Interview with S.A. Larsen Author of MOTLEY EDUCATION

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome our very own S.A. Larsen to the blog! She is celebrating the release of a brand-new edition of her spooky middle grade novel, MOTLEY EDUCATION! Without further ado, let’s see that beautiful cover:

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LOVE the purple streak in her hair! Okay, now it’s quiz time. I know, so soon. Can you pitch MOTLEY EDUCATION to me Twitter-style (i.e. in 280 characters or less)?

A misfit spirit tracker & her skittish BFF must elude one ornery school headmistress & brave beasts of Norse mythology to retrieve a relic vital to saving the spirit world, only to discover the true meaning of her quest has been inside her all along. #motleyeducation #mglit

What an awesome Twitter pitch! Now let’s learn a little more about the world of MOTLEY EDUCATION. Sheri, can you finish these sentence starters for me, pretty please?

My main character Ebony is…sweet at heart, feisty when cornered, and more courageous than she knows. Her favorite place is the Boneyard, the cemetery between her family’s house and Motley Junior High. It’s where she can be herself. She hangs out there with Fleishman and the only three ghosts she can see – Mayhem, Mischief, and Meandering. She loves them, but they are a constant reminder of how her spirit tracking skills don’t work as they should; her fellow students don’t let her forget it, either. She doesn’t walk around looking injured, though. Instead, she wears a tough exterior – fingerless gloves, miniskirt, tights with skulls on them, and blue and pink strips in her hair. One thing she can’t hide is the guilt she feels for constantly disappointing her mother. See, her mom is gifted. So is her father, younger brother, and weird twin aunts. It’s not fun being different. At least, this is what she thinks at the start of her story. 😉

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Ebony’s best friend Fleishman is…the best friend everyone wants. He’s honest, loyal, kind, and ridiculously smart, which is convenient during homework study. When Ebony gets a bit too feisty, pushing boundaries, Fleishman is there to reign her in. But he’s not without his own issues. He’s too uptight, needs facts to believe anything, and fears pretty much everything . . . with one exception – his legless lizard Nigel that he carries with him everywhere. Oh, and he rarely laughs at Ebony’s jokes. But she figures he’s missing a funny bone, so she lets it go most of the time.

Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted is…a centuries-old school, where kids with special skills related to Norse mythology can develop, grow, and learn in the proper environment. Once a student is accepted and signs the Terms of Enrollment agreement – which is vital because there are instructions on how to avoid a fire giant attack – he or she is assigned to one of the two school groups. The Sensory group explores the realm of psychic abilities, while the Luminary group charts astrology, the stages of the moon, and creates potions, spells…even a hex or two. *Mankind has drifted so far away from its origins that it has completely forgotten about the World Tree – Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, MJH has lots of educating to do.

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The spookiest part of MOTLEY EDUCATION is probably when…Ebony and Fleishman meet at the Boneyard and random doors begin appearing out of thin air. Mist and green vapor wafts from all sides of the doors, thickening and creeping. A dim light flickers near one of the Boneyard crypts. It brightens until blue and white mist puff out between the seams of the crypt doors and . . . I’d love to keep going, but I’d be giving a spoiler away.

MOTLEY EDUCATION was inspired by…my youngest son’s love for Norse mythology and his drive to overcome his diagnosis of Apraxia of Speech. For those who are unfamiliar, Apraxia of Speech is a neurological disorder, where there are no pathways from the brain to the mouth muscles. Through intensive therapy, new pathways are built, and the child will begin to speak. It’s all pretty amazing.

I hope that readers will…gain the courage to follow in Ebony’s steps by accepting themselves, flaws and all, and embracing who they are – right here and right now. Ebony wanted so badly to be an amazing spirit tracker now, but she learned that it takes experiences to grow and mature into who she wants to be.

Don’t miss S.A. Larsen’s awesome giveaway happening now on Twitter (ends 10/2/2019):

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S.A. Larsen is an award-winning author, childhood apraxia of speech advocate, and major ice hockey fan, who has watched more hockey games than she could ever count. Her favorite stories open secret passageways and hidden worlds to inspire and challenge the heart. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy romance Marked Beauty (Ellysian Press 2017). She lives in the land of lobsters and snowy winters with her husband and four children, where she’s writing Ebony and Fleishman’s next adventure. Visit her cyber home at salarsenbooks.com.

Website: www.salarsenbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SA_Larsen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sa.larsen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SALarsen.Author/

Get your copy of MOTLEY EDUCATION today at: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords | IndieBound

Add MOTLEY on Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48088441-motley-education

A Chat with Lisa Schmid, author of the new #mglit release Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search For Lost Gold!

You know when you wait for something and it seems it will never get here? That’s what it’s been like for me to keep this interview under raps!

I met Lisa – in the cyber way – back before Christmas and knew Spooky Middle Grade blog readers would love her and her brand new book baby!

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OLLIE OXLEY AND THE GHOST: The Search For Lost Gold by Lisa Schmid

Release Date: June 18, 2019                                         Publisher: North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press

Twelve-year-old Ollie Oxley is moving — again. His mom is starting another new job, this time at the Bingham Theater in Granite City, California. Moving all the time means Ollie has struggled in the making friends department, but he quickly connects with a boy named Teddy. To Ollie’s surprise, though, his first friend in town is a little more… unique than those he’s made in the past. Teddy is a ghost.

Befriending someone who lived during the famous California Gold Rush sure does make things interesting for Ollie. But when the school bully, Aubrey, targets Ollie, and it looks like the Bingham Theater might close, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Can Teddy and Ollie work together to take down Aubrey, save his mom’s job, and solve a mystery years in the making?

Hi Lisa! Welcome to our spooky abode. Let’s start with one of my favorite parts of writing – character names. Was there a specific reason or influence that moved you to name your main character Ollie Oxley and his new friend Teddy?

My son’s name is Oliver, so I thought it would be fun to name my main character after him. It turned out to be a great decision in that the name Ollie proved to be highly useful in one of my plot points.

Teddy started as a Toby, but for whatever reason, it just never felt right. I wanted something more playful and loving. After all, what’s more loveable than a Teddy Bear?

What was the hardest part of moving for Ollie this time? What made it different from any of the other times his mom had moved them around?

Moving all the time has always been difficult for Ollie. His mother and sister share a love of the theater which gives them a special bond. Unfortunately, this adds to his feelings of isolation. And now that he’s in middle school the stakes are higher, and the angst is real.

What is your favorite thing about Ollie? About Teddy? About the world you created?

Ollie is sarcastic, but he is also brave and kind. Even though he gets bullied, he never sinks to their level.

Teddy is loyal. He may be a ghost, but he’s got Ollie’s back. He’s not going to let anybody mess with his new best friend. He’s also very mischievous and quite funny. Sometimes I would laugh out loud when writing his dialogue.

I love the tension between the two boys. Over the years, Ollie has built up walls. Teddy is determined to tear them down. It takes a while, but he can be quite persuasive.

I LOVE that you used history—the California Gold Rush—within this story! How hard/easy was it for you to thread information about the gold rush throughout Ollie and Teddy’s journey and, for our young writers reading this, how did you go about doing that?

I live in Folsom, California which is central to the Gold Rush of 1849. When I first started writing Ollie Oxley, I lived in the Historic District. At the time, my son was a baby, so I spent a lot of time on walks. History would present itself in ways that would lend to my story. For example, one day I met a man standing in front of his house. We started talking, and it turns out his home served as the town courthouse in the 1800s. Prisoners were tried on the first floor and if convicted taken to the basement to be hanged. This story, of course, made it into my book!

What about research? How much did you do on the California Gold Rush and ghosts before you began to write this story?

I visited the Folsom History Museum on several occasions. It’s jam-packed with useful information. And of course, what would a writer do without the internet? My browse history is filled with ghost and graveyard searches.

Ollie finds himself in a bullying situation, which some readers will relate. Without giving too much away, how does Ollie handle this at first? From Ollie’s perspective, how can kids his age deal with being bullied?

As the perpetual new kid, Ollie is used to getting bullied. Even though he’s not in show biz, he can put on a good act. He uses sarcasm to deflect bullies and shield himself from their taunts. Also, he is smart enough to understand that when someone is unkind, it’s never about him, it’s more about how they view themselves. Because really, how could someone he just met have it out for him?

What message do you hope young readers will gain from reading Ollie’s story? There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep moving forward. And above all, be kind.

Such a wise and important message for readers to take with them. Thank you for sharing yourself, Ollie, and Teddy with us! I can’t wait to see where they’ll go next.

And here’s a little something special for you:

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Lisa Schmid is an author, a stay-at-home mom, and a pug wrangler. When she is not scaring up ghostly adventures, she is most likely scaring up fun with her husband and son. She lives in Folsom, California, home of the 1849 Gold Rush.

Find Lisa: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Readers, to you have a favorite ghostly adventure? Did it happen to you? By all means, please share!

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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!

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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.

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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 . . .

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About the Author
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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.

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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!🍀

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