For those of you who love spooky, scary middle grade, I have a treat for you. The Stitchers (ABRAMS/Amulet 2020), by debut author Lorien Lawrence, releases this week, and alongside that spooky scary goodness, it’s SO. MUCH. FUN.
About The Stitchers:
Thirteen-year-old Quinn Parker knows there’s something off about her neighbors. She calls them “the Oldies” because they’ve lived on Goodie Lane for as long as anyone can remember, but they never seem to age. Are they vampires? Or aliens? Or getting secret experimental surgeries? Or is Quinn’s imagination just running wild again?
If her dad were still around, he’d believe her. When he was alive, they’d come up with all sorts of theories about the Oldies. Now, Quinn’s determined to keep the investigation going with the help of Mike, her neighbor and maybe-crush. They’ll have to search for clues and follow the mystery wherever it leads–even if it’s to the series pond at the end of the street that’s said to have its own sinister secrets. But the Oldies are on to them. And the closer Quinn and Mike get to uncovering the answers, the more they realize just how terrifying the truth may be.
Interview with Debut Author Lorien Lawrence
Welcome, Lorien Lawrence, to the Mixed-Up Files! As I often do, I shared your book with my son, who’s a middle grade and young adult reader. He loved the Stitchers–which meant he and I got to collaborate on these interview questions. NOTE: This interview has been edited slightly in order to group topics and transitions.
HMC: I am always curious about origin stories – where did you get the idea for the Stitchers?
LL I think I say this in another!er interview, but there’s nothing scarier than losing someone you love. I wrote this story after my dad suddenly died. I had just moved back to my hometown with my husband, and we would go for these really long walks and try to make sense of what happened. Eventually, my childhood streets brought back happy memories and feelings of nostalgia instead of sadness. And we started to play a “what if” sort of game, where we took turns wondering “what if that house was haunted?” or “what if that pond was magical?” Eventually, one of these “what ifs” turned into THE STITCHERS. So I guess writing Quinn’s story helped me come to terms with my own grief.
Writing About Loss for MG
HMC: (As you just mentioned,) your main character, Quinn, is coping with the loss of her father … and picking up where he left off, investigating the same mystery. Loss and fear are pretty scary subjects no matter how old you are … how did you balance respecting your middle-grade readers’ maturity with knowing when the subject matter needed to be age-appropriate?
Finding this balance was probably the most difficult part of the writing experience for me. I knew I needed to show Quinn coming through the other side, so to speak. She doesn’t miss her dad any less, but she learns how to live a new kind of normal. Her dreams continue, her friendships continue, even though she herself has changed. But the change isn’t all bad: she’s stronger. She’s braver. She’s more determined and more vulnerable. And she realizes that she’s still surrounded by people who love her.
Questions from HMC’s Son
HMC’s Son: What was your favorite part of this book to write?
LL: Great question! My favorite part to write was the scene in the basement of the funeral home. I won’t give it away, but it was delightfully gruesome and fun to imagine!
HMC’s Son: What did you like most about Quinn?
LL: Another great question! I like that Quinn is flawed. She lies. She hides the truth. She hides her true feelings. But these are things that normal 12 year olds do. And by the end of the book, she makes things right.
HMC’s Son: This book is the beginning of a series. Can you give us any hints about what is coming up next for Quinn and Mike?
LL: The next book in the series is called THE COLLECTORS, and it comes out next fall. It follows Quinn once again as she and Mike launch into a new supernatural investigation – but I don’t want to give too much away! 😊 I can say that it picks up directly where THE STITCHERS leaves off.
Stitchers Fan Art, by Elle Jauffret
Eternal Youth, Monsters, and Witches
HMC: Another interesting theme in your book is about the eternal quest for youth … and how it can make people do strange things. (!!) What takeaways do you think this element in your plot has for the middle-grade reader?
I think I was inspired by the day-old conundrum of kids wanting to be older, and adults wanting to be younger. In reality, we need to just learn to appreciate where we are in the moment.
HMC: In this book, I found lots of literary and theater connections, from Frankenstein to the Crucible. Did any of those influence your writing?
LL: Oh my gosh, I’m thrilled that you noticed! YES! I’ve always been taken with Frankenstein and The Crucible – really the whole idea that society creates the monsters, not the other way around.
Open Mic Question
HMC: What do you want us to know about The Stitchers that we haven’t asked?
LL: A quick fun fact: I have tiny clues hidden in THE STITCHERS and THE COLLETORS that hint towards future books in the series!
THE PANDEMIC QUESTIONS
HMC: I’ve begun a new line of pandemic questions in all my interviews because I’m curious about how we as kidlit authors are going to handle the pandemic in our writing going forward. You’re a middle school teacher in New England – will you be going back into the classroom to teach this fall, or will you be teaching virtually?
LL: As of right now, I still don’t know where or how I will be teaching. I am assuming that I’ll be teaching virtually as I did in the spring. I’m from Connecticut, and our state got hit with the virus early, so my school closed in early March and remained closed for the year. Whatever I end up doing, I’ll try to make the best of it!
HMC: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your writing life?
LL: I grew up with (and still struggle) with anxiety, and writing has always been a coping mechanism for me. So I’ve actually been writing a lot! I wrote two new manuscripts during quarantine. I don’t know if these books will ever see the light of day, but it helps me to throw myself in a made-up world when times are scary.
HMC: Will Quinn and Mike have pandemic related conversations in your new book?
LL: This is a great question! I honestly don’t know the answer! They won’t be talking about it in the first two books in the series, but if I’m able to publish more adventures of Quinn and Mike, I’ll have to have a serious think about what to do with that. Maybe I’ll ask my students if they would be interested in reading about something so scary and recent. I’m sure they’ll have strong opinions either way!
((More about pandemic writing in this archived post on Writing Prompts for a Pandemic))
HMC: Thanks so much, Lorien. Congratulations on your debut and best of luck to you!
Lorien Lawrence is a writer and middle school English teacher from Connecticut. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found hunting ghosts with her family. The Stitchers is her debut novel.