Spookies rejoice! Not only does September usher in the start of Spooky Season, a new book has arrived TODAY to get you in the spirit! I was so glad for the opportunity to ask Erin Petti about her newest book, THELMA BEE IN TOIL AND TREBLE.
TANIA: YOUR TITULAR CHARACTER THELMA BEE RETURNS WITH A NEW ADVENTURE FOLLOWING THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES, THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE. WHAT CAN YOU TEASE ABOUT THIS NEW BOOK?
ERIN: TOIL AND TREBLE is filled with danger, witches, tacos, deep dark woods filled with unknown creatures, and pleather-clad Hollywood ghost hunters who might just botch the whole thing if Thlema’s crew can’t save the day.
There’s also a lot of growing up, which can sometimes be even scarier than ancient curses.
TANIA:THELMA IS A VERY SMART AND INQUISITIVE GIRL WITH A KNACK FOR SCIENCE. IS SHE BASED OFF ANYONE YOU KNOW IN REAL LIFE? WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A CHARACTER LIKE HER AS THE LEAD?
ERIN: While I was writing Thelma I kept asking the question: What if a kid was impervious to the hang-ups that often hold middle schoolers back? What if she didn’t care about what other people thought of her on a superficial level? What if she could shake off bullies like a puppy shakes off rainwater? She really took shape from there.
I think it’s important (for me, as a writer) to have an active protagonist who is filled with ideas and desires because it really moves the story forward. And for readers, I hope her bravery and intelligence, along with her foibles and missteps, light a little spark of “I can do anything too…” inside.
TANIA:IN THE FIRST BOOK, THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE, THELMA HAD TO DEAL WITH SUPERNATURAL EVENTS WHICH CONFLICTED WITH HER RATIONAL AND SCIENTIFIC MIND. HOW HAVE THE EVENTS OF THE FIRST BOOK CHANGED AND PREPARED HER FOR THIS NEXT ADVENTURE?
ERIN: In book two she’s got a whole new world view, and she’s starting to understand complexities in a whole new way. Things are not black and white. Sometimes the right choice isn’t the obvious choice. Now she truly knows that anything is possible, which makes things a whole lot more complicated. You know, growing up stuff 🙂
TANIA:ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARTS OF THE FIRST BOOK WAS THE LIVELY CAST OF CHARACTERS. WILL THEY ALL BE RETURNING, AND CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO MEETING ANY NEW FACES?
ERIN: Yes! All Thelma Bee’s friends return in the second book and I’m so excited to introduce some new characters as well. There’s a pair of pleather-clad TV ghost hunters who make quite a splash in town, and a brand new friend named Bobby who is pure chaos and probably one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written!
TANIA: WITHOUT GIVING TOO MUCH AWAY, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THELMA BEE IN TOIL AND TROUBLE?
ERIN: Oooh…OK, this is a tricky question because I don’t want to give spoilers! But I will say that Thelma has to team up with an old adversary while they are lost in a cursed forest…things get pretty dicey, but I really love what happens next!
TANIA: DO YOU THINK WRITING A SEQUEL IS EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT? WERE THERE ANY CHALLENGES YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO WRITE THIS STORY?
ERIN: I think writing the sequel was much harder, but it was also more fun! I was so worried because the characters mean so much to me and I wanted to do right by them – which made writing a little slower at first. But once I really understood the story that Thelma had to tell, the RVPS crew basically started speaking for themselves and it was an awesome ride.
TANIA: EVERY SPOOKY MIDDLE GRADE AUTHOR HAS A REASON THEY GRAVITATE TOWARDS WRITING SPOOKY STORIES. WHAT’S YOURS?
ERIN: I think that I am really inspired by the in-between spaces, be that in-between adulthood and childhood, or in-between living and dead, realistic and fantastical. The supernatural is a wonderful, huge, exhilarating question to explore and I just can’t get enough.
TANIA:HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED ANYTHING SUPERNATURAL IN YOUR OWN LIFE?
ERIN: When I was in college I worked at The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, MA as a costumed tour guide. High Edwardian collars and the whole deal. My grandmother Peggy brought her psychic friend Debbie on one of the tours and afterwards Debbie told me that when we were up in the attic, and I was talking about the dollhouse there, there was a little girl ghost dressed in white watching me! But she said, no worries because it seemed like she liked having me there. My little Salem ghost girl BFF!
TANIA: WILL WE BE SEEING MORE OF THELMA BEE IN THE FUTURE? WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
ERIN: I am working on the third Thelma Bee book as we speak! The intention is to make Thelma Bee a trilogy, but I always want to leave the door cracked open to more adventure. These folks feel like really good friends now, and I will have a hard time saying goodbye.
Welcome to my interview with Author Dan Poblocki and his latest release TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT! **Teachers, Parents: With the spooky season creeping every so slowly upon us, this is the perfect book to add to your reading list.
Amelia is cleaning out her grandmother’s attic when she stumbles across a book: Tales to Keep You Up at Night. But when she goes to the library to return it, she’s told that the book never belonged there. Curious, she starts to read the stories: tales of strange incidents in nearby towns, journal entries chronicling endless, twisting pumpkin vines, birthday parties gone awry, and cursed tarot decks. At the center of the stories lies a family of witches. And witches, she’s told, can look like anyone. As elements from the stories begin to come to life around her, and their eerie connections become clear, Amelia begins to realize that she may be in a spooky story of her own.
TALES TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT is the perfect next-read for fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark!. An excellent addition to Halloween round ups, middle grade readers will be glued to the pages, up way past their bedtimes, reading with flashlights, as they explore each of these interconnected stories. With frightening artwork at the start of each chapter, this book keeps readers engaged and terrified from beginning to end.
Hi Dan! It’s great to have you visit our spooky crypt. Let’s start with this: A description of Tales To Keep You Up At Night appears in the local newspaper. What does it say?
What do you do if you find a mysterious book in your missing grandmother’s attic? If you’re Amelia, you try to return it to the local library. But what if the librarian says the book doesn’t belong there? Amelia reads the creepy tales within – stories about bad birthday parties and scary sleepovers, about revenge gone wrong and weird rocks out in the woods, about a family of witches who may or may not have the right to be very angry – and by sunset she realizes that the stories are not just stories. Like the title of her new book suggests, Amelia won’t be getting ANY sleep tonight.
That would definitely draw in some attention.
Set the stage as the story begins and what happens when your main character Amelia sneaks into an old attic.
Amelia’s story begins when she and her family are at Grandmother’s house to finally clean it out. Grandmother has been gone for a year. Amelia’s mothers say Grandmother has passed on, but Amelia doesn’t believe it. Annoyed, Amelia sneaks up to the quiet attic and remembers a dream in which Grandmother hands her a book called Tales to Keep You Up at Night. To her surprise, the very book is lying on the dusty floor. Is this a clue about what really happened to Grandmother, or is this just another library book? Flipping through the tales, Amelia soon learns that the answer is a little bit of both, but also . . . a little bit of neither . . .
Like most of your books, Amelia’s story is grounded in spooky elements. What makes this spooky world different or unique from the other scary tales you’ve written?
Tales to Keep You Up at Night is my first foray into short stories. So that feels unique. Like many of my previous work, I was inspired by the books I read as a kid, books that kept my eyes glued to the pages, and that was my goal here, as it has been since I started writing. There are many elements in TALES that I pulled from my own previous work, and perceptive readers might catch clues about how my other books are tied together in a great big web, just like the short stories in TALES. Another unique aspect of Amelia’s story was being able to play with format; there are tales in this new book that are homages to the styles of classic American story-tellers, that are written in unusual Points Of View, and even one that is a series of journal entries. It was a fun challenge to change things up in these ways.
Sounds like a great book for all students, but especially for those reluctant readers out there.
You’ve inserted other stories within Amelia’s main story. Would you share how you made it all fit together?
It was like piecing together the biggest puzzle I’ve ever worked on. Simply put, I first mapped out which tales would be in the novel. Then, I wrote them, one by one. And as I went along, I noted characters and elements from the tales that might overlap with others. Once I understood that ALL of the tales related to Amelia’s own life, I leaned hard into making those overlapping details as strong as I could, so that the entire book reads more like a novel than a collection of tales. Though, now I can see that the book is BOTH of those things, which I think is pretty cool.
And I’m sure readers will think that’s pretty cool, too!
Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
In the tale called “The Volunteers,” a series of horrifying events befalls a family after they reject a gift of pumpkins from their witchy neighbors. By the end of the story, the main character realizes he’s all alone, in the dark, and he reflects back on his life, and his family, and what got them to this place. These little moments click together in his mind as he scrambles to write them all down. It’s a whirlwind of thought and emotion and worry about the choices he must now make, and every time I reread it, I get chills. The details feel real and true, and this makes the moment even scarier.
AUTHOR’S CORNER 🖊️
What is the hardest part about writing?
The hardest part for me is the waiting. I find that most times, I can push myself to put down words on the page easily enough (especially if I don’t think of them as overly-precious words), but then, waiting to hear back from other people about what they thought or if the manuscript will sell, and finally, everything that leads up to a book coming out into the world is so stressful. But it’s also out of my control. The best thing I can do in those circumstances is start writing something new, just for myself. That’s what I can control, and that’s what keeps me grounded. Keeps me going.
What do you believe young readers can gain from reading spooky tales?
I can talk about what I gained from reading spooky tales as a young reader: a love for turning pages to find out what will happen next; for Story with a capital S; a sense of how to solve problems that scare you; that there may be a way out of the dark if you look hard enough; that children can be (and sometimes need to be) as brave (or braver!) than any adult. And especially: If a story feels TOO spooky, you can ALWAYS put the book down and say, NOT TODAY, DAN POBLOCKI, YOU SCOUNDREL! (Trust me, I don’t mind.)
Any advice for teachers and parents out there on how to encourage middle schoolers to engage in more independent reading and writing?
Thinking back to what first got me excited and engaged: Reaching for what felt accomplishable. Sometimes those were books with lots of pictures, or comic strips, or comic books, and then, eventually graphic novels, even poetry and short story collections. I’m not saying these things are necessarily “easy” but they have an added appeal for reluctant readers that other books might not. I liked being able to finish reading something, even if it was a page or two long. So, maybe, let kids read what they want to read, don’t push them away from what you think isn’t right/ sophisticated enough for them, and then encourage them to explore what might be directly adjacent to their interests, to expand the Venn diagrams of their minds.
Inquiring minds want to know: What can your readers expect from you next?
Next up are MORE TALE TO KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. Specifically, another novel of interconnected scary stories that piggybacks off of Tales to Keep You Up at Night with new characters, new settings – even some familiar names and faces. You won’t need to read the first collection to enjoy this next one, but it certainly won’t hurt (at least . . . I hope it won’t. I can’t make any promises!).
JUST FOR FUN🤪
Have to ask: What scares you?
Many of my early nightmares were about giant mouths filled with sharp teeth, which is weird because now that I’m a little more grown-up, I have an irrational fear of being eaten alive . . . By fish, bears, pythons, alligators, even by hungry humans! NOPE. NO WAY. (NOT TODAY.) I still have a difficult time looking at photographs of animals (especially from the deep ocean) with wide jaws and their mouths full of little serrated blades. Yowch! Please, never show me a picture of a shark. I will fall to the floor and cover my head, and then I’ll be embarrassed and you’ll be embarrassed and no one will have a good time anymore, at all, ever.
Um, yeah . . . you probably should stay away from giant teeth. LOL
Thank you for sharing your spooky tales with our readers! All the best to your from your #SpookyMG crew!
Dan Poblocki is the co-author with Neil Patrick Harris of the #1 New York Times bestselling series The Magic Misfits (writing under the pen-name Alec Azam). He’s also the author of The Stone Child, The Nightmarys, and the Mysterious Four series. His recent books, The Ghost of Graylock and The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe, were Junior Library Guild selections and made the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2013 and 2014. Dan lives in Saugerties, New York, with two scaredy-cats and a growing collection of very creepy toys.
About the illustrator: Marie Bergeron was born and raised in Montreal. After studying cinematography, she attended École de Design. Her style is inspired by many things, including films and games, contrasting a more graphic approach with organic strokes. Her clients have included Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Fox Entertainment, and more.
*So Readers, what do you think about Dan’s new book?
Here we are, on this magical, mysterious day to celebrate the launch of…(drumroll)…DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND by Fleur Bradley! Look at all these guests! And all this glitter! Golly!
I’m making my way now to the talented Fleur for an interview. Fleur, oh, Fleur! Hi there! I hope you’ll let me ask you a few questions, starting with this one…
This party venue is perfect! Tell us why you chose it.
You know, there’s nothing like an abandoned prison and a flock of ravens to set the mood… Also, there are always plenty of ghosts—er, guests to make for a hoppin’ party without having to send out invitations. They just show up.
You look fantastic. Who are you wearing?
Thanks! I decided to wear my best cargo pants, so I have plenty of room for flashlights, skeleton keys to mysterious locked doors, and my phone of course.
Spectacular, and I love the feathers sticking out from the pockets!I see all the yummy goodies over there. What kinds of treats are you serving?
It’s been a challenge to get good food to Raven Island, but I made the best of it. There’s some canned soup and day-old bread for dinner, and I think there might be a random energy bar floating around. Of course I did bring cupcakes. It’s no party until there’s cake…
Now, of course, every party must have a theme. How would you describe yours?
I would say it’s Alfred Hitchcock meets the Twilight Zone… Watch out! The ravens come swooping down sometimes, especially when you’re trying to eat a cupcake. There’s a raven leader named Poe; watch out for her.
Ooo, Poe. The master of Ravenhood. Now for party favors! What are you giving away?
There’s a whole ring of old skeleton keys—Tori, Marvin and Noah tell me they unlock the secret to Raven Island. You can take one, if you think you can survive the night on Raven Island. There’s also an old diary that holds a lot of secrets to a prison break long ago, but I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.
And games! Let’s play!
Tori is all about playing soccer, but there’s no soccer ball to be found. She’s a little cranky about that. We’re playing ‘run from the ghosts,’ ‘duck from the ravens,’ and ‘what does that key unlock?’
Seriously, now, give us the skinny on your book. All the bells and whistles.
All kidding aside (that was pretty fun, though), here’s the book jacket description of Daybreak on Raven Island. It’s out on August 23rd, and I hope you’ll consider reading it!
From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.
Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.
But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.
Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, including Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award and the Colorado Book Award.
A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many rescue animals. Find out more about Fleur at http://www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
This week, I sat with spooky crew member Ira Marcks to discuss his graphic novel, Shark Summer. In addition, I wanted to learn about his creative process and get the skinny on his new book, Spirit Week, available October 25, 2022. So, without further ado, let’s wade into the spine-chilling waters of graphic novels.
Lisa: What inspired you to make Shark Summer?
Ira: I’ve always wanted to make a comic about kids on a summer adventure. But I could never find a way into the story that didn’t seem like it’d been done before. Then one day I was reading a book about the making of JAWS and I thought to myself “wow, what a wild, madcap summer that must have been for the cast and crew.” It got me thinking… is there a more iconic summer adventure than the one JAWS captured on film? Suddenly, I had my inciting incident; a sleepy New England island is overrun with a Hollywood production. Now, all I had to do was decide what happens to the people who live there behind the scenes.
Lisa: What can readers expect from the story?
Ira: A fast paced, nostalgia infused, summer adventure about new friendships, filmmaking, and the creepy secret history of a New England island!
Lisa: What were some of the challenges of turning this story into a graphic novel?
Ira: The most difficult part of the process was trying to find the right balance of cartoon humor, horror movie tropes, and real world consequences. Shark Summer takes place on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1974 during the filming of JAWS. While I worked hard to convey the geography and spirit of this time and place, there were also choices to be made about how to use these elements to tell an inspirational comic for kids. My editor Andrea Colvin deserves a lot of credit for helping me find the best way to tell this story.
Lisa: How long have you been interested in comics? Is this what you wanted to do when you “grew up”?
Ira: Comics are a balance of drawing and writing so while I loved to draw as a little kid, I soon realized that I couldn’t tell a good story with a comic unless I practiced my writing. Putting those two skills together inevitably led me to making comics! I’ve always been good enough at it to keep a few people interested in what I was working on, and I built my ‘career’ from there.
Lisa: What’s the best writing advice you have received?
Ira: I like the quote by fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett that goes “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Which is to say, the later drafts are intended for the reader. I think it’s important to distinguish a first draft from the rest of the process. To be honest with yourself is crucial to the early stages of a project. So when you bring other cooks into the kitchen and begin to edit and clarify the story, there will always be a seed of truth left from that first draft you wrote for yourself.
Lisa: I see you have a new graphic novel coming out on October 25, 2022. Please tell us about Spirit Week.
Ira: It’s kinda like a sequel to Shark Summer. In the second book we join Shark Summer’s aspiring filmmaker Elijah Jones as he heads off to Colorado to make a documentary about a reclusive horror writer who has been living at a certain infamous hotel.
Ira Marcks is a graphic novelist based in Upstate NY. He make comics, teaches comics, and podcast about cartoons. His books have been recommended by The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and American Library Learn more: https://lnk.bio/iramarcks
There’s been some big news in the realm of creepy middle grade books lately, and we here at Spooky MG are absolutely over the (full) moon about it.
Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror and dark fantasy literature. The list of Stoker winners is crammed with legends: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Victor LaValle, Caitlin R. Kiernan. And the award statuette—a gothic, gargoyle-bedecked house, with the winner’s name engraved behind its opening front door—has to be the coolest anywhere in the book world.
Stoker Award categories have included novel, screenplay, graphic novel, short and long fiction, and young adult novel, among others. Now, beginning with the 2022 publishing year, the HWA is establishing a middle grade category for the Bram Stoker Awards (YESSSS!!!!).
Spooky Middle Grade chatted with Becky Spratford, current Secretary of the Horror Writers Association, about the news.
Jacqueline West/Spooky MG: Hello, Becky! Thanks so much for joining us at Spooky MG, and extra thanks for all you do to promote horror for readers of all ages!
So, to get things started: Why has the HWA decided to add a middle grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards now? How did this change come about?
Becky Spratford, HWA: The discussions about adding a Middle Grade category have been going on informally for a handful of years. It all began in earnest when the Horror Writers Association presented R.L. Stine with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony.
Around the same time, the HWA’s Library committee began their work to promote Horror to kids through public libraries. The HWA Library committee, for which I am a co-chair, administers the Dennis Etchison Young Writers Scholarship http://horrorscholarships.com/dennis-etchison-young-writers-scholarship/ to one teen writer each year, and last year we had a record number of applicants. We also award up to five Young Adults Write Now endowments of $250 each to libraries who offer programming to teen writers of horror. In past years, we did not even receive five applicants, but again, last year we awarded all five and interest this year is already strong.
In 2019 we also launched Summer Scares, a national reading program (which I co-chair) where librarians recommend three titles each in the categories of Adult, YA, and Middle Grade Horror. We then use those titles and authors as a way to get more horror titles and programming into our libraries. The Middle Grade category has seen the largest uptick in interest with authors and library workers.
The HWA’s overall goal is to both support horror professionals and promote the genre. Adding the Middle Grade category to the Bram Stoker Awards slate accomplishes both of these things. Middle Grade Horror is strong. The books are excellent and varied and there is a whole generation of readers growing up with these awesome books. The Board was unanimous in extending the The Bram Stoker Award to Middle Grade Horror Fiction as a way to honor the excellent work in this category as we do for adult and teen horror fiction.
This is such great news – and R. L. Stine paves the way for creepy MG lit once again! Perfect.
When will the category be officially put in place? What books will be eligible?
The category begins with all middle grade horror titles published in the 2022 calendar year and will continue every year going forward. Any novel intended for the age group of 8-13 year-olds with a word length beginning at 25,000 words is eligible in a given calendar year. We will be awarding the Bram Stoker Award for the Best Middle Grade Novel (published in 2022) at StokerCon 2023.
What can middle grade authors do if they’d like their books to be considered for the award?
All authors or editors of eligible works are welcomed to submit their own work for consideration by the jury.
Beginning around April, the portal for authors or publishers to self-submit will open on the Bram Stoker Awards website here: https://www.thebramstokerawards.com/submissions/ . You do not need to be a member of the HWA to submit. There is also a recommendation portal for all HWA members to submit titles to be considered in any Bram Stoker Award category. You must be a member to submit an official recommendation, and you cannot submit your own work.
Once those submissions are complete, how are finalists and winners selected?
The Bram Stoker Awards process for every category is the same and it is very clearly laid out here: https://horror.org/awards/rules_current.pdf. However, for the short version, the Bram Stoker Awards use a hybrid system of a closed jury for each category who review the submitted titles and submit a ranked list combined with the recommendation portal mentioned in the previous answer. This allows the general membership to also have a say.
A long list of 10 titles in each category are presented to Active and Lifetime members who can vote for up to 5 in the first round. That vote creates the official “Bram Stoker Nominee” list of 5 titles in each category. Then the Active and Lifetime members can each vote for 1 per category.
Having the HWA support MG horror in this way means so much to those of us who read, write, and love spooky MG fiction.Big thanks to the whole organization.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Summer Scares Reading Program, another way the HWA is reaching out to MG and YA horror fans?
The Summer Scares Reading Program began in 2019 and is an official HWA initiative. It is presented in partnership with United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Booklist Summer Scares provides libraries and schools with an annual list of recommended horror titles for adult, young adult (teen), and middle grade readers. It introduces readers and librarians to new authors and helps start conversations extending beyond the books from each list and promote reading for years to come.
Selected authors agree to make themselves available to libraries (free of charge) in order to promote their titles and Horror in general.
Our committee is made up of 5 librarians and an annual rotating author spokesperson. In the past we have had Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham Jones, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and this year for 2022 we welcome Alma Katsu.
Along with the vetted list of titles, the Summer Scares program and committee also provide a program guide courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. This guide is free and contains a page for each title containing a summary of the book, read-alike titles, programming ideas, and book discussion questions– really everything a library would need to feature and promote the books.
What else is the HWA doing to support young horror readers and writers?
Besides the Scholarship and Endowments and Summer Scares, we added a high school intern this year. She has been working with our Volunteer Coordinator and her teacher to assist us. We have been able to introduce her to authors, have had her work on blog posts and virtual events. We would love to add more young interns going forward.
And just in general, the work we do reaching out to public libraries to encourage them to add horror titles and present horror programming through the Summer Scares reading program and our sponsors like Booklist and Book Riot who also create content to support middle grade horror reads. We have seen an increase in participation by libraries at the middle grade level every single year. Many libraries have let us know that Summer Scares and our librarian-vetted content has allowed them to advocate for more horror for their grade school patrons without fear of reproach for it being “too scary,” despite the fact that we all know they love spooky and scary reads.
YES. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Speaking of loving spooky and scary reads: What books do you think of as the classics of MG horror? Do you have any personal favorites?
As I mentioned above, there are not enough superlatives for the work of R.L. Stine, but I tend to credit Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark story collections for stoking the horror flame of many a middle grade reader, going back to myself [mid 40s] but still today. I volunteer at my local school library 2x a month and it is still a huge favorite.
In 2020, the HWA released Don’t Turn Out The Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry. This anthology has a diverse and vibrant table of contents featuring modern middle grade horror.
[Jacqueline/Spooky MG note: Hey, we know this one! Spooky MG’s very own Kim Ventrella has a terrifying story in this collection. Find out more here: https://bookshop.org/shop/spookymg]
Becky Spratford, cont: My work with Summer Scares has solidified for me that we are in a golden age of middle grade horror right now. We consider title from the last ten years by living authors for Summer Scares and each year, Middle Grade is always a favorite of the committee come selection time. Clearly, the time to include Middle Grade Horror in the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards process is NOW.
Hear, hear to all that.
Thank you to Becky Spratford and the Horror Writers Association, and thank you to all of you who read, write, and love spooky middle grade lit.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, horror-filled 2022!
Becky Spratford [MLIS] is a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up. She trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. She is under contract to provide content for EBSCO’s NoveList database and writes reviews for Booklist and a horror review column for Library Journal. Becky is a 20-year locally elected Library Trustee [still serving] and a Board member for the Reaching Across Illinois Library System. Known for her work with horror readers, Becky is the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Third Edition [ALA Editions, 2021]. She is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and currently serves as the Association’s Secretary and organizer of their annual Librarians’ Day. You can follow Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.
Jacqueline West of Spooky Middle Grade is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Award Honor Book The Collectors, and the YA horror novel Last Things. Her latest book is the MG mystery/ghost story Long Lost [Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2021], which was both an Indie Next List and Junior Library Guild selection. Find her at jacquelinewest.com or on Twitter @JacquelineMWest.
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.
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 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 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!
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 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 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:
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.
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!
I am super excited to welcome our very own Kat Shepherd to the blog!!! Her new book, THE PHANTOM HOUR, releases today!! I recently had a chance to chat with Kat about her new book, a brand new mystery series and much more.
Q: You have a passion for animals, traveling and the outdoors, among many other interests. How have those passions found their way into your writing?
A: Like any author, I pull a lot from my own life to put into the stories I write. Lots of my characters are based on former students of mine or other people I know, but there’s always a little bit of me in there, too. In the newest Babysitting Nightmares book, THE PHANTOM HOUR, Clio shares my passions for travel and history and glimpses into the past. And in Book 2 we’ll meet Ethan, who has a really strong connection with animals. I train and foster dogs, so I really wanted to put a character in the series that reflects my own bond with animals.
Because I write suspense, I rarely put pets in my scary books, and there’s a really good reason for this. Anytime I see a pet in a scary movie or book, it immediately distracts me, because I get so worried that something is going to happen to it. (I blame Stephen King for this. Animals rarely fared well in his books!) So I intentionally avoid putting pets in, because I don’t want my readers worrying about them like I always did. But in PHANTOM HOUR I couldn’t resist bringing back my favorite dog, Wesley. He passed away in 2013, and I miss him every single day, so it was wonderful to get to write about him and see him come alive on the page. It was a little like getting to spend time with him again.
Q: Tell me more about microphilanthropy. Does it ever crop up in your books? How can readers get involved?
A: It’s important to me that my protagonists be kind and show compassion and generosity. Not because I’m trying to teach some big lesson to kids or anything, but because I have to spend a lot of time with my characters, and I don’t really like to be around people that aren’t kind or compassionate. Generosity and compassion are driving forces in my life; they absolutely give my life direction and purpose. That’s not to say that I am this supremely generous and compassionate person, but those are the qualities I am continuously striving toward. Failing to get there a lot, but always trying.
One of the biggest challenges of my life was that I have always wanted to be this great philanthropist, but I don’t really have any money. So in trying to figure out how to give meaningfully when the size of your wallet doesn’t match the size of your heart, I started pursuing a concept I call microphilanthropy. It’s based on the idea that you don’t need a lot of money to make positive, measurable change in your community. You just need people.
Basically, it’s crowdfunding, but rooted in the community. I find local organizations that need small, concrete projects funded: a science club at the library, blankets for the zoo’s chimpanzees, emergency rental assistance to keep a family from becoming homeless. Each project costs anywhere from $100 to $1200. Then I throw a party and invite the organizations to come a pitch their projects to my party guests. Then everyone at the party puts whatever money they can spare into jars we set up for each project. At the end of the night we count up and distribute the money, and the organizations go on to fund their projects. The average donation about $10 or $20 per person, but when you pool that money together, it makes these incredible things happen.It creates a really strong connection between people and their communities, and it feels really powerful to see that you made something amazing happen. The best part is seeing the excitement on my guests’ faces when they realize that they are the reason the library has a science club now, or a family didn’t lose their home. It wasn’t some rich person who did that. It was us.
I actually just wrote up a little how-to guide for folks who want to throw their own microphilanthropy party. They can email me at my website katshepherd.com, and I’m happy to send it over or help them strategize.
Q: What should readers expect from Book 2?
A: While Book 1 of Babysitting Nightmares took the girls into the Nightmare Realm, Book 2, THE PHANTOM HOUR, feels a little more grounded in this world. Clio gets a job babysitting for the Lee family, a new family who has moved into an abandoned old mansion at the edge of town. The Lees are lovely, and Clio is thrilled to get the chance to explore the old mansion… until she starts to realize it may be haunted. Luckily Clio has help from her friends and Aunt Kawanna, and she also gets some unexpected help from her new friend, Ethan, who has a few secrets of his own. Readers should expect a spooky ride of suspense, thrills and chills as Clio works to unlock the mansion’s mysteries before it’s too late.
Q: Are any of the thrills and chills from BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES based on real-life experiences?
A: Several generations of women in my family have had regular contact with ghosts. Ethan’s Great-Grandma Moina is based on family stories, but I made her backstory a lot more exciting than my own family’s. For my own great-grandmother ghosts very matter-of-fact and not at all mysterious; they were just around all the time. It was much more fun to make Moina a glamorous, professional medium who performed big, showy seances! To figure out how to do that I did a lot of research on the Spiritualist movement and the history of psychic mediums in the US. I even went to a seance in an old Victorian mansion! What I learned was that there were lots and lots of seances back then, but not a whole lot of ghosts. The magician Harry Houdini helped prove that most of the so-called mediums were faking it and using tricks and illusions to fool people into thinking that they were seeing and talking to ghosts. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or relieved to learn that!
Like the house in PHANTOM HOUR, my own house was vacant before we moved into it. We are only the third owners, and the last person who lived there was a woman who had lived there for 40 years. After she died her daughter held onto the house for another decade because she couldn’t bear to give up something her mother had loved so much. So we felt a little worried when we moved in that might find her ghost hanging around.
A few months after we moved in I went to bed early and my husband was still awake. For some reason he always keeps his dress shoes on after work, and it can be annoyingly loud when he walks around the house. I was awakened by his footsteps in the middle of the night, and I was super irritated that he hadn’t taken off his shoes. But then I rolled over and my husband was asleep next to me! I woke him up, and we both heard a man’s footsteps walking through the house. Our burglar alarm had been set and our dogs were sleeping peacefully, so we knew it couldn’t be an actual person. For some reason nothing about it felt scary at all, and we just went back to sleep. Our house was built by a judge, and we wonder if it was his otherworldly footsteps we heard. So we did end up having a ghostly encounter, just not with the ghost that we expected!
Q: What advice do you have for young fans who may be interested in writing their own stories?
A: I think one of the best things writers can do is to read a lot. Reading helps give you an instinct for story and language; you learn by seeing how other people do it. I also think it helps to read critically, with the eye of a writer. Read for enjoyment, but then take a minute to think about why you loved the story and what made it so good. Then think about those moments that weren’t so good. Did the story drag? Were there parts you got bored, or the action moved too fast? Reading like a writer is a big part of how I developed my own storytelling style and voice.
The other big part of writing your own stories is to WRITE THEM! Put them in a notebook, get a cool journal, or learn to type and store them electronically. If you’re excited to write but feel stuck for ideas, sometimes fanfic is a really fun place to start. Think of your favorite book and write a sequel, or choose a character from a book you love and put them on a new adventure. Create a mashup of your two favorite series. What would happen if the characters met? Spooky stories are also a great way to get started, because it automatically puts your writer’s imagination into overdrive! I teach a spooky story writing workshop, and I’m always happy to email aspiring writers the ideas and exercises I use to get started.
Once you get your stories down on paper, make sure you share them! Writers need readers. Ask your friends and families to read your work and share any moments where they got confused or needed more description, as well as those parts that made them laugh or jump out of their seats. Take that feedback and use it to make your story really sing. Writing a first draft is important, but revising is where the magic really happens. Most writers I know absolutely love to revise, because it lets us forget all the nitty-gritty and just focus on making the story the best that it can be.
Q: What can readers expect next from Kat Shepherd? I hear you may have a new mystery series coming later this year?
A: I have a new mystery series The Gemini Mysteries, that debuts on March 5 with THE NORTH STAR. I have been a huge mystery fan for as long as I can remember; so much so, in fact, that I have a mystery-themed tattoo sleeve that continues to evolve as I add more favorites to it. One of the things I loved most about mysteries is the interactive experience of reading one. You’re constantly taking in information, evaluating, predicting, and then re-evaluating based on a changing landscape of clues. So exciting as a reader, and such a great tool as a teacher! This series is especially fun because there is a picture at the end of every chapter with a clue hidden in it, and the reader gets to work alongside the detectives to find the clues that lead to the next step in the mystery.
It’s been fun for me, because Babysitting Nightmares and Gemini Mysteries are so different, but there is a lot of crossover between mystery and horror. I like to write fast-paced adventures with a little bit of humor and lots of suspense, and I think both series allow me to do that. I hope my readers will have as much fun reading them as I have writing them!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.