Driving the Kiddies Mad

I write Middle Grade horror.

I enjoy saying this, but often find that simple sentence requires an explanation. First, not everyone knows what Middle Grade means, so I inform them that it refers to young readers generally between the ages of 8 and 12. Then I have to again explain that I write horror for that age group. At which point, whoever I’m talking with usually says something like:

“Oh. Like the Goosebumps books. Got it.”

At which point I pull out my hair.

I dig the Goosebumps books, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not what I write. I like a little madness with my horror. I like a touch of dementia. Monsters. Tentacles. Horrific possibilities beyond time and space.

You know. Lovecraft.

When my soon-to-be editor read my first book, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, she commented, among other things, that she really liked the Lovecraftian aspect of it. I was tickled pink. It told me she was the right editor for me, because she GOT it.

Make no mistake, Cthulhu does not make an appearance in my book. The children do not visit Innsmouth. R’lyeh does not rise from the depths of the oceans. And frankly, there aren’t really any tentacles to speak of. Which is what made her comment all the more special. Because for my money, that’s not what Lovecraft is about.

Lovecraft is about learning the forbidden truth and discovering it is much worse than you thought. Lovecraft is coming to the end of the book and in some ways, the characters wish they’d never started on this journey in the first place. Lovecraft is Be Careful What You Wish For.

One of the best Lovecraft books I’ve read recently was actually not written by Lovecraft, but by Stephen King. His Revival is beyond chilling, and the end… oh sweet Lord in Heaven the END!!!!

We teach our children to be brave, reach for the stars, believe in themselves. That anything is possible. But what if it isn’t? That, to me, is horror. It’s one thing to know the house is haunted. It’s another to learn that it’s haunted by your twin brother who was killed at birth so you would survive. In short, it’s not the WHAT, it’s the WHY.

That’s what I try to bring to my books. The WHAT in Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is mega-creepy, but the WHY is horrible.

My second book, Beyond the Doors (available everywhere August 1!), stays true to this concept. You learn the WHAT long before you learn the WHY.

I think children need to understand that motive matters. In fiction, in life, in everything. And so in my small way, I feel that I’m doing my part to prepare the next generation to be better-informed citizens.

And if a few of them go insane along the way, that’s a plus.

When Good Books Are Frustrating

I’m reading a good book right now.

Product DetailsHeap House by Edward Carey (who also illustrates it) is weird, bizarre, creepy, odd, fantastical, grimy, and weird. Have I mentioned weird?

It is also a slow read. Every word matters. Every description is a clue. Nothing is throw aside, or added just for the sake of being added. You have to read this baby page by page.

This is a quality of a good book, no question. But it’s also kind of frustrating. Because I’m spending a lot of time reading this book. I want to, it’s time well spent, but I’m not reading anything else while I’m reading this. And I’ve been reading this for a couple of weeks now.

In my attic, I have my TO READ bookcase. It is only three shelves tall, but it is full. With books lying on their sides on top of the books on the shelves and books piled on top of books on top of the bookcase, which more or less constitutes a fourth shelf. I also have satellite collections of TO READ books on a shelf in the living room, as well as on a shelf in another room. In all, there are probably upwards of 100 books on my current TO READ shelves.

I’m not reading any of them right now.

Some of these books, I know, I will never read. Every so often, I go through my TO READ shelves and quietly, solemnly, remove books that have simply been pushed so far down the list that I’d have to live to be 237 to get to them. This is a sad day for me, because I’m sure these are all really good books. But I have had to face the fact that I am mortal. Some day, I will die. At that time, I will cease being able to read books. Therefore, I only have a finite amount of time to read books left in my life. I hate to waste that time.

Which is why Heap House is so frustrating. I want to read it. I am enjoying the book immensely. But I am also well aware of how many other books I will never read because I’m spending so much time reading this one. And if I get anxious, if I get impatient, if I try to skim through a section–I’m lost. I have to go back and re-read whatever I skimmed. Which takes up even more time.

So damn you, Edward Carey! Damn you for writing such an odd, weird, strange, cool, freaky, weird book that I must read but at a glacially pace.

And damn you for getting me to purchase books two and three of the series.

DOORS open in less than 7 weeks!


Beyond the Doors hits the brick and mortar bookshelves on August 1!

You can, of course, already pre-order it on Amazon should you feel the need. School Library Journal says of it: “the characters are well developed, the plot intriguing, and the pace well suited to middle grade readers. Minor characters add realism as well as laughs. VERDICT An entertaining romp.

Well heck, who doesn’t love an entertaining romp?

One odd thing I’ve noticed is how the passage of time seems bent or warped depending on how I look at upcoming events. I have a bunch of stuff going on in July that even today still seems far away. Yet it also feels like the publication of Beyond the Doors is right around the corner. And yet, all that stuff that feels like it’s so far away has to come and go before the thing right around the corner can happen.

Where’s a TARDIS when you need one?

While you all wait with baited breath and hook for Beyond the Doors, here are a few good MG reads I’ve encountered recently.

Product Details Ghostly Echoes is the third of William Ritter’s Jackaby novels. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator in New England in the early 1800s. The series is written in first person from the POV of his new assistant, Abigail Rook. The whole series is a great read, and it does some interesting things with the whole “paranormal investigator” concept. But book three takes the series in a totally new direction. I was a bit taken aback at the unexpected shift, but by the end I was loving it and can’t wait for #4.

Product Details Heap House is the first book in Edward Carey’s Iremonger trilogy and it is deliciously weird. It takes place… well… there’s maybe, sort of, a Victorian vibe about it. There’s this house, mansion really, located all alone in the middle of massive piles of garbage. The garbage is added to the heaps from nearby London continuously, and the Iremongers who live in the house (the ‘Heap House’ if you will) are all totally and utterly rich and bizarre and they all carry their birth objects around with them and that doesn’t even begin to describe the mad insanity which doth run amok on the pages. Think Roald Dahl meets Lemony Snicket meets Tim Burton with an obvious Danny Elfman score. It rocks.

Product Details Motley Education follows the adventures of a young girl who can talk to ghosts, but only to three of them. She’s at a school where everybody has some sort of talent, manipulating the world around them as it were. What sets this book apart from all the other “school of magic kids” books is that it is steeped in Norse mythology. It’s fun to really get a chance to explode Yggdrasil and take it seriously, as opposed to how it comes off in the Riorden books. There’s also a nice element of spooky in Motley Education, which makes for a fun read.