Monday, October 29, 2012

Chilling First Lines: October Theme by Jen Cervantes

1. “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

2. “Twelve year old Yorik Mortwell lay on the hard, cold ground, dead.” The Death of Yorik Mortwell  by Stephen Messer

3. “On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.”  Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver

4.  “The walls of the house absorbed the woman’s screams. ”  House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo

5. “Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.” The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West
 6. “Strange things can happen at a crossroads.” The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

7. “Max would never forget that faraway summer when, almost by chance, he discovered red magic.” The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz
8. “It was a dark and stormy night.” A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle

9. “I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.”  Skellig by David Almond

10. "A thin yellow light trickled through the window, lighting the room like a funeral parlor…” Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret by Obert Skye

Friday, October 26, 2012

October Theme: Happy Halloween!

By Lucy Jones

Halloween has always been my favourite time of year. I love scaring myself and others silly. As a kid, I used to enjoy telling ghost stories to all of my friends.  I remember carving out pumpkins with my sister and then going trick or treating. We would make our own witches hats out of coloured card board and then create a dress out of a black bin bag. I’m sure we looked pretty ridiculous, but at the time I thought we looked great. Even as an adult, I still love to dress up and munch on toffee apples whilst watching a scary horror flick!

My love of horror began when I was eight and I found a rented copy of ‘The Candy Man’ that my older sister had left out. I’d heard her telling all her friends that it was the scariest film she’d ever seen, and being naturally inquisitive, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So I waited until my parents were busy, slid it into the VCR and curled up on the sofa with a blanket. I’ve honestly never been so petrified in all my life! I couldn’t go near a mirror for about three years because I thought the Candy Man was going to come after me. So when my sister and her friends brought home the sequel one day, my mum was quite adamant that I wasn’t going to watch it. But you know, there’s something strangely satisfying about getting really freaked out. And despite being scared, I wanted to see it. After that, I watched every horror film that I could get my hands on, and devoured the whole of the Goosebumps series and then started on Stephen King. I used to ask for ghost stories instead of bed time stories, and even thought they scared me silly, I’d keep requesting them time and time again.

So to celebrate Halloween, here’s one of my all time favourite shorts:

Haggard and shaken, an English country-house guest once enthralled his breakfast companions with this account of his night's adventure:
His hostess had warned him, he said, that his bedchamber was haunted, but he had merely laughed at this. When he went up the stairs to his bedchamber that night, however, he found himself anxious - unaccountably so, for the room was well lighted and eminently comfortable. To soothe his nerves, he looked under the bed and into each cupboard. He examined the blanket chest and opened every drawer of every table. All was serene. He was alone in the room. After a glance up and down the empty hallway, he closed the bedchamber door and bolted it. Then he shut the windows, latched them, drew the curtains and snuffed out all the candles but one. Then he got into bed, pulled the covers to his chin and lay there as still as he could, listening. He heard nothing, not a rustle, not a murmur. Relaxed at last, he extinguished the bedside candle, and as he did so, he heard a voice - a tiny, dry, satisfied voice that seemed to emanate from an inkstand on the desk. It spoke only once, but that was enough to keep him in a state of rigid wakefulness until dawn.

"Now we're shut in for the night," it said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Theme: Scary Reads

Stephanie J. Blake

My boys love to be scared; not completely freaked out and unable to go into a dark room alone, but just spooked enough to get the imagination going. Halloween is a good time to read spooky stories by candlelight. I have three book recommendations for your middle grade ghost or goblin this Halloween season.
Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein

There's a big ugly tree in Zack's yard, and it's posessed. A lightening strike lets the evil spirit loose. It's up to Zack and his stepmom, Judy, to get rid of the spririt for good. This book will appeal to boys who do not really enjoy reading. They'll have to keep turning the pages to find out what happens.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

When Coraline finds a secret door in her new old house, she meets "an other mother" who wants her to stay--forever. In this other world, Coraline can have everything she's ever wanted, if only she'll exchange her eyes for big round black buttons and never leave. The book is more thrilling than the movie. Illustrations add to the fun.
Always October by Bruce Coville

Jake finds a baby on his doorstep, and his family decides to keep it. To their surprise, the baby turns into a monster at night, complete with fur and fangs. And other monsters are out to get him. Jake and his friend, Lily, have adventures in a world called Always October trying to save the "little brother" at all costs. Funny and scary! A great combo. Also good for boys who don't really like to read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scary Screaming Joggers on the Writing Road, by Dia Calhoun, October Theme

People perpetually say we need to face our fears. But what does that mean? Marching out onto the freeway and throwing your body between the air and a semi barreling toward you at 80 mph? Facing your fears by engaging in full body contact is rarely successful and sometimes fatal.

I prefer the quick-step method of facing my fears. First, rather than marching out onto the freeway, I choose a quiet country road with a jogger running toward me. He’s a scary jogger, not only because he’s wearing a neon Nike jogging suit, but also because he is screaming something like, “Your book will never sell! Your book will never sell!” Faster and closer he hurtles toward me. What do I do? See him, name him—oh here comes my fear of never selling my book—then step out of his way and let him rush past. Then I continue walking down the road . . . writing my book.

This really works. I can’t STOP the fear, because after all, it is entirely possible and reasonable that my book will never sell. Many fears have their basis in reason—that’s what makes them so powerful. The point is, am I going to let my fear slam into me and flatten me into road kill? Or am I going to look my fear in the face, step aside, and continue walking down the road—writing my book?

All right, you ask, what if I step aside only to be face with another screaming jogger? I will be faced with another screaming jogger, and another and another. I think that marathon is called life. Every time a fear rushes toward me, I name it, acknowledge it, step aside, and keep going.

The hard part is to be conscious of what I am afraid of. Because a lot of those fears are bubbling in the primeval stew of my subconscious. Sometimes I only know one is there by some emotion it provokes. But as soon as I can name it, I can step aside. Sometimes I may take a fork in the road. But I keep on going.

So what, then, does it mean to have my fear come true? What happens when a book doesn’t sell? Then I ask myself: what was more important, writing my book or selling it? If selling it is the true answer, there are lots of places I could fulfill that dream in a much less tortuous fashion than writing. I could become a used car salesman.

Nah. Think I’ll keep just walking down the writing road.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who-Knows-What (October Theme) by Holly Schindler

I’ve long insisted that Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday.  “The wax lips!” I always say.  “The candy corn!  The plastic hatchets!”
But my Halloween love is actually about far more than that.  Just as my love of ghost / scary stories is about far more than the fake blood.  (While we’re at it, when I say I love horror stories, I’m actually more of a fan of a psychological thriller than a complete slash-and-dash bloodbath…)

It’s recently occurred to me, though, that the real reason I love Halloween is a pretty writerly one: it gives me chance to make stuff up.

Catherine Ryan Hyde smartly commented on a post here at Smack Dab that one of the biggest misconceptions about novelists is that they consistently write thinly-veiled autobiographies.  Like our own Catherine, I also write completely fictitious, invented works—none of the situations or characters featured in my books are ripped from my own life.  I get a serious kick out of making stuff up.  Creating a whole world completely of my own invention.

Yep—grape-flavored bloodshot eyeballs will always have an incredible amount of charm.  But even when I was little, the costumes were what I loved most about Halloween.  I loved figuring out—usually by mid-summer—how I was going to dress up.  And I don’t really mean that I looked forward to being someone other than me.  I mean I loved figuring out how to create a mummy or hobo or bobby-soxer.  (Only one year in all of the—ahem—fourteen that I trick-or-treated did I have a store-bought costume.  Looking back, it was by far my least favorite.)  I loved the getting-to-make-it-up.

But that’s what we get to do every day as writers.  On the page, we get to dress up and become a fictional “I.”  We get to look at the world through someone else’s eyes.  We get to invent. 

Ditto for the horror flicks.  I’m a complete sucker for the tension-filled scenes you know so well: the protagonist is standing on one side of the door; a strange noise has just erupted on the other.  The protagonist begins to breathe hard, slowly reaching for the doorknob.  At this point, my mind always goes into overdrive as I imagine what is on the opposite side of that door. 

Again, as is the case with Halloween, I get to make it all up.  Until the opposite-side-of-the-door is revealed, of course.  But I love those who-know-what’ll-happen-next moments.

…I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to be yet this year, what I’m going to wear to greet the trick-or-treaters who will ring my bell.  Right now, I’m having too much fun imagining the possibilities, making up a hundred different scenarios, imagining this year’s who-knows-what.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Five Things that Scare Me (October Theme, Sarah Dole)

It's October! The month of Halloween! In my house, that means an excess of jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, ghosts, and zombies ... and we don't even have any kids in the house.

My family and friends love Halloween, live and breath it. But for me? When it comes to being afraid, I'm not bothered by spirits and spooks, goblins or ghouls.


Here is what frightens me:

5. Page 30. This is where the momentum fades and a novel is either made or broken.

4. Red ink. Or blue or purple or whatever the smart and observant people in your revising world like to use.

3.   The bookstore. Because as much as I might love spending time among books, there is always the chance that the next book I see will be a more artfully-written version of the same idea I just started working on.

2. Google Alerts. Because I might not want to see what's being brought to my attention.

1.   The send button. Because inevitably, it must be pushed.

Of course there is one thing that helps ease all those fears, and it's abundant at this time of year:


Just don't tell anyone why the pumpkin-shaped bowl on the table keeps coming up empty!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Behind the Illustrations with Stephanie Graegin, DON'T FEED THE BOY by Irene Latham

When Roaring Brook Press selected Stephanie Graegin as the illustrator for DON'T FEED THE BOY, I was thrilled. Her illustrations are warm and tender, and I thought her style would be a perfect fit for my own vision of the novel.

And I was right! It probably helped that at one time Stephanie wanted to be a zookeeper -- much like wee me who once wanted to be a zoo veterinarian. She used as her inspiration previous visits to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, The Fort Wayne Indiana 
Children’s Zoo, and The Houston Zoo. (I used as my inspiration the Birmingham Zoo.)

Now for the really fun stuff: Stephanie was kind enough to share her thumbnail sketches of the cover...

which turned into these more detailed sketches....

which turned into this:

As an author, it was such a thrill for me to see her interpretation of my words! I was especially interested to see what scenes Stephanie would choose for the interior drawings. Here's one of my favorites, when Whit introduces Stella to Millie. (One of the perks of being the son of zoo people!)

Stephanie's forthcoming projects include:

Happy Birthday, Bunny! by Liz Garton Scanlon (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)

Water in the Park by Emily Jenkins (Schwartz & Wade /Random House)
Goldilocks & the Three Bears  (Sterling Publishing)

Thank you, Stephanie, for bringing Whit and Stella and all the residents of the Meadowbrook Zoo to vivid life!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Theme: Spooktacular (Stephanie Burgis)

Do you like horror movies and books? Do you get a delicious thrill out of being scared?

I never have. I am the biggest horror wimp you can imagine. My brothers and husband have all come to the sad conclusion that there is no point in trying to watch even the most awesome film with me if it has any horror elements. I just can't cope...and I have many, many humiliating memories from throughout my life to remind me of that sad fact.

The worst memory of all came when I had to walk out of a special after-school viewing of "Poltergeist" when I was 12. It was awful. Everyone in my class was there! Everyone was loving the movie! ...except for me. I sat there feeling more and more sick with panic and dread. I couldn't leave, though. I was desperate not to look like an idiot by running away...

...until I did. Yup. With a pathetic, mumbled excuse - "I forgot - I have a big project to work on!" (yeah, right) - I finally fled midway through the movie, and phoned my dad, nearly in tears, to beg him to come and pick me up NOW NOW NOW.

Aaagh. I still hate that memory.

I'm awful with horror in books and stories, too. For years, I couldn't stand sleeping in a bedroom with a closet because the camp director at Camp Emery (a music camp in Michigan) thought it would be good fun for all of us eight-year-olds if he read Stephen King's short story "The Bogeyman" out loud to us one night.

Yeah. That...didn't work so well for me. (Don't even ask about the time, a couple months afterwards, that I was sitting in a room with a closet, in the daytime, and I suddenly heard the sounds Scratch...scratch...scratch! coming from inside! It turned out to be one of my family's cats, just sharpening his claws on the wallpaper...but I'd practically had a heart attack by the time I figured that out!)

So, in other words, horror seemed to be a completely closed genre to me...until something totally unexpected happened. In eighth grade, I had the most awesome English teacher ever. He taught units on mystery, fantasy and science fiction, horror...and he insisted that we write short stories in every genre.

I was aghast. I didn't do horror! Everyone knew that! I loved writing...but how could I possibly write this?

I started with huge reluctance...and found out something astonishing.

I hate reading or watching horror, because it freaks me out SO badly...but it was an incredible, astonishing release to actually write it! I loved writing that story! I wrote more and more horror stories through my teens, letting out all my biggest fears that way. I've written more horror short stories as an adult, and I've published several of them, too, in various magazines.

Last night my husband watched Cabin in the Woods. Just the sound of those crashing horror-movie chords and actors' screams, bleeding through his headphones, made me twitch. I had to put on my own headphones and blast the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack to get through it!

But the next time I'm having a hard time coping with my own darkness, I know exactly how I'll let it out - the best way I know: by writing a horror story. Because it turns out that horror really does have a function...even for me.


What about you guys? Are you horror fans or horror wimps? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ricky Smith and the Apple (October Theme) by Bob Krech

"You better knock it off, you stupid hellion!" Ricky Smith's mother was yelling at him again from their porch. Ricky was keeping a safe distance. He was poking the dirt with a stick and not looking up at her at all. At age nine, I didn't know exactly what a "hellion" was, but since it had the word "hell" in it and was preceded by "stupid", I knew it meant she wasn't holding him in high regard at that moment. As I remember, he had just dipped his little sister's hair in some of the hot tar from the road work on our street. Ricky did stuff like that.

Ricky moved in next door to me when we were both nine years old. I think his family was originally from Texas, but had moved around some, and had landed in New Jersey due to his dad getting a job in New York. He was tall and wiry with dirty blonde hair and a constant grin. Ricky and I got along well, exploring the woods and the creek, building stuff out of scrap wood and old nails, and playing some baseball. He was a pretty daring kid and would climb way higher in a tree than I would and also enjoyed pelting his sisters with mud balls and chasing his little brothers around. He had a bit of a wild side to him, which was a little scary to me, but at the same time, he was never dull and we were neighbors.

The Halloween I was ten, Ricky and I went out trick-or-treating together. We started early and were all over the neighborhood. It was one of those warm Halloween nights and it must have been a Friday or Saturday because I remember I didn't have to be home till ten, which was crazy late back then. We were both hobos, the easiest of Halloween costumes, but one you could also get a little creative with. Ricky had used some kind of makeup from his mother to give himself a beard, a black eye, and a long jagged scar. I did the same. We were looking and feeling pretty rough. We started out at dusk and made our way around the neighborhood, filled our pillowcases once, dumped them out on our kitchen tables and set out again. My table was covered with Snickers, Mounds, M&M's, Milky Ways, Three Musketeers, PayDays. It was an unprecedented haul. We repeated the process, and then took off again for one final round. We were giddy with the sheer magnitude of it all.

Our final round was a little slower. Some people had started turning their porch lights off, indicating they were out of candy or had gone to bed. There were less pickings. It was almost ten when we stopped at a corner house at Glenn Avenue and Royal Oak Road. It was a two-story house, brick with pale yellow siding. We went up the steps, knocked and stood back. A very regular looking dad opened the door. We gleefully yelled, "Trick or Treat!" He handed us each an apple. I popped mine into my sack. Ricky held his apple in his hand. He squinted at the dad and said incredulously, "An apple?"

The dad did not reply. He just closed the door. Ricky and I wandered across the street. "An apple," Ricky repeated. "What a cheapskate."The next thing I knew he was rearing back as if he were going to throw it. Then I was watching it sail through the air. Ricky had a pretty good arm. I remember thinking in some prescient way, what if it hit a window? Window glass shattered. The front door swung open the dad emerged on the porch yelling, "Hey!"

We flew down the street. I never looked back to see if we were being pursued or not. I didn't want to waste valuable seconds. As we ran, Ricky began to giggle, then outright laugh. I was right alongside him, my heart pounding, fearing for my life, freedom, safety, everything, but the laugh and his nutty, wild spirt was contagious. I couldn't help laughing too. I knew it was wrong, but there I was, his partner in crime, swimming along in his crazy wake. We hit our corner and sprinted up our lawns and slammed into our houses. I waited for the doorbell to ring, but it never did.

I remember thinking the next day in the rational calm of daylight, how it would be a good idea for us to go back to the guy's house and confess and offer to pay for the window. When we met on his lawn later that day, I asked Ricky if he planned to do anything like that. He gave me his squint, just like he gave the dad. The squint that meant you had just done or said something completely ridiculous. Completely wrong. Like giving Ricky Smith an apple on Halloween.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October theme (Tracy Barrett)

Original cover
I find the claw marks scarier!

There’s a fine line between the enjoyable spookiness of a campfire ghost story and the kind of fear that’s no fun at all. It’s hard for tellers of tales to stay on the right side of that line because it’s drawn in different places for different people. I’ve had kids refuse to read the second book in my Sherlock Files series because they find the original cover too scary, even though the “monster” in the book turns out to be not at all dangerous (and not really a monster). Some parents have been afraid that the ghost in Cold in Summer will frighten their kids, even though she’s so timid that she makes Casper look terrifying.

Parents don’t always know what frightens their children beyond what’s enjoyable. My daughter told me that when she was little, she was seriously spooked by the General Electric radio commercial that said, “GE: We bring good things to life.” She thought that meant that they went to cemeteries and dug up dead people who had been good, and revived them. How could I have known that she was frightened by this? (She’s now 27 and very well adjusted.)

So the best we parents and we authors can do is, as always, our own limited best, and hope that our kids and our readers will let us in on how they’re feeling.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Five Things I Remember from Halloweens Past (Jody Feldman’s Take on the Spooktacular)

I remember wanting to eat the forbidden homemade popcorn ball much more than my favorite candy.

I remember the meanness of one girl at her own Halloween party and how I, smartly, stayed away from her the rest of my life.

I remember missing trick or treating when I was six because my friend had her birthday party hayride earlier that day. Who knew the hay would cause such wheezing?

I remember the first time I trick or treated without parents; how my friends and I flirted with boys and climbed fences and ran through backyards and laughed a lot, partly from feeling a little naughty.

And while it’s hard to remember what my neighbors’ houses looked like on Halloween, I recall with uncanny clarity that house around the block, on the corner – the dark house we would race past as if a spirit surrounding it (or the old crone living in it) would reach out and grab us and hold us captive forever.

So what does that have to do with writing? Everything. It’s memories like these we draw on to make our characters real.

Monday, October 8, 2012

October Theme: Interview With Stephen Messer, the author of THE DEATH OF YORIK MORTWELL by John Claude Bemis

“Twelve-year-old Yorik Mortwell lay on the hard, cold ground, dead. His day had started off rather better than that.”

So begins Stephen Messer’s ghoulishly funny and relentlessly exciting middle-grade novel The Death of Yorik Mortwell (Random House Children’s Books).  When Yorik, a poor orphaned servant, is killed by the spoiled heir to Ravenby Manor, Yorik trades one master for another.  Now a ghost, Yorik becomes the servant to the all-powerful and atrociously bossy Princess of the Aviary Glade. What begins as a simple haunting of Ravenby Manor amplifies as Yorik is drawn into a battle between cosmic forces of good and evil.

The perfect book for fans of fantasy adventure, Messer’s novel has the additional appeal of Gris Grimly’s macabre illustrations throughout.  A great and spooky read not just for Halloween. 

I’m happy to share an interview with Stephen Messer about his book and the inspiration for his unlikely ghost hero. 

Bemis: The Death of Yorik Mortwell begins with the murder of your main character.  That opening is equal parts hilarious, horrible, and heart-wrenching.  Why write a book for young readers where the main character dies in the first chapter?

Messer: This book was partly inspired by Edward Gorey’s ABC picture book The Gashlycrumb Tinies (“"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears”). I loved his unabashedly macabre illustrations and stories when I was young, and I wanted to capture a similar sensibility in Yorik’s story.

Bemis: The illustrator Gris Grimly also seems to share your fondness for Edward Gorey, especially in his dark picture book The Dangerous Alphabet, which was written by Neil Gaiman.

I've heard you speak about how your first book Windblowne was inspired by your love for Dianna Wynne Jones as well as the Japanese artist Hokusai.  Tell about what elements inspired The Death of Yorik Mortwell.

Messer: Besides Gorey, I was also attempting to channel H. P. Lovecraft’s sense of cosmic dread. I referred to this book as “Lovecraft for kids!” early on. Yorik and his friends are battling extremely powerful, dark beings from another dimension, but his friends have their own rather impressive powers. And then there’s 17th century poetry, and maps, and astronomy, and forgotten languages, and giant tree-rabbits. We've got a little of everything.

Bemis: With Halloween coming up, what is one of your favorite creepy stories?

Messer: For kids who like chilling tales, I would recommend Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (the book, not the movie, please).

Stephen Messer's debut novel Windblowne (Random House, 2010) is a fantasy adventure about a boy who is blown away from his wind-world of treehouses and kites.  The Death of Yorik Mortwell (Random House, 2011) is a dark and whimsical fantasy that features grotesquely delightful illustrations from Gris Grimly.  His upcoming novel Colossus (Random House, 2013) is a sci-fi adventure set at the end of time.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Halloween: A Day to Play (October Theme by Naomi Kinsman)

In my writing classes, I often play a game called Choices with my students. Basically, the point of the game is choosing one of two options, and the only rule is that you must choose, even if you love both options, or (more challenging) when you don't like either option. I like asking, "If you had to give up one of these two days, would you give up Halloween or your birthday?" You'd be surprised how many people would give up their birthday instead of giving up Halloween. The holiday is that important to them.

Which leads me to wonder. Why???

Here's the answer to which I've come. I think we (children and adults alike) love that Halloween allows us a chance to play. Aside from the candy, and the chance to frighten and be frightened, we dress up in a costume and act as though we're someone else, and our friends play along. It's similar to those magical moments when one child turns to another and says, "Wanna pretend we're on a desert island?" and the other grins and says, "Okay. And there's pirates charging toward us!" Then, after a short moment of eye contact in which the two agree that they're really going to do this, they turn and run, screaming, away from the invisible pirates. Our hearts race as we slide in behind bushes and peer out at our imagined enemy. We know no one is actually chasing us. But because someone else is pretending right along with us, the line between real and imaginary blurs, and for just a second, we feel emotionally caught up in the story we're creating.

To tell the truth, I think we all need a little more of this kind of play in our lives. I stumble into it when I'm hanging out with my nieces and they ask, "Wanna play that..." and I push past my adult resistance and say, "Sure, and what if..." I stumble into it when brainstorming a story with a friend and spontaneously we leap to our feet and act out a scene as we play. I even stumble into it when I'm in the middle of a writing activity and a student offers an unexpected suggestion and we're off... creating and imagining together.

Playing together is important. Research has shown that the opposite of play isn't work. It's depression. My wish for you, this Halloween season, is that you find yourself stumbling into play. Where might it take you?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spooktacular October: Who Will You Be for Halloween? by Trudi Trueit

Photo by Bill Trueit (c) 2012
When I was kid, the moment the first fall leaf crunched underfoot, I had Halloween on the brain. I spent as much time as possible contemplating, debating, soliciting opinions, deciding, having second thoughts, and re-deciding about what costume to wear for that spooky, magical occasion. I drove my family nuts. But I had a pretty good reason. 

At my elementary school, we had an annual Halloween parade. You brought your costume to school in a bag and for the final hour of the day, you changed into it and joined the parade of other kids. You strolled from one classroom to the next, showing off your costume and collecting goodies from the teachers along the way. If the kids in the other classes liked your costume they would clap and cheer. So for me, Halloween was more than just ‘what do I want to be?’ It was ‘WHO do I want to be? And how I can get the other kids to clap for me?’ For 364 days of the year, I was plain, ordinary Trudi, the nerdy girl in glasses lugging her clarinet to school. But on Halloween I could be anyone and I wanted to take full advantage of the transformation. I didn’t want to be a witch, ghost or puppy, because there were always zillions of those. I wanted to be unique. Original. Unforgettable. I went as a marshmallow one year, Lucille Ball (inside a TV set) the next, and the following year, a chef. I got the biggest cheer for that last one because I was the one giving out the treats. I handed out cookies!

And then something happened.

When I was in the sixth grade, a week before Halloween, my little brother, Dean, had a severe asthma attack. He was hospitalized for a few days and came home feeling much better. However, when Halloween night came, it was drizzly and chilly outside, so my parents decided it would be best for him to not go Trick-or-Treating. Dean was devastated. He loved dressing up in costume and T.O.T.-ing more than I did. As I left that night with a friend, I saw his teary face in the kitchen window. That’s the moment Halloween changed for me. That’s the moment I stopped thinking about myself. And came up with a plan. My friend and I went to every house in our neighborhood, collecting so much candy I could barely drag my pillowcase behind me. It wasn’t long before the light drizzle turned to rain and by the time I got home I was cold and soaked through. I handed the pillow case, and every last piece of candy in it, to my brother. He couldn’t believe it. I was giving him ALL of my candy. Yep. That was the plan. No other Halloween since has come close to topping that one. In 2005, I turned the experience into fiction for my debut middle grade novel, Julep O’Toole: Confessions of a Middle Child.
Funny thing is, when I look back, I can’t remember much about those Halloween parades at school. I can’t even remember what costume I wore in the sixth grade. But I will always remember the look on my brother’s face when I gave him that pillow case.

So if you’re a kid and you ring my doorbell this Halloween, you’ll probably get a little extra candy, just in case you have a little brother or sister waiting at home for you.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


About Alligators Overhead:

Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.

About the author:

A native Californian, C. Lee McKenzie lives on the edge of a redwood forest with her husband and assorted cats. When she's not writing or blogging she's hiking or practicing yoga. She usually writes young adult fiction that deals with contemporary, realistic issues. In Sliding on the Edge (2009) she dealt with cutting, and in The Princess of Las Pulgas (2010) she wrote about a family that loses almost everything and has to rebuild their lives together. Alligators Overhead is her first Middle Grade novel. Lee blogs at [] and her website is []

So why alligators? People as me that question a lot. I always remember hearing Ray Bradbury’s words when I sit down to write a story. He said, “I start by asking myself ‘What if?’” And so that’s part of how I wrote Alligators Overhead.

What if alligators could fly?

What if witch familiars weren’t cats, but something else?

All I needed were a couple of kids, some quirky townsfolk and a setting where all of these story elements could come together. I wanted to create an adventure that was a little bit eerie, but a lot fun. I found Pete Riley and his sidekick, Weasel, right away. Then came the “out of practice” witches and the legend of the vanishing mansion. So once I had all my ingredients, I wrote the story.

Here’s how that adventure starts.
            Pete chewed on what was left of his right thumbnail, stared up at the round-faced clock above Aunt Lizzie's desk and watched it tick off his last minutes of freedom.         The clapper pulled back and snapped against the brass bell, shaking his morning brain awake, more awake than it wanted to be on the first day of spring break.
            His other hand hovered over the chunky, black phone on Aunt Lizzy’s desk. Like
everything in the house it was retro, but today it was a bomb set to explode with a call from Principal Pitt, wiping out his spring vacation, wiping out his allowances, probably wiping out the rest of his life.
            Before the phone rang a second time, he sprang out of the chair, knocking it over. He snatched up the receiver, and, with a shaky hand held it to his ear, waiting to hear Principal Pitt’s wheezy voice. Instead a woman said, “Today is the day, Peter Riley.

Hope you’ll follow Pete and his brainac friend, Weasel through their swamp adventure and let me know what you think.

Buy Links:



Promo Links:




...Enticed?  Be sure to enter the giveaway (below) to win one of four copies of Alligators Overhead!  (Remember, if you have trouble with the form, you can always enter by commenting below.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway