Spooky Authors Branch Out

We spooky authors don’t always write spooky books! My next book is decidedly different: Carry Me Home features twelve-year-old Lulu whose family lives in their car (Simon & Schuster, August 24). Things go from bad to worse when Lulu’s dad disappears, leaving her to care for herself and her sister without letting anyone know that they are homeless and abandoned.

You can find out more at www.janetsfox.com.

I’ve interviewed some fellow spookies – Samantha Clark, and Victoria Piontek – about their new “non-spooky” titles.

1. Before we start on the “break-away from spooky”, please remind readers of your spooky titles.

Sam: Thank you, Janet! THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST is my spooky book. The story is about a boy who wakes up on a mysterious beach with no memory of who he is or how he got there. All he knows is that this can’t possibly be his home, so when he sees a light shining over a wall of trees, he decides to gather up his courage and follow it. Along his journey, he must face all his biggest fears to gain his memories back and find his home. Those fears are where the spooky comes in, because the Boy is all alone in a strange place and he’s scared of a lot. There are spooky sounds, spooky magic, and like the book’s title suggests, a Beast lurking around. Veeery spooooky.

Victoria: My spooky book is THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY. The story is about Sparrow, a girl struggling to come to terms with her mama’s death. Sparrow doesn’t have many friends. Some kids believe her house near the swamp is haunted. Others think there’s something “unusual” about her. But Sparrow’s not lonely — she has a best friend who’s always with her. He sits with Sparrow on her porch swing. He makes her smile by playing pranks in church. Yet Sparrow is the only one who can see him . . . because the Boy is a ghost. So when her mama passes away, Sparrow doesn’t give up hope. After all, if the Boy can linger after death, then surely Mama can return as well. But the Boy has a secret of his own, one that Sparrow needs to uncover before the ghost will lead her to Mama. To solve the mystery, Sparrow joins forces with some unlikely allies — Maeve and Johnny, siblings from a family of town outcasts –and Elena, a visiting child fortune-teller. 

2. Tell us about your upcoming “non-spooky” book: title, publisher, date, and a brief synopsis.

Sam: I actually have two non-spooky books coming out next. Just like THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, ARROW is published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and comes out on June 22, 2021. It’s not so spooky, but it has some parts that are scary in a different way. It’s about a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference called Arrow who’s the only human living inside a hidden rainforest. He was raised by the Guardian Tree, which uses the earth’s magic to keep the forest hidden from those who have sought to exploit and kill it. But now the magic veil is deteriorating and the forest is dying. Humans from the outside world find a way in, escaping their brutal world. Their arrival sets off a chain of events that leave Arrow with a devastating choice: be accepted by his own kind or fight to save the forest that is his home.

A week later, on June 29, 2021, I’ve got another non-spooky book coming out, HOLLYWOOD, which is book two of the AMERICAN HORSE TALES series from Penguin Workshop. In this book, 12-year-old Juniper loves to help her father train their horses for movies and TV shows. When her horse best friend Able gets the chance to audition for Juniper’s favorite TV show, Castle McAvoy, Juniper sneaks into the trailer so she can make sure he gets the part. Against her dad’s wishes, Juniper accidentally gets both Able and herself hired for Castle McAvoy, and while this is a huge dream come true, Juniper quickly learns that getting your dreams is harder than she had thought.

Victoria: My “non-spooky” book, BETTER WITH BUTTER (Scholastic Press), comes out on July 20, 2021.

BETTER WITH BUTTER is about twelve-year-old Marvel, a girl who is afraid of absolutely everything — amusement park rides, food poisoning, earthquakes, and that big island of plastic floating through the ocean. She also obsesses about smaller worries like making friends, getting called on by the teacher, and walking home alone.

Her parents and the school therapist call her worries an anxiety disorder, but Marvel calls them armor. If something can happen, it will. She needs to be prepared.

But when Marvel stumbles on a group of older kids teasing a baby goat that has mysteriously shown up on the soccer field, she momentarily forgets to be afraid and rescues the frightened animal.

Only Butter isn’t any old goat. She’s a fainting goat. When Butter feels panic, she freezes up and falls over. Marvel knows exactly how Butter feels and precisely what Butter needs–her.

Soon, the two are inseparable, and Butter thrives under Marvel’s support. But Butter also helps Marvel. Everything is better with Butter by her side, and Marvel starts to imagine a life in which she doesn’t have to be so afraid . . . until she’s told she might have to give up Butter forever. 

3. What was the inspiration for this new book?

Sam: A few different things inspired me to write ARROW. First a boy with one hand who lived in a tree popped into my head. I didn’t know what his story was until I had to listen to trees getting ripped down in my neighborhood to build more gas stations when we already have a lot. I was born in Guyana and went into the Amazon was I was very little, so rainforests have always been close to my heart. The more I got to know Arrow and his Guardian Tree, I realized that they were trying to save not only their home, but all the forests of the world.

Just like Juniper and Able, I auditioned for the AMERICAN HORSE TALES series. Penguin Workshop was starting this new series of books about girls and their horses and I pitched them the story for HOLLYWOOD. They loved it and hired me to write the whole thing. It was my first contemporary story with no magical elements, and while I love to write spooky stories and magical stories, it was fun to try something different.

Victoria: There were two inspirations for this book. The first was my experiences with generalized anxiety and raising a child with anxiety. The second was my childhood experiences with animals.

Growing up, animals were a big part of my life. Both my parents are gentle people who love to rescue broken things and nurse them back to health. There have been dogs, horses, squirrels, birds, pigs, and a very special goat.

Jennifer was bouncy and funny and followed me to the school bus every morning. At the end of the day, she’d be waiting for me. I don’t know how she knew when the bus would drop me off, but she was always there. Her faithful greetings made each day better. I’ve always wanted to write a story about a goat and the power of friendship between humans and animals. BETTER WITH BUTTER is that story! 

4. How does it feel to have a book coming that isn’t spooky?

Sam: It’s good and bad. I LOVE spooky stories, so I kind of wish these books had some spooky parts in them. But it’s also fun to have some different types of stories coming out. I also hope these will reach different readers and maybe those readers will want to branch out into my spooky story too.

Victoria: It’s fun to have a contemporary book coming out because it reaches different readers. However, like THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY, BETTER WITH BUTTER is a very personal story, so it feels the same in many ways.  

5. Do you have another spooky – or non-spooky – book in the wings? Tell!!

Sam: I do have some more books coming out in 2022! I can’t talk about them yet, but I can tell you they’re magical and fun. I also have a few very spooky stories that I’m working on and I hope they’ll be coming out in the future to scare more readers. Bwah ha ha…

Victoria: I have one of each. However, both are in the early stages at the moment, so I don’t have much to share yet. Keeping my fingers crossed, I’ll be able to say more soon!

6. Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Sam: My website is SamanthaMClark.com, and I’ve got lots of extra goodies on there for readers, parents and teachers. In fact, I’ve also got Thank You Gifts for anyone who preorders ARROW, including a tree that will be planted for EVERY preordered copy. You can find out more and register your preorder for gifts and a new tree planted at https://www.samanthamclark.com/arrow/ 

Victoria: On Instagram and Twitter @victoriapiontek or on my website at www.victoriapiontek.com, where I have teacher resources and information on how to get some adorable pre-order swag for BETTER WITH BUTTER.