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

Scared Silly at Halloween

A Midwest Tradition of Spooky Joking

HandOverCandy   Halloween isn’t only scary. In some Midwest towns, like Des Moines and St. Louis where I live, Halloween is silly too. The tradition of telling a joke before receiving a Halloween treat began in Des Moines during the 1930’s. Kids were encouraged to recite jokes rather than resort to destructive “tricks” like up-ending trash cans or breaking street lights. The goofy ghoulish joke tradition stuck for Des Moines and its suburbs.

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In St. Louis, the origin of the popular joke-telling tradition is harder to put a skeleton finger on. (Sorry but I had to throw that one in. This is story about silly jokes after all.) Both the Irish and the German immigrants to the area in the nineteenth century had practices of going door-to-door and performing for a treat. The Germans did it on New Year’s Eve. In my mother’s German heritage in central Kansas, they called this tradition “winching.” They would sing a song and wish the household a “Happy New Year” for a coin or two.

 

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In Ireland, they celebrated an ancient celtic festival of Samhain each year to prevent the people who had died during the year from returning from the dead. One particularly evil dead creature, “the Muck Olla,” did return each year.  In order to keep it away, the Irish would dress in costume to confuse the creature. By going door to door and asking for a treat, each person would have a treat to give the Muck Olla in case it caught them. To receive a treat from their neighbors, the costumed Irish would tell a joke or recite a poem.

 

A researcher from the Missouri History Museum, Sharon Smith, purposes that the tradition evolved in St. Louis from the combination of such “Old World” influence as mentioned above and the thriftiness of the German immigrants who expected something in return for handing out their candy. Originally it could be a song, a poem, a dance, or a joke. The joke is what has stuck in St. Louis. It makes for a very entertaining night of opening the front door to cleverly-clad ghouls and goblins of all sorts.

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Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland all celebrated Hallowmas on November 1 when wayfaring locals would receive food in exchange for saying prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). This “souling” or “guising,” when the celebrants dressed in costumes and carried lanterns made from scooped out turnips, carried from Europe to the North America. But it wasn’t until after the beginning of the twentieth century that Halloween as we know it began to evolve.

 

The first recorded use of the words “trick or treat” appeared in a publication from Blackie, Alberta in 1927. By the 1930s, Halloween was much more widespread, but even in the 1940s many considered it begging and wouldn’t participate. Thank goodness that fear no longer exists. And of course, it’s totally not begging when each trick-or-treater earns his/her treats with a clever—and usually corny—joke. Below you’ll find a few examples of Halloween jokes from the Spooky MG Authors, so you’ll be able to collect a pumpkin-ful of candy.

                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Spooky MG Authors Halloween Jokes

Sarah Cannon: Knock knock! Who’s there? Sarah. Sarah who? Is Sarah doctor in the house? I’ve been bitten by a werewolf! 

Sheri Larsen: Why are graveyards noisy? Because of all the coffins!

How do ghosts go from floor to floor? By scarecase!     

Jonathan Rosen: I threw a boomerang at a ghost the other day. I knew it would come back to haunt me!

Ghost pic

Lisa Schmid: What does a ghost eat for dessert? I SCREAM!

Angie Smibert: What do you call a haunted chicken? A poulty-geist!

Cynthia Reeg: What do near-sighted ghosts wear to see better? Spook-tacles!

Kim Ventrella: What did the skeleton dress up as for Halloween? Sherlock Bones!

For more jokes, visit my website at https://www.cynthiareeg.com/category/jokes/

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

 

Jacqueline West & A STORM OF WISHES

I’m thrilled to be able to introduce Jacqueline West, the New York Times best-selling author of the gorgeous series, The Books of Elsewhere, and her newest release, A Storm of Wishes out now! Check out that extraordinary cover. This sounds like a fantastic read, which will very much top my TBR stack. And don’t miss her secret superpower, revealed below.JacquelineWest2017 cropped

Here’s Jacqueline…

  1. Please give us a synopsis of your newest MG, The Collectors – A Storm of Wishes.

Sure! Here’s one of the official ones:

It’s been only a few weeks since Van uncovered a magical secret—that wishes really can come true, and that a mysterious society called the Collectors protects us from the dire consequences even the smallest wish can have. Van knows only too well how wishing can go awry: his mother is recovering from a broken leg, his friend Pebble has been stolen away by the evil wish collector Mr. Falborg, dozens of dangerous creatures called Wish Eaters have escaped into the world, and Van himself has almost died—twice—all because of wishes.

When Van’s mother is offered a position at the renowned Fox Den Opera, located in the quiet, beautiful forest a few hours north of the city, she whisks Van away with her, hoping this will be a safer home for their family of two. But Fox Den is home to an ancient Wish Eater—a powerful creature with the ability to grant wishes that have catastrophic consequences; a Wish Eater Mr. Falborg would love to get his hands on. Van must team up with the Collectors and find a way to stop him before he makes a wish that leaves the world in chaos.Collectors 2 Cover

  1. I know that this is a sequel to your first Collectors. Having just finished my own “companion novel”, do you consider this a true sequel?

Oh yes, this is very much a sequel. It picks up right where THE COLLECTORS left off, it features the same major characters, and it answers many—if not all!—of the big questions that remained at the end of the first book. The big difference here is the setting. THE COLLECTORS takes place in a large American city and the hidden, magical underworld beneath it. A STORM OF WISHES moves from that city to a deep forest, where secret mansions and ancient wishing wells wait within the trees.

  1. You are quite prolific in both YA and MG, as well as short fiction – and your website also describes you as a poet. Much of your work is fantasy, but you also have some realistic fiction. What’s your favorite age and/or genre to write?

I’m not sure I have a favorite age to write for—which is probably why I do it all! I love being able to move from one project to another and to find myself somewhere completely different with each one; it helps keep me from getting stuck.

The same goes for poetry and fiction. For years, most of what I published was poetry, and now I spend most of my time on fiction—in part because I love the challenge of the novel, and in part because I have deadlines! But I know that my work in poetry informs my fiction. I think about the sound and rhythm of each sentence, and I tend to go overboard with figurative language.

Genre-wise, though, I’m a fantasist. Almost everything I write could fit under fantasy’s big umbrella, whether it’s fantasy/mystery, fantasy/horror, fantasy/adventure/humor… Even my most realistic fiction slips into magical realism. I love how fantasy removes the limits of the real world. It’s so freeing to get to play with worlds where anything can happen. 

  1. Are you working on something now that you’d like to reveal?

I’ve got a couple of creepy YA novels on the back burner, and I’m more than halfway through drafting my next MG dark fantasy/mystery. It doesn’t have a title yet—those never seem to come to me until the very end—but it involves a very small, very old town, a library full of secrets, and a book that may not actually exist. 

  1. Please share one “fun fact” about yourself. And…any pets? (If so, any pet photos to share?)

I have a form of synesthesia, so to me, each letter of the alphabet has a color, and every word is a combination of those colors. When I’m choosing character or location names, I often take their colors into account. Certain characters need names that are full of dark, mysterious colors; others might be mostly pastels or bright reds and yellows. Of course, nobody knows this color code but me…which is probably a good thing, or it might give away which characters can be trusted!Brom with Collectors

And yes, I do have a pet: a giant, bouncy springer spaniel/border collie/beagle mix named Brom Bones. We got him at Halloween ten years ago, and he was very bony at the time (he’d been in a shelter for weeks), and he reminded us of the “wild, unruly hero” from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow—one of my favorite Halloweeny stories. Washington Irving describes his Brom Bones this way: “He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of good humor at bottom.” That’s our dog to a T.

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and the middle grade mystery Digging Up Danger, as well as the YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things.  Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Junior Library Guild Selection, and received the 2010 CYBILS Award for fantasy/science fiction. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.

 

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

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/