Interview with Christian McKay Heidicker, author of Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Happy November, spookies! This is the best time of year for curling up with a spooky read. One of my absolute favorite books this Halloween season was SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker. Not only does it feature my favorite animal, but it’s filled with a bunch of haunting and beautiful illustrations by Junyi Wu.

Here’s a little description to entice you:

The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Christian was kind enough to take time from his busy touring schedule to talk to me about his terrifying book!

TANIA: SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES is the most original book I’ve read in some time! What was your inspiration for this story, and why did you choose foxes, in particular, to tell your tale?

CHRISTIAN: Well, thank you!

I was inspired by the Berenstain Bears—specifically The Spooky Old Tree and Bears in the Night. When I originally wrote these stories, the foxes wore little vests and deerskin boots and they walked down to the market to buy a goose from the badger grocer. But when my agent politely informed me that that anthropomorphism doesn’t sell, I started making the stories as scientifically accurate as I could.

As far as why they’re foxes . . . I have no idea! They just came to me, as lovely as flames in my imagination. Whenever students ask me Why Foxes during school visits, I tell them that I woke one night with teeth piercing my throat and found a fox pinning me to the bed with her jaws. Another fox stepped into the moonlight on my pillow and told me I needed to write this book or else . . .

TANIA: The foxes in your book face danger that is real and yet appears supernatural through the lens of the protagonists. It reminded me of the power of children’s imaginations when interpreting things they can’t quite grasp. Was it challenging to write through the eyes of a young fox or to balance the realistic with the anthropomorphic?

CHRISTIAN: It was challenging! The parallels between classic horror tales and the lives of foxes came easily, but selling that through the perspective of the kits was tough (especially the Golgathursh). Anytime I grew overwhelmed, I’d just take a step back and reestablish the boundary of the stories: Does it parallel a classic horror tale?/Could it happen to foxes? From there, I just had to figure out which details to include.

TANIA: I was admittedly surprised by how dark this book was at times, especially regarding death. And yet, it also felt appropriate, given that the natural world can be an unforgiving place. The foxes’ behavior and environment felt very true-to-life and there was even a surprising appearance by Beatrix Potter which has made me see her in a whole new light! Did you do a lot of research into her character or animal behavior for this book?

CHRISTIAN: I was surprised by the darkness too! And yes, I did a ton of research.

The more I learned about foxes and classic horror tropes, the more the events started to choose themselves. I worried about how scary it was getting at first, but then I watched Planet Earth with my soon-to-be-stepdaughters and noticed that they didn’t cry when innocent animals were eaten. They were upset, but they seemed to understand that this was a part of the natural process. From that point forward, I started to think of the book as National Geographic Horror. So long as I added a bit of coziness for every flash of teeth, I knew the stories would remain palatable.

The fact that Beatrix Potter taxidermied many of her subjects before she sketched them is true, by the way. I’m sorry I have to be the one to break it to everyone. (Okay, not that sorry 🙂 )

TANIA: In the book there is an explanation for why scary stories are important for young foxes. Why do you think scary stories are so important for young readers?

CHRISTIAN: I could try to do this justice. But I’ll just quote Neil Gaiman instead:

“. . . if you are keeping people, young people, safe from the darkness . . . you are denying them tools or weapons that they might have needed and could have had.”

I think that about sums up my feelings.

TANIA: What are some of your favorite spine-tingling reads?

CHRISTIAN: Speaking of Neil Gaiman, I *adore* The Graveyard Book and Coraline. I also really love the Turn of the Screw, the Berenstain Bears (as mentioned), and Ghostopolis. I don’t see that last one getting enough cred.

Obviously, I love a lot of horror novels by adults too, but I try not to recommend those to young readers.

TANIA: What are you working on next? Anything else you’d like to share with our Spooky MG readers?

CHRISTIAN: You might be happy to hear that I’m working on a sequel to Foxes. It takes place many decades later in the city that has replaced the Antler Wood. It will involve Mia’s and Uly’s and Mr. Scratch’s descendants, and it will retell modern horror tales instead of classic ones. If rabies was a zombie story in the old one, the fox fur farm in the new one is dystopian horror.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Foxes book trailer, but we put a lot of work into it:

Christian McKay Heidicker reads and writes and drinks tea. Between his demon-hunting cat and his fiddling, red-headed fiancée, he feels completely protected from evil spirits. Christian is the author of Scary Stories for Young FoxesCure for the Common Universe and Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. cmheidicker.com

Spooky Writing Tips for Kids

This week, I asked three spooky middle grade authors to share their favorite writing tips for kids. Hopefully these quick tips will help add that extra dash of creepy to your next terrifying tale.

S.A. LARSEN

Use all five senses when writing your scenes. But don’t stress about it. Just close your eyes and imagine what your character smells, feels or comes in contact with through touch. Reach your character’s arms out to let an imaginary breeze sweep along their skin. Have your character take a deep breath and almost taste the dying moss clinging to the trees. Playing with the senses from a creepy point-of-view is so fun in spooky stories!

SAMANTHA CLARK

Keep up the intrigue by dripping details into a scene, each one getting scarier than the last. And don’t forget to use all the senses. Maybe first they hear a howl in the distance. Then smell something dark and musty. Then feel drool drip down their neck…

CYNTHIA REEG

To help me get in the spooky mood for writing my monster stories, I brainstorm creepy vocabulary words before I start writing. Divide a paper into categories for the 5 senses–Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch. See how many words you can think of for each sense. Even if you don’t use each of these words in your story, it will help set the tone for your writing. Scary on!

Thanks Spookies!!! I hope these tips help you add a little bite to your spooky story repertoire.

 

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.