It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Wendy Parris to the Mixed-Up Files today. The debut of a first book is such an exciting time for an author, especially when the book packs as many chills in it as Field of Screams.
Field of Screams
Paranormal enthusiast Rebecca Graff isn’t happy about being dragged to Iowa to spend the summer wit
h family she barely knows. But when she tracks a ghostly presence to an abandoned farmhouse, she starts to think the summer won’t be a total lost cause! Soon she is in a race to piece together a puzzle and recover a family legacy before it is lost forever—and a horrible tragedy repeats itself.
Advice for Authors
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book:
My advice: Keep your eyes open. Of course, writers need to read a lot of books in their chosen category/genre. And also study the craft of writing and practice as much as possible. But you never know when a photograph or a glimpse of something from your everyday life might spark your imagination. The single most important thing that inspired me to write FIELD OF SCREAMS was something I saw in my day-to-day life. In the summer of 2012, I was visiting family in Clear Lake, IA, a small town not far from the Minnesota border. I went on a bike ride around the lake, through some woods, and onto a lonely country road—and came across an abandoned farmhouse. Fascinated, I stopped, jumped off my bike, and explored, taking a bunch of pictures of the outside of the house (to this day I wonder if I should’ve ventured inside, though who knows what kind of critters could have been lurking there!). That farmhouse lingered in my mind. I wondered who had lived there, what had happened there, and why it was abandoned. And it looked so spooky to me that I knew it must be haunted. I decided I’d write a ghost story about it. So I did.
Would you and your main character get along?
Absolutely! Rebecca and I grew up in very different circumstances and decades (lol), but I empathize a lot with her. For example: I understand her battles with her naturally curly and frizzy hair; I, too, was fascinated by ghost stories and mysteries when I was a kid; and I HATED being away from my best friend. Although my parents divorced when I was a kid and Rebecca’s father passed away—very different life experiences— I do understand how awkward and unsettling it can be when a parent starts dating a new person. I really admire Rebecca’s curiosity and determination as well, but there is no way twelve-year-old Wendy would have been as brave as Rebecca is when facing a ghost! One big difference between us: I’m a big fan of ’80s music and she is not, so we don’t agree on that topic at all.
Music or Silence
Do you play music when you write —and, if so, what’s your favorite?
I don’t play music when I write, like I know a lot of writers do. I don’t need total silence, but I like to “hear” the characters’ voices inside my head. When I write, the dialogue flows through my mind. I explore each character’s voice , trying out different words and intonations. This is probably because I studied acting and performed in plays, musicals, and improv comedy shows over many years. I find that music, particularly music with lyrics, competes with the words I’m trying to form in my imagination and write down. So I tend to like things as quiet as possible when I write. That being said, I’ve certainly had to learn how to tune out all sorts of sounds (dogs barking! kids playing! traffic passing!) so that I can concentrate and hear my characters.
Favorite Middle Grade Books
What books did you read growing up?
Well, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew. My mom saved most of her childhood books, so I had a whole library of not only classics like Little Women, but of Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Betsy-Tacey series, and Trixie Belden Girl Detective books (look them
up!). And I grew up in the 1970’s, so Judy Blume was hugely popular and I devoured her stories. I loved Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I’d go to the library several times a month and come home with stacks of books. I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I remember my grandmother saying “That Wendy always has her nose in a book.” My favorite place to read was up in a beautiful old willow tree in my backyard.
Can you share a tiny bit about your next book?
My next book is another spooky middle grade novel called Stage Fright about a group of thirteen year olds trapped in haunted theater.
Here’s the pitch: When Avery returns to her hometown after moving away a year earlier, she is hoping to jump back into her friend group as if nothing has changed, but new interests, secret crushes, and changing dynamics get in her way. In an effort to reunite her BFFs, she suggests they host a séance at an abandoned theater that was the site of a tragedy; what starts as a fun outing soon becomes a fight for survival.
I’m writing it right now, and it is slated to be published by Delacorte Press in the fall of 2024.
A veterinarian and an author, K.D. is passionate about animals and story-telling. As far as story is concerned, she particularly loves stories that include ghosts, vampires, and anything that goes bump in the night. When not pounding out stories, she spends her time with her usually wonderful children, mostly well-behaved dogs, and her absolutely devious cats. She’s grateful for a very tolerant husband.
In today’s Author Spotlight, Jo Hackl chats with author Landra Jennings about her new middle-grade novel, Wand (Clarion Books, October 31). She’ll share her inspiration behind writing it, the works of literature that influenced it,...
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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