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What’s Write in Middle Grade Horror: Doll Bones & Serafina            

Happy October, folks! It’s the best time of year. The world is so colorful and a magic seems to swirl around us with the wind. Unfortunately I’m not in my beloved New England and it’s still rather hot here in Florida. However, I can still practice fall properly with some Halloween scares. In the movies, fleeting jump scenes and disgusting gore may do it for some, but in fiction the author won’t be as successful with these. The fiction writer needs to create horror that lingers, that haunts after one puts down the book. The writer should channel Poe and King and create a horrific atmosphere. But on this blog we like to talk kidlit so I want to focus on authors in the field that are scaring kids correctly. I grew up on R.L. Stein and Mary Downing Hahn. Both are fantastic. But I wanted authors that are hot in middle school scares now and what I found was chilling. As I work on sprucing up my own frightening ideas, these books were very inspiring. First up is Doll Bones by Holly Black, a Newbery Honor book from 2013. Doll Bones is an adventure/friendship story. Three childhood friends travel to find the supposed resting place of The Queen so they can reunite her bones with her grave. Holly Black does a whole lot right when it comes to scares. First off, the creepy porcelain doll in this book. Dolls are creepy, trust me. My freshman year in high school I sat in an auditorium and watched Ed and Lorraine Warren bring out Annabelle, the possessed Raggedy Ann doll, in a wood and glass box for our safety. Besides her dull, black eyes, the bone china doll in Doll Bones called The Queen gets quite a bit scarier after this line, “Her clay was made from human bones. Little girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.” Excuse me a moment I may need some new pants, but seriously, that’s terrifying. This tale is a whole lot more than just scares. I could relate to the main character, Zach, whose father threw out all his action figures because it was time to grow up. I can relate to someone having to give up imaginary play. But Zach, here’s the thing, you don’t have to. I still enjoy make believeJ. “‘Well I’m not... read more

The King of All Scares

Amaxophobia is the fear of cars, spectrophobia is the fear of ghosts, and my personal favorite Coulorophobia is the fear of clowns. One man is the master of them all – Stephen King. There is no better way to celebrate Halloween than to read one of his many terrifying books. Here is a quick recap of my top three favorites that relate to young adult literature. Every teenage boy dreams of possessing a hot sports car, but what if his dream car possesses him? In Stephen King’s Christine, nerdy boy Arnie finds a wreck. While restoring the old car, he becomes withdrawn. Soon we discover that the car itself is evil. It systematically murders Arnie’s friends and anyone else who gets in its way. How do you kill an unkillable car? Another one of my favorites is a short story called Sometimes They Come Back. On the way to drop off some library books, two brothers are assaulted by a local gang. They stab one brother to death and the other escapes. Fast forward to the future, and the surviving boy is now a teacher at the local high school. Three mysterious deaths occur, and each time a new kid arrives. The new kids are the old gang and they are the same age they were decades earlier. Terrified, the teacher speaks with an old friend who informs him that shortly after his brother’s death, the gang died in a horrible car crash. Now they’re back. Lastly, the movie that made me hate clowns – IT. No child should ever read IT after dark while their parents are sleeping. There is nothing scarier than an alien being taking the form of a killer clown. Pennywise the clown haunts and stalks the children in a small town. They manage to survive, but Pennywise comes back when they’re adults and the game begins again. So what can we as writers take away from Stephen King? If you want to write truly horrifying novels, prey on people’s fear and amp them up. There is no better way to become a better horror writer than to learn from the master. Happy... read more

Petrified …the books that scared me most

In October, my fellow authors and I are telling you about the scariest books we’ve read. I’m going to tell you about a book that scared me, and why the most frightening monsters aren’t always hairy, slobbery, and seven-feet-all. The book I’m talking about is I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells. You might be thinking, “Okay. Serial killer. Scary enough.” Oh no, people. That’s not all. The main character—in fact, the very hero of the book—is the scary thing here. Dan Wells writes a protagonist with sociopathic tendencies. The kid is always thinking about how he’d kill someone, how he’d like to kill someone, even the girl of his dreams. The killer in the book is scary, no doubt (I won’t give that monster away), but to be perfectly honest, no one scared me like the kid who had to battle his own need to kill (as well as his obsession and adoration of famous American serial killers). Here are the three main reasons I was so freaked out… Real people are scarier than fake things. I’m sorry…ghosts don’t really do it for me. Maybe you’ve had a real-life experience with ghosts, and therefore, your fears are valid. But for most of us, a human killer is the biggest threat (just check out homicide statistics), and that mean anyone with the word psychopath attached is someone who can really give me the heebie jeebies. Your worst fears are all in the mind. If you are creating a monster in your novel, remember not to introduce the sight of the creature too early. Readers will get sensitized too fast! The fear of the unknown is sometimes the greatest fear of all. Anticipation is key! Even when Wells finally introduces his real “monster,” our anxiety is high (because the real culprit is a twist). Nothing says scary like expectation followed by surprise. If you’re writing a scary story, enjoy leading up to the moment of revealing your true monster. The possibility of being disappointed by the main character is terrifying. Throughout Wells’ book, I had to keep reading. Why? Not so much to find out the ending, as to find out if the main character would finally give way to the monster within. He scared me. He could disappoint me and make me angry by becoming the “bad” guy. I didn’t know how far he’d go, and somehow, I still was rooting for him. A sociopath you root... read more

My Favorite Scary Books I Read as a Kid

Fear is sometimes best confronted through someone else’s story. When I was growing up, I loved the following books. I had my own copies and read them over and over, wondering what I’d do if I was in the story. The writing and tension building is excellent in each and they probably became my favorites because they didn’t leave me in a state of fear. I managed to still turn the lights off when it was time for bed. The Witches – Roald Dahl I was sure this was the best self-help book I would ever read. Dahl told me everything I needed to know about how to identify a witch. Any lady I saw wearing gloves, itching her head, with extra large nostrils, crazy color-changing eyes, and limping with toe-less feet had to be a witch. Thankfully, I never met anyone that exactly fit this description. My mother did get a toe removed once, though. It did make me wonder. What I appreciate about this book as an adult is that Dahl used exaggerations to make what would normally be a scary topic for kids more light-hearted. Sort of. Bruno, the main character, was a boy during most of the story and then… Well, you should just read the book.     The Green Futures of Tycho – William Sleator Even scarier than recognizing a witch was the horrible creature all kids have to face sometime—their grown-up selves. Sleator’s story begins with 11-year-old Tycho experiencing the fun adventures of time travel and changing small things in the past to make his life with his siblings easier. But when he goes to a future where his adult-self is poor and miserable, he has to change the present to affect the future. Each change though, makes the adult Tycho even worse, to the point where young Tycho has to defeat himself before his whole family and possibly the world is destroyed. So scary! This was one of those books that made me fear growing up. Who would I become and what would I do? At the time, it seemed much better just to stay a kid.     The Monster at the End of this Book – Jon Stone & Michael Smollin The best all-time scary book is told by lovable-old Grover. I was maybe six-years-old when I first read this story. Grover kept telling me not to turn the page. Of course, I had to do it despite his... read more