Interview with S.A. Larsen Author of MOTLEY EDUCATION

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

Motley Education - ebook cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motley Education - Full Cover with Text

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

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

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

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

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

Website: www.salarsenbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SA_Larsen

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

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

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

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

Spooky Summer Writing Contest Winner

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

The story prompt for our contest was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My grandpa died years ago!” exclaimed Brandon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Chat with Heather Kassner, Author of The Bone Garden

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The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner

Release date: August 6, 2019

A spooky and adventurous debut illustrated fantasy novel about a girl made of dust and bone and imagination who seeks the truth about the magic that brought her to life.

“Remember, my dear, you do not really and truly exist.”

Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life―and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.

When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.

“[Evokes] the dreamy tone and themes of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book . . . an impressive new fairy tale that will appeal to fans of Lisa Graff’s subtly magical stories.” ―Booklist

“This magical story―and the brave girl in its pages―will haunt you in the best way.” ―Natalie Lloyd, New York Times bestselling author of Over the Moon

Version 6I love a spooky middle grade novel as much as the next gal, that’s why I am so excited about this interview with debut author, Heather Kassner. Close the curtains, pull up the covers, and let’s get spooky! 

1. Tell us about The Bone Garden.

The Bone Garden tells the story of a strange dust-and-bone girl named Irréelle whose greatest fear is that she isn’t real. A girl who has to be brave and ever hopeful as she navigates the graveyard (and the passageways beneath the graveyard) and seeks the magic that brought her to life—and could return her to dust.

  1.  How did you come up with the idea?

The idea for The Bone Garden started with the very first line, which came to me before anything else. “She descended into the basement, tasked with collecting the bones.” I caught a glimpse of a girl holding a candle in the dark, and from there, I followed her down a twisty staircase to see those bones for myself—and to learn who she was, who tasked her with this strange chore, and, of course, what the bones were used for.

  1. In what ways do you identify with Irréelle?

Irréelle is both vulnerable and hopeful, and having just been laid off from work when I wrote this story, I was feeling much the same. But it went deeper than that too. She also took on many of the feelings I had when I was younger, and which many kids can likely relate to—of being awkward or different or strange, of believing what others say about you, of thinking that you don’t always belong. What I wanted for Irréelle most of all was to be brave and hopeful enough to face the darkness in her life, just as I was trying to do for myself.

  1. The setting for your story is so unique. What is your process for world-building?

Imagining the world of a story, creating its very atmosphere, is one my favorite parts of writing. What helps me develop the world is visualization, specifically, picturing everything in my head as if it were a movie. With my eyes closed (and most often lying in bed), I bring a scene to mind and walk through it, exploring every shadowed corner.

  1. What are you working on now?

I recently submitted copyedits for my second book, a middle grade fantasy that comes out on August 4, 2020, called The Forest of Stars. It’s about a magical, windswept girl whose feet never touch the ground and the search for her father at a magnificent—yet shadow-filled—carnival beneath the stars.

  1. What message do you hope young readers will gain from reading your story?

My hope for younger readers reading The Bone Garden is the same hope I have for Irréelle—to be able to see their own worth unclouded by the perception of others. To trust in their true hearts and to know there is always a place they belong.

  1. What has been the most surprising thing about being a debut author?

When I drafted The Bone Garden, I didn’t know anyone else in the writing community. So being a debut author, the biggest surprise (and what I’m most thankful for) has been getting to know other writers. Making writing friends—and reading one another’s amazing stories—has made this entire experience all the more fun.

  1. If you have one piece of advice for our readers who are aspiring authors, what would it be?

A story I’m working on now came from a dream, and if I hadn’t forced myself to grab paper and pen (when all I wanted was to roll back over and sleep) the idea probably would have slipped away. So, if an idea pops into your head, write it down right away, as many details as you can. Don’t trust that you’ll remember it later.

Bio

Heather Kassner loves thunderstorms, hummingbirds, and books. She lives with her husband in Arizona, waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the rain, photographing hummingbirds, and reading and writing strange little stories. The Bone Garden is her debut novel.

Social Media

Website: http://www.heatherkassner.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherKassner

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather1ee/

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17523236.Heather_Kassner

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

USING MYTHS AND LEGENDS AS A SPRINGBOARD FOR SPOOKY STORIES

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

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

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

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

Margaret Dilloway

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

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

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

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

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


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


3. How did you stay true to the folklore?

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

4. How did you change it? And why?


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


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

            Adapt the story to something that feels personal to you. 

Sheri A. Larsen

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

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

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

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

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

3. How did you stay true to the folklore? 

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

4. How did you change it? And why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Foods by Angie Smibert

bones-giftIn my Ghosts of Ordinary Objects’ series, food plays an important role. Bone (the main character) is growing up in a relatively poor part of the world (Appalachia) that’s now experiencing war rationing. Yet, her childhood is filled with food: from sweet tea to ham biscuits to collard greens to preacher cookies. Appalachian and most of Southern cuisine, and in fact most cuisines worldwide, grows out of necessity: poor people making the most out of the ingredients they have around them. Food tells you so much about the culture and their part of the world. (See below for a preacher cookie recipe!)

So, needless to say, food is—or should be—a key part of world building in fantasy fiction—including spooky stories. Think about the food of Harry Potter’s world. Butterbeer. Chocolate Frogs. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. Maggoty Haggis at Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Party. Mrs. Weasley’s corned beef sandwiches. Cauldron cakes. I could go on and on. (In fact, if you play Harry Potter’s Wizards Unite, you can get some of these when you visit inns.) J.K. Rowling understands that part of the joy of being immersed in the wizarding world is yearning for a butterbeer or a trip to Honeydukes.

A few other middle grade and/or fantasy books have food that sticks with you. The Turkish delight from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind.

What are some of your favorite fantasy foods—from middle grade or other fantasy/spooky books? Any recipes you’ve tried? Please share below.

BTW, I highly recommend the Geeky Chef (www.geekychef.com) for fantasy food recipes!

cookies

Preacher Cookie recipe

Preacher Cookies are so-named because they were something you could whip up really quickly when your minister dropped by for a visit!

Ingredients:

½ cup butter

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

½ cup milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 cups of quick cooking oatmeal (not instant, though!)

½ cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Mix the butter, cocoa, sugar, milk, and salt together in a saucepan.
  2. Boil the mixture for one minute. You just need to melt everything together. Remove from the heat.
  3. Stir in oatmeal, peanut butter, and vanilla.
  4. Drop dollops of the mixture (about a tablespoon each) on waxed paper.
  5. Let cool – and eat!

Angie Smibert is the author of the middle grade historical fantasy series, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, which includes Bone’s Gift (2018), Lingering Echoes (2019), and The Truce (2020). She’s also written three young adult science fiction novels: Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague. In addition to numerous short stories, she’s published over two dozen science/technology books for kids. Smibert teaches young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program as well as professional writing for Indiana University East. Before doing all this, she was a science writer and web developer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She lives in Roanoke with a goofy dog (named after a telescope) and two bickering cats (named after Tennessee Williams characters), and puts her vast store of useless knowledge to work at the weekly pub quiz. Find her online at: http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/ 

Have a Spooky Summer

Hello Spookies! I hope you’re enjoying your summer so far, but if you’re like me, all you can do is count down the days until the fall and all that comes with it: cooler weather, shorter days, and most of all…Halloween!

We still have a ways to go, so why not make the most of what’s left of our summer by injecting a little spooky into it?

I recently saw the horror film, MIDSOMMAR (Warning: definitely NOT for kids!). To summarize, it’s about a group of friends who travel to Sweden to visit a friend’s quaint village for some summer solstice celebrations, but things are not as pleasant as they seem at first. What struck me most about the film was that it was a scary story set in the middle of summer in broad daylight. How rare it is to be so frightened by something that looks bright and cheery on the outside! The scares aren’t hidden in dark shadows, but are displayed in plain sight, which makes them even more horrifying.

The movie inspired me to think of ways to incorporate spooky things into summer stories for kids. After all, we here at Spooky Middle Grade are all about celebrating spooky stories ALL year long. So here’s a few ideas for all you aspiring spooky writers out there.

CARNIVALS

What says summer more than a carnival? Warm nights filled with the scent of funnel cake, and the sound of screams from kids on all the whirly-rides. With all the blaring lights and noise, it wouldn’t be too hard for a creepy thing to escape unnoticed amongst the crowd. How about a grotesque creature that hides among the plush toys that are offered as prizes at the ring toss? Or how about a creepy traveling carnie who guards the entrance to the fun house? What if some of the screams you hear are not just kids having fun…but screams of horror? Why not take it a step further and have all the carousel animals come to life and go on a rampage? Or a mysterious power outage that plunges the entire carnival into darkness (not to mention getting stuck on a ride, 100 feet in the air!). Do I even need to mention evil clowns? The possibilities are endless!

CAMPING

For anyone who’s ever shared scary stories around a campfire, you already know that this summer activity is perfect for bringing on the spooky! The woods at night are filled with countless possibilities: Bigfoots and sasquatches, howling wolves, hooting owls, and glittering eyes spotted among the foliage. The shadows cast by the fire are distorted and strange, and every snap of a twig could spell danger. Of course, these are all common tropes, so why not think outside the box? How about coming across a helpful troop of scouts who turn out to be possessed by evil spirits? Or how about finding a creepy tent that is a portal into another world? Or maybe your campfire circle accidentally summons a demon with a voracious appetite for s’mores?

BEACH

This may seem like the least obvious setting for a scary story – but think again. A lively beach boardwalk could incorporate some of the spooky elements mentioned in the carnival section above, but the ocean offers many opportunities for scares as well. Man-eating sharks, poisonous jellyfish, mysterious things brushing your toes in the murky waves (and no, it’s not just seaweed!), creepy sea pirates and mer-creatures are just a few of the things that can ruin a good beach day.

Again, you can challenge yourself to think beyond the obvious and come up with surprising and unexpected scares: corn dogs that bite back, beach sand that turns into quicksand, a kid digging up a cursed object, or coming across an ANTI-life guard! Or how about applying some sun-scream by accident?

However you choose to make your summer spooky, make sure you have fun with it. And don’t worry, autumn will be here before you know it!

A Spooky Cover Reveal: Sarah Cannon’s TWIST!

Sarah Cannon has a new book coming, February 11, 2020, and we’re here to show you its full awesomeness below!!

Here’s the flap copy:

Oklahoma, 1983:

Eli has a dream. He’s going to be the next Stephen King, and he’s just created his best monster yet!

Neha has a secret. Her notebook is filled with drawings of a fantasy world called Forest Creeks, and it’s become inhabited by wonderful imaginary creatures. But her new friends are in danger…

Court has a gift, both for finding trouble and for stopping it. And when she accidentally ends up with one of Neha’s drawings, she quickly realizes that the monsters raiding Forest Creeks are coming from Eli’s stories. 

When these three creative kids come together, they accidentally create a doorway from Forest Creeks into the real world, and now every monster that Eli ever imagined has been unleashed upon their town!

Now for a short interview and then the amazing cover…

Janet: What inspired the book? And why is it set in 1983?

Sarah: 1983 was an amazing year for pop culture and music, and it was pivotal in another way, too. It was the last year before the 1984 Cable Act was passed, after which cable TV became a standard fixture in American households. Running cable nationwide was the largest private construction project since WWII, can you believe that? At the same time, television content was being deregulated, so it was much easier to cross-market toys to kids through shows. It changed a lot about the way kids play and the way they pretend, and since I was a middle grader in 1983, the “before” and “after” are very distinct in my memory. A lot of the kids’ pet projects in TWIST are things me and my friends did, too, and naturally I always wondered what would happen if we “crossed the streams,” Ghostbusters-style, between one kid’s hobby and another’s. That’s how TWIST was born!

Janet: Tell us more about your protagonists. Give us a feeling as to what they’re like!

Sarah: Eli, Court, and Neha are pretty representative of the dozens of kids in my Tulsa neighborhood back in the early 80s. They’re biking-around-getting-into-things kids, two of them are latchkey kids, and they’re also nerdy kids back before being nerdy was cool. But what I love most about them is the way they complement each other. Court is well-intentioned and brash but sometimes awkward, Neha is passionate in the defense of the people and things she loves, and Eli is a somewhat beleaguered older brother who cares about his sister but would seriously kill for some quiet time to write. Kids were unsupervised and unscheduled a LOT more often in the 80s, and when you found a group of friends you clicked with the way Eli, Neha and Court click, life was 8000 times more interesting. I’ll add that I know many people who don’t think of diversity or cities when they hear the word “Oklahoma,” so it was important to me to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood I grew up in. That said, I want to point out, as I have before, that writing an inclusive cast is not the same as writing with a diverse lens, so while I hope you’ll love TWIST, I also hope you’re reading the amazing surge of Own Voices fantasy out there right now!

Janet: I love STEAM books. What’s “STEAM-Y” about TWIST?

Sarah: This is another thing that’s so important to me about this book. I moved around a lot as a kid (Neha and I have that in common), and I found that various aspects of intelligence were valued differently in different places. I was a bookworm and a writer, and some schools offered me special opportunities because of that– while passing over some of my peers. In other places, I was grandfathered into math- and science-based programs where I was totally in over my head, but there didn’t seem to be any designated space for kids whose primary talents were in the arts. And of course, we know that kids in the margins are under-identified for any kind of enrichment opportunity. For all of these reasons, I did my best to write an adventure that’s not an either/or proposition, but one in which both the arts and sciences are important, and kids work together on a common problem.

Janet: Tell readers a bit about you and your other books.

Sarah: Sure! TWIST is my second novel. The first is ODDITY, which is set in New Mexico and centers around Ada Roundtree’s quest to find her missing sister, Pearl. This process is complicated by how very weird (and often dangerous) Oddity is. Think zombie rabbits, giant spiders, and a city council composed of evil puppets. In short, it’s a lot of spooky fun. As to the “more about me” part, I’m obviously fairly odd myself. I live in a part of my city that’s named after the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and we have a local “Haunted Neighborhood” tour. I love gardening, cooking/baking, and knitting.

Now for this wonderful cover (drumroll, please):

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Sarah: I love this cover so much. I had to show the full wrap, because look at the gorgeous baby snakes! The cover artist captured them perfectly! Court calls them “The Serpenteens,” and they’re some of my favorite “Creeps” (the friendly creatures who live in Neha’s sketchbook.) Geneva Benton was so thoughtful about the cover illustrations, including the 80s elements, like the ribbon barrettes Neha is wearing! You should all follow Geneva at @gdbeeart and check out more of her gorgeous art at https://gdbee.store/ ! She has stickers and prints and all kinds of things. (I may have already placed an order myself!) Her art is joyous and makes me smile every time I see it.

I love this cover, too, and can’t wait to read TWIST!! Sarah adds:

I’d also like to announce a giveaway, in honor of TWIST’s cover reveal! Comment on this post with either:

  1. One thing you love about the 80s, or
  2. One Own Voices book you’ve loved this year!

I’ll randomly select a winner and send you an ARC of TWIST and a treat from the cover artist’s store, and I’ll make a $25 donation in your name to We Need Diverse Books, which supports diverse authors and publishing interns with grant funding, among other good works. I also want to point out that Paypal users can set up their account to make a recurring $1 donation to WNDB every time you make a purchase!

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Twist-Sarah-Cannon/dp/1250123305/

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250123305

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twist-sarah-cannon/1130769015?ean=9781250123305

 

A Spooky Summer Throwback!

Someone recently asked me where I got my love of all things spooky. I thought on this for a while and realized that the answer is books! I read a ton as a child (still do!) and while I didn’t read exclusively scary books, I did read a few that stand out to me still today. One was THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS by Betty Ren Wright. The book released in 1983 when I was seven, but I don’t recall reading it until a few years later when I was ten or so. While it has had several different covers, here’s the one I most vividly remember.

Dollhouse Murders

While it isn’t the most terrifying cover image I’ve seen, it did the trick. One summer, Little Lindsay snatched this up and read it until the wee hours of the night. The basic premise of the book is that the main character, Amy, desperately needs a break from her own stressful life and therefore moves in temporarily with her Aunt. In the attic of her aunt’s home, she finds a gorgeous dollhouse – a dollhouse that is an exact replica of the home she’s staying in! Now, that idea alone was enough to put ten-year-old Lindsay on edge, but what happens next really sealed the deal.

The dollhouse comes alive at night. *cue shivers*

Yes, playing with the dollhouse causes the dolls to move at night and Amy soon realizes though a serious of terrifying encounters, that they are re-enacting the grisly murders of her great-grandparents some 30 years earlier.

Guys, this book terrified me. It was well-written and so suspenseful that I could not put it down. I’m pretty sure it also created a healthy fear of my own dollhouse. Even more than that though, it taught me that I like to be afraid! Not for real, of course, but within safe confines, a little fear is exhilarating. Challenging!

I credit THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS with a lot of things, but especially with inspiring me to write my own spooky books for middle-grade readers. I want others to experience the same rush I did back in 1986, to hide under the covers late at night and read even though their heart is racing and their hands are clammy. I want others to feel the thrill of finishing a spooky book and knowing they survived, and maybe even managed to solve part of or all of the mystery!

If you have time this summer and want to read a throwback to 80’s middle-grade horror, pick up THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS. Then get yourself a good nightlight. You’re gonna need it.

*Heads-up, friends: one storyline in this book deals with mental illness. Since it was written in the 80’s, it’s quite possible that the representation is different and outdated. Keep this in mind if you choose to read. My love of this book stems from how well Betty Ren Wright handled the suspense/thriller elements, so that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on for this post.*

Making Spooky Scenes Movie-able

Readers often tell me my writing is very cinematic and that as they read, they can see the scenes like a movie in their head. I didn’t set out to write in a cinematic way–it’s how I see the story in my head–but it got me thinking about how to make a book memorable like a movie (or, in my made-up word, more movie-able 😉 ).

I studied writing for the stage when I was in college then writing for film while I was working within the entertainment industry while I lived in Los Angeles, many years ago, and the two forms are very different from writing a novel. As a playwright or a screenwriter, your primary focus is story and character. You choose settings, like “Garden” but you don’t design them any more than what is necessary for the plot. And with film, you might offer suggestions of camerawork, like “We pull in on the letter”, but the director and cinematographer determine how that pull in is done, and they can and often do change what’s in the script dramatically. Even the editor can make the flow of a story completely different from what the screenwriter originally intended with a snip of the film–or click of their mouse today.

But writing a novel, you take on every job: You are the location scout, set designer, director, cinematographer, actor, sound technician, visual effects artist, editor… You even get your own craft services (yes, I’m talking about your fridge).

Call me controlling, but there’s something so fun about being able to create on all these different levels while writing a novel. And the more I can do to make my scenes movie-able, the closer I’m getting to what I see in my head.

So, how do I write a scene that reads like a movie? Here are three tips:

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Photo: FreeImages.com

Think Like a Cinematographer

Have you ever watched a movie where the scene shows a character hurrying out of the door then the camera pans over to their glasses on the coffee table? We immediately understand what the movie is trying to show us: The character is going to be in big trouble soon because they’ve left behind their glasses and won’t be able to see the danger ahead. In movies, shots will move in close to an object to tell the viewers it’s important, and in novels we can use cameras in the same way.

Imagine you’re writing about a person going to a haunted house for the first time. You might start out by describing the house as the character sees it from the outside (the wide angle shot), then give a bit of foreboding when the character thinks they see a flutter of a curtain in a upstairs window. As they move closer, they see more intimate details, like the grime on the brick, the crushed can hiding under the bushes. Then we move the camera even closer to focus on the scratches on the doorknob and the character’s hand hesitating before they press their palm on it and turn.

Use your descriptions to show wider views of scenes and closeups of important details to pull your readers into the action.

 

Photo: FreeImages.com

Think Like a Set Designer

 

Screenwriters can simply put “Int: Living room” to describe the setting of their scene, maybe adding “A large bookcase is against one wall,” if one of the characters will need to use that bookcase in the action of the story. It’s the set designer’s job to dress that set, decide the colors of the walls, whether there are curtains or blinds, whether they’re open or closed, the style of the furnishings, whether they’re new or worn, the artwork that’s hanging on the walls. All these things must show the time period of the story, the economics of the owner, and the taste of the owner, but also support the tone of the scene.

As novelists, we do all that plus we have the added benefit of using the sense of smell to describe a setting. Let’s go back to our character going to the haunted house. Perhaps when they open the door, the stink of stale air slams into them and they step back to take a breath before proceeding through the door. Inside, they notice the peeling flowery wallpaper that hasn’t been in style for thirty years. They walk down the hall and run their fingers over the top of a table against the wall, revealing a thin line in the thick layer of dust. Below their feet, the carpet looks orange, even though under the table it’s still a darker red, plus there’s a line in the center of the hallway that’s threadbare from years of being trodden on.

One caution for novelists here: Just like a set designer will choose a few choice items to standout to signify the mood and/or time, we’ll do the same. We want to describe some big items and some smaller but choose just the right ones that show what we’re trying to get across the best way. We might not include the World’s Best Dad mug that we see sitting on the coffee table if it does nothing to help our readers learn about our characters and world. We don’t want to give every single detail, because we want to leave some for our reader’s imagination. Maybe in their minds, there’s a water bottle on the coffee table or a vase of flowers. Novels are collaborative efforts between the writer and the reader and we want our reader to be able to fully participate by filling in the rest of the set. Give them a few good, solid, specific details so they can start to see that scene in their head, then let them do the rest.

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Photos: FreeImages.com

Think Like an Actor

Good directors will tell you that their job is to guide the actor so they can do their best performance. It’s the actor’s job to get across all the nuances of the emotion of the scene through their actions and voice, trusting that viewers will know what it means when they raise one eyebrow while saying, “Really?” To get the best performance, an actor must become the character. They must understand what the character wants in this scene and for the whole story, whether they’re shy around other people, scared or angry.

Novelists must be actors too. We must be able to get into the heads of not just one but ALL of our characters. We must know their motivation, how they move, the nervous ticks they might have and the ways they express themselves. We also need to know why they do all these things and how it affects them. Let’s go back to our haunted house, but this time we’ve got three friends walking down that hallway when suddenly, a cat leaps into their path. Character A screams and runs away. Character B freezes then shakes their hands their hands in front of them like they’re trying to catch their breath. Character C furrows their brow then laughs at their friends. From their reactions we can see their individual personalities without them even saying a word.

Use these tools to make your spooky scenes more movie-able.

Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of the spooky and mysterious middle-grade novel THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster). Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or her website.

A Chat with Lisa Schmid, author of the new #mglit release Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search For Lost Gold!

You know when you wait for something and it seems it will never get here? That’s what it’s been like for me to keep this interview under raps!

I met Lisa – in the cyber way – back before Christmas and knew Spooky Middle Grade blog readers would love her and her brand new book baby!

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PURCHASE

OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST: The Search For Lost Gold by Lisa Schmid

Release Date: June 18, 2019                                         Publisher: North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press

Twelve-year-old Ollie Oxley is moving — again. His mom is starting another new job, this time at the Bingham Theater in Granite City, California. Moving all the time means Ollie has struggled in the making friends department, but he quickly connects with a boy named Teddy. To Ollie’s surprise, though, his first friend in town is a little more… unique than those he’s made in the past. Teddy is a ghost.

Befriending someone who lived during the famous California Gold Rush sure does make things interesting for Ollie. But when the school bully, Aubrey, targets Ollie, and it looks like the Bingham Theater might close, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Can Teddy and Ollie work together to take down Aubrey, save his mom’s job, and solve a mystery years in the making?

Hi Lisa! Welcome to our spooky abode. Let’s start with one of my favorite parts of writing – character names. Was there a specific reason or influence that moved you to name your main character Ollie Oxley and his new friend Teddy?

My son’s name is Oliver, so I thought it would be fun to name my main character after him. It turned out to be a great decision in that the name Ollie proved to be highly useful in one of my plot points.

Teddy started as a Toby, but for whatever reason, it just never felt right. I wanted something more playful and loving. After all, what’s more loveable than a Teddy Bear?

What was the hardest part of moving for Ollie this time? What made it different from any of the other times his mom had moved them around?

Moving all the time has always been difficult for Ollie. His mother and sister share a love of the theater which gives them a special bond. Unfortunately, this adds to his feelings of isolation. And now that he’s in middle school the stakes are higher, and the angst is real.

What is your favorite thing about Ollie? About Teddy? About the world you created?

Ollie is sarcastic, but he is also brave and kind. Even though he gets bullied, he never sinks to their level.

Teddy is loyal. He may be a ghost, but he’s got Ollie’s back. He’s not going to let anybody mess with his new best friend. He’s also very mischievous and quite funny. Sometimes I would laugh out loud when writing his dialogue.

I love the tension between the two boys. Over the years, Ollie has built up walls. Teddy is determined to tear them down. It takes a while, but he can be quite persuasive.

I LOVE that you used history—the California Gold Rush—within this story! How hard/easy was it for you to thread information about the gold rush throughout Ollie and Teddy’s journey and, for our young writers reading this, how did you go about doing that?

I live in Folsom, California which is central to the Gold Rush of 1849. When I first started writing Ollie Oxley, I lived in the Historic District. At the time, my son was a baby, so I spent a lot of time on walks. History would present itself in ways that would lend to my story. For example, one day I met a man standing in front of his house. We started talking, and it turns out his home served as the town courthouse in the 1800s. Prisoners were tried on the first floor and if convicted taken to the basement to be hanged. This story, of course, made it into my book!

What about research? How much did you do on the California Gold Rush and ghosts before you began to write this story?

I visited the Folsom History Museum on several occasions. It’s jam-packed with useful information. And of course, what would a writer do without the internet? My browse history is filled with ghost and graveyard searches.

Ollie finds himself in a bullying situation, which some readers will relate. Without giving too much away, how does Ollie handle this at first? From Ollie’s perspective, how can kids his age deal with being bullied?

As the perpetual new kid, Ollie is used to getting bullied. Even though he’s not in show biz, he can put on a good act. He uses sarcasm to deflect bullies and shield himself from their taunts. Also, he is smart enough to understand that when someone is unkind, it’s never about him, it’s more about how they view themselves. Because really, how could someone he just met have it out for him?

What message do you hope young readers will gain from reading Ollie’s story? There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep moving forward. And above all, be kind.

Such a wise and important message for readers to take with them. Thank you for sharing yourself, Ollie, and Teddy with us! I can’t wait to see where they’ll go next.

And here’s a little something special for you:

lisa post!

About the Author_greenskulls

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Lisa Schmid is an author, a stay-at-home mom, and a pug wrangler. When she is not scaring up ghostly adventures, she is most likely scaring up fun with her husband and son. She lives in Folsom, California, home of the 1849 Gold Rush.

Find Lisa: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Readers, to you have a favorite ghostly adventure? Did it happen to you? By all means, please share!

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