Spooky Writing Tips: Pace Yourself!

    A great spooky read is hard to put down. How many times have you stayed up way too late reading the latest chiller because you just had to know what was going to happen next? That kind of suspense doesn’t happen by accident. Spooky writers use all kinds of tips and tricks to keep readers turning the pages, but the one I use most often is pacing.

Pacing determines when and how a plot unfolds. Folks tend to think of spooky reads as nonstop scares, but if you actually take a novel apart, you’ll notice that every good suspenseful book has a mix of scares and quieter moments. There’s a very good reason for that, and I call that reason the Sea Salt Chocolate Principle. Chocolate is great. People love chocolate. That first bite is so sweet and creamy that it tastes like heaven. But keep eating that chocolate. After enough bites it may still taste good, but it won’t have the same impact on your taste buds that the first bite did. Your mouth got used to the flavor. But sprinkle a little sea salt in your chocolate, and suddenly it’s a different experience. When you get a piece with a little chunk of salt, the salt sets off the chocolate and it tastes like your very first bite again.

Spooky books are chocolate bars. When you buy a chocolate bar, you expect it to be mostly chocolate. And when you sit down with a spooky read, you expect it to be mostly scary. That’s what you signed up for. But in order to keep the scares fresh and exciting, every story needs to be sprinkled with non-scary parts, too. These quieter scenes help a reader’s brain and body relax, so that when it’s time for a scare they have somewhere to go. Scary scenes work the best when they can be contrasted with something else. It gives the brain the cue: Wait a minute, something is different. If I have a quiet scene where a sitter gently tucks a baby into bed, it makes it that much scarier when a short time later all of the lights suddenly go out. As a writer you want to lull your reader into thinking everything is peaceful and normal again, because that’s when you can scare them the best.

Quieter scenes also help get the exposition work done. Scary stories work best when we care about the characters and we are invested in them surviving their scary ordeal. We need to know who they are, what their backstories are, and what they have to lose. Exposition gives us that, but we don’t want to stop in the middle of a dramatic monster-attack scene to explain the characters’ backstories to the reader. Letting your readers see your protagonists enjoying normal life makes those thrill moments feel that much more perilous and exciting, and that’s what keeps folks turning the pages.

Pacing within scenes is just as important, especially for building suspense. Brains naturally process different kinds of texts differently. For example, if I’m reading a rich descriptive scene I might linger over each word so I can really savor it. But when I’m reading an exciting action scene, I’m reading as fast as possible, often skipping over words just to find out what happens next. So when I’m writing, if I can work to figure out a way to slow the reader down during a spooky scene, I can stretch out the suspense and build the tension even more. Sometimes I’ll do that by varying sentence length or using short, staccato sentences that create natural pauses. Or I’ll break up the direct action with some description or character reactions. Think of the way a scary movie slows down the action and builds tension in suspenseful scenes. We see a shadow on the wall. Then the camera cuts to a rat scuttling away. The shadow grows larger. We see a character react. Almost nothing has happened action-wise, but the audience is chomping at the bit just dying to see what that shadow is going to turn into, because we stretched out that moment before the big reveal.

If you find your own spooky stories aren’t quite giving your readers the scare you want, try playing with pacing to make your thrills come alive!

Spooky Moms

When I volunteered to write the Spooky MG Authors blog post airing on Mother’s Day, I knew what topic I would choose. Mothers—of course! After all, don’t monsters have mothers too? For example, Echidna—the half-woman and half-snake creature from Greek mythology—is considered the mother of monsters. Some of her children included Cerbeus, the triple-headed guardian of Hades; the Chimera, a fire-breathing creature who was part goat, lion, and serpent; and the Colchian Dragon, who guarded the famous Golden Fleece.

While we Spooky MG Authors often include monsters in our stories (with or without their mothers), we authors do indeed have mothers of our own. And I thought it quite fitting to ask some of the authors to share how their mothers influenced their writing.

Lindsay Currie(The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street): My mother encouraged and applauded my imagination every chance she got. She scoured garage sales for books I might like, and raptly listened to every story I wrote. Hooray for encouraging mothers!

Victoria Vennerstrom Piontek(The Spirit of Cattail County)  My mom is a great storyteller. She loves quirky people and oddity, and is not opposed to spinning a family story into a tall tale if it makes the telling better. When I tell her stories, she always laughs at all the right spots. As I was growing up, she modeled reading, feminism, and friendship. She also read the pass pages of THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY in one sitting and declared it wonderful. Yep. My mom is awesome.

Samantha Clark  (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast) My mum taught me to read before I started school. So much so that when I started infant school, she was called in because I wasn’t paying attention and Mum figured out that it was because I’d done all the reading workbooks at home already. The teachers gave me story books to read after that and I was happier.

Angie Siebert(Bone’s Gift) My mom was a voracious reader (mostly of romances) and aspiring writer. She took us to the library almost every week when we were kids. I remember coming home with paper grocery bags full of books. She also wanted to be a writer but never quite achieved it. After she died, I found a box full of things she’d written for the Writers Digest correspondence course. (This was in the late 80s long before online courses, and the course materials probably dated from the 70s! )

Janet Fox(The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle) My mom was a closet writer of books for young readers. She was prolific, and attended writing conferences, and won awards, and I knew nothing about this until she suddenly died and left a stack of unpublished manuscripts for me to find among her things. Finding those stories inspired me to begin to write my own.  

Cynthia Reeg(From the Grave) My mom is the most sweet-hearted soul. She always encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do (after my chores were done) and bragged about my accomplishments—no matter how small. She taught me to be a hard-worker and to take pride in my work, as well as to have an eye for details. All three of these traits have served me well in my writing. When I was young, my mom and dad bought our family a whole set of Childcraft books, which was an extravagance for them at the time. The writings in those books—from nursery rhymes to fairy tales and beyond—formed my earliest story foundations and helped foster my lifelong love for literature.  

Thank you, Moms, for all your encouragement and support! 

Happy Mother’s Day!

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

Creating Spooky (and Not-so-spooky) Settings

In spooky stories, setting certainly cannot be generic. It’s the place that often makes the story spooky. A haunted house. A dark forest. A dank basement. A graveyard. Of course, “normal,” everyday places can be spooky as well—depending on what’s happening and how well you use the setting. But, if you can’t convey the spookiness (or any other aspect), then even inherently scary places will come off generic, too. So I wanted to share a few tips of conveying and using the setting in your stories.

Spooky settings cannot be generic!

Setting Tips:

  • Know your world. Build a complete one in your head. Know what things look like, where they are, what they sound like, what they smell like, etc. Otherwise, you can’t portray setting convincingly on paper.
  • Only share a bits and pieces of the world, though. Think of the world/setting of your story as an iceberg. You need to know the whole thing, but you’re only going to show the reader the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
  • Show the setting through your POV character’s eyes. Imagine you’ve put VR goggles on your POV character. What does he or she notice? (BTW, I think the real trick in writing well is striving to keep your reader connected to the story and the world through your POV character’s eyes. Little things like POV slips or lack of setting, for instance, distance the reader from the story.)
  • Select really concrete details to help your reader visualize the setting. Don’t just say the door opened. The oaken slab creaked open.
  • Don’t drop big blocks of exposition to explain setting (or the world). You can’t totally avoid exposition, but huge blocks of it will knock your reader right out of those VR goggles.
  • Do sprinkle clues about the setting and world throughout the action and dialogue. (Not in the dialogue, though. Interweave very brief setting descriptions or directions between what characters say.)
  • Establish the setting every time you open or close a scene—and whenever you change location within a scene. You don’t need to spell out where the characters are in the first sentence but do give the reader some hints within the first few sentences.
  • Don’t forget all the senses. But don’t overdo it—or under do it. Think about what the POV character would notice.
  • Use setting to reflect the mood of the character. If the POV character is scared, for instance, this is going to color how she sees the world around her. Plus you can convey that fear (or joy or sadness) through how you describe the setting.
  • Use setting to show the passage of time.
  • Use setting to foreshadow events.
  • Use setting to ….

I could go on about setting, but you get the idea.  If you want to know more about uses of setting, look into Eudora Welty’s “Place in Fiction.” She felt setting was an underappreciated tool in our writer’s toolkit.

BTW, I did a session on creating a sense of place in fiction at the Roanoke Regional Writers’ Conference this year. I talked about setting and about to imbue it with a particular sense of place. See the first entry under Fiction on my For Writers’ page.

Happy reading–and spooky writing!

Angie

“An intriguing blend of history and magic” – Kirkus
angiesmibert.com
@amsmibert

Frankenstein

Frankenstein.

That is, the Creature, not the man. Mary Shelley’s incredible work of fiction – written when she was only 18 years old, and published in 1818 when she was 20 – has become a classic because her main character, Victor Frankenstein, a young man obsessed with experimentation, creates a monster made of body parts – a monster because it is frighteningly ugly and has no soul.41NM5XO+yUL

The Creature wreaks havoc with Victor’s life out of jealousy and because he cannot forgive his creator for giving him a life without love or happiness. Because who would love a soulless hideous monster?

Critics have called this romantic, gothic masterpiece the first true science fiction novel. Shelley was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the novel was written during the summer of 1816 in a rented house in Switzerland when Gordon, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley’s sister’s lover, challenged all the visiting company to write a ghost story. That summer was cold and wet and dark worldwide due to the eruption of Mt. Tambora, and the miserable weather must have contributed atmospherics to Shelley’s fictional world.download

I think we have come to love this story because it is such a rich metaphor for human nature. Happiness, the comfort of fellowship, and love are all crucial to mental health. I also think we love this story because is the product both of a brilliant young woman, and of her immersion into a literary “crockpot”. The house guests in Villa Diodati spent that cold, wet summer in deep discourse about philosophy, human nature, and politics. They talked and argued through the dark nights. What a rich environment – no cell phones, no television, no interruptions.

One of my favorite new takes on this great work is Lita Judge’s MARY’S MONSTER, about the creation of the tale and about Shelley’s life.

SPOOKY RESEARCH TIPS

Even though the stories we Spooky MG Authors write fall into the fiction category, most of them will have factual elements sprinkled throughout. This helps ground the story. In my MONSTER OR DIEbooks, I used a familiar school setting and then twisted it in evil, slimy ways. I mainly used classical monsters most readers would know, then made them unique to fit my misfit monster world. Think back to the ultimate spooky story Mary Shelley wrote in 1818—FRANKENSTEIN. She based the creature on scientific experiments of the time which used electricity to create muscle movement in dead animals (galvanism). Ms. Shelley took a leap from the factual and used electricity in her story to bring Frankenstein’s monster to life.

When doing research for a story, it’s helpful to know how to go about it. For this article, I asked my friend and writing buddy, Stephanie Bearcefor advice. Stephanie loves to write about all things weird and creepy. If it bleeds, oozes green goo, or explodes, she’s ready to research it! Her 24thbook about the 2004 Tsunami will be released this fall. She is the author of the series TWISTED TRUE TALES FROM SCIENCEand winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for TOP SECRET FILES OF HISTORY WWII.

Below she answers my questions, sharing suggestions and possible sources for yournext creepy research project. 

Where do you start?

I start with the thing that grabs my interest. For example, on my current WIP I was surprised to learn that Ouija boards and seances got their start in America in the mid- 1800s. I got curious and started googling Ouija boards. So usually my research STARTS with google, but it quickly heads to the library and to primary source material.

What are good sources? Are they mostly online?

Fortunately, most sources can be reached online. It is such a time saver. The Library of CongressThe SmithsonianGetty,RefdeskLibrary SpotBBC,and CIAare just a few of the sources that are accessible online. 

I published a long list of sources on Nonfiction Ninjas. Feel free to copy and keep the list handy.

Don’t forget to visit your public library. The librarian is the original search engine and they still know how to locate obscure information and manuscripts. I LOVE libraries!

What happens when you find conflicting sources?

Conflicting sources happen all the time. Especially when you read autobiographies and compare them to biographies! You need to be a judicious reader and understand that there will be slight variances in stories. Lawyers recognize this and witnesses that have the EXACT same story are suspected of collusion. So, if the bulk of the information verifies a fact, you can feel comfortable using that in your story. Again – just keep track of the sources and if you are questioned – you can defend your writing.

Where do you find interesting ideas to research?

Everywhere! I am a story collector. I have been since I was a child. I eavesdrop on people in cafes and listen to stories people tell about their lives and the history they have lived.  I am addicted to podcasts. I read everything under the sun from magazines and news articles to conspiracy theories and alien abduction blog sites. I even joined the spiritualists and mediums society so I could have access to their historical information. There are stories ready to be found in nursing homes, playgrounds, libraries, museums, and even in your own family. You just have to be willing to listen.

When do you know if you have enough information?

That’s a good question. I keep researching until the majority of my source information has similar answers. For example – I had a heck of a time finding the death date of a famous medium. Kind of made me wonder if she had actually died or not… Maybe she refused to crossover? I searched and searched getting different answers, but I finally got a hold of death records and cemetery records in the state where she lived. They assured me she had indeed left the mortal world and had the same dates.

I am determined to give the most accurate information that I can. Sometimes new information will be found AFTER one of my books is published. I can’t control that. But at the publication date – I want to be sure that I have exhausted all KNOWN sources and have the most accurate information available at that time.

How do you stay organized?

I keep a huge hanging file box for each of my projects. I keep hard copies of everything. That way when someone asks me to verify a fact or some information – I have a copy of it. I also keep track of everything with a footnote program (easybib). If you would look at my office – it would not seem organized – but I guarantee I know where everything is in my piles! 

Stephanie, thanks so much for your spooky words of wisdom!

If you’d like more information on Stephanie and her books, visit her website at www.stephaniebearce.com

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

Keeping Stories Spooky Again… And Again

Two of the Spooky Middle Grade authors had new novels published earlier this month, and they’re both within book series. Angie Smibert continues her GHOSTS OF ORDINARY OBJECTS series with the second book LINGERING ECHOES, and Kat Shepherd began the new GEMINI MYSTERIES series with book one, THE NORTH STAR. Writing a series has its own set of unique challenges from writing a stand-alone book, so I asked these two spooky authors to give us some insight into their process.

Angie-Smibert B&W
Angie Smibert

Angie, tell us about your GHOSTS OF ORDINARY OBJECTS series…

Angie Smibert: The series is a blend of history, mystery, folklore, and magical realism. Set in 1942 in a small coal mining community in Southwest Virginia, GHOSTS centers around Bone Phillips (12) and her family and friends. In the first book, BONE’S GIFT, she discovers she’s coming into her Gift, as her Mamaw calls it. Almost everyone in the Reed/Phillips family has some sort of ability. Bone finds she can, with a touch, see the stories—or ghosts—in ordinary objects. People leave emotional imprints on objects. In the first book, Bone is faced with many changes besides her Gift. Her best friend goes to work in the mines. Her father gets drafted. And she has to go live with her dreaded Aunt Mattie, who does not hold with the Gifts. All the while, Bone needs to learn to use her Gift in order to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother.

LingerEchosJacket-FC-742x1024

How does the story continue in this new book, LINGERING ECHOES?

Angie Smibert: In the new book, Bone is a bit more at ease with her Gift, or at least she’s getting there. This time Bone needs to use her Gift to solve the mystery behind a seemingly haunted or magical jelly jar. Her best friend Will—Silent Will Kincaid—inherited this jar along with his father’s dinner bucket from when he goes to work in the mines. One day, Will hears sounds coming out of the empty jar. In fact, it appears to capture sounds. Bone suspects solving the mystery of the jar might help her get to the bottom of why Will can’t talk. Oh, and this story happens at Halloween!

author photo
Kat Shepherd

Oooh, extra spooky! Kat, can you tell us about THE GEMINI MYSTERIES 1: THE NORTH STAR?

Kat Shepherd: THE GEMINI MYSTERIES is an interactive mystery series that follows the adventures of four teenage sleuths. At the end of every chapter is a picture with a clue hidden in it. Each hidden clue leads the detectives onto the next stage of solving the mystery. In Book 1, THE NORTH STAR, twins Zach and Evie and their best friend, Vishal, are hanging out with the twins’ crime reporter mom when she gets a call that a priceless diamond necklace has been stolen just before a charity auction. The friends quickly find themselves right in the middle of a crime scene, and they discover there is no shortage of suspects of who want the necklace for themselves. With the help of new girl Sophia Boyd, the detectives are soon chasing down clues in a race against time to get the necklace back before it’s too late.

Wonderful! Kat, this is the first book in a series. What are the challenges and/or joys of writing a book that’s starting a series?

north starKat Shepherd: One of the things I love about starting a new series is getting to build a world for the reader. I love the opportunity to create an immersive experience, figuring out the rules of the world and the intricacies of my characters. And then figuring out how to introduce the reader, deciding what they need to know right now and what can wait. The fun of a series is it’s a slow burn, so you don’t have to tell everyone everything in the first book. Not every question has to be answered. Some things you get to keep for yourself to reveal later.

The challenge of a new series is the other side of the coin. You’re starting from scratch. Everything is new. There’s no shorthand the way there is with later books in a series. You can’t take anything for granted. And you have to build something strong enough in that first book that a whole series can stand on it; you have to create something that makes your readers want to come back for more.

Yes, interesting. Angie, what made you want to write ghost stories?

Angie Smibert: This isn’t precisely a ghost story. (The next book, though, does have a ghost dog in it.) The ghosts that Bone sees are more memories that have left their marks on these objects. Bone loves stories—everything from folktales to movies—as long as they aren’t true. So, of course, I gave her a Gift that she’d hate, seeing real stories in objects. Eventually, she’ll learn that her Gift is to give voice to unheard stories.

But, that being said, I do love ghost stories! I can still remember when my fourth grade teacher told us about the ghost that haunted her childhood home in Alabama. It was the ghost of a young slave girl who’d been killed by her owner for revealing to the Union troops where the household silver was buried. The girl could still be seen walking down the grand stairs and out into yard. She’d disappear precisely where the treasure was buried. So that’s probably when I got hooked on ghost stories.

Phantom HourWow! Cool story. Kat, we know you love spooky books, because your other series is BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES. How was it different writing this mystery series?

Kat Shepherd: There are lots of similarities between spooky books and mysteries. There are thrills, chills, and suspense in both. Suspense is what keeps the reader turning the pages. You want cliffhangers, you want surprises, you want peril, all that great stuff that keeps the story going. I think the biggest difference between them actually comes with the pre-writing. With spooky stories I have my concept and the basic plot mapped out. I know about where the setpieces will go and how the story will end, but a lot is left to be discovered as I write. I get to play a little, seeing how I can up the spookiness factor or what twists I can add to build suspense or atmosphere. But with mysteries I have to know everything in advance. This is especially true for the interactive mysteries, because every chapter has to lead to a hidden clue. That means I have to know in advance what every clue will be, and I have to know exactly how every scene will play out to lead the characters (and the readers) to the clue. For THE NORTH STAR, I had a 6,000 word outline and color-coded timeline for every major character before I wrote a single word of the story. Because of that, once I finally sat down to write the book, it went very quickly. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and my only job then was getting it down on paper and making it come to life on the page.

bones-gift

That pre-writing can really help. Angie, was it easier or harder to write this second book in the series and why?

Angie Smibert: In some ways, it’s easier because I’ve already established the setting and characters. I don’t need to really do additional world building. But then again, the second book is harder because I still have to introduce the world to new readers—without overdoing it for those who read the first book.

That’s a challenge! Kat, the third BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES is coming out in August, THE TWILIGHT CURSE, then another GEMINI MYSTERIES, THE CAT’S PAW, in December. How does your writing change when you’re working on the second and third books in a series?

Kat Shepherd: What’s challenging about follow-up books in a series is that essentially you have to follow that old Hollywood studio line: “Give me the same, but different.” Readers love series books because they’re familiar and comfortable; they follow certain patterns or have similar themes, and writing a series needs to give that to them but still make it feel fresh. So it’s always a challenge to decide what parts of the patterns to keep and what to change up. For example, in BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES, each book follows a different girl with a different spooky problem; that’s the different part. But other things need to stay consistent, like the rules of the world, the Big Bad in the background, and certain beats, like the girls meeting up for doughnuts and strategy sessions at Kawanna’s costume shop. I want to give readers those familiar beats so the series starts to feel like home to them. What’s really nice about writing second and third books in a series is that by this time you’ve really spent a lot of time with your characters, so you know them well and you know their world. You’ve seen them grow and develop and unfold, so writing the later books is like visiting old friends again. I hope they start to feel like old friends to readers, too!

Oh yes, good tips. Angie, will there be more books in the GHOSTS OF ORDINARY OBJECTS series? What can we look forward to from you?

Angie Smibert: Yes, there’s one more book in the series (so far), called THE TRUCE. I’m working on the revisions right now. Or I should be! Book 3 comes out next March. The story is set at Christmas and involves a body found in the mine, Uncle Ash, a German soldier, and a ghost dog.

Fantastic! Read more about Angie Smibert’s books here and Kat Shepherd’s books here and look out for more spooky and mysterious books in these series soon.

Samantha M Clark is the author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster). A former journalist and editor and constant wonderer, she’s convinced she’ll one-day find the wardrobe that took the Pevensie’s to Narnia. Until then, she’s writing about her own magical worlds. Find out more about Samantha and her books at SamanthaMClark.com.

My Spooky Influences

Hello, my fellow Spooky MG readers!

I’ve been waiting so patiently to have my turn come up again in the rotation. I was supposed to go a while ago, but Kim Ventrella told me that since I forgot to bring the hors d’oeuvres to our last Spooky MG party, that my punishment was to have my turn skipped. I don’t blame her, since everyone was looking forward to my famous Sweet Pea Pesto Crostini, and I let them down. FYI, they’re to die for.

Anyway, today I’m here to write about several of my spooky influences growing up. While there were several movie influences, today I’ll stick with the literary ones. Don’t worry, I’ll cover the cinematic ones a different day.

The power of a good story is that it stays with you. Inspires you. And many of my influences are old. One of them, a couple of hundred years. Did I build it up enough? Well, then let’s get right to it!

Perhaps more than any other story, the one that’s inspired me the most is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. When I was a kid, this terrified me. I’d have to rank the Headless Horseman as among the best characters ever created. I know the mythology came from before the book, but the book immortalized the character.

Just having a headless rider with a flaming pumpkin head was terrifying. Even that Disney cartoon was scary. I always pictured walking through the woods and having him lurking somewhere. When I visited Sleepy Hollow some years back, I could definitely picture Irving’s thoughts as he wrote it. This is definitely one of the top influences in my life.

Next, we have another author from a different time. The works of Edgar Allen Poe. Poe, himself, is such an intriguing, spooky figure. Even the circumstances surrounding his death are still so mysterious. But, with spooky stories such as The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Cask of Amontillado, Poe’s work is still relevant nearly one hundred-and-seventy years after his death.

To me, he’s one of the biggest influences of any horror writer and still a spooky figure to this day.

I know, I know. How can I have any list of spooky literary influences without including Stephen King? Well, the answer is, you can’t. And I was influenced by him as well. There were two in particular. I probably read and saw The Shining at much too young an age. And boy, did it stay with me. So creepy and scary. But, the one that got to me the most, was IT. I hate clowns. Just hate them. And this book was one of the reasons why. Admittedly, I didn’t have this fear as a very young child. I even had a papier mache one hanging in my room, and there were never any problems. It even did creepy things, like no matter how we turned it, it always turned back to face into the room. I tried everything, including turning it from the hook in a different way, but it turned back to face the room. So, I wasn’t bothered by clowns . . . until I saw Poltergeist. That clown was awful. Suddenly, the one in my room, was no longer cute or funny. It had to go. I got it out of my room. At least I thought my clown phobia would go into remission, but then came IT. That book brought back every clown fear, and it has stayed with me until this day. Did I mention that I hate clowns?

Next on my list is R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Even though I wasn’t a kid anymore when this came out, I loved them. I bought one book after another, and loved the combination of humor and horror in all of them. That series influenced me, perhaps more than anything else. As you know, I love injecting humor into horror. The two genres work soooo well together. It’s fun to poke fun at the horror tropes with some self-referential jokes. Humor is also a release from what’s going on in the story. Goosebumps really got me to think about combining the two genres.

Anyway, my Spooky friends, that’s my list of influences for now. There are many more, but these are the ones that came to me.

So, until next time, let me hear who’s influenced you?

Jonathan

Spooky Collaborative Stories in the Classroom

Mystery at the Mansion. The Serial House. Circus Gone Wrong. The Photo. Sewer Circus. Did we Spookies write these fine scary tales? No! A class of Junior Spookies (Spooky Irregulars, maybe?) at Northside Middle School did. Mrs. Forney’s class of amazing 7th graders even published them in an anthology called, aptly enough, A Collection of Short Stories from an Amazing Group of Seventh Graders. I had the distinct honor to hear them read their collaborative stories on Feb 15th in the NMS library.

Mrs. Forney’s class of amazing 7th graders (and me) posing with their amazing anthology.

Work on their stories, though, started about a month before that. Librarian Lauren Sprouse contacted Spooky MG to set up a free 30-minute Skype Q&A session for Mrs. Forney’s English class. She let the students listen to the collaborative story we did for the Reading to Your Kids podcast. This inspired the class to write their own collaborative stories! When they Skyped with us in January, the students were armed with questions not only for us about our own books and writing but also about the whole collaborative story writing process. The class left the Skype session pumped to work on their own group stories. Since I live in the same city, I happily agreed to go hear the tales once they were done!

How did they do it? First, Mrs. Forney took notes on our answers to the students’ questions and gave each a copy to help them write their stories. She adapted how we wrote our collaborative story to suit her class. We had worked from a writing prompt given to us by the podcast host, and then each of us wrote a segment of the story without really planning what came next. Luckily, it worked out pretty well. Mrs. Forney provided each of her groups with a prompt.  However, she let each group brainstorm, write, and revise its story together. She’s extremely proud of both their stories and how hard they worked! And I was impressed with the stories, too!

On the morning of February 15th, after all the groups read their awesome stories, I turned the tables on them—and asked them questions about their process. They shared that the hardest parts were coming up with the ideas and then editing/revising the stories. Some groups eagerly talked about how they came up with great names for the characters, often based on people they knew or even family members. We talked a bit more about writing in general–until it was time for photos. (See above!)

You can do this, too!Are you a librarian or teacher who’d like to do something similar with your class? Here’s a super quick lesson plan/checklist for teaching Spooky collaborative stories in your classroom:

  • Schedule a free 30-minute Skype Q&A with us!
  • Listen to our collaborative story podcast.
  • Have students prep questions for Skype Q&A.
  • Grill us with questions!
  • Break students into groups of 3-5 students.
  • Assign each group a writing prompt.
  • Set aside class or library time for each group to brainstorm ideas, write drafts, revise, and practice reading. (NMS students took about a month to do this, along with other class work.)
  • Publish stories in a booklet, complete with student signatures and a cool cover!

Try this variation: Instead collaborating, your students could write their individual own spooky stories based on a theme or prompt.

If your school is in the Roanoke, Virginia area, I’m happy to listen to more stories! I won’t speak for the other Spookies, but you might be able to persuade one that lives near your school to make a visit. OR you could schedule a follow-up Skype for us to listen to stories!

Of course, you don’t have to write collaborative stories to Skype with us!

Happy Book Birthday to BONE HOLLOW & a HUGE Giveaway!

Today is an exciting day here on Spooky Middle Grade.

#SpookyMG author Kim Ventrella is celebrating the release of her middle grade novel BONE HOLLOW, and you’re invited to the party! We’re going to show off her super eerie cover, share details about the book, and chat with Kim about her creation. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to see the HUGE GIVEAWAY Kim’s offering up. So read on!

BoneHollow_cvr

DEATH IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

In retrospect, it was foolish to save that chicken. On the roof. In the middle of a thunder storm. But what choice did Gabe have? If he hadn’t tried to rescue Ms. Cleo’s precious pet, she would’ve kicked him out. And while Ms. Cleo isn’t a perfect guardian, her house is the only home Gabe knows.

After falling off the roof, Gabe wakes up in a room full of tearful neighbors. To his confusion, none of them seem to hear Gabe speak. It’s almost as if they think he’s dead. But Gabe’s not dead. He feels fine! So why do they insist on holding a funeral? And why does everyone scream in terror when Gabe shows up for his own candlelight vigil?

Scared and bewildered, Gabe flees with his dog, Ollie, the only creature who doesn’t tremble at the sight of him. When a mysterious girl named Wynne offers to let Gabe stay at her cozy house in a misty clearing, he gratefully accepts. Yet Wynne disappears from Bone Hollow for long stretches of time, and when a suspicious Gabe follows her, he makes a mind-blowing discovery. Wynne is Death and has been for over a century. Even more shocking . . . she’s convinced that Gabe is destined to replace her.

Hi Kim! I’ve got to say, when I read your blurb, I chuckled at saving a chicken. 🐔 And the rest of the description totally reeled me in, which will surely do the same for young readers. So let’s dive right in.

Spooky minds want to know what fascinates you about writing spooky books?

For me, spooky stories are all about possibility. About discovering a magical world beyond the mundane. I’ve always said that my life motto is, “I want to believe.” It’s from The X-Files, ha!, but it’s so true!

*fist pumps The X-Files*

I am a terrible cynic in real life. I don’t believe in anything fun, like ghosts, magical skeletons or an afterlife, but in fiction I can explore all of those things and create a world in which unlikely possibilities really do happen.

Care to share some of your favorite spooky books from your childhood?

I love, love scary stories! As a kid, I was hugely into the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections, with the terrifyingly beautiful black-and-white artwork. I was also a huge fan of Roald Dahl, especially his short stories. The Landlady was my favorite! I performed it as a reader’s theatre and wrote my own short story based on the same premise back in second grade.

Oh, and speaking of Scary Stories… Jonathan Maberry is editing a reboot of the Scary Stories franchise, called New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and I am super excited to have a story featured in that collection called ‘Jingle Jangle.’ It’s set to release in 2020, so get prepared to be scared! Whoa, that rhymed 😛

That is spooktastic! Congratulations! 🎉 Can’t wait to read this collection.

Let’s turn to BONE HOLLOW. How would you sum up this book?

At its heart, Bone Hollow is the story of a boy and his dog, but it’s so much more! It also features one ornery chicken, a candlelit cottage in the woods, friendship, mystery and big doses of heart and hope.

🖤🖤🖤

Were you ever afraid or hesitant to write Gabe’s death? Did you think it might be too much for young readers or why do you think it’s okay to explore?

I write books in the hope that readers will come away with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death.

That’s a wonderful goal.

Like with Skeleton Tree, I’ve tried to create an engaging fantasy world filled with humor, whimsy and many light touches, but I’m also wanting to explore darker topics to show that there can be light and beauty there as well. Loss is one of those things that even very young children encounter, often with the loss of a pet or grandparent, and one of my goals is to help young readers develop a framework for processing their feelings surrounding death that acknowledges the sadness, but also opens the door to hope.

What’s your favorite thing about Gabe? About the world you created in Bone Hollow?

Gabe has had a rough life, but he hasn’t let it harden his heart. He displays this persistent optimism in the face of overwhelming difficulties that I so totally admire. In Bone Hollow, readers will enter a misty woodland valley lit by flickering candles and night-blooming flowers. Nearby, they’ll find a maze with strange plants and dreamlike specters around every corner. I would love, love to visit Bone Hollow in real life one day!

Oh, and I forgot about Gabe’s humor! It was so much fun coming up with some of his syrupy southern sayings, like “Ollie’s bottom was itchier than a flea on a hot plate.” Love it! I wish I really talked like that.

Care to share the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

So many options!!! I think the piece of advice that continues to inform my writing the most is to focus on impact. Every word you write should be deliberately chosen to achieve a certain impact on the reader. And I mean that mostly in the broader, story-wide sense, although it also applies to the sentence level. Ask yourself, ‘What emotional journey do I want my reader to take?’ If you can identify those emotional beats that you want the reader to experience, then you can use that as a skeleton for your novel. It was a mindset shift for me from just writing ‘cool stuff,’ to writing action designed to have a specific impact on the reader. And did you see how I worked skeletons in there? Haha!

Being quite fond of skeletons 💀, why yes I did notice. Nicely done!

Please tell your readers what they can expect next from you.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m very excited for New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, set to release in 2020! I also have a few other projects coming down the pipeline, so check my website for more updates on those soon.

Exciting times are coming your way, Kim. We can’t wait to see where they take you! Thank you for sharing yourself and BONE HOLLOW with the world and your spooky crew here on Spooky Middle Grade. And . . .

Kim_Bone_Hollow
About the Author
IMG_4560
IMG_6535

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.

Giveaway
LaunchGiveaway

To celebrate my #bookbirthday, Kim is having a BIG #giveaway!!! #Teachers, #librarians, #educators, RT Kim’s PINNED Post + F to win a classroom set of #SkeletonTree & 5 copies of #BoneHollow. Ends 3/4.

Thank you, Readers, for joining in to wish Kim a Happy Book Birthday! If you have any questions for her, feel free to leave them in the comments. Good luck in her giveaway!🍀

SpookyMG_Signature

Spooky Author Pets

Here at spookymiddlegrade.com, our pets play a big role in our writing. I asked a few #SpookyMG authors to share stories about how their pets impact their writing.

Kim Ventrella & Hera

Yes, I had to put my dog first 😛 because she’s just too darn cute and she’s been a huge influence on my writing!!! True story, I wrote Skeleton Tree while sitting in a dog bed, while Hera sat on the couch behind me looking over my shoulder. She was basically my first editor, and she gave up her bed so I could have a comfy seat.

She also inspired me to write a story with a dog best friend, i.e. Bone Hollow, and that book is actually dedicated to her 🙂 She’s totally different from Ollie, though, Gabe’s best friend in Bone Hollow. Ollie has a wiggly, carefree spirit, but Hera is a total ball of nerves. She has a major phobia of people and other dogs. Example: when I first brought her home, I had to carry her outside, and if she saw someone walk past the window of their condo (inside) from 200 yards away, she would race back to our house shaking. It would take her 20-30 tries before she could get up the courage to pee. Now, she’s way braver and more comfortable in her environment, but she’s definitely a one-person dog.

Kim Ventrella is the author of Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019), both with Scholastic Press. She’s also a contributor to the New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology coming in 2020 from Harper Collins.

Tania del Rio & Boba & Max

I have two dogs named Boba and Max. Max is a Chihuahua mix about 10 years old, and Boba is a 9 month old corgi puppy.

Max is usually content to lay at my side while I write and it’s nice to have her act as my little personal space heater on cold or rainy days. She’s got really soft ears that I like to pet whenever I’m stuck on a scene and need a moment to think. She’s the “pawfect” writing buddy!

Boba, on the other hand, has a lot of energy and gets jealous of my computer. If I’m not paying attention to him, he lets me know it by crawling onto my lap and getting in the way! He also likes to bark in my face- rude! It can be a bit challenging to get anything done with him around, so I try to take him on a long walk or visit the dog park so that he’ll sleep for a few hours while I work.

Even with the distractions, it’s nice to have pets to keep me company while I write and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tania del Rio is the author of Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye and Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods.

Jonathan Rosen & Parker

parker relaxing.jpg

My dog, Parker, is a three-year-old rescue, who we find to be the sweetest dog ever. He’ll usually curl up on the couch next to me when I’m writing. I’ll run ideas by him, and he points out whether or not there are any plot holes. He’s good like that. But mostly, he helps me because whenever I want a break, or am stuck on something, I turn around, pet him, and he basically lets me know that I’m doing okay.

Jonathan Rosen is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset till Sunrise.

Patrick Moody & Wicket, Nym & Zelda

I decided to do a critter photo shoot. As you can see, Wicket the hedgehog is a little shy. He’s often rolled up into a little defensive ball of spikes. And even after two years, our cats still don’t know what to make of him. Nym, our black cat, is a serious cuddle bug (and deceptively hefty). She’s usually stalked around the house by our youngest, Zelda, whose quite the handful. I have a theory she’s part squirrel! She loves her big sister, as you can see by the kiss! These three keep me company when I work from home, never far from my keyboard.

Patrick Moody is the author of The Gravedigger’s Son.

S.A. Larsen & Sadie, Molly, Chloe & friends

This is Sadie, my newest writing pup (on the right)! With her being so active I’ve had to move to the kitchen area to keep an eye on her while I write. Makes for an interesting word count . . . and sometimes not much! 😁

The photo collage is of our fur babies that have been with us a while. Molly the cat is my true writing feline, though. She insists on sitting in my lap while I write when I’m in my office. And Chloe is the jokester of the group. I have a video of her literally dancing on my desk and laptop while I was listening to music and writing. Super cute! 🐾

S.A. Larsen is the author of Motley Education and Marked Beauty.

Jan Eldredge & Mr. Bingley

IMG_5577

This is Mr. Bingley. We’re in constant competition over who gets to claim the desk chair or the top of the desk. Mr. Bingley usually wins. He has also laid claim to my spooky fairytale wallpaper, and he loves to rub against it. This would not be a problem, except it’s a flocked wallpaper, and his yellow fur clings to it like magnets to steel. As a result, a small portion of my daily writing time has to be spent vacuuming my wall.

Jan Eldredge is the author of Evangeline of the Bayou.

Janet Fox & Kailash

img_1967.jpeg

This is Kailash. He’s about 5 years old now, and super friendly and like all Labs he still has a lot of puppy in him. In fact, getting him to sit still for this photo took a bit of wrangling.

He’s too big to get up on my desk (thank heavens) but he’ll occasionally try to crawl into my lap as I’m working. Mostly he is a walking companion, and I walk to get ideas so he’s a great help there.

We’ve never not had a dog for more than a couple of months. And at times a guinea pig or two, a rat or two, and a horse. We’d have a cat but our son is very allergic. But we love Kai. He’s got a big heart and loves everyone.

Janet Fox is the author of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.

Cynthia Reeg & Holly

SkeletonDog Holly

Sadly my dog Holly recently journeyed to dog heaven. She was a constant companion, always ready with ideas and the ability to find perfect napping spots in my office. I can still hear her barks of encouragement, and I know there will be a very special dog in my next spooky story.

Cynthia Reeg is the author of From the Grave (Monster or Die) and Into the Shadowlands.

Angie Smibert & Stella, Maggie, Brick & Hubble

Pet Pics (1)

Here’s a graphic of my editorial “staff” – Hubble, Maggie, Brick, and Stella.  All of them are rescues. I have a two-year-old Lab mix named Hubble (yes, as in the telescope. I am also a space nerd.). He’s a foster fail, btw. I fostered him for the SPCA two summers ago, fully intending to keep him. Maggie (tortie) and Brick (gray) are about 8 1/2, and I got them together when they were just 8 weeks old–also from the SPCA. I picked Maggie out, and then Brick grabbed me from the next cage. They bicker just like the Tennessee William’s characters they’re named for. Stella is the most recent addition. About a year old, give or take, she was living under the porch of the empty house next door. I, of course, was feeding her on my porch–and when the weather turned really, really cold, she got very friendly, and dammit, I took her in. She is a petite sweetie who’s quite happy she adopted me.

More often than not, my guys distract me from writing since I work at home. My previous dog, Bridget, did inspire the dog in Memento Nora! As an animal lover, I tend to give my characters pets. Uncle Ash–in the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series–has three dogs, all named after beaches in the Carolinas, who follow him everywhere. Plus the third book of the series will feature a ghost dog.

Angie Smibert is the author of Bone’s Gift, Lingering Echoes and other books for young readers.