Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't you JUDGE me!

I like it when lots of good emails come in over the weekend. The short stories are piling up and I am reading lots of creepy, whimsical, and strange treats for the contest. One of the emails I received over the weekend was the uber cool news that I will be a judge for the 2010 CYBILS. What are the Cybils you ask? Here is a link and blurb.

What's a Cybil?
The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles. Nominations open to the public on October 1st.
Can anyone nominate?
Yes, anyone may nominate one book per genre during the nomination period. We post an online form from Oct. 1-15 every year. Publishers, publicists, authors and illustrators may nominate books, as can teens, parents, random visitors ... well, anyone.
Which books are eligible?
Any books published between the end of one contest and start of another. For 2010, that means books released between Oct. 16, 2009 and Oct. 15, 2010.

I will be a judge for the Graphic Novels section of the awards. I can't wait to see what makes it through the panelists hands into mine and fellow judges. Go nominates some books and stay tuned for more updates along the way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dan Poblocki gives us the Nightmarys

This year has brought us some great young adult and middle grade dark delicacies. One of my favorites has been Dan Poblocki's NIGHTMARYS.

Synopsis: Timothy July has been having nightmares. About his brother, who is in a coma after being wounded in Iraq; about his best friend, Stuart, who is behaving like a jerk; about the old biology specimens in jars lining the walls of his classroom; and about Abigail, the new girl who seems to be a magnet for trouble. Or perhaps she is the cause. Suddenly Timothy’s nightmares are coming true. His brother, his face decaying, approaches Timothy on the street. Stuart ends up in the hospital, terrified that monsters are stalking him. And the specimen jars are tormenting not only Timothy but his teacher as well. What is the secret in Abigail’s past that is the key to these horrors? And can Timothy figure it out before his nightmares become a deadly reality?

I've seen, read, written, directed, and witnessed my share of horror. I started reading Dan's book while on a weekend getaway with my family and I found myself creeped out in the middle of the night when I woke up. Could it have been the foreign place I was staying at? Yeah, that might of played into it. But then I got home and kept reading. When I woke up in the middle of the night to take a bathroom break (that's what some of us with small bladders do), I caught myself thinking about the Nightmarys standing in my shower looking at me. Needless to say, the book's imagery sticks with you and induces some good creeps! So of course I have to talk to the guy who gives me the creeps (ahem, I mean creeped me out).

Can you tell me a little of your background and what brought you to writing for children?

Dan Poblocki - In high school, I was torn between several favorite subjects - English, music, and art. Strangely, I ended up studying theater at Syracuse University. I came to New York City shortly after graduation and realized quickly that acting was not for me. I hated auditioning. Daily rejection isn't so much fun. When I decided to change focus, I still wanted and needed to do something creative. I was paying my bills with office temp jobs, which can be... let's say... more-than boring. With plenty of free time and a computer in front of me, I decided to experiment with writing a novel. Four years and nearly 700 pages later, I realized I'd written a terrible book, but I figured that if I could do it once, I could do it again. The next attempt was a little better, and I received some enthusiasm from my first readers which gave me confidence to keep going. My third try was the one that became The Stone Child, my first published work. As for writing children's lit, I didn't really think about it as if it were a choice. The stories I wanted to tell at that time were about kids. I guess I still have a twelve-year-old's brain. My memories of my emotions and experiences at that time are right at the surface. It takes very little to bring me back to middle school. As long as I can continue tapping into my childhood, I'll probably keep writing for young people. It doesn't hurt that some of my favorite books recently have been "written for children." These inspire me to want to be just as great.

Did you know that you wanted to write scary stories or did that manifest out of writing something else first?

DP - The first two manuscripts, which are not published, are contemporary teen stories. They are in no way scary, at least not on purpose. In fact, the books are more romantic than anything else, I suppose, because that's what I was obsessed with when I was a teenager. Relationship stuff. Growing up. Dealing with friends and so-called enemies. Looking further back, at Middle School Land, I was obsessed with other things... Mysteries! Horror movies! Scaring my sister! For me, the spooky stories come directly from where my brain was at when I was twelve.

In your opinion what are some of the key elements a genre story needs to be successful in its execution?

DP - I'm not an expert, but I know what I like when I see it. I think the most important element in a genre story is that it works. There's nothing more unsatisfying after being drawn in by an intriguing plot is to watch it fall apart in the third act. So watch out for plot holes...

Speaking of plot... much of genre is plot driven, but often what makes a genre story so compelling is when the characters are as human as possible. We have to care about the characters on some level in order for the plot to have the highest impact on our senses.

For kids literature, I think another key element is that the child characters are the ones who must solve the problem, or defeat the villain, or save the world. No fair if an adult comes in at the last minute and sets everything right.

Were you writing anything into Stone Child and Nightmarys that had to be dialed down or would not get through edit because of it being too (violent, scary, gory?)

DP - Writing both books, I was surprised that my editors gave me free reign to be as scary as I wanted to be. In fact, for The Stone Child, my editor suggested I ratchet up the suspense even more. In The Nightmarys the only thing that the editor thought might need to be dialed down had nothing to do with the horror elements of the story. In the first draft, one of the main characters had cancer. We all agreed that with everything else that the characters had to go through, this aspect was just too much, so I cut it out.

What is the biggest misconception people have about authors who write creepy stories for kids?

DP - I think the biggest misconception about authors who write creepy stories is just that: we're authors who simply write creepy stories. I certainly like reading creepy stories. I love when someone tells me my books freaked them out or that they couldn't put them down. I love coming up with the darkest, scariest scenes I can imagine, because it thrills me. But I also love inventing complicated characters and exploring relationships and building the place where the story lives and discovering the voice of each book. All of these later elements are parts of story-telling in general, creepy or not. My dream is to be known (someday) as a great story-teller, rather than someone who writes creepy stories. But I'm working on that!

What has been the most challenging part of writing these two books for you? Why?

DP - Waiting. When I started all of this, I had no idea how long it would take for the books to finally reach not only the shelves, but also readers' hands. I was so excited to start sharing my work, but I was also nervous. And time moves really slowly when you're feeling like that. It's not a great feeling.

What is your biggest fear?

DP - One word: Sharks.

Okay, sharks are pretty scary. Since we are putting fears on the table, I thought I would share one that creeps me out every time I think of... her.

Cute little bugger, isn't she?

I want to give a huge thank you to Dan for stopping by the asylum and for giving me the heebie jeebies during the late night hours. I have no doubt he will be known as a great story-teller someday. He's off to a great start.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Halloween Tree

On October 13th, five members of the collective known as The BreePod will present an interpretive reading of the Ray Bradbury children's classic The Halloween Tree.

My sublime agent, Bree Ogden, will be hosting the daily event that counts us down to All Hallows Eve. Every day there will be a new chapter read by one of the BreePod that will sure to be a mix of Dr. Seuss, David Lynch, Dario Argento, and Ed Wood.

To follow the madness return to on Oct. 13th and join the terrorific and spooktacular fun! Until then here are some Halloween goodies, sites, and images to tide you over.

Spooky Blue is a site that shows you how to make paper mache pumpkins, skulls, and other creepy goodies.

Countdown to Halloween is a site that does just what it says. It also links you to several other sites/blogs dedicated to the best holiday of the year. Be warned, there are some sites that are not for children. Parents prescreen before letting the little ones view.

Monster Kid Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to all of the great monster movie classics. No current gore fests here. All classic goodness! One of my faves.

Next up is a portion of the animated version of The Halloween Tree. All seven parts of the video can be viewed at the brand new Literary Asylum You Tube channel, if you care to watch. 

And finally, a few images of The Halloween Tree.

Stay tuned for more Halloween treats, short stories, words of wisdom from master story tellers, and candy bags full of great interviews!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Moose, A Moustache, and Tales of Three with Josh Hauke

Yes, I am a Batman fanatic, love the Iron Man, and I can't get enough Tomb of Dracula. The dark storylines and gobs of violence are not the most family friendly reading you can share with the kids before bed. Fear not! Tales of the Brother Three, written and illustrated by Josh Hauke, brings a family friendly comic that we can all sink our teeth into.

Josh and I share a love of comics, zombies, and absurd humor. When I met him and he showed me TOTB3, I was instantly hooked. Who wouldn't like a stew made of part Calvin and Hobbs and part John Hughes? Okay, now I'm hungry. It's all good though, Josh has plenty of great words to fill us up.

Can you give me a bit of your background and why you chose to write for children?

Josh Hauke: I can remember as a child, oh say around the age of 5 or 6, sitting my mother down at the kitchen table and saying, “I’m sorry Mom, but I can’t live with you and Dad forever. When I grow up, I’m going to move to New York, because that’s where they make all the cartoons.” That’s not exactly where I ended up, but I think it’s safe to say that I knew what I liked. And what I liked was comics and cartooning.

Years later, instead of laughing, I should have listened to my mother when she told me, “I still think you should do something with your art. You’re such a good artist.” Instead, I choose to study film, screenwriting to be exact, it just seemed like more fun at the time. Of course I still found myself doodling and all my scripts were about kids. If it had robots, monsters, aliens, dinosaurs, or boogers, I was there.

At a certain point, just writing about robots, monsters, aliens, dinosaurs, and yes, even boogers wasn’t enough. So I started drawing again and Tales of the Brothers Three is was happened. The characters are great and the thing that I love about them is they have such wild imaginations that I can write and draw any type of story that I want. Even if that story is about a five-year-old sitting his mother down at the table and telling her he’s going to go into cartoons.

For those of us that don't know, can you tell me about Tales of the Brothers Three and how it evolved?

JH: Tales of the Brothers Three originally started as a feature length script. It was loosely based on my family and narrated by the mounted head of a moose that hangs on their wall.

Why a moose you say?

Um, we didn't say anything.

Well, I’ll tell you!

Okay, fine, go ahead.

My grandparent’s had a deer head mounted on the wall in their house. My brothers and I we’re always convinced that no matter where we went in the room it was always watching us. The deer became a moose because, hey it’s funnier and the moose began to speak, telling the tales of what he saw in the home of the Brothers Three.

Now the types of things he sees is a whole other story. Monsters that would rather eat socks than people, haunted mustaches, children being sucked up into vacuum cleaners, moose kissers, space turtles, and some exciting stuff too. Tales of the Brothers Three is a weekly web comic ( that chronicles the misadventures of Keith, Wayne, Dougie and their stuffed monster, Mook.

A lot of their adventures start from things that they misinterpret from adults. So careful next time you tell your kids something, because it my backfire, as it often does for the parent’s of the Brothers Three.

What is your process when creating a comic? How long does it usually take from script to completed piece?

JH: I always start with the story. I’ll write about a months worth of scripts at a time. It takes me a day or two. I usually come up with jokes or funny ideas for other storylines too. Those ideas start to pile up and it works out pretty well for me because it helps me decide what’s going to happen in the strip over the next couple of months.

Once I start drawing I begin with thumbnails of what the comic is going to look like. I want it to be fun and creative, but not too crazy because people need to be able to follow the story. Then I pencil and ink by hand. I ink twice once to rough everything in, then once more to make sure the first set of inks doesn’t get to lonely. This also helps to make the characters and important objects pop. After that, I scan the images into photoshop, clean them up, color them, and drop in the text. The whole process takes a couple of days.

Do you have any advice for a writer/illustrator that wants to start their own webcomic? Any pitfalls to avoid, etc?

JH: My advice would be, learn photoshop. When I was first getting started I was stumbling around blindly. I was drawing, inking, and painting, all by hand. It took an entire week. Then a few friends taught me how to use photoshop properly and I will forever be in their debt for it.

Also, before launching your comic, create a stockpile of material. It’s hard to keep a schedule and if you start to fall behind a week or too you’ll loose a lot of readers.

What are you reading and what/who inspires you to create?

JH: I must admit, I read a lot of comics. Now is a good time to be a kid too (even if only at heart) because there is a lot of good stuff coming out there to read. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, The Runaways, Amulet, Bone, Cul De Sac, I read a lot of horror stuff, and a great web comic called The Abominable Charles Christopher.

I get inspired from a lot of different places, not just books, but film and TV too. When I’m writing I like to watch sitcoms, I’m always amazed at how many jokes they can cram into such a small space. Two of my biggest influences, outside of my actual family, are John Hughes and Bill Watterson. Actually, one of the best things I’ve ever heard said about Tales of the Brothers Three is that it’s like John Hughes meets Calvin and Hobbes.

What other types of projects are you working on?

JH: I am actually working on something new right now. It’s a kid’s zombie story called The Dead Downstream. It’s for a slightly older audience than the Brothers Three and instead of coming out in a strip format I’m hoping to publish it as an original graphic novel. I’m really excited about it because this story and these characters have been swimming around in my head for a long time. It’s also going to have lots of fun things that you wouldn’t normally see in a zombie story like water sliding zombies, or rabid grannies, and bacon. Lots and lots of bacon!

I know you are in the process of querying for agents. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with that? What have you learned that the rest of us can incorporate into our letters or avoid?

JH: I don’t have an agent yet, but I’m hoping to have one soon. I’ve submitted to a few so far and the jury is still out. I do however think that query letters are one of the hardest things to write. I could write 50 pages on how to make the ultimate peanut butter and jelly sandwich with only your thumb and two slices of bread, before I could write a one-page query letter. The problem is you want to make sure everything is perfect before you send it out. That being said, the best advice I’ve gotten so far is, “If your writing something funny, then your query better be funny.”

So watch out agents, because you’re about to get 50 of the funniest pages about making sandwiches that you’ve ever read.

I can't speak for everyone else, Josh, but that sounds like the makings of a pretty awesome book! I love the Peebs & J!

I want to thank Josh for stopping by the Asylum and letting us rattle the brain cage for awhile. I'm looking forward to many more Tales from the brothers and Mook.