Tuesday, October 5, 2010

P.J. Bracegirdle gives us spooky joy and fiendish delights.

Is it some coincidence that my favorite books of late are all by Canadian writers? I think not! My favorite children's magazine, Crow Toes Quarterly, comes from Canada and one of the best horror magazines (not for the kiddies), Rue Morgue, hails from the great north as well. And to top it off, one of my all time favorite artists and fellow BreePod member, Rebekah Joy Plett, resides in... you guessed it. Canada! So I'm thinking there is some magical sauce brewing up there that I need to get my claws on.

Finding P.J. Bracegirdle's series The Joy of Spooking sent me into a tizzy and I was instantly smitten with a fellow MG writer who hurls the wonderful fiendish morsels in book form. Not only is he darn cool, he is also a great writer (and he lives in Canada). So, before I gush on for way too long about Mr. Bracegirdle and Canada, let's get down to business.

P.J. Bracegirdle
Can you tell me a bit of your background and what brought you to writing for children?

P.J. Bracegirdle: I’ve always loved creative writing ever since I can remember. But truth be told, I’ve always loved loafing around just that little bit more. So as I proceeded onward, boring job after boring job, I just barely kept my finger in it, working on a few collaborative projects like producing weird little rock operas and writing the odd short story.

But after getting laid off unexpectedly back in 2002, I had a sudden epiphany. I decided then and there that there was no way I was ever going back to work for another bunch of crud-buckets, no matter how much they paid me. (Which in my experience was very little.) So I came up with a rather ingenious if unlikely plan to avoid it forever: to become a full-time author of some sort of description.

Step one was to cajole my wife Susan Mitchell into fulfilling her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator. This was surprisingly easy as it turned out, and before we knew it she was getting signed up for books left, right, and center. Step two was to then accompany her to a few fancy lunches with editors down in New York City where I could steer the conversation away from her and onto me. And then blam-o! A year or two later, I became a bona fide children’s author.

(And nary a crud-bucket have I ever submitted to since…)

What is your first book and how did you land publication?

PJB: Besides a little mass-market sticker book that came out of one of those lunches, my first proper title was FIENDISH DEEDS, Book One of THE JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy (McElderry/Simon & Schuster). I had been working on a few chapters of the middle-grade story with an ambitious young editor who later went on to acquire and edit a hugely popular Newbery Honor title (I’ll proudly but secretively add). Unfortunately she left that particular publishing house before she was able to successfully pitch the book to her colleagues. However she then did me the favor of introducing me to my agent, Stephen Barbara. Under his guidance, I then finished up the book and we sold it shortly after.*

Since then, I’ve written the rest of the trilogy (I am just putting the finishing touches on the final installment SINISTER SCENES), and have a couple of picture books with Dial Books for Young Readers in the works.

*If you’re starting to see an unfair pattern of talented people helping me out, you are not alone.

What did you learn from that experience that you now apply to your current projects?

PJB: That’s big question. You learn a lot from your first project!

Having written four novels now (one of which has not been put up for sale yet), I’ve began to think of them like houses. If the first thing you do is make the front door, adding all sorts of nice trim, priming and painting, and adding an expensive brass handle and matching mail slot, it may feel like you are doing good work; but you are going to be pretty discouraged when several months elapse and you suddenly realize it opens up to nothing.

So what I’ve learned is this: start by knocking together a bit of an ugly shack first. Put a few walls up. Don’t worry if they look askew; you probably made the bathroom too small anyway. Put on a roof that doesn’t leak, or at least doesn’t leak all that much. Just keep going until you have something solid. Then—and only then—start worrying about how pretty the front door is. Because you know what? You’ll make much sweeter work of the paint job if you aren’t crushed to death by your collapsing structure first.

The other thing I’ve learned? That people love carpentry metaphors! At least I hope they do, otherwise that probably fell pretty flat.

What is the biggest misconception people have about horror (genre) writers?

PJB: Hmm, I don’t strictly consider myself a horror writer, so I might not be the best person to ask. But I’m guessing that a lot of people might think horror writers are a disturbed and morbid lot who get creepy kicks out of coming up with all sorts of gore and grotesqueries for a living.

HOLD THE PHONE! Did you just say Grotesqueries? That is a fabulous word! Ahem, please continue...

PJB: But I don’t know; maybe that’s true. Heck, I know I like writing those parts! Anyway, I’m nevertheless sure horror writers secretly like kittens and puppies and what-have-you, just like everybody else.

Nice kitty...

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

PJB: The latest in THE JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy, UNEARTHLY ASYLUM, again follows twelve-year-old Joy Wells who, obsessed with famous horror writer E. A. Peugeot, spends her time dressing up in a dead woman’s tweeds and investigating paranormal activity around the town of Spooking.

This time around however her nemesis, the mayor’s assistant Mr. Phipps, has trained his sights on the mysterious asylum in the neighborhood for some unknown purpose. But as Joy soon suspects, it is likely another part of the embittered ex-punk rocker’s quest to destroy her beloved hometown.

When her pet frog Fizz becomes trapped behind the walls of the asylum, Joy and her brother Byron mount a rescue operation that brings them once again into conflict with Mr. Phipps. However as the secret history of Spooking further unfolds, they begin to realize that perhaps the man is not quite the villain he seems, and that there are greater and darker forces at work.

This book was particularly fun for me to write as for a brief time I had a job pushing laundry carts down dark tunnels connecting the pavilions of a large mental hospital. I was so scared at times by the shambling figures I encountered down there that I just abandoned my cart and ran the other way.

Why is it so much fun creeping out the kids and writing genre material?

PJB: Behind it all, I’m really just a huge sap who likes to make kids happy. And what makes them happier than having the wits scared out of them? Honestly, I think most kids love to test just how brave they are, and for that they need people like me to provide a bit of good old-fashioned terror. In my case, I let them off the hook with some laughs along the way, but like I said: I’m a huge sap.

There are some awesome genre writers coming from Canada! Why are Canadians so cool and creepy? Will it help my career to move to Canada?

PJB: You know, one of the most persistent beliefs about Canadians is that we are among the most polite and friendly people in the world. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. That’s right: it’s all a trick to draw the unsuspecting onto the blasted heath we call home. So I beg you, career or no career: just stay away! You’ve heard how the hills have eyes? Well the snow has eyes too! And claws! And fangs!

Isn't it strange that one of the craziest movie monsters just happens to wear a hockey mask, and the greatest game in Canadian history is hockey? Uh... I'll let you think about that one.

A huge Asylum thank you to P.J. for stopping by and indulging us. If you have not had the pleasure of reading the Spooking series, then I can't recommend it enough. So ball up with the kiddies and take a journey to the Unearthly Asylum, I think you'll be glad you did.


  1. I'm reading Unearthly Asylum right now and loving it! P.J. is great (and quite spooky)! ;)


  2. Yay! Another great author we're also big fans of! And Crow Toes Quarterly is fantastic too...we just got our hands on all their back issues and will be rambling about them at length this month. And Rue Morgue is a great magazine run by awesome and friendly folks!

    I guess Canada is pretty great (not least of all because it houses us...). Thanks for reminding me - I keep having 'how come everything happens in the U.S.?!' moments. ;)

    Awesome interview!

  3. Love this interview! It's very inspiring to hear from Canadian writers. Go PJB!

  4. Great interview, D.M. and P.J.!

    Your trilogy sounds intriguing, and I loved your carpentry metaphor. It's totally true!

    I have relatives in Canada. Do you think that will help my career? ;)