Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Scares You?

So, what makes you shiver in the dark? What haunts your worst nightmares? Ghosts, zombies, serial killers, monsters, the undead? Or something worse?

Do you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath after reading scary stories? Huddle under the covers afraid to peek closely into the shadows? Do you keep the light on all night?

Leap Books introduces guest blogger, Courtney Warren, who tells about the scary stories that kept her awake as a child as well what scares her now. And she offers tips on how to write your own scary stories. We look forward to hearing more from Courtney, who will blog regularly with us.

So, What Scares Me?

As a kid I used to love reading scary stories late at night. I remember walking into my mom’s room and telling her I couldn’t sleep.

“Stop reading the book, Courtney,” she would say every night.

“I can’t! It’s so good!”

When I read that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz would be made into a movie, I was so excited. Even though it’s Christmas time, I still love a good scary story, so this news article was definitely welcomed. This also got me thinking—I’ve never tried to write a scary story before, so why are these stories so great? Can I do this?

Last summer I reread as many Goosebumps books as I could get my hands on and then watched the movies. I was at Hollins University for my very first summer in their graduate program and my interest level in all things YA (young adult) was through the roof.

Even as a 23-year-old adult, I still became terrified when Carly Beth couldn’t get the mask off on Halloween, and wanted to cry when the kids were locked in the medieval tower. I was terrified! More so while reading the books than while watching the movies.

So, after my Goosebumps obsession, when I saw that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark would be made into a movie, I immediately went to the library to get the book. However, I was a little disappointed. This was the book that left me so scared I had to sleep with my younger brothers, and yet when I read it….it seemed a little stupid.

In the beginning of the book, a story is written with cues for the storyteller like (now scream) or (now jump at one of your friends). The stories are pretty cut and dried with your basic witches, ghosts, ghouls, and axe murderers. As I read on, I really couldn’t understand what had scared me so badly as a child.

Then I turned the page and immediately figured it out. It was the illustrations, which were done by Stephen Gammell.

The stories are basic, run-of-the-mill scary stories that attack basic childhood fears, but it’s the illustrations that make you want to cry in the middle of the night for you mom.

So why is this series by Schwartz successful and just as memorable as Goosebumps by R.L. Stine?

I will definitely say hands down that Goosebumps was more popular and more successful in the long run, however, at the house of Stevens, Schwartz and Stine were my main obsessions.

So, let’s break it down.

So, What about Goosebumps?

Books turned into a television series and a few movies, the Goosebumps books are still around and going strong, with Stine writing the books that appear on the shelves. After rereading, I think a lot of this is because the stories are original, created by Stine himself and not something we have read before. Many of these stories deal with the supernatural – not something we can ever read about in a newspaper on a Sunday afternoon – and so these stories haunt our imaginations.

For more than twenty years, Stine has created new stories, taken his older stories and twisted them, and played with our imaginations in such a way that don't only draw in children. The classic Goosebumps do not have much blood and gore (from what I have read and remember), but they do have a lot of creepiness, jumping out, and detailed horror.

That’s what I realized about Goosebumps…the terror is in the details.

Stine shows us terrible things rather than tells us, so he is not only expanding the imaginations of youngsters, he’s also painting a horrifying picture. His books are for middle-grade and not YA, which is made clear through the interactions of the characters. Sometimes, as a writer, changing the way your characters react can change the level of your story.

For example, in The Haunted Mask, Carly Beth is picked on for being such a scaredy cat when her two friends at school play pranks on her. However, rather than scream and curse at them (YA), she cries and runs away (middle-grade). Also, when she vows revenge, her revenge isn’t to kill them—typical in a YA horror—but to SCARE them just like they have been doing to her.

Simple changes in writing can change the audience for your stories. The story is still scary, with a terrifying mask that attaches itself to the wearer and alters his or her personality, but remains appropriate for middle-grade readers because of the nature of the characters and the language.

So, What about Scary Stories?

Scary Stories seems to take a different angle. Schwartz plays on legends and folklore—stories that have been told for generations. However, he plays these stories down so the reading level is much different and appropriate for middle-grade.(Read some here.)

Rather than giving gruesome details about ripping a person’s guts out, Schwartz says they are dead. Simple and cut-to-the-chase (yet still terrifying) works here, especially when paired with Gammell’s illustrations. I stand by the fact that, although the stories were okay to me as an adult but terrifying when I was a child, it’s the illustrations that kept me from sleeping. The three books in this series written by Schwartz were banned and challenged often throughout the years, more so for the pictures rather than the stories.

I tutor a little girl every day and, when I checked this book out, I read her a story. She scares easily, so I stopped halfway through because I was pretty sure she couldn’t take anymore. I knew some of the pictures would have sent her over the edge.

The way these pictures are drawn, with long lines and a sketchy unfinished feel, makes them so creepy they are almost unbearable. With Gammell’s illustrations, the more you look, the more scared you become, because the more you see in his details. On the title page at first glance you see an abandoned house, then a rocking chair, then a moon above the rocking chair. So wait… Is the house suspended in the air? And is that the silhouette of a man who has hung himself?

You haven’t even gotten past the title of the book and already you want to crawl in a hole.

These stories, whether detailed or not, illustrated or not, still touch the middle-grade readers in such a way that they are excited for more and running back to the book shelves (in the light of day, of course). The stories may be incredibly different, but the concepts are the same—clean horror. The characters are simple, with easy-to-understand thoughts and ideas, while the language is basic, so it doesn’t confuse the readers. Children can understand it, they can relate, and they get scared—it works.

So, What Do I Do?

So, how can you create a story for a middle-grade reader that leaves them shaking in their Ugg boots?

Start off with a story you already know and add a twist.

Maybe it’s the story of the babysitter and the man upstairs, but your twist is that the babysitter has never babysat before, but luckily she takes karate. Or maybe the killer is her friend trying to spook her, and it turns out that when she catches her friend, they realize there’s a REAL killer upstairs.

Begin with a legend you already know and run with it. Perhaps in your run, you’ll create something entirely new!

Remember, a lot of the time parents are controlling what their kids read, and although the F-word might be used on the playground at school, parents and teachers won’t appreciate a fourth grader reading it on every single page. Drop the language, keep it basic at first—scary and to the point.

So, What about You?

What are some stories that have kept you up at night?

If you answer this question or comment on the blog, we'll put your name in a drawing for your choice of one of Leap's scary books. Drawing on January 13, 2014.


Courtney Warren is a writer for her local newspaper, as well as a graduate student at Hollins University where she is pursuing a degree in Children’s Literature. She has a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University, the home of the Fighting Okra (which she is incredibly proud of). She loves to read just about anything placed on the shelves but has a special place in her heart for the Harry Potter series.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, she loves to write stories about middle schoolers with spunky attitudes who intend to save the world, as well as drinking Earl Grey tea from a very prissy teacup.

Check out her blog, Tea, the Spirit, & a Pen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sneak Peek into Maria V. Snyder's Life

Want to know some insider secrets about author Maria V. Snyder?

You've come to the right place if you're eager to know more about the the New York Times best-selling author of some of your favorite books -- the Study series, the Glass series, the Healer series, and the Insider books.

Leap Books is excited to announce that Maria Snyder's ebook of Storm Watcher will release on December 15, 2013. To celebrate, we invited Maria here for a visit, and she graciously answered a lot of questions.
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So here's your chance to find out more about her, learn more about why she wrote this book, and see what she's working on now. Thanks so much for joining us, Maria.

Interview Questions with Maria V. Snyder

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 I wanted to be a meteorologist and chase tornadoes in the name of research for either NOAA or NWS. I also wanted to be an actress and dancer, but didn’t think I could make a living at it.

Did you ever dream of being a writer?

 I hated writing in school and avoided it as much as possible. I never dreamed of being a writer, it just happened. I started because I was bored at work. My first job after college was as a meteorologist for an environmental consulting firm. The amount of work came in waves, and we were either extremely busy or bored. During the slow times, I started writing a short story. Ideas were always floating around in my mind, but that was when I began using them. I submitted my first short story for critique at a writing conference in Philadelphia, and when the workshop leader gave me 7 out of 10, I thought that was pretty good for a first effort and decided to stick with writing for a while.

Your main character, Luke, has a deathly fear of storms? What things most scared you when you were young?

 Thunderstorms terrified me! I hated the noise and used to crawl into bed with my parents whenever a storm came in the middle of the night. Like Luke, I was stuck outside during a horrible thunderstorm and, when the next storm rolled in, I wasn’t as scared because I was safe and dry inside my house instead of outside. My fear turned into fascination.

Luke likes science, so I’m guessing you like science too. Did you have favorite subjects in school?

 I do like science. Earth science was one of my favorite classes. I also enjoyed physics because it made sense, unlike chemistry, which makes no sense. I also like astronomy, and I would go to all the open houses the astronomy department had at Penn State. They would focus on a distant part of our universe and let us peer through the big telescope.

In school what were your best and worst moments?

 Best moment: being cast in the school’s musical, Babe in Arms. I was cast as the overprotective stage mother, and I loved every moment – even the weeks of rehearsals.

Worst moment: when a fellow student accused me of keeping the money for a fundraiser instead of bringing it to school (I overslept for a walk-a-thon and didn’t collect any money. She called the school pretending to be one of my sponsors. Let’s just say the nuns were not happy with me until they figured it out. Storms aren’t near as scary as Catholic school nuns!).

What advice do you wish you could give to your younger self?

 Ditch science and pursue the arts!

What hobbies and interests do you have?

 I enjoy photography and always try to bring a camera with me wherever I go. I’ve won a few ribbons at my local fair and fancy myself a photographer. I also play volleyball twice a week and like to make jewelry when I have some time. Another love is traveling, I’ll go anywhere at anytime and am determined to see as many places as I can before I’m too old.

What made you write Luke’s story?

 At first, I wanted to write a story for my son Luke because he didn’t like fantasy or science fiction stories. I love both dogs and storms and thought it’d be fun to put them together. I started with a boy named Luke (not my son), who was fascinated with the weather, yet terrified. Then the questions started: Why was he afraid? What does he want? Who gets in his way? The answers revealed the story. 

(For those of you who haven't read it, Storm Watcher, is a contemporary action-adventure story for middle grade readers. Luke, the youngest son in a family of Search-and-Rescue dog trainers, must overcome his deathly fear of storms to prove that the dog he's training is worthy of being in the family kennels.) 

Do the characters in the book have any connection with your real life?

 Yes! Although Luke isn’t based on my son’s personality, he looks like my Luke. I used the names of many of Luke’s friends, cousins, and teachers, and they pretty much are the same. Mr. Hedge is really an 11th grade English teacher, and Mrs. Miller is really a music teacher, but both those teachers had an impact in my son’s school career.

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

 To have the courage to seek help despite setbacks. To persist and not give up when you really want something. I also hope to convert readers into fellow weather nuts!

Tell us a bit about your life and writing schedule.

 I’m a busy mother of two teenagers. I’m highly involved in my kids’ lives and all their extracurricular activities. My schedule looks like this: I wake up around 11 am, then I spend the afternoon doing writing business—answering emails, updating my website, posting on my blog or Facebook, then my family comes home and I’m Mom until 10 pm. From 10 pm until 3 am, I write – I don’t surf the internet or do laundry or answer emails—that time is for writing only.

What are you working on now?

 I’m working on a new book in my Study Series. My readers have been begging me to write more stories about Yelena and Valek, and I’m finally writing book #4.

And now a few questions just for fun:

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

 Good health for me and all my family and friends. A beach house. A mega-hit bestseller.

What is something most people don't know about you?

 I’m addicted to office supplies!

What super power do you wish you had?

 The power to heal. I’ve seen too many people suffer with illness and wish I could heal them with a touch.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

 I went on a cruise to Bermuda and the Caribbean with family and friends.

Have you ever climbed into or out of a window?

 Yes, but I’m exercising my right to remain silent ;)

Where can readers find out more about you?

And if you'd like to meet Maria in person, she has several upcoming events, and she'd love to see you there:

January 4, 2014 Participating in Science Fiction/Fantasy Saturday at Barnes & Noble. (Red Rose Commons, 1700 H Fruitville Pike, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 17601, 717-290-8171). This is a group book signing with a variety of science fiction and fantasy authors. I'll be there and fantasy author Jon Sprunk has committed. It will be in the afternoon, exact time to be determined (check my website for more details).

March 26-29, 2014 Visiting Independence, Iowa and Cedar Rapids, Iowa! I'll be doing a number of events for the Independence Public Library on March 27 & 28, then I'll be in Ceder Rapids on Saturday, March 29. Details will be posted on my website as soon as I have them.

April 19, 2014 Participating in YA FEST. (Palmer Branch of the Easton Area Public Library, 1 Weller Place Easton, Pennsylvania, 18045). 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There will be 50 YA and Middle-Grade authors attending and there will be panels, a used book sale, a raffle, and lots of fun stuff!

August 8-9, 2014 Participating in YA Indie Fest. (Orlando, Florida). Currently I don't have many details about this event, but I wanted to give everyone notice that I'll be in Orlando, Florida that weekend :). I'll post details on my website as soon as they're finalized.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Big Thrill interviews Killer's Instinct author

Cover designer: Gaetano Pezzillo
Photo: Siiri Kumari ~ Model: Johanna Taiger

Authors Judith Graves and Dawn Dalton's upcoming release has been featured in the International Thriller Writers' December magazine, The Big Thrill. Read the interview with Dawn Dalton here.

Killer's Instinct Blurb

Where there is no life, there’s HOPE...

Hope has always been a bit of a freak. She sees beyond the veil to where the dead walk amongst the living, their semi-corporeal forms appearing like creepy flashes from a never-ending macabre dream. But when her mother crawls from the grave and her zombified corpse goes MIA, Hope’s last thread of normal snaps.

Enrolling in a militia-style school for monster hunters seems her best bet for tracking down Mommy-dearest and putting what’s left of her mother to rest. But the stakes are raised when she’s partnered with three unique male recruits – each with their own personal demons to slay if they want to survive basic training.

But does Hope have a true killer’s instinct? If she finds her mother, will she have the guts to do what must be done to save her soul? In a place like Le Manoir, all bets are off.

"A single page in, I was hooked." Jacqueline Mitchard, author of What We Lost in the Dark and The Deep End of the Ocean

"Killer’s Instinct is going to knock other YA monster-battling books off the shelves." Gary Braver, bestselling and award-winning author of Tunnel Vision