Posts Tagged scary stories

Spooky, Scary Stitchers

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.

The Stitchers Cover

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

                                                                                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!

Debut Author Lorien Lawrence

Lorien Lawrence

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.

Where to find the Stitchers:

  1. Bookshop.org
    1. Click on this link, then search for THE STITCHERS — or any other book.
  2. Amazon

Editor Spotlight: Hannah Allaman, Disney-Hyperion

What do we mean by Middle Grade?

Hi Hannah, thanks for joining us to talk about your editorial work at Disney-Hyperion. To jump right in: My friends and I have an ongoing debate about what makes a book middle grade. It gets complicated when MG books in the US sell as adult in the UK, or books written as adult get slotted as MG (I know two debuts this year that fit that bill), or when very well received MG books don’t really read as typical MG. I think of novels like Wolf Hollow, which breaks the MG “rules” when the grown-up narrator appears to be telling a story about her distant 12-year-old self. Or a book like Quicksand Pond, where a good bit of the story is narrated from the perspective of a very old woman. So what makes middle grade middle grade?

To me, middle grade is all about that coming of age moment where you’re discovering your own autonomy and independence in complicated ways—those moments when you start taking ownership, making new friendships and exploring new interests, even discovering that your loved ones are flawed and that life isn’t always fair.

Positioning a book a certain way and for a certain audience can be rather subjective, but when I think about my overall list of middle grade titles, I tend to think about hope and humor. Even if it’s not a “funny” book, I think there’s often a sense of levity or lightness in the middle grade space that balances out darker themes kids may be interested in exploring, as well as an ultimate note of hope to buoy the story for younger audiences.

One of my middle grade titles, THE BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon, is a novel that sits on the cusp of middle grade and adult because of the heartbreaking topics it explores, but its central thread of hope and friendship feels just right for a middle grade audience.

And related to this, what ever happened to that hot “tween” category we used to hear about? There’s been a lot of convo on social media about the need for “younger YA” that might ride close to the line of “upper MG.” What’s your take on that nebulous readership? Are their needs being addressed?

I’m always, always looking for titles that reach those hinge readers who are moving between categories, because I do think there are gaps where we have greater likelihood of losing readers. We’re publishing more and more into that upper middle grade space with characters who are 13-14, but I think there’s still so much room for younger middle grade that captures readers transitioning out of chapter books (particularly stories with an emphasis on play and imagination), as well as in that younger YA space (especially stories that focus on friendship in those late middle school/early high school years). Those in-between audiences can be hard to capture, but I’m always on the hunt for stories that fill those gaps and meet readers’ needs at all stages.

Hannah’s Middle Grade Wish List

Every genre has trends. Are there any trends now that excite you? Are there any possible trends in MG that you dearly wish will soon have their moment?

I’m really hoping middle grade horror has its moment! There are some incredible new horror selections on shelves—I just finished THE DARKDEEP, by Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, and I just got my hands on the audiobook of SMALL SPACES, by Katherine Arden. I grew up on a steady diet of R.L. Stine and would love for that type of accessible horror to make a comeback. For me, I think it’s all about that nailing that creepy commercial hook while still delivering a story that’s super voice-driven. I would love to find a horror story that uses a childhood game as a device, like truth or dare—so chilling and creepy and fun!

I also think witches are having a major moment—anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with witches. I like to say that I’m acquiring my own literary coven. But I honestly think they’re cropping up in so many different iterations, from seriously dark to sweet and bubbly. I’m absolutely looking for a charming, whimsical witchy chapter book or young middle grade novel!

I adore this recent crop of voicey, character-driven contemporary middle grade novels with a focus on sports—I loved ROLLER GIRL, by Victoria Jamieson, THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander, and SO DONE, by Paula Chase, and I can’t wait to get my hands on NIKKI ON THE LINE, by Barbara Carroll Roberts. (Give me a MG cheerleading book that engages with the sport on a similar level as E.K. Johnston’s YA novel, EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR!) Also on the contemporary MG side, I think aspirational, high concept music stories are having a moment. From country to K-pop, stories about kids breaking into the music industry seem to be—oh no, I’m going to do it, I’m going to make a pun—hitting all the right notes.

Hook + Voice = Love

What’s the biggest factor that decides you to give a thumbs up on a book. Is it voice? Concept? What do you consider “fixable” and what isn’t?

I look for that perfect marriage of voice and concept—I want a big, fresh, stand-out hook to reel me in, but it’s really the strong voice and complex family relationships and friendships at the heart of a story that make me want to champion it. Sense of place is also something that can tip the scales of a story for me—I adore immersive, specific settings that become their own character (like in THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET, by Karina Yan Glaser). And particularly in middle grade, I want stakes, both emotional and larger-scale, that take the reader seriously.

To me, if a story has an unforgettable voice, anything else is potentially fixable. That doesn’t always mean that it’s ready for our acquisitions process; in fact, most of my R&R requests come from stories with exceptional voices/prose that need structural and pacing work. As an editor, I can help develop and shape so much about a story, but it’s gotta have that intangible, special, authentic voice at its heart.

How intensive is the editorial work you do with authors? Would you sign a book that was a long way away from being “ready to go”?

My authors will tell you I’ve been known to write some ridiculously long editorial letters. J Once I’ve acquired a project, I love taking a deep dive into developmental edits; I usually send an initial 10-15 page letter, followed by a shorter round focusing on pacing and any final character development notes, and then line edits. My style is super conversational, though, and I love the collaborative nature of revisions; I often come up with a lot of specific ideas to get our conversations going, but to me it’s all about finding the solutions that feel right for the story together.

Our acquisitions process is pretty rigorous; both the editorial team and the larger acquisitions group, including sales, marketing, and publicity, have to be excited about a project in order to move forward with it. (This is great in the long run, because our titles have a built in fan base when we bring them to our launch and sales conferences!) Because of that process, though, it’s hard for me to sign up something that’s a long way from being ready.

That said, I’m a huge fan of R&Rs—I have two that I ended up acquiring and are now on my upcoming 2020 slate! Especially because I’m a young editor who’s still building my list, I’m always looking for those exciting seeds of potential that I can help shape, and it’s thrilling to find an author who’s a skilled reviser and eager to partner with me on our shared vision for the manuscript.

What’s the toughest thing you have to do as an editor?

Honestly, R&Rs that ultimately don’t work out are heartbreaking for everyone, including me. It’s tough to fall in love with something that still needs more time to bake before it’s ready, so to speak, or just isn’t right for my overall list, even though I see its potential. But I cheer for them extra-loud when they do find their perfect homes!

Hannah’s 2019+ Middle Grade List

Can you introduce some of the MG titles you’re publishing this year, including my terrific 2019 debut mate Shauna Barnes Holyoak? What drew you to these titles?

I have such an amazing group of MG titles this year! Here are my highlights (but be warned, I could talk about these books for ages):

The Secrets of Topsea series, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats: In January, we published the second book in the Secrets of Topsea series (THE EXTREMELY HIGH TIDE!), which follows a zany group of fifth graders in a fictional, topsy-turvy coastal town. These books are SO weird (think Wayside School meets the Nightvale podcast) and so full of heart, and I adore their original formats, including narrative/character-driven chapters, newspaper articles, journal entries, and more.

The Click’d series, by Tamara Ireland Stone: We also published the second book in the Click’d series (SWAP’D) in February. Crushes and coding—what more could you want in a MG novel?! Most of all, I love the complex, authentic friendships at the heart of these stories. And the covers, illustrated by Jameela Wahlgren, are seriously the CUTEST.

KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS, by Shauna Holyoak: Okay, you already know this MG mystery stole my heart! Not only are there tons of cute pups (I cannot get enough of Genki and his doggy nests!), but there’s also an amazing mother-daughter relationship, seriously high stakes that had me on the edge of my seat, and an incredible ensemble cast of fifth graders who have all the spunk and persistence of the Scooby Gang.

MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET, by K. E. Ormsbee: I’m cheating a little bit, because this one comes out January 2020, but I love it so much that I have to talk about it. J Imagine if all the kids in STRANGER THINGS had Eleven’s powers—that’s MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET. I love the way the author uses these strange new powers to encapsulate both the extraordinary and extraordinarily tough aspects of being a middle schooler. Also, the kids are on a glowboarding team, which is the coolest sport that doesn’t (yet) exist—think sci-fi roller derby!

How long have you been tap dancing and what got you into it? I just met another MG editor who’s a tap dancer, and one of the characters in my WIP is too. Is something in the air?

Ooh, I hope so! I’ve been tap dancing since I was two. My mom put me in a combination class in hopes that I’d become a ballerina, but it didn’t take. I did competition tap in elementary/middle school and was obsessed with being on stage. One of my favorite tap solos was “I’m Getting Good at Being Bad” from the 102 Dalmatians soundtrack (the one with Glenn Close). My mom made my costume, which was held together with black & white sequins and hot glue.

I mostly stopped tapping in high school but picked it back up in college, in that way you sort of rediscover things you did as a kid that were actually really cool when you’re in college. I ended up taking classes with Margaret Morrison (including tap history courses, which were the absolute coolest for a tap nerd like me) and joining an on-campus tap group. Now I still occasionally take classes at the American Tap Dance Foundation!

All of which is to say, I’m desperate to find a book with a character who tap dances! (Honestly, dance of any kind, but bring on the tap!) We actually published an adorable tap picture book by Tim Federle called TOMMY CAN’T STOP! in 2015, which I highly recommend, but I’m hungry for a MG tap novel.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Hannah! Best of luck to you and all your middle grade books this year!

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hallaman13,  and look for her on Manuscript Wish List @ManuscriptWList and Manuscriptwishlist.com.

Spooky Roundtable: Oh, The Horror!

To honor the very scary month of October, we asked five frightening fiction writers (well, their books are, anyway) to talk about writing novels sure to give middle grade readers the willies.

Marina Cohen is an elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in French literature; she’s the author of several award-nominated middle grade and upper middle grade horror novels for children and young teens including THE INN BETWEEN, THE DOLL’S EYE, GHOST RIDE, and coming in 2019, A BOX OF BONES.

Josh Berk has written four books for kids and teens. Author Saundra Mitchell is his co-author for the comic horror story CAMP MURDERFACE, due out Spring of 2020, about two kids who go to a camp in 1980s Ohio that has a mysterious and terrifying past that refuses to stay buried.

Robert Kent writes middle grade novels under the name Rob Kent: BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES and the upcoming BANNEKER BONES AND THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA.

Michael Dahl lives in a haunted house in Minnesota. He is the author of more than 100 books for kids, including the series LIBRARY OF DOOM, RETURN TO THE LIBRARY OF DOOM (too bad there wasn’t a Son of Library of Doom!). His new newest series is the SCHOOL BUS OF HORRORS.

S. A. Larsen loves to explore imaginary passageways to hidden worlds with all sorts of creepy creatures. She also thinks cemeteries are cool. Her work includes the award-winning middle grade fantasy-adventure MOTLEY EDUCATION, and she has just finished Book 2 in the series, DEAD ALLEY, which will be out next year.

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What made you want to write scary stories?

Michael: I’ve always read kids’ books, and still do. That’s my favorite area of literature. And I started horror because I myself am frightened of lots of things. Lots. From jewelry to airplanes to wet paper to monkeys. I knew I could draw on those strong emotions to write something real and genuine.

Marina: I think a story can be exceptionally creepy when told through the point of view of a young protagonist. There’s a greater contrast when you juxtapose innocence with evil, don’t you think? Although my novels are middle-grade, beware—my stories can have some pretty dark elements.

S.A.: I’ve always been drawn to the intrigue that lies beneath the surface of scary books and films. I guess it made me feel brave. Plus, I love cemeteries. In high school, I’d walk around our local cemetery taking in all the names of those who’d passed on and wonder who they were and what kind of life they led. Of course, my mind would play tricks on me, making me think I saw something move from a nearby tree or gravestone. And crypts have always fascinated me. We think we know what’s in there, but do we really?

Rob: The scarier stories were always my favorites growing up. Scary stories aren’t always good, but they’re rarely boring. Now that I’m an adult writing books for kids, I’m mindful to write the books I would’ve most wanted to read when I was a kid dreaming of growing up to write books for kids. Not to compare myself to J.K. Rowling (dream on, self), but I think some of the scariest books for MG readers are the Harry Potter books. I always thought the scariest thing in the whole series was that Ron’s pet rat was secretly a grown man in disguise for years sleeping in his room.

Why do you think kids like to be scared?

S.A.: There are a lot of areas of real life that can be scary. I think being spooked with fictional horror can feel safe and even funny at times for kids. The anticipation of what’s coming next is a big draw. It feels like risk-taking, thus making them feel brave. I remember watching scary movies with my best friend in junior high. We’d hold pillows to our faces in anticipation of what was coming, scream once it came, and then laugh silly right after.

Marina: It’s fun! That is, for those of us who enjoy heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat-thrills. Truthfully, I believe there is science behind it. (I love science and fit it into my stories whenever I can!) It has to do with neurotransmitters and the hormones released when the body feels fear. You can get a huge rush out of feeling scared when your brain actually knows you’re completely safe. For some people, being scared simply makes them happy.

Josh: Life is scary, so if things get really scary in the book/movie/whatever but then work out okay, that can give you hope for life doing the same. It’s controlled fear, fun like roller coasters. If you felt like a roller coaster would actually kill you, I think attendance at amusement parks would be much lower. That’s just a guess, as I can’t go on roller coasters, as anything spinnier than an office chair makes me barf. (Also please don’t spin my office chair too quickly.)

Rob: There are very real reasons to be afraid of the world and anxious about our tenuous position in it. Lots of bad things could happen to us at any minute and from time to time, they do. Whatever our problems are, usually they’re not as bad as someone being chased and possibly devoured by a monster. And if your problems are that bad, you should be running to safety, not reading.

Who/what is the scariest character in your book?

Michael: In the School Bus of Horrors it’s the bus. And the bus driver. This strange bus shows up at different schools on different days, maybe for a field trip, or it’s the after-school bus, or it might be the bus taking the high school football team home from an away game. No one can really see the driver. He sits behind an opaque, plastic security wall around the driver seat.

I’m sure the book is super scary, but the cover for FRIDAY NIGHT HEADLIGHTS totally cracked me up.

S.A.: Seeing how MOTLEY EDUCATION utilizes creatures from Norse mythology, some readers might think it’s the fire giant that chases the kids through the boneyard (aka cemetery) or the ginormous serpent that invades Motley’s gymnasium. Maybe even Fenrir the wolf, whose paws are the size of small trucks. But I’d say it’s the doors that keep appearing to Ebony Charmed, the main character. She never knows what she’ll find behind each door.

Josh: In CAMP MURDERFACE, there are ghosts and murders and a near drowning in a pit of dry bones. But the scariest thing has to be the Vampire Devils. I honestly don’t like talking about them too much as I have sort of convinced myself that they are real, and I am afraid of them.

Marina: I try to layer my stories with all sorts of creepy characters and concepts. What kids find scary in my stories is not as scary for adults. What adults find most frightening seems to slip past my young audience. In THE INN BETWEEN, young readers find the basement scene and the character they discover there creepiest. Adults find Emma’s disappearance far more frightening, as it’s unfortunately far more real. Similarly, in THE DOLL’S EYE, young readers find the kobold and the dolls scary, whereas adults know it’s definitely the father character who is creepiest.

Rob: The giant robot bees in Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. I’ve been unusually afraid of bees since I was a kid and I’ve long had a recurring nightmare about being chased by all-metal bees the size of cars. They’re the scariest monsters in any of my books for any age group, and Banneker Bones is the only character I’ve written about who’s brave enough to face them (with a jet pack and smoke bombs and a bunch of gadgets).

What was deliciously scary for you as a kid?

S.A.: We used to spend summers up to camp when I was a kid. Our nights consisted of a fire, roasting marshmallows, and playing hide and seek. I loved playing hide and seek in the creepy woods.

Josh: I was a very anxious child (and adult) and to be honest don’t really know what “deliciously scary” feels like. I know it’s a thing that other people have experienced but I do not recall such a feeling.

Marina: I’ve been drawn to scary things ever since I can remember. My mother used to read to me from an old book of German fairytales that were pretty dark. Even at a super young age my favorite Saturday morning cartoon was Scooby-Doo. But I’d say what frightened me most as a kid—and even now as and adult—was what was not said. Not seen. What was left to the dark recesses of my imagination. In seventh grade my teacher took our class to see a high school performance of The Monkey’s Paw. That slow knock, knock, knock leaving me to imagine what might await me on the other side of the door was most deliciously frightening.

Oh my gosh, I had the same experience with my mom reading me The Monkey’s Paw!

Rob: The Witches by Roald Dahl. I can’t imagine anything scarier than being a boy trapped in the back of a hotel conference room and discovering the women occupying it are actually witches (unless they were bees disguised as witches). I’ve written a long review on my love for that book and discussed it in a podcast.

Michael: I loved monster movies: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, Godzilla. The Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys in Oz. And I was a huge fan of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” My cousins and I watched that TZ episode one night with William Shatner trapped on the plane with a monster out on the wing — “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — Yikes! We watched it at my cousins’ house, which was a former logger boarding house in the middle of nowhere in northern Minnesota. Nothing around but miles and miles of fields and trees. And anything lurking in the darkness.

That particular TZ episode has stuck with me for oh, half a century now. I still sometimes think I’ll see that creature when I’m flying at night!

What was too scary for you as a kid?

Josh: Oh, everything.

Rob: I was frightened of Darth Vadar, the Audry II from Little Shop of Horrors, and even Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I was embarrassingly easy to frighten, which probably led me to writing horror as an adult. Horror is more fun when you get to be the one doing all the scaring. Scares you receive when you’re a child stay with you the rest of your life. Writing scary stories for kids is a big responsibility.

S.A.: One night when I was eight or nine years old, I tiptoed downstairs to catch a glimpse of the scary movie my mom was watching. It was The Shining by Stephen King. She was pretty angry when she found me, and I think I slept in my parent’s room for a week after that.

Michael: I watched an old TV movie about the pharaohs and the building of the pyramids. At the end of the movie, an evil queen gets trapped, buried alive inside the pyramid by giant slabs of stone blocking all the passageways. I was sure a stone slab was going to come down through my doorway and trap me forever in my bedroom! I still get nightmares about that.

Writing horror for middle grade, how do you tell when scary becomes too scary?

Josh: I am a bad judge of this because as I might have mentioned, everything is too scary for me. I was legit terrified by ARE YOU MY MOTHER? as a kid. Is it just me? Probably. But that bird loses his mom and then his mind?! No, a lion is not your mother, bird–you’re a bird. Neither is a construction vehicle. You are clearly delusional and mad with grief. He seems forever destined to wander around as a deranged orphan.Who wrote this, Cormac McCarthy? The happy ending doesn’t make up for all the trauma, P.D. Eastman!

Marina: Not every book is right for every kid, and not every kid enjoys scary things. But those who do can handle more than adults often give them credit for. Readers bring their own experience to a book, and adults can forget they bring with them a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world than younger readers who experience the darker concepts at a far more superficial level. What you won’t find in my books is graphic violence and gore or language and content inappropriate for middle grade readers. What I promise is more than a few shudders and shivers and hopefully some deeper messages to ponder about life and death, survival, tradition, choices and consequences, bravery, and humanity.

S.A.: I tend to write these scenes with more creepy description than action, which feels safer, and I always interject humorous dialog from the characters to balance out the horror or scary parts. I also make sure to give the characters an obvious way out or rescue from the scene, even though I rarely let the characters use it. This comforts the reader that the characters will somehow make it out.

Michael: There are certain things I decide outright that I will not include in a scary story. Kidnappings, gore, abusive parents, anything to do with the Slender Man. This is my own personal list of taboos. I don’t have a lot of pain in my stories. They are creepy and chilling and unsettling and sometimes, gross. But I make sure to not cross the lines that I have set for myself. And I visit schools throughout the country, so I can talk with students, and most importantly librarians and teachers, to see how the kids are reacting to my books. So far, so good. And at every school, when I ask the kids if they want to hear a scary story, from Kindergarten to 6th grade, they all raise their hands!

Find these chilling authors on Twitter:
Josh & Saundra:@joshberkbooks @SaundraMitchell
Marina @marinacohen
SA @SA_Larsen
Rob(ert) Kent @MGNinja