Posts Tagged Jonathan Rosen

Scary Stories Via Podcast – Halloween Isn’t Just for Books

creeping hour logo

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.

Jonathan Rosen, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies

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 Podcast

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.

Orson Wells narrates the War of the Worlds

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.”

creeping hour logo

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.

The Creeps:

The Creeping Hour Hosts

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:

Listen here.

Thanks so much, Elie; it’s been a pleasure.

And … HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all our MUF creeps!

 

Elie Lichtschein

Podcast Author E.ie Lichtschein

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

Two Book Giveaway and Interview With Jonathan Rosen

I’m thrilled to interview Mixed-Up Files member Jonathan Rosen and celebrate the release of his middle grade novel, From Sunset Till Sunrise. Huge congratulations, Jonathan! I’d love to know how you came up with the idea for From Sunset Till Sunrise and some of the changes your story went through before publication.  

Hi Mindy!

The idea for From Sunset Till Sunrise, was actually just a continuation of the ending of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. When I wrote Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, I did so with the intent/hope that it might become a series. At least, I left open the possibility, by ending it by mentioning there might be a vampire moving in. I just loved working in this genre of horror/humor and hoped to continue. It’s a lot of fun taking horror tropes and twisting them. When Sky Pony talked about a sequel, it was before Cuddle Bunnies even came out. So, there was some discussion about what to make the next book about, but since the ending already had vampires, and they liked it, we just went with it.

Cuddle Bunnies played with movies like Gremlins and Fright Night, and From Sunset Till Sunrise also uses Fright Night, but there’s a lot of From Dusk Till Dawn and other vampire movies in there, as well.

As far as changes, there really weren’t too many, though I did go back and forth on who the main villain would be. But, there weren’t many others.

 

I read and loved the first book in this series, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, and will never look at stuffed animals the same way again. I plunged into From Sunset Till Sunrise, excited to see Devin, Tommy, and Abby again, and noticed that you gave just enough information for new readers to quickly catch up on what’s been happening in Gravesend. Can you share some tips for writing a series?

I think series are fun, but challenging. In From Sunset Till Sunrise, I alluded to what happened in Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, but never specified. That way, the sequel could stand on its own for new readers. They didn’t have to read the first one. But, if you did read the first one, there was still enough of a continuation for you to get references that new readers wouldn’t. When references are mentioned, the series reader can just smile and know exactly what is meant, but the newbie still has an idea.

It’s definitely tricky. Because, now we have established characters. Even though I did reintroduce them, and you get an idea of their personalities, it’s extra fun if you’ve already gone on the ride before. You amp up what they did the first time around, which for me, I loved pushing Tommy even further.

 

Tommy had so many zany ideas in the first book, I didn’t think it was possible to push him even further—but you definitely did that! You also let us see a lot more of spunky Abby in this book, which was awesome.

Your books are so funny—and you often make me laugh on Facebook and Twitter, too. When did you realize you had a great sense of humor, and how has it helped you?

Does it sound immodest to come here and say, “I always knew I was funny”? Well, I did! ? But, kidding aside, humor was/is a huge part of my life. Most of my family had good senses of humor. My immediate family and my uncle, as well. And, those are the types of movies and books that I gravitated to. As a kid, I watched so many old comedies with my dad, and they really were a great way to learn things like timing, and set-ups. Humor has always been a part of my life, and as you said, it has helped me, since I was very shy, quiet, and nerdy. And, like a lot of people with the same traits, humor was a self-defense mechanism. You’re not getting picked on, if you’re making people laugh. Well, that is if you’re not making a flippant remark that gets someone angry. ? As you get older, your humor starts standing out for different reasons. You start getting noticed for it, in good ways.

 

You not only have humor, you have a lot of heart, too. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse of your childhood and why humor is such a big part of your life.

 

Between your humor and the surprising spooky elements, your books are awesome for everyone, including reluctant readers. They’re fast-paced fun reads! Do you have any advice for anyone who is trying to encourage kids to read?

Thanks for saying! First, I always let kids read what they want. I wasn’t a reluctant reader, but I read everything. Books, comics, magazines, etc. As long as someone is reading, I think that’s great. I have a reluctant reader at home, and quick chapters, with funny, fast-paced action, seems to work.

 

I love the creative ways Devin and Tommy protect themselves in your books—including bubble wrap, water balloons, and Super Soakers. This could definitely inspire teachers, media specialists, and parents to ask kids to write the creations they’d come up with if they were sucked into an adventure with Devin and Tommy. Any suggestions for a writing exercise they can use?    

Writing for Devin and Tommy is one of the most fun things about this series. As I said earlier, it’s fun to take the regular tropes and twist them in a fun way. I made a list of so many things, and I wound up using only a small portion them. The key is to look up all the tropes for a particular monster or myth and see what you can do to substitute or replace any of them. In From Sunset Till Sunrise, Devin and Tommy are facing vampires without Holy Water around, so they had to improvise. A little garlic powder mixed into water balloons did the trick there, but look at the tropes and play with them. See what you can come up with.

 

That sounds like a fun writing exercise! I’d love to see the inventions kids come up with.

What type of research have you had to do when writing middle grade novels?

I am sooooo big on research. Names, myths, lore, everything. In my books, a lot of the characters also have names which mean things. Including the vampires. But, I do like to research everything I can while writing. Geography, history, etc. I researched all the ways to be able to defeat certain monsters. The characteristics of monsters. I want to take the familiar and mix them up.

 

What are you working on now?

My agent is starting to take something else out on sub, while I’m in the middle of another two humorous, middle grade books.

 

Ooh, I can’t wait to hear more about them when you can share. We need more of your amazing humorous middle grade books! Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

I just want them to know that I’m grateful for them. Seriously. I get such a rush out of knowing that someone is enjoying my book. It means everything to me. Also, please feel free to reach out. I have usually answered most messages.

Hopefully, I’ll have some news to share soon about other works of mine!

Thanks again, Mindy!

 

You’re welcome, Jonathan. I loved reading your books and interviewing you.

Find out more about Jonathan on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  You can also read Jonathan’s interview when Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies was released. 

Enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win a signed copy of both Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset Till Sunrise. Thank you so much for this generous giveaway, Jonathan!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.

That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.

 

From Sunset Till Sunrise

Devin Dexter and his cousin Tommy just saved the city of Gravesend from the menace of magical, malicious Cuddle Bunnies brought to life by the warlock, Herb. But there’s no rest for the wicked, as a new mysterious neighbor moves in across the street. At night. With a coffin. Tommy immediately jumps to conclusions as he thinks this can only mean one thing: Vampires.

Devin isn’t so quick to believe, as he is struck by the neighbor’s daughter, a girl his age. Even though Tommy points out that they have never seen her during the day. Yet when she invites him to a dance at her school–the Nosfer Academy of Talented Understudies–how can Devin say no? Tommy, though, realizes that this is an opportunity. After tackling a wizard last winter, surely they can protect Gravesend from some measly vampires, right?

 

The winner will be announced on Sunday, August 26. This giveaway is open to anyone in the U.S.  Good luck, everyone. 🙂