Posts Tagged #spookymg

An Illustrated Novel For The Spooky Season – NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS – Interview With Kory Merritt

‘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.

Willow and HeckbenderMeet 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?

 

The Book📙Book - NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS

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.

Interview🎩

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.Mending Heart 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.

Creative FunCrayon

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.

Haha! Perfect.

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 MerrittKory 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!

Want more illustrated or graphic novels for middle grade readers? Here are a few past posts that will help! LINK & LINK

Share your thoughts on Kory’s new book! We’d love to know.

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