In today’s Author Spotlight, Lisa Schmid chats with Erin Petti about her latest middle-grade novel, Thelma Bee in Toil and Treble (Snowy Wings Publishing-September 6, 2022) a sequel to The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee as well as what inspires her to write spooky stories.
Lisa: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Erin. Please tell us all about Thelma Bee In Toil And Treble.
Erin: Hi Lisa! Thelma Bee in Toil and Treble is a spooky paranormal adventure through the peculiar world of Thelma Bee. She’s a sixth grader with a knack for the scientific method and a group of amazing ghost-hunting friends – also, she’s got a secret. There’s powerful magic in her family’s lineage and she’s just scratching the surface to figure out what it means for her middle school life.
When her school’s acappella group starts acting suspicious, reports of paranormal activity spike in her hometown, and a classmate goes missing, Thelma and her crew have to work together to untangle the mystery and stop a sinister plan from shrouding her hometown in a dark magic that might just feel eerily familiar to our heroine. This is the sequel to Thelma’s first adventure, The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee!
Lisa: This sounds awesome! What inspires you to write spooky stories?
Erin: For me, the realm of the paranormal allows my characters to ask some really interesting, abstract questions, and explore some really big and complicated emotions within the safety of a fun and thrilling story. There are just endless possibilities as a storyteller when you’re working with these elements.
Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?
Erin: While my characters and demons are (of course!) all fictional, the emotions that build the architecture of the story are all real. Thelma is a kid before she’s anything else, and she’s got issues that she’s working through that will ring true to anyone who’s ever tried to navigate the adolescent years.
Additionally, lots of the locations and settings in Thelma Bee are from real life – the river that runs through fictional Riverfish, MA is based on the Assabet River in the town of Maynard, MA! Lots of Maynard and Winthrop MA are reflected in my little fictional New England town.
Lisa: Do you believe in ghosts? If yes, have you had any first-hand experience with the paranormal?
Erin: I do believe in ghosts! I don’t think that I have seen one myself, but when I was working at the historic The House of Seven Gables in Salem, MA, one of the folks on my tour told me that she saw the ghost of a small girl watching me when I was in the attic. But she said not to worry, because the little ghost girl liked me. And then I thought about that during every other tour I ever gave at that job!
Lisa: What books did you like to read when you were a kid?
Erin: In middle school I discovered The Hobbit and began a full-scale exploration of Middle Earth during Sustained Silent Reading time (my fave time of day). I also loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and definitely started reading The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice too early but loved those books like crazy.
Lisa: What is your writing process?
Erin: I usually get inspired by the energy of a location – a town, a cave, something about the spirit of a place. Then the characters begin to form, and I do a lot of freewriting in a notebook. That usually becomes a loose (soooo loose) outline, and then it’s onward from there!
Cut to the 8 millionth revision and you’ve got yourself a book!
Lisa: What advice would you give a new writer?
Erin: I think one of the most powerful things you can do is finish. Finish the sentence. Finish the paragraph. Then, finish the draft. Once you’ve done that you have proven to yourself that you can write a whole book – and you’ve got something to play with! Let go of the inhibitions and get that first draft out!
Lisa: What are you hoping readers will take away from Thelma Bee Toil and Treble?
Erin: This time, Thelma’s story is about finding inner strength and learning to trust yourself to do the right thing when there’s no adult who can guide you. I hope readers get a feeling for that, that they’re strong and smart like Thelma and if they had to, they could rise to any fight. But also, if I’m being really honest, more than anything, I want readers to feel like they’ve got an amazing group of friends in Thelma, Alexander, Izzy, and the whole crew.
Lisa: What are you working on now?
Erin: I’m writing the third Thelma Bee book! I haven’t announced the title yet, but I will say that it’s the MOST classically Halloween-centric of all her stories so far. Stay tuned!
Lisa: What advice would you give 12 year-old Erin?
Erin: I would tell her that worrying about other people’s perception of you actually takes away your own sparkle. Don’t change who you are for anybody! Also, yoga isn’t weird, it’s cool and will change your life. And keep reading, kid.
Lisa: How can readers obtain a copy of the book?
Erin: The book can be preordered at your local independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon, or any place books are sold.