Welcome to my interview with Author/Illustrator Kory Merritt and his latest release No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS!
Kory visited us back in October of 2020, where he introduced NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS (Bk1). At that time he also showcased his mighty artistic ability through some added drawings. You can find them HERE as well as book 1, No Place For Monsters.
No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS by Kory Merritt
In this spine-tingling follow-up to No Place for Monsters, which Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney called “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” a group of unlikely friends must band together to protect their town from the monsters that are threatening to destroy it.
The storm is coming. Who will survive?
It’s been months since Levi and Kat defeated the Boojum and rescued their town’s forgotten children. But now the strangeness has started again: hundreds of creepy snowmen pop up across town and a bizarre blizzard hits the day before spring break.
Being trapped in the school overnight by freak weather is bad enough. But an evil is lurking . . . one far worse than ice and wind. Worse than power outages. Even worse than being stuck with teachers and annoying classmates.
Something is roaming the darkened school halls. Something . . . hungry. Now it’s up to a small group of student survivors—along with some supernatural helpers—to uncover the cold-hearted menace before it takes the entire school.
Hi Kory! It’s wonderful to have you join us, again. If you would, give us a sneak peek into SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS in tweet-length and a hashtag?
Kids and teachers trapped overnight in a haunted school, told partly through illustrated “found footage.” #SpookyCartoonFoundFootage
Trapped in a haunted school overnight. I mean, what could go wrong?😱😱😱
What makes this follow-up book different from the first?
The overall presentation and format are different—much of it is told through “found footage” (views from phone cameras, school security footage, etc). So I think the illustrations are more ambitious and creative.
That’s pretty cool!
The story is also different in that it has a bigger cast of characters. It takes place in a school, so the view bounces back and forth between sixth graders, third graders, and teachers. The first book only had two or three main characters. This one has a bunch of different viewpoints.
What was your favorite part about continuing this story?
It was fun to experiment with the illustration format, and also set the new story in a school. I used to be an elementary art teacher, and sometimes wondered what it would be like to be trapped in the school overnight during a storm.
Care to share a #funfact about Phantom that you left out of the book itself?
My original draft had a scene set in the school library, where the library gets haunted and storybook characters come to life and attack the students. I tried to use mainly public domain book characters, but wanted the main library villain to be Greg Heffley from Wimpy Kid, who would get taken out with a single punch. My editor wisely convinced me to cut this chapter—it would have been a legal nightmare to include so many existing characters.
Ooh, super creepy and a bit funny!
I’m sure your main characters grow even more throughout this second book. How do they change from the end of the first book and how can young readers relate to those changes?
The main characters from the first book are back, but now they’re part of an ensemble and share equal “screen time” with a bunch of other characters. So we see a bunch of different personalities colliding as they’re forced into a strange and desperate situation.
New ensemble of characters? Ooh, please introduce them.
The story takes place mainly over one night of being trapped in a haunted school. There are new sixth grade characters, some primary grade students, and some faculty: Ms. Padilla the cunning science teacher, Mr. Chuck the burnt-out custodian. If you’ve ever gone to school, you should find something relatable.
Plus a whole bunch of new creatures get involved: some friendly, some not-so-friendly. Big spiders. Creepy snowmen. Monsters based on school subjects . . .
Oh, these are awesome!
Did you do any research for this second book? Do you do separate research or inspiration searching for your drawings as opposed to your writing work?
Research is important, but this book is set in a school and deals with strange creatures. I used to be a K-6 art teacher, and I’ve always loved strange real-life animals, so the writing was based around fields I’m already very familiar with.
For the illustrations: I wanted to capture the feel of a “found footage” movie. So I watched several found footage movies, including Blair Witch. I tried to replicate the shaky camera movements for certain illustrations.
For our illustrating writers, what are three of the most important pieces of advice you’d pass along to them?
I’m bad with advice—I can never think of anything original to say. I guess it’s pretty simple: 1. Gotta write and draw a LOT. You’ll look back at older work and be embarrassed by it, but staying productive lets you develop your style, so don’t worry about mistakes at first.
- Read a lot of books. Read a wide variety of books by a wide variety of writers/illustrators. Read outside your comfort zone—don’t just read the same thing over and over. Read comics and graphic novels, sure, but also read traditional prose with no illustrations—try to visualize scenes in your head as you read.
- Finish things. Lots of people want to write or draw stories and they start working on books, but lose interest or give up. Force yourself to finish projects. Even if it’s not what you hoped for, you at least developed your style during the process.
Really great advice, even if someone has heard some of it before. It never hurts to be reminded. 👍
Was there anything that surprised you about this story as you wrote it?
I realized that I like having big casts. Keeps things bouncing along.
Haha! But it keeps it interesting, right?
Any suggestions on how young student writers and/or illustrators can find inspiration when beginning a story . . . let’s say for an assignment in class?
I guess . . . think of something that is fun for you to write about. Not everyone likes writing—that’s fine. But I think it helps if you’re interested in the subject. I like animals and creatures, so I always want to include them in stories, and it motivates me to write and draw.
How can librarians and teachers use spooky stories such as this one in their classrooms and homes to encourage reluctant readers to engage in reading?
I’ve heard illustrated stories and comics/graphic novels can be gateways to all sorts of books and reading habits. You get a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a book, and I think illustrations can be a fast hook for pulling in readers—you simply open the cover, and here’s a glimpse of the world.
Obviously, there’s lots of spookiness going on throughout SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS. Why do you believe spooky stories are important for young readers to read?
My books are spooky but in a cartoonish way, for kids—I think sometimes it’s just fun to read a creepy story. Some excellent spooky stories, such as books by talented authors like Tananarive Due, can have deeper meanings and mirror real-life fears, and help readers cope through the fantasy.
Thank you for sharing your latest story with us, Kory! It looks and sounds amazing. Plus, what better time to share a story about being stuck in a haunted school for the night than during Halloween season!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kory Merritt is a former public school art teacher from western New York who enjoys reading weird stories, looking for strange wildlife, and drawing creepy monsters. In addition to teaching, Kory previously worked as an illustrator for the online game franchise Poptropica and its spin-off book series.
www.korymerritt.com, Facebook: @korymerrittauthor, Twitter and Instagram: @koryjmerritt