No Place For Monsters

Kory Merritt is an amazing author and illustrator with a creatively creepy book–NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS–that released last month, just in time for Halloween. We are so excited to host him on our spooky blog and learn more about his art and his writing.

What inspired you to write NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS?

I’ve always loved spooky stories. As a kid, my favorite book characters were always the creatures–Gollum from The Hobbit, the sea-rats from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. Even as an adult, I still love reading books with strange and imaginative monsters: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Thee Jumbies series by Tracey Baptiste, numerous classics by legends like Stephen King and Tananarive Due. Now more than ever, it’s fun to escape to monster land.

So when my amazing agent, Dan, suggests I try writing and illustrating a spooky story, I was thrilled. I actually, originally wrote and illustrated a version of No Place for Monsters back in 2011, when I was an art teacher, and posted it on a comics syndicate website called GoComics. My agent suggested I take the basic concept of a memory-snatching monster and remake it as a middle-grade book.

Willow Monster

Your previous MG title is The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York. Why do you like to write spooky stories?

I do my own illustrations (I’ve illustrated more books than I’ve written) and I love drawing toothy, creepy characters. So it’s fun to build stories around the creatures in my notebooks.

What interesting things did you discover while working on your latest story?

My awesome editor and agent both convinced me to trim down the prose narrative and let the pictures tell the story when possible. There’s still test, but I think the writing and pictures work in tandem.

How did you transition from comics to MG stories? And how long dose it take you to create such a lavishly illustrated story? Please tell us how the process of mixing the story and illustrations comes together.

I broke into MG as an illustrator for a comic book/graphic novel series based on the online game Poptropica. I think No Place for Monsters could be considered a graphic novel even though there is a prose text, since there are many places where the pictures take over the narrative. It was an easy transition.

It took several months of rough drafts and talks with my agent before he accepted it and sold it. Then it took about four months to illustrate a fully inked draft of No Place for Monsters (summer and fall 2018), and then several more months for edits and revisions with my editor.

Heckbender Monster

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

Right now, I’m reading The Last Last-Day-of Summer by Lamar Gilese. It’s a zany romp that reminds me how creative great MG books can be. I also started listening to audiobooks last year (I can listen and illustrate at the same time, which is nice). I’m listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and the new audio-drama of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (which is one of the few Neil Gaiman books I’d never read before).

Preview of Book 2!

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

I mean, of course my parents–both classroom teachers, both encouraged a lot of reading and exploration and creative pursuit. As for professional writers . . . tough one. Going to have to say the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Love his books. As for illustrator . . . Bill Peet, Bill Watterson, and Brian Selznick (who was kind enough to give me a quote). Also Gina Pfleegor, who I used to teach with, and who is one of the most talented artists/illustrators I’ve ever met.

Frost Monster

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

I’m being very careful and social-distancing, so that means no in-person festivals or visits. I’m about to start virtual visits with classrooms. I used to be a public school K-6 art teacher, so I have plenty of classroom experience. Some of the visits are workshops: Students write stories, and I try to illustrate parts of them. It’s fun, and since I don’t have to travel, I don’t have to postpone illustration work.

Preview Book 2!

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

I’m doing another book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Fall 2021. It’s a follow-up to No Place for Monsters, with some of the same characters, and plenty of new creatures. It’s set in a haunted school. As a former art teacher, I find the school setting easy to write about. Much of it is told through “found footage”–illustrations seen through the view of cameras and phones. Sort of like an illustrated Blair Witch Project. It’s experimental. Hope it works!

What is your advice to aspiring authors and illustrators?

Read, write, and draw as much as possible! Read lots of books: prose books, books with lots of pictures, books with no pictures. Books by a wide variety of authors. Books outside your comfort zone. Write and draw and try to get things published locally. You’ll write and draw stuff that will be embarrassing in a few years, but hopefully you’ll have developed and honed your style. And have fun! You should love writing and drawing even if only a few people see it. If it’s a chore, or if you only want to write/draw for money . . . Well, that’s not a good sign. It could be years, or never, before you make any substantial money. Have a day job or a “Plan B.” Having a great career in a creative field can always be your end goal, but it’s very difficult to get there, so writing and drawing and making up stories should be fulfilling and fun no matter what stage you’re at.

Thanks so much, Kory, for sharing your thoughts and insights! I’m sure everyone will enjoy your entertaining monster stories! Please, keep them coming. 🙂

Spooky Stories All Year Round

There are many different types of spooky stories. Some feature humor, adventure and straight-up chills, while others explore sensitive topics and tug at readers’ emotions. No  matter what type of story you love, spooky books have a place in the classroom, library and beyond all year round, not just at Halloween. To delve deeper into this topic I spoke to some of today’s foremost authors of middle grade spooky stories.

Jan Eldredge

Why do you write spooky stories?
I guess I write spooky stories for the same reason I love to read them. They allow us an escape to dangerous, exciting worlds, worlds that we get to explore from the comfort of our safe, everyday lives.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories are chock full of benefits, particularly for young readers! Reading about young protagonists defeating evil can be very empowering for children. Spooky stories can also provide safe ways for kids to explore fear and experience a sense of danger, sort of like trying on a costume to see what it feels like to be someone else for a while. Spooky stories are great reminders that our boring lives aren’t quite so bad after all.

S.A. Larsen

Why do you write spooky stories?
For me, spooky stories are like passageways into the unknown and the misunderstood, mysteries that keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve always been curious about the great beyond and the aspects of life we can’t see – like what really goes on inside a cemetery when none of the living are watching. Writing spooky tales with otherworldly or ghostly elements gives me the freedom to explore life themes such as the importance of family, self-esteem and confidence, and friendship in new and unexpected ways for young readers.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Tales with spooky and eerie elements explore the same important life struggles, hopes, dreams, and challenges that contemporary stories do. They also help kids see that fear is a part of life – fear of change, fear of a new school, fear of taking a test – and helps them see and workout solutions to overcoming fear. These are universal emotions and challenges that can be discussed throughout the year. The possibilities are endless!

Janet Fox

Why do you write spooky stories?
Really, the spooky part of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE was accidental! My original idea was more mystery/fantasy, but as I wrote the antagonist she became darker and darker and more nuanced for it. And the darkness of the antagonist reflected something in my own mood, something I needed to sort through. But my son said something recently that was inspired in this regard. He said that he loves dark, spooky stories because that one tiny glimmer of hope within the darkness – even if it’s just a candle – can feel like a brilliant light. And I thought, yes. That’s what I like, too. Magnifying the light in the darkness or the happiness within the spookiness. That’s the secret.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
I would say that’s why spooky stories are always in season – they offer that recognition that hope flickers brilliantly in the dark.

Samantha M. Clark

Why do you write spooky stories?
I get scared easily when I’m reading spooky stories, but I still love them. Spooky stories get my blood pumping, and I need to know if everything’s going to end safely. When it does, it helps me know that when I’m scared in real life, everything can be okay. So when there’s an opportunity to put some spookiness into my own stories, I jump at the chance. Getting scared can be fun, especially when we know we can always close the book if we need a break.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Halloween is, of course, when we celebrate spooky stories the most, but reading spooky stories is fun and good for us at any time. They remind us that it’s okay to be scared, and show us that we can be brave just like the characters in the stories. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” And with spooky stories, we can build courage and confidence safely while facing our fears within the pages of the books and with the characters as our guides and companions. Spooky stories help us grow, and that’s a good thing every day.

Jonathan Rosen

Why do you write spooky stories?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. Much more so than horror. I like the creepiness factor of the unknown. What’s there lurking in the shadows? The mystery, to me, is much scarier and interesting, than having the monster actually appear on the stage. Why is the ghost there? What’s the story behind it? How was that monster created? I loved these stories as a kid, and always felt fascinated by them. I like to write to my younger self and kids who were like me.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
There is no bad time to read scary stories. Yeah, they’re much better to read at Halloween time, but the kids who love them, don’t want to be relegated to one season a year for books. Kids like to be scared, to a degree, but then they know they can put the books away. They’re safe again. I also read a long time ago, and it’s true, spooky stories give kids the consequences of not following rules. Your Mogwai will turn to a Gremlin if you don’t follow them. Your vampire neighbor can get in your house, if you don’t follow the rule about not inviting him in. Spooky stories also open the mind to think of different possibilities. I know when I read them, I always went searching for more. More stories about the subject. I wanted to read about haunted places. The times when the ghosts came from. I think reading leads to more reading.

Kim Ventrella

Why do you write spooky stories?
I have always been interested in the intersection of darkness and whimsy. I love the space where macabre tales meet deeply-felt emotions and discoveries. Adding a spooky element allows me to explore difficult real-life topics in a way that I find more palatable and easier to understand.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories aren’t just about Halloween. They’re about exploring the mysterious all around us, searching for new possibilities, confronting our deepest fears and stepping out into the darkness to find that courage and resilience that resides within us all.