because spooky books 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.
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.
KIM: Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Janet Fox to the spooky blog to reveal the cover of her new book, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, a companion novel to her critically-acclaimed middle grade fantasy, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, coming August 2020! Welcome!
JANET: Thank you, Kim!
KIM: Before we reveal that gorgeous cover, tell us more about the fantasy world that you started in your award-winning book, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.
JANET: CHARMED CHILDREN is set early in World War 2, during the London blitz of fall 1940. Kat Bateson and her younger brother and sister are sent out of London to a “school” in a Scottish castle, Rookskill. But as it turns out, the school is run by someone who is not what she seems, and the castle is a nightmarish place of strange noises, dark hallways, and ghostly children. German spies, enigma machines, and ancient spooky magic all play a part. Practical Kat must uncover what’s going on – and discover her own power – before it’s too late.
KIM: What should readers of CHARMED CHILDREN expect from your latest book?
JANET: THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS is told from a new character’s point of view, a Czech Jewish boy named Isaac Wolf, who is sent abruptly from Prague to Scotland by his parents. This story again takes place in Rookskill, but it’s now 1942, and things in the castle have changed. Kat is still there with a small handful of the children who are now members of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit of MI 6, using their developing magical skills to help win the war. But Isaac is being chased for reasons he doesn’t understand, and he must enlist the help of his new friends and call on his internal strength to avoid a dreadful dark magical threat, while acquiring a skill and responsibility that will aid the SAIU.
KIM: Now it’s time for the big reveal…here it goes…drumroll please!
Wait for it.
KIM: What was your first response when you saw the cover created by the wonderful Jen Bricking? Can you give us any secrets about the illustration process?
JANET: I had very little to do with the process, but I’m delighted with the cover. It’s very different from the CHARMED CHILDREN cover, which is much more mysterious and sophisticated, but the ARTIFACT HUNTERS cover does create that magical aura, with four of the children and a number of mysterious artifacts, and an image of the antagonist – who is really creepy. I love how appealing it is – the brilliant colors, the spooky aspects, because it raises so many questions that I hope will spur readers to seek answers. I especially love how the kids look so much like I thought. I think it will attract a new group of readers to the series.
KIM: We meet several dastardly villains in THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS. What is your process for creating such deliciously evil souls?
JANET: Oh, thanks for that! I think the most important thing to know about a villain is that he or she truly believes they are the hero of the story. What they do is, by their account, right. It might be “right” because it satisfies a personal need, or it might be “right” because it speaks to a larger need, but the villain never would admit that they are doing what is “wrong”. I think this kind of nuance helps readers assess their own actions and the actions of others, and that adds a layer of complexity.
Plus, I really love writing creepy villains who send shivers up the spine.
KIM: What are three fun tidbits from THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS that readers may not be expecting?
JANET: They should look for the dragon, shapeshifting, and I’d love it if readers would discover all the magical artifacts that I reference – and send me their own ideas for magical artifacts. Their ideas might find a place in another book!
KIM: Thanks so much for stopping by Janet!
JANET: Thank you so much, Kim.
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 most recent novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, is a gothic middle grade fairy tale set in Scotland and has received a whole bunch of stars, and the lovely Crystal Kite Award. At the moment she’s sporting blue and pink stripes in her hair. She lives in Bozeman, Montana. Find out more at www.janetsfox.com
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.
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 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.
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
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:
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. 😉
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.
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):
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.
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:
THE 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.
The 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.
Brandon 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.
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?