A Very Spooky Site: Trick-or-Reaters

Several years ago, the marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City had a wonderful idea – why not build a Halloween-themed website that will allow kids access to stories, and create printable downloads for folks to put into Trick or Treat bags? That site – Trick-or-Reaters – has taken off, and now, in a new and improved version, anyone (parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents…) can download and print a give-away with links to the curated list of stories the site features. Here to answer my questions and tell us about the site, how it works, and its future is Amy Wells Denecker, who has recently updated the site for Curious City.

Trick-Or-Reaters
Illustrator Kevan Atteberry’s gorgeously sweet and scary art for the site.
  1. It’s a brilliant idea – filling kids’ minds with stories instead of filling their bellies with candy at Halloween. When a child goes to the site, what will they find?

We’ve worked hard to design a homepage that is accessible and visually appealing to children. Kevan Atteberry’s amazing artwork is the foundation for that, of course, but we hope that the Scare-o-Meter and the crystal ball selection tools will make it easy and exciting for kids to explore the site to find books they’ll love. Once young readers have made their selections, they can read a bit about the author and the book in the “Creepy Creator” and “Wicked Read” sections. The “Snatch a Story” section includes features like book excerpts, sequential artwork, book trailers, and audio clips, which bring the book to life, and in many cases, authors share “Free and Freaky” activities, which provide curious kids with creative, book-based projects to work on even after they’ve put the computer away.

  1. How many books are featured on the site? Are they all Halloween-themed or do you have some variety?

We have nearly 150 books featured on TrickorReaters.com, and they are not all Halloween-themed, though they do tend to focus in some way on magical, fantastical or scary stories. As our founder Kirsten Cappy has said, “Halloween is a day where we all play with story.  Millions dress up to celebrate the heroes, villains, and other characters that strike their fancy,” and that’s really what’s at the heart of Trick-or-Reaters—the stories we like to tell and the people we imagine being on Halloween–so even if even if kids aren’t looking for a fright, they are certain to find something that they’ll like on the T.O.R. website. We have books about the simple act of dressing up for our youngest readers, books about ninjas and pirates for those seeking adventure, and good old-fashioned ghost stories for older readers looking for a scare.

Trick Or Reaters KC Halloween
Bags stuffed with cookies and literacy activities, plus the site info.
  1. For authors, what are the steps to join the site? I know that my own site features an audiobook selection. Do you collaborate with authors and publishers to choose the right material for the site?

If an author is interested in adding a book to Trick-or-Reaters, he/she can complete the contact form on the “Add a Story” page or simply email us at info@trickorreaters.com. From there, we’ll work with the author to gather the necessary materials, including the selections for “Snatch a Story” and “Free and Freaky,” and once we have those materials in place, we’ll create a feature post for the book. Authors who don’t have these materials readily available shouldn’t fret; we’d be happy to collaborate on creative ways to promote their fabulous books on our site.

  1. Have you had any feedback from libraries and teachers about the program?

Yes, based on responses we received in conjunction with a T.O.R. book giveaway last year, they’re very enthusiastic. Overall, they report how happy they are to have something to share with children besides candy, and most were eager to distribute the flyers in their schools and libraries. A few even mentioned how excited children would be to curl up with these stories on a cold winter night, so we were thrilled to imagine the site’s reach even after Halloween.

  1. Do you plan to keep expanding the program? Any new features?

Yes, absolutely! Our main goal for this year was to redesign the site. We wanted to create an actual Scare-o-Meter and reconfigure the search tools to make the site more accessible for children seeking books in a particular age-range or genre. Moving forward, we hope to add many new books to the site, but beyond that, we’ve brainstormed developing a version of the site for young adult readers, adding a featured audiobook selection each Halloween, much like AudioFile does with their Sync program in the summer, collaborating with authors to provide event planning one-sheets so that libraries and schools can host Halloween-themed events featuring their books, and arranging contests where kids could win an author visit to their school or library.

Do go visit the site – it’s truly awesome – and give the kids who ring your doorbell this Halloween something that will last a lot longer (and is a lot healthier!) than candy.

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

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

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

First up, time for a few sentence starters.

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

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

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

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

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

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Now for a quick speed round:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sarah!

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

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

The Wicked Tree by Kristin Thorsness & a Giveaway!

Have I got a spooky treat for you, today! Kristin Thorsness is here to share her debut middle grade novel THE WICKED TREE, her characters, and a teeny excerpt. Make sure to scroll to the bottom to enter her giveaway. But first, let’s see that book baby.

The Wicked Tree-Final Cover
AMAZON | B&N | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS

Deep in the woods, a gnarled tree grows. Its thick, black trunk twists angrily up into the night sky. Held in place by the magic of a long-ago patriarch, it has waited centuries to lure a descendant into its trap.

Eleven-year-old Tavorian Kreet hates it when money troubles force his mom to move them in with his great-grandmother – though the historic house and grounds are pretty awesome. Tav is told to stay out of the estate’s woods, but he can’t resist the chance to explore.

After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.

Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.

While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.

Ooh, this sounds so eerie . . . and that cover!

Hi Kristin! It’s spook-o-liciously awesome that you and your wicked book baby are visiting our humble crypt. Welcome. Let me dust off a seat for you. Oh, and excuse the cobwebs, please.🕸️🕸️🕸️

So now that our readers have seen all the wickedness that is your baby’s cover, how about you give us a description of The Wicked Tree using three adjectives and three setting comparisons.

Let’s see, three adjectives that describe The Wicked Tree … I’ll have to go with: atmospheric, creepy, and ultimately hopeful.

As for setting comparisons, The Wicked Tree will appeal to fans of the historic house and grounds of Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak, fans of the creepy atmosphere in Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener, and fans of the nighttime exploration in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Oh my . . . great description comparisons! Next, care to share your main character Tavorian with us and then a bit about what makes his new friendship with Harper special?

Tavorian Kreet (Tav) is smart and introverted. He wants to be brave, but he’s a worrier. He’s been through a lot at the beginning of the story, and will have been through even more by its end, but he never lets his circumstances dampen his desire to do the right thing—even if it’s not always clear what the right thing actually is. He sees the best in others, wants to find a friend, and loves his eighteen-year-old cat, Mosley.

At the beginning of the book, Tav desperately wants a friend. He sets his sights on Harper—who’s a year older—but unfortunately for him, she’s not really interested. Tav wins her over eventually and they become an unlikely pair. In many ways, Harper is Tav’s opposite. She’s sure of herself, knows what she wants, and goes after it. The combination of their two personalities (his overthinking and planning with her bravery; her stubbornness with his willingness to bend) is what allows them to be successful in the end.

The house and grounds in the story have historical elements attached to them. (Love this, btw!) What can you tell readers about this? Maybe even a fact that was left out of the story.

When I was young, I spent summers at my grandparents’ Gothic Revival house (built in 1844). Their whole town (Marshall, MI) was full of gorgeous one-of-a-kind houses complete with historical markers detailing things that had happened in the 1800s; and walking the streets gawking was always one of my favorite activities. I absolutely fell in love with historical houses, history, and architecture and consequently, every story I’ve ever written has been set in a cool old house.

I’m currently working on a sequel to The Wicked Tree and in it, Tav and Harper (spoiler, they both make it out of the first book!) learn a lot more about the history of the Kreet estate and the happenings back when Solomon and Hester first lived there. One thing I can share that’s not a spoiler is that in the late 1800s, some people adopted orphans, not as a way of expanding their family, but to get free labor until the orphans reached adulthood (eighteen for girls, twenty-one for boys).

Mystery oozes from one page to the next as Tavorian and Harper forge on their journey. Would you classify the story only as a mystery or something else, too?

My very favorite stories (books, movies, tv series …) are ones where there is a lingering sense of “something creepy is going on, but I’m not quite sure what it is,” and this is the vibe I tried to bring to Tav and Harper’s story. It’s a mystery, yes, but with the level of spooky/supernatural happenings, I wouldn’t call it straight-up mystery. When pressed to classify it, I’ve often described The Wicked Tree as “horror with heart.”

I. Love. That. “Horror with heart.”🖤

What would you say is the spookiest part, element, or scene of the story?

Writing spooky scenes is my favorite, so I’ve quite a few to pick from! I think my favorite creepy scene is probably when Tav and Harper are exploring the house when they’re supposed to be in bed. Here’s an excerpt from it:

The portrait hall was nothing short of terrifying at night. It was so long and dark, it was like looking into an endless cave … Every step Tav and Harper took sent ear-splitting creaks echoing down the hall. They paused every few steps to listen and make sure they hadn’t woken anyone. They both had their phone flashlights on, and the beams bounced around the walls, floor, and gilded frames, creating weird, angular shadows. Tav could feel the eyes of the somber Kreet women boring into him as he passed each portrait.
Pg. 89

Ooh, totally creepy! And spooky, of course. There’s lots of heart weaved throughout The Wicked Tree. What do you hope stays with readers long after they’ve finished reading it?

That there’s always hope. No matter how dire things get, if you can muster the courage to face your fears and do what you know is right, you can find the strength to make it through anything. Also, that offering grace and forgiveness to others is important, but it’s equally important to learn to forgive yourself.

Such an important emotional lesson to show young readers. Thank you for joining us and all the best with The Wicked Tree and your future books! Oh, be careful on your way out. Bulbous our bullfrog tends to be a little protective. He tongue-lashes, but doesn’t bite.  😉

About the Author_greenskulls

Thorsness author photo

Kristin Thorsness is a former 5th and 6th grade teacher who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their son and daughter, and two spoiled dogs. She likes dark chocolate, strong coffee, and creepy stories that keep her up reading late into the night. For more info, or to get in touch, visit her online at http://www.kristinthorsness.com.

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Introducing: The Creeping Hour Podcast

Creeps

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

Thanks so much for having me! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside a Spooky Podcast with Q.L. Pearce

Samantha M Clark here, and I was recently interviewed by Q.L. Pearce for the Haunted Nights Live! podcast. I had a blast talking about THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, writing and the fun of spooky middle-grade books. Since Q shares my love of spooky MG, I thought I’d get to know more about her and the podcast she helps to host. Here’s what she said…

Q.L. Pearce
Q.L. Pearce

Thanks for joining me on Spooky Middle Grade, Q! What made you want to write spooky books for kids?

My family is British, so ghost stories are programmed into my DNA. When I was a child, we moved to Florida and lived on an island in Tampa Bay. There were a few kids about my age on the island. We’d often hang out and trade comics. While my friends picked out Archie or Superman, I forked over my allowance for House of Mystery and Strange Tales. I also loved TV shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone. It didn’t take long for me to start writing my own stories, which I would share with my friends whether they wanted to hear them or not. A neighborhood mom once complained to my mother that her daughter couldn’t sleep because of my spooky stories. I was sent to my room early that night. My mom crept in later with a bowl of popcorn, and I shared my scary tales with her.

I won my first school writing contest at age nine and my first city-sponsored contest at age eleven. By that time, I was hooked on the horror genre. Swimming Lessons, the opening story in my first Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs book, is based on something spooky that happened on the island when I was a kid.

Can you tell us about some of your recent books?

Spine Chillers by Q.L. PearceI write in a variety of genres and age ranges, but my favorite is scary middle grade. My most recent is Spine Chillers: Hair-Raising Tales. There’s no link between them, but Spine Chillers is in the tradition of Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. It’s a collection of short stories that includes classic ghosts, a monster or two, invented urban legends and one tale that is an homage to The Twilight Zone. The stories are created for reading aloud at a sleep-over or under the covers with a flashlight.

Picture book author Mem Fox once said, “Writing for children is like writing War and Peace in haiku.” I think that describes short stories perfectly. They oblige the writer to develop characters and plot concisely, while still telling a satisfying tale that’s fun to read. I’m currently working on the next collection.

You host the YA and MG days of the Haunted Nights Live podcast. Can you tell us about the podcast and how you got involved?

Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights Live! has been part of the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network since 2014, and it’s one of their top-rated shows. The hosts, legendary horror writers, Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross, have interviewed many of my favorite adult horror authors and filmmakers. I was thrilled when they decided to expand the show to include books for younger readers and invited me to join them as MG/YA host. I have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to guests, so I also cover mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. It’s a wonderful opportunity to chat with the authors of books and films I admire. The show can take some surprising turns, and it’s always fun and illuminating.
Tamara and I are close friends. We started chatting at a book signing some twenty years ago and haven’t stopped talking since. We occasionally take road trips together to visit haunted hotels, abandoned buildings, and ghost towns for research. I must admit that Tamara is the brave one and I’m a chicken. When we encounter something a little bit frightening, I’m the first one to the exit.

Why do you think spooky books are important for young readers?

More Scary Stories For Sleep-Overs by Q.L. PearceOf course kids have varied likes and dislikes when it comes to reading, but I think spooky books can have many benefits for those who enjoy the genre. Children of all ages deal with tough feelings like anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Books are a safe way of experiencing a scary situation without any real risk. A scary book gives kids a chance to think through difficult circumstances and build confidence. They can also put the book down if they feel uncomfortable. Scary stories can help children recognize the consequences of making poor choices; like going into that abandoned old house alone! In a very real sense, it empowers kids and can turn reluctant readers into lifelong book lovers. Still, horror for young readers is a balancing act when it comes to age range. What’s scary to a first grader probably seems silly to a fifth grader, so an author has to know the audience well.

What were your favorite spooky books when you were a kid?

When I was a kid, I didn’t read a lot of scary books specifically for children, but I devoured scary comics. On the first Saturday of every month, I’d ride my bike across the bridge to Mr. McKelvey’s drug store to buy a cherry Coke, a Clark Bar and the latest comics.

As far as books, I was first drawn to mysteries and fantasy. I read the Enid Blyton books and Nancy Drew, particularly those with ‘ghost’ or ‘haunted’ in the title. The Chronicles of Narnia was a favorite. Finally I discovered ghost stories by Edith Wharton and H.G Wells. That led to Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my two favorite books of all time. The other is Animal Farm. Ray Bradbury is my hero. I love his writing style. I had the opportunity to hear him speak once. He was just as wonderful in person. My favorite quote of his is, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

I love that quote! Listen to Q. L. Pearce interviewing me for the Haunted Nights Live! podcast here.

Q. L. Pearce began her career as a writer and editor with Lowell House/ Roxbury Press in Los Angeles. She has since written more than 150 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. Her published work includes a dozen collections of scary stories and mysteries, such as Scary Stories for Sleepovers and Spine Chillers, as well as film tie-in books for the Fox animated film Titan AE and the Universal animated series Land Before Time. Red Bird Sings, co-authored and illustrated by Gina Capaldi, received the Carter G. Woodson gold medal for nonfiction picture books, the Moonbeam gold medal, and the Eureka silver medal. It has been adapted for the stage by the Ophelia’s Jump Theater Group and performed at the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival. Q lives in California with her research scientist husband, two very spoiled dogs, a talkative cockatiel, a bevy of fish and a host of wild squirrels who believe her life revolves around delivering their meals.

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/