Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado
“When Clara woke up Saturday morning, the dolls were staring at her with their cold, lifeless eyes.” —First line Maybe There are Witches.
I’m a sucker for a great opening line. When I read this one, I knew I had to read Maybe There are Witches. The imagery has prepared me to read a great spooky fantasy. Getting to know this debut author was even more of a treat.
MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES
First, a little about the book:
A middle school girl moves to a small town and discovers that her great-great-great grandmother was executed there for witchcraft in the 1800s. After she finds a message addressed to her in a century-old book, she realizes that she and her two new friends must stop a deadly catastrophe predicted by a 19th-century witch. But as their adventure takes them through historic cemeteries, rural libraries, and high-octane academic bowl tournaments, something sinister is lurking, watching, and waiting…
This is your first book and you’ve created a fast-paced, high stakes story, with witches. That’s amazing. What books influenced you as an author?
I’ve always liked middle-grade books that have a bit of a puzzle to them, where the story unfurls a little at a time.
One of my favorites growing up was Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, about a diverse group of characters in an apartment building who work in teams to win a rich man’s fortune.
I also loved the spooky Gothic mysteries that John Bellairs wrote, like The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
My mom was an English teacher, and one year for Christmas she gave me a copy of Louis Sachar’s Holes. I was a grown-up—I had just finished grad school, in fact—but she thought I’d like it. She was right; I loved it!
Like those authors–and many more–I try to write books that have a whimsical sense of narrative complexity, with pieces that you can uncover and wrap your head around little by little.
Lessons Learned as an Author
That helps me understand what brought you to write this particular book. Can you tell me what you learned in the process?
I’d like to say that I learned how to write a book quickly and easily, but I am working on my second novel now, and I regret to inform you that it’s like a whole new process. Figuring out who the characters are and what their journey will be is a lot like meeting new people and exploring a new place, all from scratch.
However, I did learn that a huge, huge task—like writing a novel—is achievable if you just keep at it. There was a time when I was about 1/3 finished with Maybe There Are Witches and it felt like I might never finish. I’d write when I found the time, for a few hours a day, but what I’d finished seemed so small compared to what I had left to do. And then I’d put in another day of writing, and another, and eventually, I had a book. (And then of course I had to rework it into a second draft, and then a third—but you get the picture!)
In your story, Clara is thirteen years old, and she’s moved more than once in the past few years. At the beginning of the book, she and her mother move from California to a very small village in Illinois, into a house they inherited from her grandmother. What was important about having Clara go to places she’d never been and work with people she didn’t know?
I think that as soon as we’re aware of other human beings, when we’re very, very young, we begin this journey of figuring out how to get to know other people. In some ways, this is how we get to know ourselves.
You’ve told us you like books with puzzles. The kids in your book go on a quest that involves some puzzling and deciphering. I bet you really like puzzles.
I do! I like all sorts of puzzles, especially word games. And I think a lot of reading and writing involves the elements of puzzles—of figuring out what something means, or figuring out which word fits in a particular place. Rhymes, puns, jokes, even telling someone about your day and trying to get the right tone—it all involves figuring out the right words that fit in the right place.
The past is a puzzle, too. Any time you want to understand something you weren’t present for, you’ve got to, basically, look for clues and evaluate the evidence. You can talk to people who were there, or read about history, or visit places where something happened. It’s all about finding the pieces to understand a mystery, when you think about it.
Dogs or Cats?
Finally, one question for fun—dogs or cats?
I should preface this by saying that I respect all animals. When I was growing up on the farm in Illinois, we had lots of pets. We had cats and dogs, tropical fish, a parakeet, a turtle, a lizard, and even a pet cow named Taffy.
That said, today my heart belongs to my dog Koko, a mixed-breed black-and-white rescue dog who weighs about twenty pounds. She is very smart, and very sleepy.
Learn more about Jude and his projects at:
Interested in reading more Spooky Fantasies, check out:
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
“An abundantly diverting mystery seasoned with mild fantasy and just a little steampunk.” – Kirkus
Thomas Creeper & the Gloomsbury Secret by J.R. Potter
“A delightfully dark story, hilariously and matter-of-factly morbid, that evokes a modern setting with a decidedly old-fashioned feel.” -Booklist
Freddie vs. the Family Curse by Tracy Badua
“A spirited fantasy enriched with Filipino culture and history.” – Kirkus
The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
“A Malaysian folk tale comes to life in this emotionally layered, chilling middle grade debut.” – HarperCollins
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
oraline by Neil Gaiman“A magnificently creepy fantasy pits a bright, bored little girl against a soul-eating horror that inhabits the reality right next door.” – Kirkus
If you’d like to learn more about writing spooky middle grade stories, check out this post.