Hi everyone! Tania here. I’m happy for the opportunity to interview author Claribel Ortega whose debut middle grade novel, GHOST SQUAD, comes out this fall. We may have to wait a little while to get out hands on it, but check out this description in the meantime:
The hurricane-swept town of St. Augustine is the only home Lucely Luna has ever known. It’s the same home her father grew up in, and his parents before him. In fact, all of the deceased relatives in the Luna family now live as firefly spirits in the weeping willow tree in their backyard.
Shortly before Halloween, a mysterious storm appears on the radar heading towards St. Augustine, causing Lucely’s firefly spirits to lose their connection to this world. In an effort to save them, Lucely finds a spell to bring them back to life, but accidentally brings more spirits to the town than she’d planned. Ghosts start showing up all around town, some more dangerous than others, wreaking havoc.
Lucely will have to band together with her best friend and occult buff, Syd, along with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head on, save the town, and save her firefly spirits all before the full moon culminates on Halloween.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I can hardly wait! Now, let’s get on with the Q+A.
TANIA: I’m very excited to read GHOST SQUAD which sounds very spooky, indeed! But, reading the description, I’m also intrigued by its family themes and elements of magical realism. Can you talk a little bit about how your own background has influenced your story?
CLARIBEL: I’m excited you’re excited about Ghost Squad! The story is very close to my heart and directly influenced by both my childhood and my experience with loss. As a kid, I used to catch fireflies in glass jars with my late, older brother. My family is from The Dominican Republic and we have mythology that says fireflies are the souls of our loved ones who have passed on, and that those fireflies are watching over us. I loved the idea of still having my brother around, looking out for me and that led to Lucely Luna’s story!
TANIA: As an author, why do you think spooky stories are important for young readers? Do you think it’s possible to get too dark or scary when it comes to writing Middle Grade fiction?
CLARIBEL: I think it is definitely possible to get too dark (in fact there was one scene I had to cut from Ghost Squad because it was too scary!) but it also varies on the reader. I was reading Stephen King at a pretty young age, he was my transition into adult books after Ghost Bumps. Did I have nightmares? Yes. Do I recommend it? Also yes.
TANIA: What are some of your favorite spooky books or movies and why?
CLARIBEL: So, I am a giant chicken with spooky movies and will read the Wikipedia plot before I watch to make sure I can handle it lol. I prefer scary movies that don’t rely on jump scares and have a frightening twist at the end (Like THE SKELETON KEY or THE SIXTH SENSE) but normally I lean into the not actually scary but sort of campy/fun spooky movies like CLUE or GHOSTBUSTERS. I can handle a lot more when it comes to books, and as I said I love Stephen King and anything true crime or serial killer related because it’s fascinating!
TANIA: Have you personally ever seen a ghost or experienced the supernatural?
CLARIBEL: I have. Once at my old house, I was constantly seeing a little girl running through the hall out of the corner of my eye. I never said anything until one day I was standing by the stairs next to my older sister and saw her. We both flinched at the same time then looked at one another, eyes wide like “You saw her too?” It was creepy, but I wasn’t necessarily scared. I don’t think she meant us any harm.
TANIA: What advice would you give a young, aspiring writer? Is there something you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
CLARIBEL: Your career might not unfold how you expect it to but that doesn’t make it any less worth celebrating. Things take a long time in publishing, and it’s okay if things don’t pan out the way you planned, the goal is longevity not instant success. Focus on the things you can control, like your writing, be willing to fight for yourself when you need to, and remember to celebrate the good not just focus on the bad.
And there you have it! We’ll be keeping an eye out for Claribel’s book and cover reveal. In the meantime, you can follow her on Twitter or Instragram. Also visit her website to sign up for her newsletter.