‘Tis the #spookymg season, Mixed-Up Files Family! I’m excited to welcome Kory Merritt, author and illustrator of a super creepy new novel, NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS, for an interview, today.
Meet Willow & Heckbender ~ Monsters
This is one of the first images I saw related to NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS. Just look at these two character monsters! And they’re reading books. 💚#thud-lud, #thud-lud
Kind of explains the reason I couldn’t resist chatting with their creator, right?
But I must warn you. Be patient as you scroll through this interview for more illustrations await you – even a page or two from within the book. It’s amazingly written and illustrated with all the shrills and shrieks the October season beckons for . . . and spooky readers adore.
Let’s take a peek, shall we?
In this spellbinding, lavishly illustrated story that Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney calls “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” two unlikely friends face down their worst fears in order to stop their small town—and themselves—from disappearing.
Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood.
Nothing ever seems out of place in the safe, suburban town of Cowslip Grove. Lawns are neatly mowed, sidewalks are tidy, and the sounds of ice cream trucks fill the air. But now . . . kids have been going missing—except no one even realizes it, because no one remembers them. Not their friends. Not their teachers. Not even their families.
But Levi and Kat do remember, and suddenly only they can see why everyone is in terrible danger when the night air rolls in. Now it is up to Levi and Kat to fight it and save the missing kids before it swallows the town whole.
Welcome to our Mixed-Up Files home, Kory! We’re excited to have you stop by. I have to start by asking you: NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS has all sorts of spookiness oozing from the pages. Did you like spooky stories as a kid? If so, why do you think you did? Any favorites?
Oh, yes! I’ve always loved spooky stories. As a kid, my favorite book characters were always the creatures—Gollum from The Hobbit, the sea-rats from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. Even as an adult, I still love reading books with strange and imaginative monsters: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Jumbies series by Tracey Baptiste, numerous classics by legends like Stephen King and Tananarive Due. Now more than ever, it’s fun to escape to monster land.
Would you give us a peek into this story in five words?
“Lost kids battle memory monsters.”
Ooh . . . now, what made writing this story spooky and fun, but also important to you?
Much of the story revolves around stolen memories and forgetting—or being forgotten by—loved ones. My grandmother, who died two years ago, suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it was horrific to see the disease steal her memories and entire identity. NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS is mostly creepy-fun (I hope), but there is that memory-loss angle that is a bit deeper, I think. So that was important.
I’m very sorry about your grandmother. I’m sure many families will relate to this.
Did you set out to create an illustrated middle grade book? Did the images come first, the writing, the characters . . .? Briefly share this process, please. We’d love to know!
I used to be an elementary school art teacher, and I wrote and illustrated stories and comics for fun. They were published on a syndicate site called GoComics. The creatures and basic story that became NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS originally appeared on GoComics in 2011 and 2012. I think the creatures came first—they usually do. I was obviously inspired by Stephen King books I’d read as a kid, plus the Neil Gaiman stuff I was reading at the time. I met the amazing superstar agent Dan Lazar through my work with the game site Poptropica and its book series. He encouraged me to try my own spooky kids’ story. So I dug up the old GoComics stories and he and my awesome editor helped me shape them into what would become NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS.
Wow, this is super interesting! What an author/illustrator’s journey you’ve had. It’s well-known that middle grade readers love stories that scare them. But there needs to be more to create a successful story. What’s the more in NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS?
I hope the memory-loss angle hits hard. Family members forgetting you can be a terrifying concept. Also, I like that the two main kid characters, Levi and Kat, are not friends at first—they have issues. Both of them have social trouble, and they both have to work together because of circumstance. They have a lot of difficulties with each other.
There’s plenty of mystery going on in Cowslip Grove, the location of this story. What would you say makes the mystery these kids have to solve unique?🔍
I guess the mystery becomes extra difficult for the kids because no one remembers them, their own town is no longer welcoming and views them as strangers, and familiar faces and places are now strange and untrustworthy. And they are being stalked by bogeys that no one else can see.
I must go back to the artwork. It’s fabulously done! What is your favorite part of illustrating in general and then for this story?
Thank you! Oh, I love drawing strange creatures, wildlife, old trees, rocks. I tried to squeeze a lot of tiny details into the rocks. Some of the book’s unanswered questions are actually answered (or at least hinted at) through tiny hidden fossils and lichen shapes in the rocks.
(*#Teachers, #Librarians – your students are going to totally fall for this book.) Here’s a few illustrations:
Would you please share a little about your main characters and why you believe middle grade readers will relate to them.
The two main kid characters, Levi and Kat, both have a lot of social interaction difficulties. Levi is very introverted and doesn’t like leaving his home or being with anyone but his sister. Kat has trouble controlling her emotions, has outbursts, and frustrates most people around her. They aren’t friends at the start, but are quickly forced out of their comfort zones when strange things happen to their lives. They make a lot of mistakes along the way. They’re brave, but also scared. I think a lot of middle grade readers could relate to one or both of them.
What do you hope readers take with them once they’ve finished the book?
A little strangeness can be a good thing. Appreciate weird creatures. And excessive lawncare is ridiculous—stop using weedkiller.
For our writing readers, any advice for writing spooky stories?
Read, write, and draw as much as possible! Read lots of books: prose books, books with lots of pictures, books with no pictures. Books by a wide variety of authors. Books outside your comfort zone. Write and draw and try to get things published locally. You’ll write and draw stuff that will be embarrassing in a few years, but hopefully you’ll have developed and honed your style. And have fun! You should love writing and drawing even if only a few people see it.
For scary stuff . . . I don’t know. I guess think about the stuff that creeps you out and try to create your own twist on it?
A silly scenario:
a. You’re in a dark alley with monsters lurking toward you. You notice a small box at your feet. Opening the box, you find chalk in all colors. What do you draw to get you out of this mess?
Oooh! I take out the chalk and start to draw an elaborately detailed cephalopod that will no doubt awe the monsters and inspire them to drop and worship the Supreme Chalk Squid. But as usual, I get carried away with the details, miss my window of opportunity, and the monsters eat me before I finish.
Oh my! This is hilarious. *snorts . . . then apologizes*
Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you care to share with our readers?
I’m doing another book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Fall 2021. It’s a follow-up to No Place for Monsters, with some of the same characters, and plenty of new creatures. It’s set in a haunted school. As a former art teacher, I find the school setting easy to write about. Much of it is told through “found footage”—illustrations seen through the view of cameras and phones. Sort of like an illustrated Blair Witch Project. It’s experimental. Hope it works!
This sounds fabulous! Thank you for sharing your monsters and humor with us. Your wisdom and joy for reading and writing is inspiring.
All the best from your Mixed-Up Files Family.
About the Author
Kory Merritt—a former public school art teacher from Rochester, NY—enjoys drawing and writing (and reading) strange stories, strolling through old forests, and peeking under rocks for weird creatures. Keep up with Kory: Website | Instagram | Twitter
As Promised . . . two pages from NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS!
Share your thoughts on Kory’s new book! We’d love to know.