Celebrate Our Books & Bookshop

Spooky Middle Grade has lots to celebrate!! A number of new releases, and a new Bookshop, are worthy of attention.

Our new Bookshop Store is officially open. In case you don’t know, Bookshop is a platform that supports independent booksellers by allowing you to buy directly through them online, and they give a percentage of proceeds to booksellers.

Spooky Middle Grade has opened a store where you can view all our most recent releases, find a way to order directly from our indies, or place an order through Bookshop.

And take a look at our most recent releases, from earliest to just-about-published:

Josh Roberts, The Witches of Willow Cove: It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove.

Adrianna Cuevas, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez: In this magical middle-grade debut novel, a Cuban American boy must use his secret ability to communicate with animals to save the inhabitants of his town when they are threatened by a tule vieja, a witch that transforms into animals.

Lorien Lawrence, The Stitchers: “The chills come guaranteed.” —Stephen King The start of a spine-tingling new horror series perfect for fans of Stranger Things and Goosebumps.

Janet Fox, The Artifact Hunters: Isaac Wolf can travel through time. But he’s also in a race against it. With tensions in Prague rising at the height of World War II, Isaac Wolf is forced to leave home with nothing more than a small backpack and a pendant in the shape of an eternity knot. His parents believe the pendant will keep him safe–if he can discover what it really means.

Lindsay Curie, Scritch Scratch: This is a teeth-chattering, eyes bulging, shuddering-and-shaking, chills-at-the-back-of-your-neck ghost story. I loved it!”―R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series. For fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine comes a chilling ghost story based on real Chicago history about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

Kim Ventrella, The Secret Life of Sam: The timelessness of Bridge to Terabithia meets the wonder of Big Fish in this bittersweet, magical story, perfect for fans of Barbara O’Connor, Lisa Graff, and Dan Gemeinhart.

The Stories that Scared US

Obviously, all of us at Spooky MG love creepy stories. And we love the ones written for young readers with a special fierceness.

But I wanted to know about the books that genuinely terrify us—or that terrified us when we were young and impressionable, and that may have given us writing (or nightmare) material for years to come.

I’ll knew what my own answer would be:

Scary Stories Trilogy

Like pretty much everyone else in my Elder Millennial/Oregon Trail generation, my third grade mind was blown by Alvin Schwartz’s SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. I was terrified by those collections, and I adored them—probably for the same reasons. My friends and I would read them aloud at sleepovers, poring over Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, scaring ourselves catatonic. On my own, I would turn back to certain stories or images again and again, seeing if they were as frightening as I remembered. They always were.

If I had to pick a few stories that really dug their hooks into me, I might say “The Bride” (Gah, “The Bride”!!), “The Wendigo” (Its frozen, empty eeriness hit this upper Midwesterner hard), or “Me Tie Doughty Walker,” where the protagonist’s dog begins speaking in strange nonsense words, and is answered by a voice that comes from somewhere in the darkness outside his little cottage… The thought of that one still makes me shudder.

I know some grownups who say they were scarred by these books, and who wish they hadn’t read them when they were small. I suppose I was scarred by them too. But I’m weirdly grateful for it. Without them, I’m not sure what dark and terrible things would be missing from my imagination. And now I get to play with those dark and terrible things when I sit down to write creepy stories of my own.

So, what books for young readers scared—or scarred—my fellow Spookies?

 

Ghostly AnimalsSarah Cannon (ODDITY, TWIST)

Before SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK or GOOSEBUMPS, there was an author named Daniel Cohen who used to put out scary story collections, and GHOSTLY ANIMALS in particular scared the pants off me. There was a ghost that was a skunk with a human face, which was so completely out of left field that it blindsided me…it hadn’t even occurred to me to be scared of such a thing before! Also, Phillis Reynolds Naylor’s Witch series (WITCH WATER, WITCH’S SISTER, etc.) scared me half to death, mostly because the villain was a scary old lady neighbor. The adults could *see* her, they just thought the kids were being fanciful. But they weren’t, and the scary incidents that illustrated this were extremely real to me.

 

LionWitchWardrobe CoverSamantha M. Clark (THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST)

The book that terrified me most as a kid was actually THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. I was terrified that the Witch was going to turn me to stone and horrified about all the animals that had been turned to stone. The idea still haunts me to this day. I’ve never been able to look at realistic statues without wondering if a person is trapped inside…

 

 

The_BFG_(Dahl_novel_-_cover_art)Tania del Rio (WARREN THE 13TH series)

So a book that scared me as a kid was The BFG by Roald Dahl, which is funny because it’s not even a scary book, at least not compared to, say, THE WITCHES. And even though BFG literally stands for big FRIENDLY giant, I still used to lay awake at night terrified that an enormous eye would peer into my bedroom window or that a massive hand would reach through and whisk me away. Even the idea of a giant man blowing pleasant dreams through a long horn creeped me out. It didn’t help that I had tall poplar trees in my backyard and at night, their silhouettes looked like giants wearing long cloaks! 😬

 

Janet Fox (THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE)

I hate to say it, but almost nothing I read as a kid scared me. Even the grownup books. Even DRACULA. But put me in front of a mildly scary movie – even today – and I will have nightmares for weeks, months, years. I don’t know if that helps, but it’s the truth. And maybe why I can write scary books today.

 

Lorien Lawrence (THE STITCHERS)

In a Dark, Dark Room

Lorien Lawrence (THE STITCHERS)

The first scary story that comes to mind is “The Green Ribbon” by Alvin Schwartz from his IN A DARK, DARK ROOM collection. I remember a librarian reading this to my class as kindergarteners – which seems bizarre now because it’s SUCH a scary story, even by today’s standards! We were all sitting on the carpet, huddled together, just listening. I could not stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It definitely gave me nightmares, but it also left me wanting more. I’m sure that read-aloud jump started my love of all things spooky!

 

Cynthia Reeg (FROM THE GRAVE, INTO THE SHADOWLANDS)

The Children of Green Knowe

Cynthia Reeg (FROM THE GRAVE, INTO THE SHADOWLANDS)

I have to admit that I was a Nancy Drew addict—these creepy, spooky, mysterious books always appealed to me. Plus, I enjoyed trying to solve the puzzle, and they were easily accessible at the small local libraries where I lived when I was an MG reader. But I also remember how creepy and chilling the GREEN KNOWE books by Lucy M. Boston were. Loved them! And often I would ready spooky Clyde Robert Bulla books like THE GHOST OF WINDY HILL. First and foremost in monstrous books for me were fairy tales and folklore stories, which were again easily accessible and often taught at school.

 

Kim Ventrella (THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM, THE SKELETON TREE, etc.)

As a kid, I always found myself yearning for stories that both transported me and reflected my experiences, and those experiences weren’t always roses and rainbows. Books that tackled tough topics or delved into the scary or macabre, rather than frightening me, made me feel accepted and understood. They validated my experience and gave me courage. I especially loved SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, mostly thanks to the disturbing, ethereal imagery. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. I longed for that catharsis. The funny thing is that now, as an adult, my books with ’spooky’ themes are all about finding light, whimsy and wonder in the midst of darkness. The spooky elements are there partly to lessen the blow of the real-life tough topics I address, like loss and grief. But I think the two needs are connected, i.e. the need I had as a young reader to see kids overcoming true evil, and the recognition that, as an adult, real life is much more terrifying than any kind of fantasy monster.

 


Jacqueline West is the author of THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, THE COLLECTORS, and DIGGING UP DANGER, as well as the YA horror novel LAST THINGS. Visit her at http://www.jacquelinewest.com, or find her at jacqueline.west.writes (Instagram) or @JacquelineMWest (Twitter).

DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!

Like most kids of the eighties and nineties, I grew up reading the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology by Alvin Schwartz with haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. So I could believe that I too could conquer my personal demons. I longed for that catharsis, and it required real monsters.

That’s why I’m so thrilled to have a story in a brand new anthology, DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS: A TRIBUTE TO ALVIN SCHWARTZ’S SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, presented by the Horror Writers Association. For me, this was all about coming full circle, returning to the series that inspired my creativity as a child. The anthology features 35 original tales by 35 of today’s top authors, edited by Jonathan Maberry.


I had a chance to chat with just a few of the contributors to ask them about their contribution and the influence of the original SCARY STORIES series. Here’s what they had to say:

Kami Garcia

Kami is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and comic book writer of thirteen novels including the Beautiful Creatures novels, BROKEN BEAUTIFUL HEARTS, TEEN TITANS: RAVEN, and TEEN TITANS: BEAST BOY. Find Kami online at www.kamigarcia.com

Kim: What inspired your contribution?

Kami Garcia: My story is about a bottle tree and a ghost. My mom’s family is from North Carolina and bottle trees are very common there. My mom has one in her yard. According to the superstition, if you put brightly colored bottles on the branches of a tree, ghosts will be attracted to the color and they will get caught in the bottles. 

Kim: Oooh, can’t wait to read it! This anthology is a tribute to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. What memories to you have of that series from childhood?

Kami Garcia: I loved reading SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK when I was in elementary school. They have a timeless quality. I was a teacher before I became a writer and my students loved SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, too!

Kim: Why you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?

Kami Garcia: Reading stories about scary things allows children to experience their fears in a safe way. 


Z Brewer

Z is the NYT bestselling author of THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD series, as well as INTO THE REAL (coming 10/20), THE SLAYER CHRONICLES series, SOULBOUND, THE CEMETERY BOYS, THE BLOOD BETWEEN US, MADNESS, and more short stories than they can recall. Their pronouns are they/them. When not making readers cry because they killed off a character they loved, Z is an anti-bullying and mental health advocate. Plus, they have awesome hair. Find out more at http://zbrewerbooks.com/.

Kim: What inspired your contribution?

Z Brewer: When I was a kid, my dad used to warn me that it was bad luck to pass a graveyard without whistling. His mom, my grandmother, had told him that same thing his entire childhood. It was a “fact” that they both passed on in a very serious tone. I was twelve before I was brave enough to not whistle past the graveyard. Fortunately nothing happened to me because of it…yet. But that fear has always been at the back of my mind.

Kim: What memories do you have of the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK series from childhood?

I was obsessed with SCARY STORIES when they came out. The artwork was terrifying. The tales made my heart race. I loved every frightening moment. But my favorite memory is what transpired after I read “The Green Ribbon.” The story is about a girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck at all times. She meets a boy and falls in love, but the boy asks her over and over again throughout the years why she wears the ribbon around her neck. She eventually gets very sick and as she’s lying on her deathbed, she tells him to untie the ribbon and he will understand why she’d never told him why she wore it. He unties it…and her head falls off. It was gruesome. I loved it.

…which is why I took a bit of curling ribbon from a gift that had been opened and tied it around my neck (looking back on it, I can see how stupid and dangerous that was) so I could tell people that if I removed it, my head would fall off.

Did I mention I had no friends?

Kim: HAHAHA, yes! I think we are kindred spirits! Why do you think kids are so drawn to these chilling tales?

The stories were not at all reflective of children’s books at the time. They were dark. They were gritty. They had imagery that horrified even adults. There was so much about them that was forbidden fruit to so many people. Parents and teachers told kids not to read them, which made them even more tantalizing. Apart from the chill up my spine, I think my favorite thing about them is that SCARY STORIES inspired so many to rebel and pick up the books. I’ve always been of the mind that if someone tells you not to read something, you should absolutely read it to find out what they’re keeping from you. Viva la Resistance!


Barry Lyga

Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published twenty-four novels in various genres in his fourteen-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I Hunt Killers. His books have been or are slated to be published in more than a dozen different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

Kim: What inspired your contribution?

Barry Lyga: I was thinking about something that could happen without reason or logic because those sorts of things, in my opinion, tend to be the scariest. I’ve always liked doppelgänger stories, so the idea of a murderous twin that comes out of nowhere really resonated for me. Originally, I thought a cursed mirror would create the doppelgänger…but then I realized that cursed mirrors have been done to death (literally, sometimes!). So I thought and I thought…and then I looked down at my keyboard…

Kim: Who doesn’t love an evil twin, am I right? Why do you think kids are so drawn to terrifying tales?

There are many different theories on this, but I think it’s because horror provides a way for them to experience and even experiment with things that are dangerous or frightening without actually being in danger. It’s almost like a training session for dealing with the more mundane — but very real — terrors of the real world.


Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan is a New York Times best-selling and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and writing teacher/lecturer. He was named one of the Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. His books have been sold to more than two-dozen countries. Find out more at http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/.

I also had the pleasure of chatting with the editor of DON’T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, Jonathan Maberry!

Kim: Sum it all up for us. Why do kids have such an enduring love for scary stories?

Jonathan Maberry: Kids like being scared for a whole slew of reasons. Partly it’s the simple thrill –the physical and biochemical reaction to fear that releases a bit of epinephrine (aka that old fight or flight hormone popularly known as adrenaline) which makes us feel stronger, faster, and more capable of escaping danger or dealing with it on our own terms and with our own resources. Kids, being younger and smaller than adults, have a natural inferiority complex, but the more challenges kids face –however virtual—the more agency they take over themselves. 

Scary stories –especially those written expressly for kids—teach problem-solving; they often focus on elements of teamwork and friendship; and they often have better third acts than does the real world.

From a personal perspective, I grew up in a very troubled household that was in a crime-ridden and dangerous neighborhood. I read scary stories of all kinds because in those stories there was always an ending. But the stress in my life went on and on for years. So the stories were true escapism for me. This is something common to many millions of kids –and not just those from bad neighborhoods or abusive families. Kids face the challenges of a scary world every day, but in their stories those frights are encountered, experienced, and ultimately left behind. There is a measure of closure. Or, at least, the promise of one. 


Want a sneak peek at the contents?

Here’s the line-up for this totally terrifying anthology:

Editor’s Foreword by Jonathan Maberry
“The Funeral Portrait” by Laurent Linn
“The Carved Bear” by Brendan C Reichs
“Don’t You See That Cat?” by Gaby Triana
“The Golden Peacock” by Alethea Kontis
“The Knock-Knock Man” by Brenna Yovanoff
“Strange Music” by Joanna Parypinski
“Copy and Paste Kill” by Barry Lyga
“The House on the Hill” by Micol Ostow Harlan
“Jingle Jangle” by Kim Ventrella (Oooh, it’s me!)
“The Weeping Woman” by Courtney Alameda
“The Neighbor” by Amy Lukavics
“Tag, You’re It” by N. R. Lambert
“The Painted Skin” by Jamie Ford
“Lost to the World” by John Dixon
“The Bargain” by Aric Cushing
“Lint Trap” by Jonathan Auxier
“The Cries of the Cat” by Josh Malerman
“The Open Window” by Christopher Golden
“The Skelly-Horse” by T. J. Wooldridge
“The Umbrella Man” by Gary A. Braunbeck
“The Green Grabber” by D.J. MacHale
“Brain Spiders” by Luis Alberto Urrea and Rosario Urrea
“Hachishakusama” by Catherine Jordan
“Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” by Margaret Stohl
“In Stitches” by Michael Northrop
“The Bottle Tree” by Kami Marin Garcia
“The Ghost in Sam’s Closet” by R.L. Stine
“Rap Tap” by Sherrilyn Kenyon
“The Garage” by Tananarive Due
“Don’t Go into the Pumpkin Patch at Night” by Sheri White
“Pretty Girls Make Graves” by Tonya Hurley
“Whistle Past the Graveyard” by Z Brewer
“Long Shadows” by James A. Moore
“Mud” by Linda D Addison
“The Tall Ones” by Madeleine Roux


Hold on, what about the artwork?

I know what you’re thinking: The artwork was what made the original books so terrifying, right? I couldn’t agree more, and this anthology will not disappoint. It features gorgeous, ethereal and so-so haunting images by the amazing Iris Compiet.

Iris Compiet

Iris Compiet is an award-winning artist from the Netherlands. She has worked for a wide range of international clients and contributed to gallery shows and art annuals. She is also the creator of the book Faeries of the Faultlines. Drawing inspiration from European folklore, mythology, fairy tales, and the world around her, she strives to open a gateway to the imagination to ignite it even further.

Kim: Your illustrations are gorgeous, surreal and unsettling. Were you inspired by Stephen Gammell’s illustrations from the original SCARY STORIES books? How did you bring your own voice to the project?

Iris: I’ve been working in this illustration style for a while now, mixing ink with pencils and such to create a mood. I always try to adapt my illustrations to the needs of the book and stories, to help get across the feel of them and this style was the perfect fit. Rough and a bit gnarly. I think the use of materials and technique is very important in getting across the feel of the story, the illustration has to give the reader a little bit more information, heighten the mood so to speak. It seemed a perfect fit for these stories and it naturally ended up as a nod to the original scary stories, almost a homage if you will because those originals are pure genius. I wanted the illustrations to just underline that unsettling feel of the stories without giving away too much. 

Kim: What scared you as a kid? Do those fears inspire your artwork?

Iris: I think I was afraid of the usual things as a kid, the thing hiding in my closet or under my bed. The creak upstairs at my grandmothers, things like that. I love a good scare and loved watching shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark. When I worked on these stories I tried to tap into those feelings

Kim: You’re known for creating fantastical creatures with touches of darkness and whimsy. How did you develop your unique artistic style?

Iris: Developing a style takes many years and a lot of work. I didn’t set out intentionally to develop my style like this but I love to mix things, I don’t believe something is 100% good or bad. Without darkness there can be no light, that’s the way I see things. So I love to create art that has both in them. Depending on who is looking at the artwork, they’ll be either drawn to the dark or light in a piece. I enjoy creating art that has both. 

Kim: Why do you think kids connect so deeply with scary stories/art?

Iris: I think there’s nothing like a good scare, that rush of adrenaline, not just with kids. I think we all enjoy a good scare once in a while, to confront those fears and come out of it as the victor because we ‘survived’ the story. It’s a safe escape, reading scary stories. As a kid I grew up with the real fairytales, the ones with the chopped-off hands and the livers being eaten, things like that. I enjoyed Jaws as a kid even though it made me scared to go into the local pool, because there might be a giant shark there. It gave me a rush but it was a safe rush, nothing would ever happen to me. 

Oh, and in case you wanted a sneak peek at the chapter art:

About the Author

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

*If you order from our Bookshop.org store, you are supporting indie bookstores + ensuring we can continue to offer free virtual visits with schools across the country.

A New #SpookyMG Read ~ Midnight at the Barclay Hotel! #Giveaway

This title had me at Midnight and Hotel. Only the most spookiest activities and, dare I say, accidents (s said with a bit of slither) happen in the middle of the night at a hotel.

I’m so excited to share our next middle grade author with you! Fleur Bradley is super talented, has a fond affection for all things Agatha Christie, and has visited the stately Stanley Hotel of the horror film The Shining. #Boo To top all that off, she’s offering up one signed copy of her book! So make sure to scroll to the end to enter the giveaway for your chance to win!

The Book: MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL!

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley
PRE-ORDER

Hunting ghosts and solving the case before checkout? All in a weekend’s work.

When JJ Jacobson convinced his mom to accept a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway at the illustrious Barclay Hotel, he never imagined that he’d find himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He thought he was in for a run-of-the-mill weekend ghost hunting at the most haunted spot in town, but when he arrives at the Barclay Hotel and his mother is blamed for the hotel owner’s death, he realizes his weekend is going to be anything but ordinary.

Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name, and maybe even meet a ghost or two along the way.

Don’t you just love this cover art with the windows shaped like coffins, the moon illuminating the trio’s shadows, and even a black cat in the background!

Author Interview!

Hello Fleur! So happy to welcome you to our crypt. I know readers are excited to meet you. Let’s give them a peek into your middle grade work. What is your favorite part about writing middle grade literature?

I love the honesty of middle-grade: kids who are around twelve years old really see the world clearly, including the (flawed) adults in it. Writing MG is some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done, because your words have to be as honest too—and to the point. The bar is high, as it should be. You better bring you’re A-game in MG!

We know that Agatha Christie is one of your inspirations for writing a murder mystery for MG readers. How is this story like an AC mystery and how is it different?

I grew up reading Agatha Christie books, and wanted to give kids an introduction to that classic murder mystery story. There are colorful characters, a remote mansion, and several guests/suspects who could’ve committed the murder—all ingredients to a Christie novel.

Where I think it’s different is that my kid characters are also doing some ghost hunting. The spooky element gives the book an extra fun element, I think. It certainly was a lot of fun to write.

Give us three words that best describe Midnight at the Barclay Hotel.

Spooky. Murder. Mystery. 😍😍😍

The idea of ghost hunting is popular with lots of young readers. What makes this ghost hunt unique?

The element of the murder mystery adds extra pressure to the ghost hunting—and it sometimes forces the kids to leave the ghost hunting for later. In this case, I would say ghost hunting is a subplot that becomes more important later in the story, as the kids solve the murder mystery.

Share with readers the friendship that develops between your main cast – JJ, Penny and Emma.

At the beginning of the story, JJ really just wants to be left alone to do his ghost hunting. He doesn’t appreciate Emma’s intrusiveness or Penny’s skepticism. As the story goes on and the murder mystery takes center stage, all three kids realize that they have their best ideas when working together. Even if each has a secret they’re trying to keep…

Ooh . . . sneaky secrets!

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

Oh, there are so many… My favorite is probably where JJ’s secret is finally out, and he has to talk to his mom. It’s a sweet moment—I really wanted to show how they are close, and how a secret can get so big that it takes on a life of its own.

JJ’s mom helps JJ overcome his reading difficulty when he’s young—I had to do the same with my youngest daughter, so this story element is close to my heart.

💚💚💚

Is there a message or feeling you hope stays with readers once they’ve read the story?

I hope the book shows that people can change for the better. And especially for kids, I hope it shows that even if it’s hard to tell the truth sometimes, it’s really for the best. JJ ends up carrying a secret around (literally: it’s in his backpack) that wouldn’t have felt so heavy if he’d just told his mom the truth in the beginning.

Such a great life lesson, and so very true.

With the current education challenges facing teachers and parents, how can they encourage middle schoolers to engage in more independent reading and writing?

Anytime—whether it’s during a pandemic or not—I believe choice should be part of reading. If kids can choose what they read, they’ll associate reading with something they have control over and choose to do. It really doesn’t matter what kids are reading, as long as they’re reading.

And parents: try reading yourself if you aren’t! You’re the best example to your kid.

Great advice! Thank you.

A little bit of fun before we end. Inquiring minds want to know:From your personal experience, what middle grade book is a must read?

In mystery, I’d say Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn—it’s such a great book for younger MG readers. And I’m going to cheat and pick two: I really loved The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson recently—such a strong story.

What can your readers expect from you next?

I’m working on a (top secret! Well, at least for now) new middle-grade mystery. This one is spooky and has a great setting, just like Midnight at the Barclay Hotel. So far, it’s a blast to write!

Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to find out more . . . I mean, when you can spill the spooky secret.👻

Here’s what people are saying about the book:

Chris Grabenstein, multi-award winning author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, on Midnight at the Barclay Hotel.

“A madcap mystery that I couldn’t put down!” –Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, New York Times bestselling author of The Book Scavenger series on Midnight at the Barclay Hotel.

“Agatha Christie references abound, and the hotel setting shines. A quirky, kid-friendly introduction to the murder mystery.” –Kirkus Reviews on Midnight at the Barclay Hotel.

About the Author_greenskulls

Fleur (F.T.) Bradley author photoFleur is passionate about two things: mysteries and getting kids to read, and she regularly speaks at librarian and educator conferences on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, Fleur now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many cats.
For more information on Fleur and her books, visit http://www.ftbradley.com, and on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.

Check out Fleur’s other story contributions HERE.

It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you, Fleur. Thank you for sharing yourself and your latest book with us.

Readers, here’s the Midnight at the Barclay Hotel blog tour schedule if you’d like to follow Fleur along the way:

Facebook Live Book Launch on Aug. 25th!

Giveaway

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An Interview with Janet Fox, Author of THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS

Fellow Spooky Middle Grade Author Janet Fox has a new book coming out soon called THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS! It arrives August 25th and I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of this wonderful and spooky tale. Let me just say you’re in for a treat! Janet was kind enough to answer some questions about her book, but first, here’s an official description to whet your appetite:

With tensions in Prague rising at the height of World War II, Isaac Wolf is forced to leave home with nothing more than a small backpack and a pendant in the shape of an eternity knot. His parents believe the pendant will keep him safe–if he can discover what it really means.

This clue leads him to Rookskill Castle, home of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit where gifted children can learn to harness their powers to support the Allies’ cause. With the help of his new friends and an antique watch that allows him to travel through time, Isaac must unlock his own powers and uncover the true meaning of the eternity knot. The only way he can do that, though, is by hunting for a series of magical artifacts that are scattered throughout the past . . . and Isaac isn’t the only artifact hunter. Soon he finds himself in a race against a threat just as deadly as the war itself–one that his parents had been trying to shield him from all along.

TANIA: The Artifact Hunters is a spooky and thrilling adventure that blends historical elements with fantasy and mystery. What was your inspiration behind the story?

JANET: Thanks, Tania! The Artifact Hunters is a sequel to The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, but my editor and I wanted to do something different. But I also wanted it to be in keeping with the earlier book, and I loved how the chatelaine played such a crucial role there. While I was mulling ideas I came across an article about something called a Death’s Head Watch.

Well, as you can imagine (this is a spooky book, after all), that name alone made me sit up and take notice. And then I saw it and I was hooked. These watches were made in the seventeenth century – basically, they are pocket watches – and made to remind the bearer of their mortality. The one I read about belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded for treason.

I put the watch together with my new protagonist – Isaac Wolf – and wondered, what if the watch was a time travel device? And was one of many “artifacts” with magical properties? And what if those artifacts were in danger of misuse, by Hitler, or something else?

TANIA: The book takes place in multiple places across time including Prague and Scotland during WW2, Ancient Greece, and Pre-Columbian Bolivia, to name a few! That must have taken a lot of research. Did you get to visit any of these countries in person?

JANET: It was a lot of research, and took me a while to write. But yes! I have been to all those countries. Just not those times (though wouldn’t that be fun? Maybe?) My most recent trip was in the fall of 2018 to Prague, which is a beautiful city with a rich history. The Astronomical Town Clock is a wonder.

But I think Scotland has my heart. My ancestors are Scots/Irish, so perhaps it’s the draw of the past…

TANIA: The Artifact Hunters is a companion to your earlier novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, which features a lively cast of characters with magical powers. If you could have a magical power, what would it be?

JANET: Oh, what a great question. I think I would love to be able to fly. That way I could go anywhere I wanted at any time. (That’s the one thing about this pandemic that I’ve missed – being able to travel.)

I tried to give my characters magical powers that were just at the edge of believable. They can’t fly or become completely invisible (though, close), but they can talk to animals or commune with ghosts. That way a reader might feel that they, too, could develop a power with enough practice, even the power to find deeper meaning or understand the magic of science.

TANIA: As if Nazis weren’t scary enough, your book also features some terrifying supernatural villains based off of Scottish lore. Why do you personally think spooky stories are important for young readers?

JANET: I think young readers need a safe place to examine their fears. The world is a terribly scary place, especially now. When a reader feels the emotions of fear or horror or anticipation in a book, she can experiment. “What would I do if I met a monster?” “How would I deal with meeting a ghost?” “Who would I turn to for support?”

And I try to write teamwork and family into my books in these situations, so that readers learn to reach out to others for help. It’s awfully hard to be alone and scared. So adding the component of friendship in a scary book for kids is important to me.

TANIA: What is your writing process like? Was this a hard or easy book for you to write?

JANET: This book was hard in a way because I wanted it to live up to the first book, which did really, really well. And I wanted it to be different enough that it could stand on its own, but connect enough to answer reader questions about the things left dangling in the first book.

As to my writing process, I’m a dedicated pantser who is trying to plan more. I’m beginning to get a handle on a new process that works for me, to help me plan, rather than struggling to find my way through each and every new book as if I’m learning all over again, reinventing the wheel.

I’m actually teaching that process in September.  https://montana.scbwi.org/events/webinar-a-new-way-to-outline-with-author-janet-fox/

TANIA: Without giving away any spoilers, the end of the book leaves open the possibility for more adventures with Isaac and the Artifact Hunters. Will we be seeing more of them? (I hope so!)

JANET: Maybe. My publisher doesn’t want one right now. They’re considering an entirely new, somewhat spooky but very different idea that I’m excited about, so keep fingers crossed. But I never say never, and in fact have a rough plan for a third and final Rookskill book that would involve taking my SAIU kids to different places, so…who knows?

TANIA: Where can readers connect with you online, and feel free to add anything else you’d like to say to our Spooky MG readers!

JANET: You can find me at my website, www.janetsfox.com, on Twitter at @janetsfox, on Facebook at AuthorJanetFox, on Instagram at janetsfox and on Pinterest at janetsfox.

I’m also a book coach now, so if you are a writer in need of help, check out my book coaching biz at www.bigpicturestorycoach.com which is also linked on my website.

Interview with author Cory Putman Oakes and a Spooky Recipe!

Cory Putman Oakes, author of The Second Best Haunted Hotel On Mercer Street | Photo: Sam Bond Photography
Cory Putman Oakes, author of The Second Best Haunted Hotel On Mercer Street | Photo: Sam Bond Photography

I’ve been a fan of Cory Putman Oakes and her books for years. Afterall, she’s the author of the fabulously magical young adult novel WITCH TOWN and the fantastically fun middle-grade DINOSAUR BOY series, among others. But my excitement was ratched up a thousand when she told about the newest middle-grade book she’d sold, because it has ghosts!

THE SECOND-BEST HAUNTED HOTEL ON MERCER STREET comes out from Abrams on Aug. 18, and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. (You can get yours here.) You can just imagine my excitement at interviewing Cory about her new book. And the best part? She’s given us a wonderfully spooky recipe to try too.

Hi, Cory! Welcome to Spooky Middle Grade! Tell us about THE SECOND-BEST HAUNTED HOTEL ON MERCER STREET.

THE SECOND-BEST HAUNTED HOTEL ON MERCER STREET is “You’ve Got Mail” meets “The Haunted Mansion,” but for a middle grade audience. The idea is that there are two competing haunted hotels on Mercer Street: The Hotel Ivan (small, quirky, family-owned), and The Hauntery (part of a big, soulless, corporate chain). There are also two main characters. There’s Willow, a living girl, whose family has owned the Hotel Ivan for 400 years. Willow’s mother has died and come back as a ghost – she and all of the other friendly ghosts who haunt the Ivan are starting to fade (along with the hotel’s business). Willow is desperate to save her beloved home and the ghosts who are like family to her. Then there’s Evie, a ghost, who works for The Hauntery where she is forced to play the role of “Spooky Little Girl.” Evie longs to play the Terrifying Phantasm, but neither hotel management or her own family will let her prove she’s terrifying enough. The two girls meet at their local library (they’re fans of the same mystery series) and hatch a daring plan to help one another, but can they pull it off before the dreaded Hotel Inspector decides, once and for all, which hotel is the “Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street”?

SecondBestHauntedHotel_CV_1P_2-27-201-709x1024So much fun! What inspired you to write this story?

I spent an entire night walking my infant son around a decidedly not-haunted hotel. He wouldn’t sleep and he’d fuss whenever I tried to sit down so we walked around empty ballrooms, meeting rooms, down quiet hallways, and through the deserted lobby. We didn’t see any ghosts, but seeing a hotel in the dead of night like that – all that emptiness and quiet, with only echoes of all the parties and proms and weddings and life events that have happened there – was the most haunted thing I’ve ever experienced. I knew immediately I had to write a book about a haunted hotel.

You’ve written some other spooky stories. What do you like best about spooky stories?

I love to tell stories that have a spooky (or magical) element brewing right under the surface of “normal.” There’s something very fun about a world that looks a lot like ours except for one, big, spooky/magical difference. In this case – the world of Mercer Street is just like ours, except ghosts exist and are woven into the fabric of everyday life. I love having paranormal elements brush up against modern things like WiFi and Instagram and toxic corporate culture – it allows me to really play with these concepts in interesting ways.

I’ve always loved spooky stories in particular because they are so layered. On the surface, spooky stories are fun in that spine-tingling, oh-no-don’t-open-the-door, deliciously frightening way. But, especially when spooky stories deal with ghosts and hauntings, they always have a deeper layer of meaning that venture into subjects like death, moving on, living life to the fullest, and what it means to really be “alive.” These are all subjects that kids wonder about and often have a hard time discussing because adults don’t always know what to say about them. The great thing about middle grade ghost stories is that they’re safe places for kids to explore these topics – they allow kids to dip their toes in the heavier stuff while they’re still floating on that cushion of surface-level, spine-tingling fun stuff.

What are your favorite spooky stories that you’ve read?

Recently, I’ve really enjoyed GHOST SQUAD (by Claribel Ortega), GREENGLASS HOUSE (by Kate Milford), GLOOM TOWN (by Ronald L. Smith) and THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ (by Adrianna Cuevas). While I was writing this book I also re-watched a lot of old, classic scary movies like The Shining, Poltergeist, Halloween, and The Haunted Mansion – in fact, a lot of my secondary character names ended up coming from those movies!

Have you ever seen a ghost in real life?

I have never seen a ghost in real life. My Gram used to see them with some regularity and at various points in my life, I’ve worried that I might have inherited this talent of hers. But I’m turning 40 this year and it hasn’t happened yet, so I think I’m safe. Thank goodness! As much as I love literary ghosts, I know I’d be absolutely terrified if I ever encountered the real thing.

The cover for THE SECOND-BEST HAUNTED HOTEL ON MERCER STREET is so fun. Can you introduce us to the characters?

I love the cover too! This book actually has illustrations throughout – they (and the cover) are all the work of a talented artist named Jane Pica. I LOVE the way she captured the personalities of the characters.

And yes, let’s meet them! On the bottom left we have Willow – Willow’s family owns the Hotel Ivan (which everybody is standing in front of). Evie, the other point of view character, is on the bottom right, wearing her “Spooky Little Girl” outfit (which the Hauntery forces her to wear and which she hates with every fiber of her being). Above the girls are some of the Hotel Ivan’s resident ghosts. Going clockwise (starting above Willow’s head), we’ve got: Molly the Headless Horsewoman (she frequently loses her head), Alford (a WW1 veteran who wears his uniform when he’s nervous), Leonata (a drag performer who is married to Alford. When she’s not in drag, she’s Leopold, a former opera singer and the Ivan’s resident Terrifying Phantasm). Bree (the Ivan’s Social Media Coordinator, whose dream is to open her own photography studio). And right at the bottom between Willow and Evie is Cuddles, the Hotel Ivan’s resident ghost dog.

Do you have a spooky craft or recipe to share?

I do! If you’ve been anywhere near my Instagram, you probably noticed that I like to bake. I always try and find a way to sneak baked goods or other recipes into my books. In THE SECOND-BEST HAUNTED HOTEL ON MERCER STREET it was pretty easy – there are actually two other Ivan ghosts who I haven’t mentioned yet (who aren’t on the cover): Antonia, the Ivan’s Head Chef and her niece, Francesca, a Chef-in-Training. They make a number of interesting dishes throughout the story (including one, very memorable dinner party menu). But my favorite, and probably the best one to pass along, is the recipe for the chocolate chip scones they bake for the lobby. This recipe is adapted from one of my all-time favorite scones recipes in The National Trust Book of Scones (by Sarah Clelland).

THE HOTEL IVAN’S CHOCOLATE CHIP SCONES

(Adapted from The National Trust Book of Scones by Sarah Clelland)

INGREDIENTS:

16 oz self-rising flour

4 oz butter, cubed

3 oz caster sugar (or granulated sugar if you don’t have caster)

4 oz chocolate chips (plus more to snack on while baking)

1 egg, beaten

200 ml whole milk

PROCEDURE:

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift the flour. Rub in the cubed butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until it resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar and the chocolate chips.

Add the egg and mix in almost all of the milk (saving a little bit to brush on top of the scones before baking) to make a soft dough.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface until it just comes together. Press the dough out with the palms of your hands until it’s about an inch thick then stamp out the scones with a small round biscuit cutter. Re-roll the scraps and stamp out more until you run out of dough. (If you prefer triangle scones, then flatten the dough into a large circle and cut the dough, pizza-style.)

Brush the top of the scones with the remaining milk and bake them for 10-15 minutes until they’ve risen and are golden brown on top.

Eat them while they’re warm and melty. Share with your favorite ghosts.

Mmmm. My mouth is already watering. Thank you, Cory, for stopping by Spooky Middle Grade. We can’t wait for your new book!

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

Josh Roberts & THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE

Welcome today to Spooky MG Authors–debut MG author, Josh Roberts!

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Josh, I really enjoyed reading your modern twist on the witches of Salem, which also highlights upper MG issues like friendship and blossoming young romance. Where did the idea for The Witches of Willow Cove come from?

Growing up in New England, I was always aware of the Salem Witch Trials and how important they were to our local history and lore. But what really fascinated me was the fact that the witch trials actually occurred in what’s now an entirely different town. Salem gets all the tourists, but the real witch history happened a few miles away in another town that’s hardly ever mentioned.

As I was brainstorming ideas for this novel, I kept coming back to the concept of a town with a secret history. And as I often do when imagining a story, I started asking questions. What if there were kids growing up in that town who discovered an important personal connection to its secret history? What if that connection impacted their lives in some important way? What if the past literally came back to haunt them? What if I wrote something that was part Gooniesand part Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

Once I had the kernel of an idea, the rest of the setting began to fall into place for me. Then it was time to start thinking about who these kids would be and where the story would take them. That’s always the fun part of writing—getting to know your characters and then seeing where the ideas go from there.

Oh, I agree about how fun it is to get-to-know your characters. I’m always surprised when these invented characters start leaping from the page and surprising me with their words and actions—especially my monsters.

Why do you like to write spooky stories?

 

I lived in a three-story Victorian funeral home for most of my childhood, complete with creaky floors and drafty windows and a secret room sealed off from the rest of the house, so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d be attracted to writing spooky stories.

 

I think spooky stories have some great narrative advantages going for them, too. Atmosphere is very important to any story, but especially in something spooky, and that can be a lot of fun to write. Pacing is crucial, too. I love when I’m reading something that induces a growing sense of dread inside me—this sense that something is about to go wrong for a favorite character. I love it even more when I’m writing it.

 

I also think spooky stories lend themselves to twists and turns and surprise reveals. In many ways, spooky stories are like mysteries. There’s usually something unexplained going on, and what’s more exciting than solving a mystery?

 

That’s a great comparison of spooky stories and mysteries—twists, turns, and reveals. What other interesting things did you discover while working on your story?

 

Writing is hard work! You probably know that already, though. I think for me, the biggest discovery was to trust the process of writing, revising, and writing again. I spent a lot of years trying to get everything “right” in my first drafts, which I think most authors would agree is pretty much impossible. And also a terrible idea.

 

Now when I start a new project, I write what I call an exploratory draft: I try to explore the story and characters and see where they go without focusing too much on if it’s “good” or polished—just figuring out what I’m trying to say first and leaving room to surprise myself. There’s always time for rewriting. (Writing is rewriting. I wish I’d really taken that message to heart years ago.)

 

Excellent point about rewriting! And I love your “exploratory draft” concept. I think the less pressure a writer creates for himself, the greater opportunity to produce a fresh, vibrant story.

What are some of the key points you learned as a debut MG author?

 

For me, it’s really about staying true to the story you want to tell and the themes you want to address. The Witches of Willow Cove is somewhere between a middle grade and young adult novel. It has one foot in each category and so it’s maybe a little hard to nail down where it should go on the bookshelves, and I’m okay with that.

 

At thirteen years old, my two main characters are a little older than traditional middle grade leads and a little younger than typical young adult protagonists. As a writer sending queries to the literary slush piles, I got a lot of feedback that I should either age them up or make them younger, and I tried both approaches . . . only to realize that this story only works for me as an upper-middle grade book with characters facing the particular set of challenges and struggles that early teens face (albeit with witchcraft and deadly secrets).

 

My favorite reader feedback so far has been that the characters feel and act like real kids their age, and I think that’s so important because there just aren’t enough books for kids in that in-between group.

 

I agree with your reader feedback. The characters felt spot-on to me. As a former school librarian, I believe your book would be well-received by upper-MG and lower-YA readers.

What books are you reading now or plan to read next?

 

I’m reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia right now (talk about a spooky story!) and next on my list are two spooky middle grade books, The Stitchers (Fright Watch #1) by Lorien Lawrence and Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie.

 

I’ll have to add the first two to my TBR list! I have read Scritch Scratch and I loved how Lindsay combined history and don’t-turn-off-the-lights spooky intensity. It re-enforces your earlier statement about spooky stories paralleling mystery stories.

 

Who do you feel was the biggest influence on your becoming an author?

 

There are so many ways to answer this question and they would all be true. Many people in my life have encouraged me, supported me, and influenced me on my path to being a writer. My mom, for one, and my wife, and numerous teachers over the years.

 

I think the biggest influence is probably the stories I’ve read, though—worlds I’ve gotten lost in, characters I’ve loved, stories that have stayed with me all the way since childhood. It’s probably true that all writers write because we’ve been inspired to do so by someone else’s writing.

 

In my case, it began with Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and never let up from there.

 

Oh yes, those are amazing stories. I’m so pleased to hear you recommend a modern “classic” like Alexander’s that many young readers probably aren’t reading—but they would love. And ones they should be able to check out from their local library right now, while they are stuck at home.

 

How have you adjusted your marketing/promotional plans with the pandemic?

 

Everything has gone online and I’ve done a number of virtual events and interviews and school visits, which have been great. Mostly I’ve just been trying to keep my book out there in front of people on social media and hoping it finds its audience (which, thankfully, it seems to have done).

 

Right now, I’m also in the midst of contacting a lot of independent bookstores across the country to introduce myself and my book. If there’s been any bright spot, it has been talking to a lot of booksellers who truly love discovering new books for their readers.

 

Yay! for being able to connect with young readers during this tough time and a great idea to reach out to independent bookstores as well.

 

Can you share anything about a new story you’re working on?

 

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to The Witches of Willow Cove, which is entitled The Curse of Willow Cove. It picks up about eight or nine months after the events of the first book and takes the story in, I hope, some totally unexpected directions.

 

I’ve had the idea for this second book in the series since the very beginning, and it’s been a treat to finally work on it, knowing that this time there are people actually waiting to see where the story goes next!   

 

Final question: What is your advice to aspiring authors?

 

Write something that gives you joy. That’s the secret. There will always be ups and downs and frustrations, but if you really love the process, you will stick with it because the writing process can be its own reward.

 

Josh, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us! I wish you continued success with The Witches of Willow Cove and its sequel.

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For more information about Josh Roberts and his books, check out the links below.

 

Links:

 

My website:  https://www.willowcove.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49395271-the-witches-of-willow-cove

Twitter: https://twitter.com/joshwhowrites

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

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

 

Stay spooky and Stay SAFE!

Interview with Tara Gilboy, Author of Rewritten

Tara Gilboy is a delightful ball of energy and her books are just as fun! When I heard her new story, REWRITTEN had a spooky theme, I knew I had to interview her.

Let’s get to it!

1. Tell us about Rewritten.

Rewritten is the sequel to Unwritten, which follows Gracie, a twelve-year-old girl who is actually a character in an unpublished fairy tale. Her parents took her out of the story, and into the real world, as a baby in order to save her life. In the first book, Gracie goes in search of her author, Gertrude Winters, to find out what happened in her story. Rewrittenpicks up where Unwritten left off. This time, Gracie ends up in another of her author’s tales, but this one is a gothic horror novel, full of all kinds of spooky story tropes: a crumbling mansion, an ancient cemetery, a beast that roams the night…. 

2. How did you come up with the idea? 

The idea for Rewritten came easier than other books I’d written in the past. I knew when I finished Unwritten that if I wrote a sequel, I’d want to have Gracie travel into other Gertrude Winters stories, so I had a general sense of what the book would be about. The hardest part of figuring out what shape the plot would take was getting a firm handle on what Gracie’s internal arc would be. She had resolved a lot of her issues in book one, and so figuring out what her character still needed took some time. Interestingly, in order to figure out what would happen in Rewritten, I had to think really hard about what the villain, Cassandra, wanted. Often when I’m plotting, I’m focusing on my protagonist’s goals, but I knew in this case, I needed to figure out what Cassandra wanted and what her next move would be because this would play a significant role in what happened to Gracie.

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

I don’t base characters on real people intentionally, but I think I grab bits and pieces from people I know. I might get an idea for a certain character trait; for example, I might notice the way someone who is shy moves and interacts with the world and then use those mannerisms when I’m crafting a shy character. I think using these kinds of real-life observations can help create characters who feel authentic and lifelike, but I’m also careful not to base a character too much on a real person, both because I don’t want to offend my friends and family and also because I want the characters I create to serve the story, and I think being too married to the “real person” who serves as inspiration can sometimes inadvertently limit the story’s development.

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

Well, thankfully not a lot, considering how spooky Rewritten is! I wouldn’t want to have to go through what Gracie did! 

I’m joking, because since I write fantasy, a lot of what takes place in my stories couldn’t happen in real life, but I do actually draw on my real-life experiences quite a bit in other ways. Usually those are related to the emotional experienceof an event, rather than the event itself. For example, if one of my characters is experiencing fear, I’ll think back to a time when I was afraid and really try to be in the moment and remember how it felt, both in my mind and body. Thoughts whirling, senses alert, muscles tensed, ready to flee… This helps me to create authentic reactions in my characters. And of course, since I write for children, I do think back to my own childhood quite a bit and remember the emotional experience of it, the things that were important to me, the way I felt about the world and about other people… Though, on a side note, I think I sometimes do use my real experiences without realizing it. I remember once after reading one of my stories, my mom called me and said “I remember when that happened to you as a kid,” and I was like “That happened to me?” I had completely forgotten the incident, but somehow it made its way into my story.

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

I liked to read anything and everything as a kid, but my favorite books were historical fiction. I was kind of obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie series, the American Girl books, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. But I also had a long stretch where I was reading nothing but The Babysitter’s Club books and then as I got a little older, the R.L. Stine Fear Street series. Interestingly, I didn’t read a lot of fantasy as a kid, and that’s what I mostly write now. I think the biggest way that the books I read as a kid influenced my work was that I was always very drawn to middle grade. Even now, I read mostly middle grade novels. There is something so compelling to me about the way these stories are told and how their characters view the world.

6. What are you working on now? 

Lately, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between a few different projects. I’ve been struggling to find time to write lately because of all the teaching I’m doing. I just took a sketch comedy writing class that was a lot of fun because it pushed me to try a new kind of writing. But the main thing I am working on is a spooky historical middle grade with mermaids.

7. What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?  

I write best in the morning, and I always start my writing session by reading: nothing puts me in the “writing zone” better than reading great stories by other authors. I’m really big on writing crappy rough drafts, and so I don’t edit a lot along the way, though I do workshop quite a bit with my writing group. I often get feedback from them and use their suggestions as I continue forward, but I don’t do a lot revising until I’ve reached the end of the first draft. I know a lot of writers who do revise along the way, but that’s just not a process that works for me because I’m definitely someone who can get lost in revising and then never get to the end of a manuscript. Plus, because I don’t do much outlining, I often don’t know what the heart of the story is until I get to the end of the draft. So if I revised too much along the way, I might end up with some beautifully-written scenes that end up getting cut because they don’t earn their place in the plot. I have shifted a bit and started plotting a bit more recently than I used to. I usually will make an outline now, but I rarely stick to it. I find when I hold myself too rigidly to an outline, I end up forcing my characters to do and say things that don’t feel natural simply because it’s what I had put in my outline. My characters surprise me too much for an outline to be completely effective for me, though I usually do have a general sense of where a story is headed.

8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

One of my creative writing teachers once said something to me that’s always stuck with me. She said (and I’m paraphrasing): “I’ve taught a lot of amazing writers over the years, but in the end, it wasn’t the most talented ones that made it. It was the ones who worked the hardest, revised the most, and didn’t give up.” 

I return to her words again and again. There’s not much I can control about the publishing industry, but I can control how hard I work and how much I revise. So my advice is: don’t give up if you don’t succeed right away. Writing is hard! Keep writing, keep taking classes and joining writer’s groups, and most of all… revise! My books go through over 20 drafts before I send them out (and that’s a low estimate – I actually lost count at 20). Don’t put pressure on yourself to write great early drafts. I’ve seen a lot of writers give up because of that. 

9. How can readers get in touch with you?

Thanks for asking! I love to connect with my readers.

Twitter

Facebook

Website

Buy

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The Truce! by Angie Smiber

I’m delighted to host Angie Smibert, whose next spooky book, THE TRUCE, is out this week, on May 26th! I’m going to dive right in…….

Please give us a brief summary of THE TRUCE.

This is probably a bit more set up than summary. (Don’t want to give away any spoilers.)

In the third book of the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series, it’s December 1942 in the small coal mining community of Big Vein, Virginia. By now, Bone Phillips (12) is growing accustomed to her a Gift, a family Gift, as her Mamaw calls, and maybe even begun to embrace it. Bone can see the stories or ghosts inside ordinary objects. But there’s one object her beloved Uncle Ash has forbidden her to touch: his dog tags from the first World War. He came back from that war a changed man, and every year about this time, he needs to escape for a while. He packs up the truck and his dogs and asks Bone to declare a truce with her dreaded Aunt Mattie while he’s gone. Reluctantly, Bone does. However, the truce is soon threatened by a discovery in the mine:  a body—wearing Uncle Ash’s dog tags. Bone has to use her Gift to solve the mystery. And that’s all I’ll say for now…except there is a ghost dog involved.TRUCEJacket-3-FC-745x1024

I love the premise of Bone’s gift. And Bone is such an interesting character. Tell us how you think of her – is there a bit of you in there?

The story started with a sense memory of swimming in the New River as a kid, much like Bone does in the beginning of Bone’s Gift, the first book in the series. I remembered the feeling of being that kid who didn’t want summer to end or to particularly grow up and be the ‘little lady’ that other people expected. Bone was born out of that feeling.

This is the third novel in the series. Will there be more?

That’s it for now! I’m playing around with a short story, though.

These three novels are set in rural Virginia, where you live. How do you feel about the connection to place in your writing?

Actually, I live in a city—Roanoke—in Southwest, Virginia. However, I grew up in Blacksburg, a small college town west of here. And my mother’s family is from McCoy, a rural area outside Blacksburg along the New River, where there were coal mines until the 1950s. One of them was called Big Vein. My grandfather and his brothers were miners there—until he got hurt. Then he took over his father’s store. In fact, I kept that store in the books. In many ways, writing these stories has been an exploration of this place that I came from. And as Eudora Welty wrote, “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”

You weave folklore into the story. Talk a bit about that.

Appalachian folklore is part of the place, the characters, and even the plots of the books. Bone loves stories, from folktales and legends to movies and books. However, she doesn’t like real-life stories—so, of course, that’s why I gave her the Gift of being able to see those.smibert_angie_pic

In each of the books, Bone or one of the other characters—like Uncle Ash—is always telling a folktale or ghost story from the region. Plus I also used a particular story as the “spine” (for lack of a better word) of the plot. For instance, in Bone’s Gift, Bone’s life mirrors a story she’s telling called “Ashpet”—the Appalachian version of Cinderella. In Lingering Echoes—which is set at Halloween—the ‘spine’ tale is Stingy Jack, the origin story of Jack O’Lanterns. At the heart of The Truce, there’s a ghost dog story.

Ghost or spirit dog stories are popular in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. (And also found in many other folklores.) A ghost dog might come to warn someone about an impending death. Or the big black dog might actually be there to claim a wicked person’s soul. However, in a few stories, the dog is protecting someone or some thing, such as a fabled silver mine. And as I said, in the Truce, there is a ghost dog and he/she might be near a mine.

The Truce is set at Christmas, which might not seem like a time for ghost stories. But it is! (Think A Christmas Carol!) An old Appalachian custom (as well as old Celtic/British one) was to tell ghost stories, particularly on Christmas Eve. (I won’t get into the whole Old Christmas day thing here!) This is probably a holdover from pagan Winter solstice practices of telling scary stories and making noise to drive away the spirits. So, of course, Bone is excited to tell some spooky tales for Christmas, but she also gets to live one involving a ghost dog.

For more on folklore and history in the series, please see my resource page: https://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?page_id=1861#ghostsresources

What’s up next for you?

I’m working (slowly) on a spooky magical realism-type story set in the early 1970s in Appalachia that involves (so far) an old resort turned into an artist commune and a ghost or two. I’m also still teaching writing. That takes up a lot of my time lately. 😉

Thanks, Angie!

SCARY TIMES

Spooky Middle Grade Authors Talk About Writing During the Pandemic

man wearing a black face mask
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

During these difficult days, I reached out to the Spooky MG Authors to see how they were coping and if they had an advice for other writers. Here’s their responses:

 

Sarah Cannon

I’m honestly writing more, because my kids’ schedules and working outside the home add logistics that steal a lot of hours from my day. Being quarantined removes all of those things. My day job is a s busy as ever, but I’m back to my old writing routine of settling in around 8 or 9 pm, having a bit of downtime, then writing until I’m too sleepy to keep going.

My main recs, especially for those who typically leave the house to write or write when the kids are gone, are: Use cancelling headphones and music. Any day it’s warm enough, write outside, or kick everyone else outside. Wait ‘til they’re all on tech (or withhold tech until you’re ready to write) then write like the wind. If you’re on Zoom all the time and are sick of screens, go analog and use a notebook.

 

Kim Ventrella

The hard part for me is focus. I’ve done a ton of book promotion and graphic design tasks since quarantine started, i.e. stuff that I can easily do while my brain is somewhere else. The hard part has been conjuring the kind of deep emotional focus I need to write a novel. I’m getting better at it, but it’s taken a while to regain that ability to turn off the real world.

 

Lisa Schmid

I have started a new chapter book series, kind of a Dr. Dolittle Jr. meets bugs with a STEM twist. I have been kind of stuck, so I ordered some books on bees and bus and a few chapter books to get me inspired.

 

Tania Hackett

I’m struggling to write despite currently working from home, which means I have two extra hours in the day that I would normally spend commuting. The only way I’ve been able to write is through Zoom writing sprints or write-ins. Something about hear hearing other people clacking away keeps me motivated. Otherwise I have no focus to sit and write. I feel so anxious all the time.

 

Sheri Larsen

When the Covid-19 scare began, I was mapping out an altered view of an old idea I had for an MG story. I didn’t think the outside world would creep in. But it has. Even turning to my go-to inspiration of research hasn’t helped. Cyberspace is corroded with all the negative, making it hard to research online. I find myself dazing off thinking about all the possibilities. It’s not all tear drops and woes, though. I’ve spent precious time with my husband and kids, and I’ve also had extra time to guide our German Shepherd in her training, which is almost as tough a feat as writing this next MG. I’ve also cut out most of my news watching over the past week or so and turned to prayer, which has cleared my mind. I’ve been able to point some meat on my story ideas, so I’m headed in the right direction.

 

Samantha Clark
I have been writing during the pandemic, but it has been difficult. My motivation is that I’ve been on deadline for my next book, ARROW, so I’ve been forced to get to the page. But it has still been hard to focus. My better days are ones when I don’t look at the news and what’s going on with the outside world. I still want to know what’s going on, but I’ve been trying to limit it to afternoons and only a couple times a week.
When I can focus on my writing, I’m finding it wonderful to be in the story’s world and outside of my own for a short period. To stay focused, I’ve also been trying to find the beauty in my own life, the trees, flowers, birds out the window.

 

Janet Fox

I’ve been able to work on a new book. That’s the good news. But I have a book out late this summer and who knows how that will come together? And another out next summer.

Mostly however, I’m anxious. Both my husband and I are in the compromised group. Our son lives in Seattle. I do not want to get this virus. And I’m worried for the world.

But we have a cabin in the mountains, and that has been such a safe place in the midst of this – it’s remote but has (poor) internet and no television, so we can truly get away. That’s why I’ve been able to write. Being able to walk, to breathe clean air, to feel safe at a distance – that’s a true gift I wish I could share.

 

Angie Smibert

I’ve gotten very little writing done. Part of that is because I’ve had a ton of teaching work to focus. I’ve tried to write but grading other people’s writing has been easier. One thing I’ve done, though, is set up a Zoom write-in with my local writers’ group—plus one or two others. One of my crit partners and I had been meeting in person every Friday afternoon for a couple hours at a coffee shop—pre-pandemic—and it really helped to focus us. (I’d even started something new.) So now we’re meeting via Zoom. Usually 3-5 of us at a time. We chitchat a bit, but mostly we just write (or work). One week we did a table read of my friend’s sitcom for him. That was blast. We’ve also done our monthly manuscript critiques this way.

 

Jacqueline West

I had a baby in winter, and then, you know, the world turned upside down, and now I barely know where I am. Writing-wise, I’m pretty much unmoored. I’m alone all day with one five-year-old and one four-month-old and no childcare (my parents were helping with the baby, but we haven’t seen them or anyone else in over a month and a half). If I get up around 5 am, before anyone else is awake, I can sometimes squeeze in a tiny bit of writing, and that is saving my sanity. But by the end of each day, I am mentally and emotionally DONE. The strange thing is: I am overflowing with story stuff right now. I have four big projects bubbling, and poems and short stories popping up, and all I want to do is sit down somewhere quiet with a giant cup of coffee and lose myself in other worlds, maybe for a very, very long time. But I can’t. And I have no idea how long it will be before I will get to focus that way again, which is a question so big that I try not to think about it at all.

 

Cynthia Reeg

For the first few weeks of the shelter-at-home, as the true impact of the pandemic descended, I couldn’t write at all. I had started a new MG story prior to the chaos, but as the magnitude of the pandemic took hold, I went totally blank. I had to start doing practical stuff like housework, cooking, baking—I’ve learned how to make a sourdough starter and fresh breads! I guess I needed to see something positive accomplished—if only for a short period with the housecleaning anyway. Then with the encouragement of my writers’ group through our weekly Zoom sessions, I made myself start working on my story again. Writing became a way to filter out the real world and retreat to another world, if only for a little while. Although at our last writers’ meeting, we discussed how much our WIP will need to reflect our current changed world—virtual learning, masks, no crowds. It is indeed a challenging time, but I find great comfort in our efforts to stay connected and supportive through it all.

 

A few final tips to help keep your writing on track:

  • Make a Progress/Accountability Chart
  • Set goals—daily, weekly, monthly
  • Carve out a specific writing time/schedule
  • Challenge yourself to generate new ideas
  • Finish a project you’ve already started
  • Or if you just can’t write, participate in webinars or other learning tools on improving your craft

 

The plus side of this crisis—extra reading time. We hope you’ve jumped into some great stories. We will do our best to continue writing them for you!

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