events in both of their pasts, has taught them to be careful in who they trust. Caden is a total loner at the start of this series, and Rae is someone who knows what it feels like to be the one on the outside. Both of them are looking for a friend, someone who really “gets” them, but until they find each other neither of them realize that’s what they’re missing.
Fun fact about book 2:
KATI: The idea of large alien bugs came from a dream I had. In my dream the creatures were more worm-like than the bugs in this story, but they, too, started off small before becoming huge. And they also enjoyed feasting on people…
HEIDI: Initially when we started writing this I wanted our bugs to look more like praying mantises than worms, but we changed them to giant centipedes when a couple of our early readers said they thought that would be the creepiest. All those legs. <shudder>
KATI: I was always in favor of the centipede look, personally. Oh, and even though the bugs in our story are made-up, there really were bugs like them back around the Permian Period called Anthropleura.
HEIDI: Which leads to our next fun fact: apparently Kati knows a lot of really disturbing things about bugs. Before writing this book together I had no idea. Frankly, it’s a little concerning. ;D
What’s scarier, ghosts or aliens?:
KATI: Ghosts! Aliens are creepy, but I assume they’ll pick someone else to experiment on over me, whereas ghosts I don’t think will be so choosy.
HEIDI: I spent an entire summer when I was twelve convinced I was going to be abducted (thanks a lot, X-Files!) so I have to go with aliens on this one.
Favorite writing snack:
KATI: Anything with chocolate.
Favorite spooky read:
KATI: Eek! So many to choose from! The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy was a nicely creepy YA, and Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh for MG…but there are so many other great ones that I love, too.
HEIDI: Yeah, I don’t know if I can pick one favorite either. I really loved your Bone Hollow, with its perfect combination of spooky and heartfelt. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is another favorite. And I’m currently reading Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker and so far I am really enjoying it.
KIM: Awww, shucks. Thanks for the shout-out, Heidi!!!
Favorite quote from the book (if you can share):
HEIDI: It’s a little long, but we both loved writing this passage here:
The tunnel opened up into a large cavern. Stalactites dripped down from the ceiling, some so long their points almost brushed the ground, while towering stalagmites thrust up to meet them like giant broken teeth. And in between, the bones and half-decayed bodies of at least a dozen animals littered the floor.
It smelled awful—rotting flesh and damp earth and, underneath that, a strange acrid scent like fermented gasoline. Rae tried breathing shallowly as she stepped into the cavern, carefully avoiding a carcass. She swept her beam around.
It caught on something hanging from the ceiling. A large, yellowy something, throbbing and pulsing like an infected wound. A giant egg sac, Rae realized, tangled around a lanky boy, his eyes half closed, his red hair gleaming in her headlamp.
Rae stared at him for so long that at first she didn’t notice all the giant centipedes crawling down from the ceiling and along the walls, moving rapidly toward her.
From Whispering Pines: Infestation
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters. Heidi is afraid of all things that go bump in the night but watches shows like The X-Files and Stranger Things anyhow. Kati enjoys reading about serial killers and the apocalypse but secretly sleeps with a night-light. They believe that the best way to conquer fear is to share it with as many people as possible, so between the two of them, they love creating stories full of all the things that scare them most. They are the coauthors of the Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy. Find out more at https://heidiandkatibooks.com/.
We’re continuing our month of #SpookyMG giveaways with an amazing selection of titles dealing with important topics like grief, racism, segregation, bullying and much more. Today, the #SpookyMG team members are dropping by the blog to share why they chose their giveaway selection.
I chose THE GIRL AND THE GHOST by Hanna Alkaf because I love stories that not only cast a magical spell, but also have a big heart. THE GIRL AND THE GHOST is not just about a spirit, it’s also about navigating friendship and difficult choices. I hope readers love this story as much as I do.
Victoria Piontek is the author of THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY, a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year and a Sequoyah Children’s Masterlist selection. As a kid, she was lucky to have a menagerie of pets, including a goat that liked to follow her to the school bus each morning.
Samantha M. Clark
JUST SOUTH OF HOME by Karen Strong has so many things I love to read about: ghosts, secrets, mysteries and laughs. Having sat on a panel with Karen and listened to her talk about her influences for the book, I also know it comes from her heart. JUST SOUTH OF HOME is Karen’s debut middle grade novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more books from her.
Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and the forthcoming ARROW (summer 2021), both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
I chose THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by India Hill Brown, because it pairs a chilling ghost story with an important exploration of racism and segregation. I love books that beautifully interweave “scary” elements with universal threads of love and friendship. Add to that the discussion of uncovering and addressing real-life horrors from our past, and this book makes a perfect read, especially for the spooky season.
Like most kids of the eighties and nineties, I grew up reading the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology by Alvin Schwartz with haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. So I could believe that I too could conquer my personal demons. I longed for that catharsis, and it required real monsters.
I had a chance to chat with just a few of the contributors to ask them about their contribution and the influence of the original SCARY STORIES series. Here’s what they had to say:
Kami is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and comic book writer of thirteen novels including the Beautiful Creatures novels, BROKEN BEAUTIFUL HEARTS, TEEN TITANS: RAVEN, and TEEN TITANS: BEAST BOY. Find Kami online at www.kamigarcia.com.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Kami Garcia: My story is about a bottle tree and a ghost. My mom’s family is from North Carolina and bottle trees are very common there. My mom has one in her yard. According to the superstition, if you put brightly colored bottles on the branches of a tree, ghosts will be attracted to the color and they will get caught in the bottles.
Kim: Oooh, can’t wait to read it! This anthology is a tribute to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. What memories to you have of that series from childhood?
Kami Garcia: I loved reading SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK when I was in elementary school. They have a timeless quality. I was a teacher before I became a writer and my students loved SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, too!
Kim: Why you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?
Kami Garcia: Reading stories about scary things allows children to experience their fears in a safe way.
Z is the NYT bestselling author of THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD series, as well as INTO THE REAL (coming 10/20), THE SLAYER CHRONICLES series, SOULBOUND, THE CEMETERY BOYS, THE BLOOD BETWEEN US, MADNESS, and more short stories than they can recall. Their pronouns are they/them. When not making readers cry because they killed off a character they loved, Z is an anti-bullying and mental health advocate. Plus, they have awesome hair. Find out more at http://zbrewerbooks.com/.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Z Brewer: When I was a kid, my dad used to warn me that it was bad luck to pass a graveyard without whistling. His mom, my grandmother, had told him that same thing his entire childhood. It was a “fact” that they both passed on in a very serious tone. I was twelve before I was brave enough to not whistle past the graveyard. Fortunately nothing happened to me because of it…yet. But that fear has always been at the back of my mind.
Kim: What memories do you have of the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK series from childhood?
I was obsessed with SCARY STORIES when they came out. The artwork was terrifying. The tales made my heart race. I loved every frightening moment. But my favorite memory is what transpired after I read “The Green Ribbon.” The story is about a girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck at all times. She meets a boy and falls in love, but the boy asks her over and over again throughout the years why she wears the ribbon around her neck. She eventually gets very sick and as she’s lying on her deathbed, she tells him to untie the ribbon and he will understand why she’d never told him why she wore it. He unties it…and her head falls off. It was gruesome. I loved it.
…which is why I took a bit of curling ribbon from a gift that had been opened and tied it around my neck (looking back on it, I can see how stupid and dangerous that was) so I could tell people that if I removed it, my head would fall off.
Did I mention I had no friends?
Kim: HAHAHA, yes! I think we are kindred spirits! Why do you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?
The stories were not at all reflective of children’s books at the time. They were dark. They were gritty. They had imagery that horrified even adults. There was so much about them that was forbidden fruit to so many people. Parents and teachers told kids not to read them, which made them even more tantalizing. Apart from the chill up my spine, I think my favorite thing about them is that SCARY STORIES inspired so many to rebel and pick up the books. I’ve always been of the mind that if someone tells you not to read something, you should absolutely read it to find out what they’re keeping from you. Viva la Resistance!
Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published twenty-four novels in various genres in his fourteen-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I Hunt Killers. His books have been or are slated to be published in more than a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.
Kim: What inspired your contribution?
Barry Lyga: I was thinking about something that could happen without reason or logic because those sorts of things, in my opinion, tend to be the scariest. I’ve always liked doppelgänger stories, so the idea of a murderous twin that comes out of nowhere really resonated for me. Originally, I thought a cursed mirror would create the doppelgänger…but then I realized that cursed mirrors have been done to death (literally, sometimes!). So I thought and I thought…and then I looked down at my keyboard…
Kim: Who doesn’t love an evil twin, am I right? Why do you think kids are so drawn to terrifying tales?
There are many different theories on this, but I think it’s because horror provides a way for them to experience and even experiment with things that are dangerous or frightening without actually being in danger. It’s almost like a training session for dealing with the more mundane — but very real — terrors of the real world.
Jonathan is a New York Times best-selling and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and writing teacher/lecturer. He was named one of the Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. His books have been sold to more than two-dozen countries. Find out more at http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/.
I also had the pleasure of chatting with the editor of DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, Jonathan Maberry!
Kim: Sum it all up for us. Why do kids have such an enduring love for scary stories?
Jonathan Maberry: Kids like being scared for a whole slew of reasons. Partly it’s the simple thrill –the physical and biochemical reaction to fear that releases a bit of epinephrine (aka that old fight or flight hormone popularly known as adrenaline) which makes us feel stronger, faster, and more capable of escaping danger or dealing with it on our own terms and with our own resources. Kids, being younger and smaller than adults, have a natural inferiority complex, but the more challenges kids face –however virtual—the more agency they take over themselves.
Scary stories –especially those written expressly for kids—teach problem-solving; they often focus on elements of teamwork and friendship; and they often have better third acts than does the real world.
From a personal perspective, I grew up in a very troubled household that was in a crime-ridden and dangerous neighborhood. I read scary stories of all kinds because in those stories there was always an ending. But the stress in my life went on and on for years. So the stories were true escapism for me. This is something common to many millions of kids –and not just those from bad neighborhoods or abusive families. Kids face the challenges of a scary world every day, but in their stories those frights are encountered, experienced, and ultimately left behind. There is a measure of closure. Or, at least, the promise of one.
Want a sneak peek at the contents?
Here’s the line-up for this totally terrifying anthology:
Editor’s Foreword by Jonathan Maberry “The Funeral Portrait” by Laurent Linn “The Carved Bear” by Brendan C Reichs “Don’t You See That Cat?” by Gaby Triana “The Golden Peacock” by Alethea Kontis “The Knock-Knock Man” by Brenna Yovanoff “Strange Music” by Joanna Parypinski “Copy and Paste Kill” by Barry Lyga “The House on the Hill” by Micol Ostow Harlan “Jingle Jangle” by Kim Ventrella (Oooh, it’s me!) “The Weeping Woman” by Courtney Alameda “The Neighbor” by Amy Lukavics “Tag, You’re It” by N. R. Lambert “The Painted Skin” by Jamie Ford “Lost to the World” by John Dixon “The Bargain” by Aric Cushing “Lint Trap” by Jonathan Auxier “The Cries of the Cat” by Josh Malerman “The Open Window” by Christopher Golden “The Skelly-Horse” by T. J. Wooldridge “The Umbrella Man” by Gary A. Braunbeck “The Green Grabber” by D.J. MacHale “Brain Spiders” by Luis Alberto Urrea and Rosario Urrea “Hachishakusama” by Catherine Jordan “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” by Margaret Stohl “In Stitches” by Michael Northrop “The Bottle Tree” by Kami Marin Garcia “The Ghost in Sam’s Closet” by R.L. Stine “Rap Tap” by Sherrilyn Kenyon “The Garage” by Tananarive Due “Don’t Go into the Pumpkin Patch at Night” by Sheri White “Pretty Girls Make Graves” by Tonya Hurley “Whistle Past the Graveyard” by Z Brewer “Long Shadows” by James A. Moore “Mud” by Linda D Addison “The Tall Ones” by Madeleine Roux
Hold on, what about the artwork?
I know what you’re thinking: The artwork was what made the original books so terrifying, right? I couldn’t agree more, and this anthology will not disappoint. It features gorgeous, ethereal and so-so haunting images by the amazing Iris Compiet.
Iris Compiet is an award-winning artist from the Netherlands. She has worked for a wide range of international clients and contributed to gallery shows and art annuals. She is also the creator of the book Faeries of the Faultlines. Drawing inspiration from European folklore, mythology, fairy tales, and the world around her, she strives to open a gateway to the imagination to ignite it even further.
Kim: Your illustrations are gorgeous, surreal and unsettling. Were you inspired by Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the original SCARY STORIES books? How did you bring your own voice to the project?
Iris: I’ve been working in this illustration style for a while now, mixing ink with pencils and such to create a mood. I always try to adapt my illustrations to the needs of the book and stories, to help get across the feel of them and this style was the perfect fit. Rough and a bit gnarly. I think the use of materials and technique is very important in getting across the feel of the story, the illustration has to give the reader a little bit more information, heighten the mood so to speak. It seemed a perfect fit for these stories and it naturally ended up as a nod to the original scary stories, almost a homage if you will because those originals are pure genius. I wanted the illustrations to just underline that unsettling feel of the stories without giving away too much.
Kim: What scared you as a kid? Do those fears inspire your artwork?
Iris: I think I was afraid of the usual things as a kid, the thing hiding in my closet or under my bed. The creak upstairs at my grandmothers, things like that. I love a good scare and loved watching shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark. When I worked on these stories I tried to tap into those feelings
Kim: You’re known for creating fantastical creatures with touches of darkness and whimsy. How did you develop your unique artistic style?
Iris: Developing a style takes many years and a lot of work. I didn’t set out intentionally to develop my style like this but I love to mix things, I don’t believe something is 100% good or bad. Without darkness there can be no light, that’s the way I see things. So I love to create art that has both in them. Depending on who is looking at the artwork, they’ll be either drawn to the dark or light in a piece. I enjoy creating art that has both.
Kim: Why do you think kids connect so deeply with scary stories/art?
Iris: I think there’s nothing like a good scare, that rush of adrenaline, not just with kids. I think we all enjoy a good scare once in a while, to confront those fears and come out of it as the victor because we ‘survived’ the story. It’s a safe escape, reading scary stories. As a kid I grew up with the real fairytales, the ones with the chopped-off hands and the livers being eaten, things like that. I enjoyed Jaws as a kid even though it made me scared to go into the local pool, because there might be a giant shark there. It gave me a rush but it was a safe rush, nothing would ever happen to me.
Oh, and in case you wanted a sneak peek at the chapter art:
Today I’m thrilled to chat with Tania del Rio, author of the Warren the 13th series! Her latest book, The Thirteen-Year Curse, releases today!!! You can also check out an interview with Tania on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/spookymiddlegrade/. Watch it live 3.24.2020 at 1 PDT or visit our page to view the recording.
Let’s dive right in. What should new readers know about the world of Warren the 13th?
The Warren the 13th series is about a hardworking boy who is the lone bellhop, fixer-upper, concierge, maid service, and manager of his family’s ancient hotel. He does it all, with no thanks to his lazy uncle and evil aunt, who may or may not be a witch. Warren starts off the series as a lonely boy who is trying to honor the memory of his dead father but through the course of his adventures he gains new friends—and enemies—and unlocks some surprising mysteries about his beloved hotel!
What should readers expect in this latest volume? Can you give us any scintillating details w/out spoilers?
It’s tough to say too much without spoiling anything, but I can say Warren’s adventures take him to uncharted territory upon the open seas. His beloved pet and best pal, Sketchy, is kidnapped and Warren must solve riddles and clues if he has any hope of rescuing his friend. Along the way he’ll contend with ornery pirates, sea witches, and circus clowns—not to mention an enormous beast known as The Great Eight!
What has been the best part of working on Warren the 13th?
I love the zany cast of characters and seeing where Warren’s adventures take him. Even though I work from a detailed outline, as I write new surprises often pop up and I find myself adding things in I’d never expect. Also, collaborating with Will Staehle, the designer and illustrator of the book, is a lot of fun.
Tell me more about the illustrator. You’re also known for your amazing illustrations, so how did that partnership work?
Will and I have known each other since we were freshmen in art school, many years ago! We’ve had a lot of creative collaborations over the years, including creating a small press comic company, and editing a tutorial book on manga style art. Will originally conceived of the character of Warren in art school and shared the concept with me. I actually wrote the earliest draft of Warren’s story back in 2004! So it’s been a very long process bringing it to shelves. Even though I am also an illustrator, Will’s incredible design sense and his unique style is the only way Warren could ever be brought to life. My own art style just wouldn’t work for this project.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a new middle grade adventure that is best described as Latinx Sailor Moon meets Coco. It’s about three friends who end up in a darkened world populated by alebrijes, colorful and folkloric animals. The girls must band together to restore the sun and find their way home, before all is lost.
How can readers get in touch?
I can be reached on Twitter, @taniadelrio and Instagram, @taniadelrioauthor. I absolutely love hearing from my readers, so please visit me online!
Tania Del Rio is a professional comic book writer and artist who has spent the past 10 years writing and illustrating, primarily for a young audience. Her clients include Archie Comics, Dark Horse, and Marvel; she is best known for her work writing and drawing the 42-issue run of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She is also the author of the WARREN THE 13TH series published by Quirk Books. She lives in Los Angeles. Visit her online at http://taniadelrio.blogspot.com/.
Today, I’m thrilled to give readers a first look at the new middle grade novel by the writing team of Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, Whispering Pines!!! Welcome Heidi and Kati! We’ll show off that beautiful cover soon, but first can you pitch your new book to us Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less?
X-Files meets Stranger Things in this contemporary horror MG about a UFO-obsessed girl determined to find her missing father, and a ghost hunting boy now being hunted by a ghost of his own—that of his older brother—who team up to save their town from supernatural forces.
Yes!!! I love everything from that pitch! Aliens, ghosts, mysterious supernatural forces. Why do I feel like this book was written specifically for me?
Next, I challenged Heidi and Kati to finish these sentences about the book:
The one thing Rae Carter wants is to…
KATI: Find her missing father.
HEIDI: Couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉 In the meantime, she also wants to learn how to fit into Whispering Pines.
Caden Price knows more than most about the mysterious town of Whispering Pines, including…
HEIDI: …the fact that there is a world hidden beneath their own, and his town serves as the gateway.
KATI: Unfortunately for Caden, he’s not the only one who knows this. Just as he’s not the only one who’s figured out that the Price family holds the key to unlocking that world.
My first thought when I saw the cover was…
HEIDI: Wow! So delightfully creepy!
KATI: Same. I loved it immediately. Diana Novich is such a talented illustrator.
And, without further ado, let’s take a look at that gorgeous cover:
So beautiful and mysterious! I love the lighting, and did you catch that ghost hand?
Finally, I challenged Heidi and Kati to a little Lightning Round!
What was your favorite spooky story as a kid?
KATI: I actually didn’t like reading spooky stories as a kid – I got nightmares too easily. I used to wait for Heidi to read a book first so she could tell me if it was scary or not. Sometimes she lied about it. >: (
HEIDI: “Lied” is a little harsh. I was just trying to broaden your horizons. And it worked! Now you love reading horror. You’re welcome, by the way. ; p I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, especially “Let’s Get Invisible.” That ending has stayed with me for years.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
HEIDI: Me too. I think anything is possible.
What tips do you have for kids interested in writing spooky stories?
HEIDI: Read and watch spooky things. And play the “what if” game, trying to think of the scariest possible outcomes. And then invest in a good night light.
KATI: Also when you’re writing, try to create scenes that scare you. If you can scare yourself, you’ll scare your readers.
What’s the coolest costume you’ve ever worn for Halloween?
KATI: Actually, my coolest costume was simple black clothing that I wore when I worked at a haunted house – it helped me blend into the shadows so I could scare people.
HEIDI: One time I was a crayon. That was pretty wild.
KATI: I remember that costume! Pretty sure I was that same crayon the next year. I don’t think “cool” is how I’d describe it, though. ;D
Final question: Can readers expect more adventures set in Whispering Pines?
KATI: We are currently working on an as-yet-unnamed sequel.
HEIDI: Yes, lots more planned for Whispering Pines!
Yay!!! Looking forward to it!
WHISPERING PINES releases September 1st, 2020 through Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters. Heidi is afraid of all things that go bump in the night, but watches shows like the X-Files and Stranger Things anyhow. Kati enjoys reading about serial killers and the apocalypse, but secretly sleeps with a nightlight. They believe that the best way to conquer fear is to share it with as many people as possible, so between the two of them, they love creating stories full of all the things that scare them most. They are the co-authors of the Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy.