It’s the most wonderful time of the year ….. for scary stories and books about things that go bump in the night! Halloween lovers rejoice as visions of zombies, witches, ghosts, werewolves, even cuddle bunnies (thanks to MUF contributor Jonathan Rosen) dance eerily through our heads.
Slime and blood, clacking bones and freakishly long teeth, and of course a soul-rending howl or two — they’re all the stuff of a good MG scare. Plus, they might also pack an added benefit by showing children ways to navigate some of the darker emotions they’ll face — fear, anxiety, anger — in a safe space. (As long as they do, in fact, live in a safe space they can return to when their book is finished.)
But the printed page is not the only place we can expose our children to scary Halloween-esque fiction. In today’s on-demand world, scary stories via podcast is also an increasingly popular way to get your fix of a good scary yarn.
The online world of pre-recorded storytelling is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re about to meet a new and quite talented contributor to the genre of fiction podcast in just a minute. But before we get to that, let’s just be clear. Listening to stories isn’t new. Audiobooks have been around for decades — formerly quaintly known as “books on tape.” (Like, you know, cassettes. Smile.)
The Golden Age of Radio
Before that … some of us (like me) are old enough that our parents actually listened to books on LIVE RADIO. “Let’s Pretend,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Amazing Adventures of Superman,” and more were serialized fiction nearly a hundred years ago, in the 1930’s. Of course, the offering wasn’t nearly as culturally or thematically diverse as today’s fare, but then neither were the printed books.
The War of the Worlds
Some of those stories were QUITE scary.
The War of the Worlds was a fictionalized news broadcast aired on CBS radio in 1938. The radio play narrated an alien invasion in progress–and panicked a whole generation of listeners. Its effects were enormous–so many people believed it was actually happening, they jumped in their cars, trying to escape. For author Elie Lichtschein, creator of the podcast The Creeping Hour, (produced by WGBH radio in Boston, MA) that thrill of fear inspires his writing today.
The Creeping Hour
The Creeping Hour podcast is a five-episode anthology — plenty of opportunity for scary stories via podcast. It’s hosted by “The Creeps” — teenage friends and monsters themselves. WGBH bills the broadcast as “family-friendly horror… for kids ages 8 – 12 but parents shouldn’t be afraid to listen along as well.”
Each “chapter” or episode of The Creeping Hour is hosted by “the Creeps,” three teenage friends who became monsters after hearing too many scary stories.
Interview with Elie Lichtschein, creator of The Creeping Hour:
We had a chance to interview Elie about his podcast and how he created the vibe of an old-time horror show for today’s listeners.
MUF: What’s the origin story for “The Creeping Hour?”
EL: Great question! The short answer is that last autumn I approached Nina Porzucki (who’s the Managing Producer of Podcasts at WGBH) about co-producing a horror anthology series podcast for kids and was thrilled to find that she was as excited by the idea as I was. Nina brought in Hillary Wells, the executive producer on the series and director of youth media at WGBH, and Kate Ida, a fantastic producer there, and The Creeping Hour was born!
The longer story is that several years before then I was working as a journalist for NewsCorp, covering the news by day and writing dark and weird kids horror stories at night. My team launched an in-house news podcast, which inspired me to try to do the same for the stories I was writing. My first iteration was called Middle Grade Horror was much more low-fi and DIY-feel and published on the Jewish Coffee House podcast network. But it was instrumental in teaching me the ropes of writing kids audio and also helped me meet people who were and remain strong champions of kids audio programming, and helped pave a path to The Creeping Hour.)
Podcast or Print?
MUF: Why did you choose to go with scary stories via podcast for your distribution rather than print an anthology and turn it into an audiobook?
EL: I was thinking mainly of speed – I wrote these episodes with my co-writer, Annie Kronenberg, in April/May of this year and they’re out in polished final form now, in October! That speed from ideas to script to production to final product is just incredible and not something I’d have found as easily if I tried to publish an anthology and then convert it / sell it as an audiobook.
MUF: Why did you choose to team with WGBH instead of an independent production?
EL: I was looking for a production partner who could nicely complement the skills and experience I’d be bringing to the project. WGBH, with its resources, reach, and bevy of fantastic projects, seemed like a great co-partner. And they absolutely have been, at every part of the pre, production, and post stage of creating these five episodes. It’s been beyond a pleasure to work with them, especially Kate, Hillary, and Nina, and this project would look and sound vastly different without their contributions.
Writing the Shows
MUF: Who writes the stories/episodes, and are they also available in book form – or is there a plan to publish the anthology?
EL: I wrote the scripts with Annie Kronenberg, a fantastic writer I met through a friend who oversees the Writers House editorial internship program, which we both went through. Annie took the lead on writing the second episode, “Out of the Wind,” and I took the lead on the others. There’s no current plan in place to publish the stories in other formats, although the idea is tempting!
MUF: If they don’t write the stories, are the three hosts authors? Actors?
EL: All three of them are screen and VO actors, but Kizzmett Pringle (who voices Axe) and Alexis Collins (who voices Weta) do more screen and stage work, and Matthew Gumley (who voices Toro) is also a rock musician and performs a bunch.
Behind the Stories
MUF: What are the inspirations for the episodes?
EL: Hmm, I mean I’d say the overall inspiration is to scare kids ;-). But we tried coming up with stories that could be aurally frightening in new ways. These include building scares by focusing on repetitive words (like the “Dirt spy! Dirt spy!”) in “Meet the Creeps”) or through pairing creepy monster sounds with creepy natural world noises ( like the monster / weather-based scares in “Out of the Wind”), or using a creepy piece of music as almost a character that uses sound to latch onto its victims (as in the season finale, “The Beat,” which comes out on Halloween).
MUF: What’s your favorite episode – the one you’d point new listeners to?
EL: I really love what we did with the final episode of the series – “The Beat” – and can see it being a great starting point to get listeners listening. (It’s not up yet, though, so I don’t have the link unfortunately)
MUF NOTE: “The Beat” will drop ON HALLOWEEN …..
I also think the second episode, “Out of the Wind” (Click on link to listen to a snippet of this episode.)
MUF: What’s next for “The Creeping Hour?”
EL: Good question! Well, there are still two more episodes yet to drop in this first season, but hopefully we’ll keep telling creepy stories that continue to scare kids in ways that make creative use of the audio medium.
Elie’s Halloween Book List and Podcast List
MUF: What are your favorite middle-grade fiction podcasts that AREN’T yours?
EL: I loved Mars Patel and just came across Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm podcast with Pinna, which looks incredible, can’t wait to dive in.
MUF: What are some of your favorite printed spooky Halloween books for middle grade readers?
I just read Apocalypse Taco, which is a graphic novel by Nathan Hale, and LOVED it. An old classic is the Tintin story, Flight 714, which brings the intrepid boy reporter face to face with aliens and mind control and villains’ lairs hidden deep inside active volcanoes. Also, I can’t get past Eric Kimmel’s picture book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which has some of the most horrifying monster illustrations (done by Trina Schart Hyman) in any kid book I’ve ever come across (and also riffs lightly on the “Shaydm” that appear in episode three of The Creeping Hour). Also, you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and I loved Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener. Cf course then there’s Goosebumps – some of my favorites are The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, Deep Trouble, and A Night in Terror Tower.
The Creeping Hour Artwork
EL: The artwork for the series was done by the incredible Parker S. Jackson. Just want to give him a shout out because he’s so great!
And WGBH made these incredible Snapchat filters that can turn you into a Creep! You can find them here: https://thecreepinghour.org/articles/transform-yourself-into-a-creep-s1!e3f16
How to Find The Creeping Hour:
Thanks so much, Elie; it’s been a pleasure.
And … HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all our MUF creeps!
Elie Lichtschein is a writer and producer based in Manhattan. He’s the writer and co-creator of The Creeping Hour podcast (WGBH/PRX, October 2019). His fiction has appeared in It’s A Whole Spiel (Knopf, September 2019). He’s currently working on a middle grade adventure novel with PJ Library. Visit him online at elielicht.com or on social media @elielicht