A TWIST of a History

Sarah Cannon’s TWIST is on the shelves Tuesday 2/11! I took a moment to interview her about one aspect of this wonderful middle grade novel…

When we were chatting about TWIST you mentioned that the story is set in a, let’s just say, familiar time period. When is it set and how familiar is it?

Twist is set in 1983, the year Michael Jackson first moonwalked, the year Return of the Jedi came out, and the year *before* there was any such thing as Jordans. I was a middle grader myself at the time, so I have strong memories of my neighborhood, my school, and 80s culture. It was also the year most of America finally had access to cable, which changed the way we played…those big, complicated outdoor games became much more like fanfic and much less like original worldbuilding. And I’ve always found that divide interesting.DDR_JKT-template.indd

You also said that it was fun revisiting some of the things from your childhood, with the benefit of hindsight. What are they and how did they inspire you?

Well, first of all, before Chuck E. Cheese was a thing, there was an even creepier pizza establishment with an animatronic band. I won’t name names, but it’s possible it inspired a fictitious pizza parlor in my book…which I proceed to destroy even as I celebrate it. So that was satisfying and fun. My characters fight and trap monsters with 80s toys, which was entertaining to write. I also had to immerse myself deeply in my own memories of everything from sensory details to the rules of the games we played. It was extremely satisfying to build a fantasy world around these things.

What’s one favorite memory from those years?

For me, it’s less the Spielbergian neighborhood in which I lived, and more the wild spaces around/behind/within it. For example, there was a vacant lot that would flood in the spring, and suddenly there would be tadpoles, frogs, nesting red-winged blackbirds– smack in the middle of my neighborhood. It was almost a pop-up ecosystem, the way we think about pop-up restaurants now. It was amazing, and then it was gone. There was still a farm behind my house, on the other side of a drainage ditch…that’s where the scary story Eli reads in class is set. There were pastured cattle back there, and one of my neighbors kept horses on that pasture. Red-winged blackbirds migrated through that area in such huge numbers that they blotted out the sky, until all I could see was the flash of the red and yellow on their wings. Like Court, one of the characters in my story, I gravitated toward those places, even when I wasn’t allowed to be there.

Lightning round…favorite things from the 1980s…

Food?

A week ago I would have had a hard time answering this question, but someone on twitter brought up fruit wrinkles! I had forgotten all about them, but they were a huge improvement on fruit roll-ups, which tasted like the plastic sheet you peeled them off of. Capri Sun also tasted like the space-age bag, btw. I was incensed when I drank one recently and it tasted like juice…kids today have it easy! And I’ll add a vote for Toaster Strudels, because warm pastry was fancy compared to past alternatives.

School subject?

Oh, totally Language Arts. I was that kid who’d finish our reading assignments early because I had them tucked behind my math book. My fourth-grade teacher had a big claw-foot tub in her reading center and made a gigantic celebration out of Scholastic book orders. Her room was basically paradise.76763929a2b0631f25b5dbcac8109846

Clothing?

Crop pants and jelly bracelets.

Hairstyle? 

I hadn’t started spraying my bangs as high as they could go yet, but I was definitely rocking ribbon barrettes.

Music?

Whatever was playing on our local station, because it was usually blasting on the bus. But definitely the Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson (though I was not quite obsessed enough to sport a glove on one hand like some of my classmates, I DO remember the premiere of the Thriller video in ’82. TWIST has a lot of referential chapter titles, because I am punny and ridiculous and could not resist. There’s also a Spotify playlist of songs referenced in the book.

Movie?

In ’83, “Return of the Jedi”, no question.MV5BOWZlMjFiYzgtMTUzNC00Y2IzLTk1NTMtZmNhMTczNTk0ODk1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_

Book?

I read everything I could get my hands on, but I was definitely immersed in spooky stories at that age…before Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Daniel Cohen was putting out collections of terrifying tales. His Ghostly Animals collection kept me up at night! Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Witch series just about turned my hair white. And Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” probably sealed my fate as a spooky author. My best friend and I were also completely obsessed with Narnia.

Thanks, Sarah – I know your readers will love this book!

Toying With Spooky Stories: A Writing Prompt

Let’s just be honest: toys are creepy.

Our stuffed animals stare at us with their button eyes while we sleep, and we can’t be completely sure they stay where we put them. Dolls? Equally freaky, if not more so. Puppets? Stop. (There is a reason the villains in my first book were evil puppets.)

Canva - Fluffy Stuffed Animals
They like to watch you while you sleep.

So it seemed only fair that when the kids in Twist, my book that comes out this month, had a bunch of monsters to defeat, they’d use toys to do it. It’s about time toys pulled their weight.It was a lot of fun, actually. Toys lend themselves well to weaponization. What parent hasn’t stepped on a Lego during a midnight bathroom trip and been convinced they were going to lose their foot? And there’s no alarm system as freaky as a Speak and Spell that accuses you suddenly out of the darkness. We all understand why Kevin McCallister used paint cans as booby traps in Home Alone…they’re heavy. But toys…toys are diabolical. They bring a level of psychological warfare to the table that’s hard to beat.

I mention this because while I love inventing creatures both friendly and foul, my favorite trick is presenting the commonplace, slightly askew. Familiar objects can send chills down your reader’s spine in the right context. That’s why the little wind-up primate with his clashing cymbals is so horrifying in Stephen King’s short story, “The Monkey.” It’s why a trail of Reese’s Pieces can lead to almost-unbearable levels of tension. And it’s why the juxtaposition of a Dungeons and Dragons miniature with a real-life danger doesn’t minimize the threat for the viewer, but gives them a focal point that makes them even more nervous.

Canva - Brown Haired Female Doll
She’s sad because you won’t share…your soul.

Familiar objects like toys are wonderful elements in a scary story, specifically because they’re so benign…until they aren’t. Once you’ve noticed how not-quite-right they are, you can’t unsee it. I know, this is a terrible thing I’m doing to you right now, but I am, after all, a spooky author. It’s literally my job. Of course, turnabout is fair play. So…

The next time you pick up your pencil (or ask your students to pick up theirs) why not pose the challenge of making a beloved childhood toy scary? If that doesn’t float your boat, if you really truly won’t be happy unless you can create a monstrous threat, see if your characters can solve that larger-than-life problem with household objects so basic, they’d normally overlook them completely. Especially if they’re toys! I guarantee good, spooky fun…besides, you’re already halfway there! Admit it: the Elf on a Shelf freaks you out.

Doesn’t he?

Canva - Grayscale Photo of Giraffe and Monkey Plastic Toy on Floor
Start here: the monkey is waving at…
 

 

Map Your Way Through SCRITCH SCRATCH by Lindsay Currie & Win A Classroom Giveaway!

I’m always excited to take on the blank page when writing a post for Spooky Middle Grade. Let’s me stretch my creepiness a bit. Even more so when I get to share spooky goodness from one of our own crew. AND when I get to offer a bookish giveaway!

*Spooky Alert*
Check us out on Twitter for a SCRITCH SCRATCH giveaway!

But first, here’s the cover to Lindsay’s upcoming release.

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Releasing September 1, 2020 from Sourcebooks Young Readers!

For fans of Small Spaces comes a chilling ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.

Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.

Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late.

Page Break Skull

Yup, I am all EEK! over this cover. I love the taillights! So, let’s learn a little more about Lindsay’s book.

Hi Lindsay! *waves* I’m excited to share with our middle grade audience a few sneaky secrets about SCRITCH SCRATCH. Let’s begin with how you got the ideas for the world you created here.

Chicago has a lot of really ghostly history, so I love to set books here whenever possible. The idea for this specific book, though, came in pieces. I actually thought of the ghost first, then built the story around that! Seems a little backward, but it worked well in the end.

Did you learn any cool (or really spooky) information while researching to write this story?

I’m such a sucker for old Chicago history that yes, I find I discover something new with the research for every book! During my research phase for this book, I actually went on a ghost tour bus with my husband!

Okay, super cool. 👻

It was in October, and we had a fabulous time experiencing the charged atmosphere of every spine-tingling stop! I have to admit, even though I’m done researching, I’d totally do one again. They’re a fun blend of history, mystery, and ghosts!

What would you say is your favorite part of the story?

Oooh, tough question. I’d have to say that my favorite part of SCRITCH SCRATCH isn’t a physical scene, but the personal journey my main character, Claire, is on throughout the book. Claire is like many of us – filled with ideas about the world we live in, but occasionally hesitant to explore notions that are unfamiliar or different. She’s really into science and that doesn’t offer a lot of gray areas when it comes to things like the paranormal. If she can’t see it, or prove that it exists, Claire doesn’t believe in it. But her father’s ghost tour and the ensuing trouble it causes her forces Claire to take a second look at her beliefs and consider that maybe, just maybe that gray area exists after all.

That said, I’d by lying if I didn’t say that the scary scenes are super fun, too. I worked hard with my editor, Annie Berger, to make sure we were really amping the fear factor up for those readers who love a good fright!

This definitely sounds frightful!

Can you share with us why you feel MG readers will relate to Claire’s journey?

Claire faces so many familiar challenges that I believe many readers will identify with her. For one, her best friend, Casley, seems to be moving on.

Aw, that’s a tough one.

She’s hanging out with someone else more, someone who wears makeup and is more mature than Claire thinks she is. I think we’ve all experienced that in life and it’s painful, not to mention confidence-shaking.

I can see that. Thank you for sharing some of SCRITCH SCRATCH with us. Can’t wait for its release!

READERS: I know a sneaky secret that Lindsay will reveal sometime during this week, so make sure to stay tuned to her Twitter feed and to ours! HINT: it’s handy-dandy & ghostly!

To learn more about SCRITCH SCRATCH and Lindsay, visit her WEBSITE. Want to make sure you get a copy of the book? Hop on over to Lindsay’s favorite Indie bookstore THE BOOK CELLAR and pre-order it so she can personalize it for you before they ship!

#SCRITCH SCRATCH Classroom Giveaway!

Lindsay bookmarks

 

#Teachers, #Librarians, #Educators – hop on over to Twitter to enter for your chance to WIN a Classroom Bundle of signed bookmarks & book plates from Lindsay to celebrate SCRITCH SCRATCH’s upcoming release!

Wishing you the spookiest of luck!

Happy Holidays and Thank You!

Hello fellow Spooky readers!

Happy holidays!

From your Spooky Middle Grade Team!

A little over a year ago, a bunch of us spooky authors came together to stage a Halloween giveaway. The contest proved to be so successful for us, that we decided to stay together on a regular basis. Now, when you have what is essentially a group of strangers come together, you really don’t know what you’re going to get.

Well, I’m going to tell you.

 Over this past year, this group has become very close. We’ve become writing confidantes, an emotional support system, and most importantly, friends. For anyone who writes, you know how important it is to have someone who can do any of those things for you, and fortunately, we all now have sixteen other people who fit that description.

I’m writing this because at the end of the year, you take stock of everything. So, this is me taking stock.

First, I want to thank everyone in the Spooky Middle Grade Group for being friends and always being there to discuss writing. Talk fears and triumphs, giving support and giving advice. Commiserating and celebrating. All of you are always there, and thank you.

Thank you to the teachers, librarians, and students, who have been a huge part of our year. We’ve loved doing these group Skype sessions with all of you. We’ve appreciated your kindness, hospitality, and support. Because of all of your enthusiasm, this group has been very busy, and for that, we thank you.

But most importantly, thank you to all our readers. We love getting on these calls and have students ask us about our process, and even better when they ask specific things about our books, and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed them. It is not a lie or overstating truth to say how much it thrills us to see how we connect with readers.

To everyone, we wish all of you a very happy holiday season, a happy new year, and look forward to visiting, and chatting with all of your classes in 2020!

Thank you,

Jonathan Rosen and your Spooky Middle Grade team:

Josh Allen, Sarah Cannon, Samantha Clark, Lindsay Currie, Tania Del Rio, Janet Fox, Sheri Larsen, David Neilsen, Victoria Piontek, Cynthia Reeg, Lisa Schmid, Kat Shepherd, Angie Smibert, Kim Ventrella, Jacqueline West

Horror for the Holidays

There’s one holiday that most of us associate with scary stories—and it doesn’t fall in December. In the US, at least, Halloween is the season for everything dark and strange and spooky. Meanwhile, the December holidays are all about coziness and comfort and light, whether that light comes from a row of burning candles or a twinkling tree.

And that’s our loss. After all, what could be cozier than sitting around a crackling fireplace while the wind howls outside, shivering over a great ghost story?

Early storytellers got this. The tradition of telling scary tales in winter goes back centuries, to ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. On the longest, darkest nights of the year, the divide between the realms of the living and the dead was believed to be especially thin. Clans gathered around Yule fires to share strange tales, letting light and warmth keep the icy dark at bay. (You can’t have firelight—or strings of glowing fairy lights stapled all over your house—without darkness, after all!)

The tradition survived through Shakespeare’s time—“A sad tale’s best for winter,” he wrote in The Winter’s Tale. “I have one. Of sprites and goblins.”—and had a boom in Victorian England, when writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and Algernon Blackwood penned wintery ghost tales, and Charles Dickens published what might be the most famous ghost story of all: A Christmas Carol.


(“The Last of the Spirits,” by Harry Furniss)

So for everyone who’s ever listened to the lyrics of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow… There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…”) and thought: Wait. What?—yes, the winter holidays are a perfect time for scary stories. Maybe it’s time for all of us creepy book lovers to bring the tradition back.

Want an eerie, wintery MG read to spark your own Yule celebration? Here are some options:

Crowfield Capture

The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh (2010). Set in a chilly medieval abbey and its surrounding woods, this tale of goblins, buried secrets, and dark magic is rich with historical details and unsettling mystery—plus, Walsh captures the cold of winter so vividly, you’ll want to read it beneath a thick blanket. Or two.

Dead Voices

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden (2019). The follow-up to Arden’s popular Small Spaces moves from autumn into wintertime, featuring a snowbound ski lodge and the ghosts that haunt it. Pour yourself some cocoa and dive in.

200px-p_wolves_of_willoughby_chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken (1962). The godmother of all gothic MG fiction. An isolated manor in the snowy British countryside? Cruel, conniving servants and mistreated but resourceful children? Packs of howling wolves everywhere? What’s not to love?

greenglass-house-large

Greenglass House, by Kate Milford (2014). This Edgar Award-winning mystery is a bit like a game of Clue set in a remote inn during a brutal snowstorm, but with richer characters and greater depths.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Ghosts of Christmas Past, edited by Tim Martin (2018). While not strictly a middle grade book, this collection features short stories by many authors who are well-known to MG and YA audiences (Neil Gaiman, E. Nesbit, Kelly Link, etc.), and has a little something for everyone, from short and darkly funny pieces to classic, truly haunting tales.

Happy holidays, and happy reading!

JacquelineWest2017cropped
Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling dark fantasy series The Books of Elsewhere, the MG mystery Digging Up Danger, and the Schneider Family Honor-winning MG fantasy The Collectors and its sequel, A Storm of Wishes. She loves creepy stories, warm fires, and hot coffee, and at this time of year, you can probably find her enjoying all three at once. Visit her at www.jacquelinewest.com.

A Chat with Allan Woodrow-Author of The CURSE of The WEREPENGUIN

Today, I’m super excited to welcome Allan Woodrow to the blog! Allan is the author of the new MG novel, The Curse of The Werepenguin, with Viking Books for Young Readers. I loved every minute of this hilarious story. I think you will too.

For now, take a moment to get to know more about the author. 

Here we go . . . .

Lisa: Tell us about The Curse of The Werepenguin.

Allan: Bolt Wattle is twelve years old and an orphan. He thinks he’ll never have a family. But then he is sent to live with a mysterious Baron in the far-away country of Brugaria. Oddly, the Baron appears to be a 12-year old boy. Even more oddly, and much more terribly, the Baron turns into an evil penguin at midnight. As far as families go, it’s pretty much rock bottom. Bolt is bitten by the Baron and has just three days to figure out a way to break the curse and defeat the Baron, or he’ll become an evil penguin creature forever and join the Baron’s horrible penguin army. Along the way he’s helped by a bandit girl, chased by members of a crazy whale cult, and has to enlist the help of a depressed housekeeper and a cackling fortune teller. As you probably guessed, it’s based on a true story.

Lisa: How did you come up with the idea?

Allan: I’ve always enjoyed old monster movies like Dracula and The Wolfman, and thought it would be fun to twist those in a more comical way. Sure, a half-wolf creature is horrible, but who decided that wolves were the only were-creatures around? What about were-fleas and were-aardvarks? Penguins tend to raise their young and are (mostly) monogamous. Also, they’re funny. They were a great animal to weave into a were-creature horror story with a heartfelt message about the importance of family, in whatever shape and form that family comes in.

Lisa: Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

Allan: No, I don’t base my characters on real people. I may borrow someone’s name, but that’s about it. My characters all have a small sliver of me in them though–I tap into my own emotions and experiences as a starting point and go from there.

Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?

Allan: When I was a kid my teachers told me to “write about what you know” and I always thought that meant I couldn’t write about astronauts unless I was an astronaut, or did a lot of research about astronauts. And while that’s true, I think that also refers to emotions. You can’t write about love unless you know how to love. When you write about anger, you tap into those times you were angry. So my real-life experiences come into play because of the emotions I felt at those times. Hopefully, I can take those emotions, put them into the heart of a character, and make the scene feel like it could really have happened. I’ve never been a were-penguin, but everyone has felt lonely at one time, or felt like they didn’t belong, or yearned for…something. How can I bottle those feelings and drip them into a character’s head so the audience can understand the confusion, pain, and feelings of an unwanted penguin monster?

Lisa: What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?

Allan: I always tell kids to read what they love to read, whether that’s comic books or graphic novels or penguin horror stories (preferably, penguin horror stories). When I was in elementary school, I was encouraged to read books that were parent-or-teacher approved. I didn’t like a lot of those, and it turned me off reading for many years. I can’t say any book I read as a kid influenced me, other than I don’t want to write books that I wouldn’t have read when I was nine-years old. Sometimes kids tell me that they didn’t like to read until they read one of my books…that’s the most rewarding part of writing children books.

Lisa: What are you working on now?

Allan: The Curse of the Werepenguin will be followed by Revenge of the Werepenguin and Battle of the Werepenguins (the title of that last one might change). Revenge is done, but I’m still working on Battle.

Lisa: What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Allan: I love this question, because I ask it all the time and some writers blink and aren’t familiar with the expression. I am 100% a plotter. I write 20-40 page outlines of my books before I sit down. I still sometimes change things, but then I go back to the outline and change that and see what other things need to shift. Only then do I make the change in the manuscript.

Lisa: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Allan: Nothing writes itself, and the only way to get better as a writer, is to write. If you really want to be an author, find time to write, every day if you can. It’s easy to make excuses not to write. But serious writers ignore those excuses, even when they really, really want to be doing something else, such as answering blogger questions…Which means, I need to get back to work!

Thanks so much for visiting the Spooky MG, Allan. I hope this wasn’t too scary!

To learn more about Allan Woodrow and his books visit Allan Woodrow.

Allan’s Books Include: 
The Curse of the Werepenguin
The Liberty Falls Elementary Series
  Field Tripped 
  Unschooled 
  Class Dismissed
The Pet War
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless

And many other books, some written under secret names
 
Coming Summer, 2020: The Revenge of the Werepenguin

 

Cover Reveal — THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS by Janet Fox

TheArtifactHunters_cover

KIM: Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Janet Fox to the spooky blog to reveal the cover of her new book, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, a companion novel to her critically-acclaimed middle grade fantasy, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, coming August 2020! Welcome!

JANET: Thank you, Kim!

9780147517135KIM: Before we reveal that gorgeous cover, tell us more about the fantasy world that you started in your award-winning book, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

JANET: CHARMED CHILDREN is set early in World War 2, during the London blitz of fall 1940. Kat Bateson and her younger brother and sister are sent out of London to a “school” in a Scottish castle, Rookskill. But as it turns out, the school is run by someone who is not what she seems, and the castle is a nightmarish place of strange noises, dark hallways, and ghostly children. German spies, enigma machines, and ancient spooky magic all play a part. Practical Kat must uncover what’s going on – and discover her own power – before it’s too late.

KIM: What should readers of CHARMED CHILDREN expect from your latest book?

JANET: THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS is told from a new character’s point of view, a Czech Jewish boy named Isaac Wolf, who is sent abruptly from Prague to Scotland by his parents. This story again takes place in Rookskill, but it’s now 1942, and things in the castle have changed. Kat is still there with a small handful of the children who are now members of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit of MI 6, using their developing magical skills to help win the war. But Isaac is being chased for reasons he doesn’t understand, and he must enlist the help of his new friends and call on his internal strength to avoid a dreadful dark magical threat, while acquiring a skill and responsibility that will aid the SAIU.

KIM: Now it’s time for the big reveal…here it goes…drumroll please!

Wait for it.

Okay.

Here.

It.

Comes.

TheArtifactHunters_cover

KIM: What was your first response when you saw the cover created by the wonderful Jen Bricking? Can you give us any secrets about the illustration process?

JANET: I had very little to do with the process, but I’m delighted with the cover. It’s very different from the CHARMED CHILDREN cover, which is much more mysterious and sophisticated, but the ARTIFACT HUNTERS cover does create that magical aura, with four of the children and a number of mysterious artifacts, and an image of the antagonist – who is really creepy. I love how appealing it is – the brilliant colors, the spooky aspects, because it raises so many questions that I hope will spur readers to seek answers. I especially love how the kids look so much like I thought. I think it will attract a new group of readers to the series.

KIM: We meet several dastardly villains in THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS. What is your process for creating such deliciously evil souls?

JANET: Oh, thanks for that! I think the most important thing to know about a villain is that he or she truly believes they are the hero of the story. What they do is, by their account, right. It might be “right” because it satisfies a personal need, or it might be “right” because it speaks to a larger need, but the villain never would admit that they are doing what is “wrong”. I think this kind of nuance helps readers assess their own actions and the actions of others, and that adds a layer of complexity.

Plus, I really love writing creepy villains who send shivers up the spine.

KIM: What are three fun tidbits from THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS that readers may not be expecting?

JANET: They should look for the dragon, shapeshifting, and I’d love it if readers would discover all the magical artifacts that I reference – and send me their own ideas for magical artifacts. Their ideas might find a place in another book!

KIM: Thanks so much for stopping by Janet!

JANET: Thank you so much, Kim.

IMG_0093acJanet Fox is an author, mom, outdoor enthusiast, and former teacher. She’s been to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible, and had a brief fling with rock stardom. Her novels are written for children and young adults but have won her fans of all ages. Her most recent novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, is a gothic middle grade fairy tale set in Scotland and has received a whole bunch of stars, and the lovely Crystal Kite Award. At the moment she’s sporting blue and pink stripes in her hair. She lives in Bozeman, Montana. Find out more at www.janetsfox.com

 

Hello Future, Me

An Interview with Kim Ventrella on Her Next Book

 

HelloFutureMe_FINAL

Eleven-year-old June is a problem-solver. Some people might call her a busybody, but that’s okay. Just look at all the couples she’s helped find love! (Grateful newlyweds Marlene and Big Vic have even promised June free hot chocolate for life at their café.)

However, when June learns that her parents are getting divorced, she has to face the fact that there are some problems too big even for her. At least, that’s what the adults in her life keep saying.

But June’s convinced there’s a way to make her parents fall back in love. While brainstorming ideas on her new secondhand laptop—purchased from a mysterious store in town called The Shop of Last Resort—June gets a strange IM from someone named JuniePie28 . . . someone who claims to be an older version of June messaging her from the future.

At first, she assumes it’s a prank. But JuniePie28 knows too much about June’s life to be a fraud, and future June warns her against interfering with her parents’ marriage. But June can’t just sit around and watch her parents’ marriage dissolve, not when there’s a magical shop in town that could be the answer to all her problems! Will June prove her older self wrong and stop the divorce? Or will she have to accept that there are some things in life she can’t fix?

An Awesome Opportunity

I had the wonderful opportunity to read a preview copy of HELLO FUTURE, ME, which releases in Summer 2020. I totally enjoyed the clever, fast-paced, funny, endearing story. You can find my review (along with a few other Spooky MG authors’ reviews) on Goodreads.

I was so intrigued with Kim’s latest literary endeavor that I asked if she had time for an interview, and she graciously consented. I’m sure you’ll love learning about her and her writing process as much as I did.

 

The Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking

  1. Hello Future, Me, explores a child dealing with her parents’ divorce. How did you come up with the idea of using the fantasy device of past and future selves to do this?

I actually wrote three completely different versions of the story before discovering The Shop of Last Resort and the magic laptop that allows June to chat with her past and future selves. Each version involved June delving back into her memories by magical means, but it wasn’t until the third version that I decided to personify those past memories in the form of past and future June.

  1. Magic so far has been an important element in your stories Skeleton Tree & Bone Hollow, but in Hello Future, Me the tone of the book is lighter, more humorous. Which stories do you find harder to write? 

Once I found the right version of the story, HELLO, FUTURE ME was a total breeze to write! But like I said, it took me three versions to settle on the right mix of humor, fantasy and emotional resonance. In a way, this story was easier because June sounds a lot like me, both her inner voice and the way she speaks. In other ways it was harder, because so much of my other writing has been focused on loss and grief. Even though all of my books bring a sense of whimsy, hope and many lighter touches, it was still a challenge transitioning to a world of quirky magical hijinks, flying garden gnomes and ALL THE GLITTERbut also super rewarding.

  1. I loved the Bigfoot references! What made you choose this topic as a recurring element in the story?

I want to believe! Yes, it’s the tagline from The X-Files, but it’s also my life motto. I’m a huge skeptic in real life, so when it comes to writing stories, I always like to include magical or supernatural elements. Creating the town of Tanglewood Crossing with its kitschy, adorable downtown and its obsession with bigfoot was pure wish fulfillment on my part. I would love to spend my days hanging around in the bigfoot-themed shops, sipping tea and waiting for bigfoot to walk in and order a latte.

  1. This story includes a bit of tween romance. Was this a conscious choice you made in constructing the plot, or did it happen organically as you wrote the story? 

It happened organically! Calvin did not have his adorably awkward crush in the early versions. In fact, Calvin didn’t even exist in the first version, but I’m so glad I wrote him back in. I love how you see him struggling throughout the story to be honest about his feelings. And then when he finally does mail June a letter, he’s instantly mortified and begs her to never, ever, ever read it. So hilarious and heartbreaking and typical of my tween years, although Calvin is way braver than me at that age.

  1. When the main character uses the magic and it keeps backfiring, she finally comes to the realization that she can’t control others. Was this an issue for you as a child—the inability to make things go the way you wanted them to?

I think that’s an issue for me always, not just as a child J Like June, I definitely embrace planning, lists and setting all the goals. If I’m not actively ticking something off a list, I feel totally off balance. I was an only child, and I spent most of my time alone, so I was very used to controlling my environment. When I got pushed out of that comfort zone, like in social situations, it was definitely a one-way trip to Awkwardsville. June is way more socially adept than I was, but I totally understand the comfort she takes in lists and visions boards. It’s nice to think that you can control your future with nothing more than a collage, a little positive thinking and a whole lot of glitter.

  1. I admired the main character’s determination and her organization. From knowing you, I’d say those are two qualities you also possess. Is June modeled after you in other ways as well?

She is, especially in terms of her voice! She was so easy to write, because I was basically just channeling my inner monologue word-for-word. I was also obsessed with self-help books on positive thinking when I was a kid. I remember my mom having to buy one from the library because I’d kept it so long. So June definitely gets that from me, along with the faith that she puts in things like lists, vision boards and action plans. For me a lot of that had to do with trying to control a chaotic environment. And, also like June, the hardest thing for me has always been letting go and accepting that there are some things in life you can’t change.

 

 A Bit More About Kim

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KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Hello, Future Me (Summer 2020)Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree, and she is a contributor to the upcoming anthology, Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer and French instructor, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Don’t Miss Your Chance

Make sure to add Hello Future, Me to your must-read list. Here’s the information you need to do just that:

HELLO, FUTURE ME on Goodreads or pre-order on IndieBound or Amazon

 

Cynthia Reeg is the author of From the Grave and Into the Shadowlands

 

Funding Author Visits (and Skypes)

Last Friday I attended the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VaASL), conference here in Roanoke. Along with a group of fellow SCBWI authors, I had the pleasure to speak with middle and high school librarians about author visits, both in person and through Skype/Google Hangout. (And yes I told them about our Spooky Skypes). One issue that came up over and over again was cost. Most schools, particularly in my part of the state, have very limited budgets.  Some of my fellow authors were more knowledgeable about grants available to schools, so I decided to do a little digging. Here’s what I found (so far).

Title I funding

Grants/Awards

Lists/Databases of Grants and Funding Sources

Crowdfunding

I know this quick list just scratches the surface. If you know of other sources or want to share your experience, please do so in the comments!

Interview with Christian McKay Heidicker, author of Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Happy November, spookies! This is the best time of year for curling up with a spooky read. One of my absolute favorite books this Halloween season was SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker. Not only does it feature my favorite animal, but it’s filled with a bunch of haunting and beautiful illustrations by Junyi Wu.

Here’s a little description to entice you:

The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Christian was kind enough to take time from his busy touring schedule to talk to me about his terrifying book!

TANIA: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES is the most original book I’ve read in some time! What was your inspiration for this story, and why did you choose foxes, in particular, to tell your tale?

CHRISTIAN: Well, thank you!

I was inspired by the Berenstain Bears—specifically The Spooky Old Tree and Bears in the Night. When I originally wrote these stories, the foxes wore little vests and deerskin boots and they walked down to the market to buy a goose from the badger grocer. But when my agent politely informed me that that anthropomorphism doesn’t sell, I started making the stories as scientifically accurate as I could.

As far as why they’re foxes . . . I have no idea! They just came to me, as lovely as flames in my imagination. Whenever students ask me Why Foxes during school visits, I tell them that I woke one night with teeth piercing my throat and found a fox pinning me to the bed with her jaws. Another fox stepped into the moonlight on my pillow and told me I needed to write this book or else . . .

TANIA: The foxes in your book face danger that is real and yet appears supernatural through the lens of the protagonists. It reminded me of the power of children’s imaginations when interpreting things they can’t quite grasp. Was it challenging to write through the eyes of a young fox or to balance the realistic with the anthropomorphic?

CHRISTIAN: It was challenging! The parallels between classic horror tales and the lives of foxes came easily, but selling that through the perspective of the kits was tough (especially the Golgathursh). Anytime I grew overwhelmed, I’d just take a step back and reestablish the boundary of the stories: Does it parallel a classic horror tale?/Could it happen to foxes? From there, I just had to figure out which details to include.

TANIA: I was admittedly surprised by how dark this book was at times, especially regarding death. And yet, it also felt appropriate, given that the natural world can be an unforgiving place. The foxes’ behavior and environment felt very true-to-life and there was even a surprising appearance by Beatrix Potter which has made me see her in a whole new light! Did you do a lot of research into her character or animal behavior for this book?

CHRISTIAN: I was surprised by the darkness too! And yes, I did a ton of research.

The more I learned about foxes and classic horror tropes, the more the events started to choose themselves. I worried about how scary it was getting at first, but then I watched Planet Earth with my soon-to-be-stepdaughters and noticed that they didn’t cry when innocent animals were eaten. They were upset, but they seemed to understand that this was a part of the natural process. From that point forward, I started to think of the book as National Geographic Horror. So long as I added a bit of coziness for every flash of teeth, I knew the stories would remain palatable.

The fact that Beatrix Potter taxidermied many of her subjects before she sketched them is true, by the way. I’m sorry I have to be the one to break it to everyone. (Okay, not that sorry 🙂 )

TANIA: In the book there is an explanation for why scary stories are important for young foxes. Why do you think scary stories are so important for young readers?

CHRISTIAN: I could try to do this justice. But I’ll just quote Neil Gaiman instead:

“. . . if you are keeping people, young people, safe from the darkness . . . you are denying them tools or weapons that they might have needed and could have had.”

I think that about sums up my feelings.

TANIA: What are some of your favorite spine-tingling reads?

CHRISTIAN: Speaking of Neil Gaiman, I *adore* The Graveyard Book and Coraline. I also really love the Turn of the Screw, the Berenstain Bears (as mentioned), and Ghostopolis. I don’t see that last one getting enough cred.

Obviously, I love a lot of horror novels by adults too, but I try not to recommend those to young readers.

TANIA: What are you working on next? Anything else you’d like to share with our Spooky MG readers?

CHRISTIAN: You might be happy to hear that I’m working on a sequel to Foxes. It takes place many decades later in the city that has replaced the Antler Wood. It will involve Mia’s and Uly’s and Mr. Scratch’s descendants, and it will retell modern horror tales instead of classic ones. If rabies was a zombie story in the old one, the fox fur farm in the new one is dystopian horror.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Foxes book trailer, but we put a lot of work into it:

Christian McKay Heidicker reads and writes and drinks tea. Between his demon-hunting cat and his fiddling, red-headed fiancée, he feels completely protected from evil spirits. Christian is the author of Scary Stories for Young FoxesCure for the Common Universe and Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. cmheidicker.com