Sunday, October 31, 2010

My New Head by Ryan Boylston

Take time to read it. Read it twice if you have to. Enjoy this year's 
Halloween Short Story Winner. Our treat.

My New Head 
by Ryan Boylston

Today I walk amongst the humans.  I watch them as they roam the streets, begging for candy in their silly costumes.  Fleshy peachy simpletons, oblivious to my presence.  No screams or shrieks this evening.  I, a headless stranger, weave through the crowds undetected.  How I love Halloween.

They line the streets like flowers in full bloom.  Their pretty faces decorated just for me.  Some households now have two, three, even four.  Hundreds of little round heads ready to be plucked from their home.  Picking one has never been so difficult.  It’s like choosing just one piece of candy from a candy store – one single piece from a sea of juicy possibilities.

In years past I have snatched them from places they feel safe - doorsteps, front yards, even schools.  They come out to visit with friends and show off their new faces.  Faces lit with excitement, waiting to be extinguished.  Tonight my pillow case does not crave treats or sweets.  Tonight my candy bag will only need one item to fill its belly.

Though the night moves quickly, I need to pick wisely.  Selecting the right one takes patience and self control.  I must suppress my urges to grab a small one for convenience sake, or a cute one for laughs.  The head I pluck from its owner will need to be just perfect.  Not too small, or too big – too old or too new.  My twig like hands shake with anticipation.

So which little Jack will I abduct from this town?  Whose little pumpkin will I take home with me tonight?  Mmmmm yes that’s the one.  There, alone on the corner - the one with the classically carved smile, and ghoulish beady eyes.  This will be my best head yet.  No time to waste.  Now is the time.  I move quickly, removing and bagging my trophy in one fluid motion.  My adrenaline peaks as I disappear into an alley.  My hand steadies as the rush retreats and I make my way home.

The morning sun is rising.  The crops begin to glow as the birds near and air warms.  Here comes the true test.  Did I choose the right one?  Here they come.  It's show time and my new head is ready.  Bring me your worst.  For on this day I am more than just a scarecrow.

I am the Pumpkin King!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The HALLOWEENNER of the Short Story Competition

I never thought I would finally see the flickering glow of the pumpkin at the end of the block, but here it is. The judges have weighed in and after much deliberation and late nights of reading through treat bags full of sugary dark goodness we have landed on a winner. This was a very hard decision for us. Among the many stories submitted (and can we say how floored and overwhelmed we are that so many of you entered) there was one story that stuck to our ribs, crept up our spines, and tickled our belly like dancing spiders.

This years award goes to MY NEW HEAD by RYAN BOYLSTON.

Congratulations, Ryan!! 

Please return on Halloween to read Ryan's story. We think you will agree that the power of a few fiendish words placed properly one right after the other can pack quite a wallop. Thank you to everyone that submitted stories this year to the contest. This was a tight competition and you should all be proud of your work and continue to keep on writing!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trace Beaulieu brings us Silly Rhymes


There are some people in the world that exude a level of awesomeness that many of us uber-geeks aspire to. One of those people just happens to be a friend of mine for over a decade now and one of the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and member of the amazing Cinematic Titanic. I'm not one to name drop, or by any means be boastful of connections. But there are times when you realize some of your friends have a cult following and huge fan base, it makes you step back and say wow, that is so cool and well deserved.

Yes, I could go one for days about the many talents of Trace Beaulieu and how wonderful he is and what a hilarious movie riffing master he is. But we are here today to talk about his new book. That's right, he has a new children's book that is absolutely wonderful. Oh sure, of course you are going to say it's great, your friend wrote it. I'm here to say that if this book was sent to me without his name on it, I would love it all the same. Illustrated by the talented Len Peralta, this book is a dark morsel of delight. If the great Roald Dahl was still with us, he might even have a copy of this on his nightstand. 

Can you tell us a little bit about Silly Rhymes and what inspired you to write it?

Trace Beaulieu: I had a bunch of these rhymes sitting around for years. There were maybe half a dozen or so that I had just tossed in a pile of other scraps of writing and ideas. I'd take them out now and again and think about doing something with them, and I thought that I would have to illustrate them myself. That seemed like a daunting task so back in a drawer they would go. I met Len Peralta, who is a wonderful artist. As Len and I got further into the project it became clear that we would need more rhymes so I wrote some new ones and expanded a few others to make them a bit meatier. I really don't know where the initial spark came from. I guess I was in a silly mood. I had an old Remington 5 typewriter back then and I really loved typing these little bits and pieces on that thing.

I love that Silly Rhymes is taking the it's okay to vomit all over your brother mentality, did you tone anything down in the book that you thought might be too much? If so, what?

TB: I wrote what I would have liked to read when I was a kid. This book might not be for every child. That’s really up to the parent to decide. Len has kids from ages two to sixteen and they all got a kick out of it.

There is one rhyme, “Winkle Tinkle” that in my head was about a kid, but when Len drew it he turned it into an adult. I really didn’t mind the change and I think that taking one dark child-oriented story and changing it to a dark grown-up story might have softened it a bit.

Writing a rhyming book for children is considering one of the hardest things to too. Did you have any reservations in tackling this? Was there a lot of rewriting?

TB: There is always rewriting, although, there was one that came out fully formed: the “Becky Webber” rhyme. That one is based on something that really happened to me in kindergarten. I did change the name on that one, so it, too, had a rewrite. Yeah, there is always rewriting.

I didn’t know rhyming books were viewed like that. My ignorance, I guess. I just wrote what I liked, and then Len and I put the book together. We didn’t calculate ahead of time that the world needed another rhyming children’s book. We wanted to work together and things just jelled. There is a great quote I just read attributed to R. Buckminster Fuller, “Dare to be na├»ve”. It’s worked for me in the past.

The few illustrations I have seen are wonderful. What brought you and Len together on this project?

TB: I met Len at Dragon*Con in 2009 when I was there with Cinematic Titanic promoting our shows and DVD’s. He had just done a book called “There’s a Zombie in My Treehouse”, written by Ken Plume and John Robinson. I really liked the illustrations in the book and asked Len if he’d like to work on a project. The idea I had pitched to him at the time was about a wood tick. He immediately sketched a little idea for the main character wearing a straw boater and spats, and dancing with a cane. Did I mention this is a musical? I hadn’t worked out the whole story at that time and kept stalling Len. Then he sent me some of the illustrations he had done for another book, called “Very Grimm Fairy Tales”, and it had a little character vomiting copious amounts of, well, vomit. I loved it and it reminded me of these rhymes I had. I thought it would be a good way to bite off little bits of a project and we could build the book as we went and sort of “accordion” the size to fit our time and budget. I’d send a bit off to Len and he would turn around a pencil sketch right away. I was thrilled to get such a fast response, and the stuff Len sent back was absolutely wonderful. There were a few ideas that I already knew I wanted a certain way, but for the most part Len took my stuff and ran with it. It was a very collaborative partnership. Len is great to work with, and very “yes, and how about this?” 

Do you have plans to write more children's lit, if so, what will you be writing about?

TB: I want to get back to this story about the wood tick. It’s not just about a tick, but about the other disgusting insects, bugs and things that live just outside, some inside too. It will be very educational, funny and gross.

I told Len about another story I have that takes place in the circus. This one isn’t very gross, except there are a few clowns. I’d love to see Len attack the circus world with his illustrations.

What were your favorite children's books that you read growing up?

TB: I loved Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat”, “Green Eggs and Ham”…all of those. The Charles Addams cartoons from the New Yorker. Our library had a collection of those and I loved them. I think I moved on to MAD Magazine and the MAD books pretty early. My brother had those around. Later, my mother gave me a subscription to MAD. How great is that?

I would say that is pretty fantastic! I want to give a shout out to my mother who bought me Famous Monsters and Fangoria magazines when I was growing up. Thanks for supporting my love of the macabre, Mom!

Thank you so much, Trace, for stopping by the Asylum. I hope for great success with Silly Rhymes. I can't recommend it enough. Order Silly Rhymes here:

I would also like to give a big Thank You to Len Peralta for supplying us with his fantastic images. Check out Len's site here for more of his amazing work and lots of other goodies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Zombiekins: Revenge of the Illustrator, Aaron Blecha

If you are like me, the images in a book are just as important as the words, especially when it comes to creepy crawly middle grade delicacies like Zombiekins! And for many of us, the cover of a book can entice you to purchase it if the artwork is terrorific. Such is the case for Kevin Bolger's and Aaron Blecha's Zombiekins.

Aaron had me at undead and hooked me right away when my eyes skipped over the latest Madonna book and landed on some of the best pus-filled eye candy in a long time. The story held up and the art was its equal. I love it when that happens. And thanks to Kevin, I was able to connect with Aaron to talk about his craft and what makes all the critters inside his inky-noodle work.

Can you give us a bit of your background and how you came to doing illustrations for kids books?

Aaron Blecha: It's been a somewhat unusual path for me. I've always been a drawer of weird and funny characters growing up but was sidetracked into graphic design at university for a few years. But then I moved to San Francisco, where I found a community of professional artists that were endlessly inspiring to me. That's where I got into character design and illustration for animation and toy companies. After moving on to London, I tried guiding my career into children's books. After illustrating a few graphic novels for kids, Kevin Bolger got in contact and wanted me to animate a cartoon based on his first book, Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger. After we squeaked out Sir Fartslot vs the Dragon, he asked me to illustrate his next book Zombiekins (click here to read the awesome review over at one of my favorite sites Kinder Scares)

From an illustrator point of view do you like it when an author writes in great detail or leaves it up to the imagination and you to create the image?

AB: It's important to have a little direction because the majority of the time an author has a character's image in their head and that can help to kick off the design process. Hopefully as an artist you can take that beginning written description and expand on it and create something both close to what the author visualized but add in your own style and point of view to it. Having an overly descriptive write up can be limiting at times. Luckily Kevin Bolger is the best and and we work very well together.

What is your favorite part of taking on a new book for illustration?

AB: The beginning and the end stages. I really enjoy the initial concept stage of designing the characters. That then sets up the entire look and feel for the world the book is set in. I also get into putting the final touches on the illustrations right before I send them in to the publisher. A couple of days are usually set aside to go through the finals to add some extras. Atmospheric shadows, highlights and funny little details can really make an illustration so much better.

Does a writer get to converse with you about the images? How does that process usually work?

AB: Sometimes it's very much a team effort, other times I don't talk with the author at all during the whole process. A strong relationship with the art director and/or designer of the book is important. I prefer to have open communication with an author though- the book will only be better if both illustrator and writer have a good working relationship and can bounce ideas off one another.

What books and artists have been a major influence on you? Why?

AB: As a kid, I loved Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as did most boys my age. But the early books by Mercer Mayer (Professor Wormbog in Search of the Zipperump-a-Zoo, How the Trollusk Got His Hat, etc) probably have the most influence on me as an artist. He created such a rich world of goofy characters and monsters that has influenced me to this day.

I feel like the children's books in the 70s had more of an edge than the books do that are around now. One of them that I grew up with is Tailypo- A Ghost Story. A scary book about a creature in the deep dark woods that wants revenge. The suspense, the mood and loose drawing style are perfect. Another great old one I just picked up is In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.

In A Dark, Dark Room...

Growing up, I'd open the newspaper directly to the Comics section and have to read Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side first. I loved Bill Waterson's beautifully composed scenes and wicked humor. Even if I didn't always understand The Far Side, Gary Larsen's google-eyed, buck-toothed idiotic characters cracked me up. Both strips went out top of their game!

Nowadays I admire the artwork in the graphic novels illustrated by Guy Davis (BPRD) and Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon).

If you could have illustrated any book throughout time what would it have been and why?

AB: My own books! I've got a bunch of ideas for children's stories that I need to develop and sketch out. Hopefully in the next year or so I'll have some to share.

As far as other books, I guess any classic science fiction stuff- something by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells or Ray Bradbury. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has always been a favorite. Something Wicked this Way Comes is excellent too. But really anything with monsters, deep sea creatures and random weirdness would be good.

What sort of face melting were you doing before Zombiekins?

AB: Before Zombiekins, I illustrated three graphic novels based on old fairy and folk tales for Stone Arch Books. They are creepy and funny retellings of classic stories- The Three Little Pigs, The Ugly Duckling and Paul Bunyan. It was a ton of fun to recreate old characters and update them in my own style.

And now? 

AB: Currently I'm illustrating two other book series- George Brown, Class Clown by Nancy Krulik for Penguin and the upcoming Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless by Allan Woodrow for Harper Collins.

I hate it when trees give wedgies!

Well, I was a big fan before I got to see most of Aaron's work and now I can call myself an uber fan! In short, my mental socks have been blown off and my eyeballs are tizzed out by all the visual sugary goodness that they have been witness too today. 

I can't thank Aaron and Kevin enough for hanging out at the Asylum and being seriously cool. If you haven't gotten yourself an armful of Fartsalot or Zobiekin or George Brown, the get up from the chair this very moment and get to that local bookstore, order them online, get to the library, purchase the e-book... I'll stop before I start talking in an over-amped voice and then want to sell you a vegetable peeler.

A whole gaggle of Blecha characters!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Zombiekins Cartoon

Okay, this is so good it is getting its very own posting today. My love for Zombiekins will be apparent this week when Illustrator extraordinaire, Aaron Blecha comes haunting us tomorrow. Until then, enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

All Hale to Bruce, children's writer!

I'll admit that I was a little nervous about approaching Bruce Hale at the latest SCBWI LA event. Not because he has a James Cameron sized ego or anything like that, but because he is a very successful middle grade writer.

To me, middle grade writers are like Justin Bieber to grade school girls. They are my rock stars and something that I aspire to be. It was the night of the evening gala and I'm pretty sure there was some sort of 70's disco music jamming in the background while I slowly approached Mr. Hale and introduced myself. I didn't drool or let any sort of body function fly and made it through the brief conversation to ask him if he would be open to paying a visit to the Asylum. Without fail, he graciously replied yes with a big smile.

I then made a quick getaway before I had any chance of making a bigger nerd of myself and darted away into the night. And the rest of the story picks up here where I finally got to speak with him.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to writing for kids?

Bruce Hale: I was a reluctant reader as a boy, but once I started reading, I got into it with a vengeance! By the time I was in fifth grade, I wanted to write and illustrate children's books. After a long detour into cartooning, then journalism, then the corporate world, I finally self-published my first picture book, and I was off and running.

What advice can you give to those of us wanting to write middle grade series?

BH: Put yourself in a middle-grade mindset. Remember what you thought was cool back then -- chances are that kids today will enjoy it too. When writing middle grade, I always remind myself not to get too emotionally mature with the characters, but to have fun. Essentially, write to amuse yourself (with one eye on your readers) and you won't go too far wrong.

When writing a series how often do you have to turn out a book? What is usually expected from the publisher?

BH: Series requirements vary. When I was doing Chet Gecko, I turned out a book every six months for years. But some series with longer books only require one story a year; and still others require a book every four months. Short answer: it depends.

A lot of your books are filled with great humor. Is this a key element to you when writing for middle grade? Why?

BH: Yes, it's a key element. Kids love to laugh. And if you get them hooked with a laugh, they'll stay with you.

What is the biggest mistake you see a lot of new writers making? What can they do to be better prepared?

BH: Many writers are so focused on marketing, they don't take the time to edit and revise their work enough. Be sure that story is flawless before you send it out, and you'll have a much better chance of getting published.

Is there a genre that you are dying to tackle but have not made the leap into it yet?

BH: As a lifelong fan of werewolves, zombies, and other ghouls, I'd like to write a supernatural novel. Did a first draft last year, but it needs a LOT more revision before it sees the light of day.

Bruce... brains... send more writers!

In your opinion, what are some of the best middle grade books to read for those of us wanting to write MG?

BH: There are so many wonderful middle grade books. Here are just a few... Sea of Trolls, Bud, Not Buddy, Wolf Brother, Charlotte's Web, Whales on Stilts, The View from Saturday, The Schwa was Here.

If you had to be stuck reading one book over and over, what would it be and why?

BH: That's an impossible question. It'd probably be something from Shakespeare (Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet), because the language is so rich and complex, it invites rereading for deeper understanding.

That went pretty good, right? And you were nervous. Bruce, you are awesome and I want to give you a huge thank you for spending some time here at the Asylum and sharing with us. I'm anxiously awaiting your supernatural novel. The thought of it haunts me!

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.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hauntingly good month at This Literary Life

The swirling green mist and reflective silver eyes rising from the corner of your room are a sign that All Hallows Eve is creeping up on us.

How are you going to celebrate one of the greatest holidays around? Writing a scary story perhaps? Watching a marathon of Universal monster movies?

Or visiting Bree Ogden's (my terrorific agent) site This Literary Life throughout the month for a never ending supply of mind haunting madness. Personally, I am going to be doing all the above, plus more. Gear up boils and ghouls, it's time to get our creep on!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kevin Bolger gives rise to Zombiekins

Today is the first day of October and the kick off to a month of spooktacular, terrorific, and giggle-filled madness. What better way to start the month that brings us Halloween than to speak with the mad creator that gave rise to Zombiekins, Kevin Bolger.

Kevin, like many of us, is a multi-hyphenate. He's a writer, parent, teacher, and uber cool guy. In his insanely busy schedule he was so kind to take time to answer my questions before I stalked him like a horde of flesh eaters in a Romero film. What makes this book so special to me is that it contains a grip of my favorite things - humor, scares, zombies, stuffed animals, and great illustrations by Aaron Blecha.  It goes without saying, even though I am going to, Kevin is my kind of writer and I'm pretty excited to have him here at the Asylum. Without any more blathering from me, here we go.

What brought you to writing for children?

Kevin Bolger: As an elementary teacher specializing in reading and writing, I spent every workday for ten years reading great kids books with actual kids. Naturally that made me want to make one of my own. Books, that is.

Can you tell me a bit of your history and the journey to getting your first book published?

KB: Getting published was easy—it only took me twenty years and eight minutes!

I spent something like four years writing Sir Fartsalot in my “spare time” while working as a teacher. When I thought I was “almost done,” I bought some US stamps (I live in Canada) for return postage so I could mail it around to New York publishing houses. Only the mail rates changed twice while I kept obsessively polishing and polishing. (Literal fact.) I never actually did mail it anywhere. Eventually I fired off an e-mail query to few agents--from a public library computer, because I didn’t even have internet at the time (luddite). Then I went about my day, figuring I had at least broken through the inertia and got my first ten rejections out of the way. Next time I logged in, there was a reply from the lady who wound up being my (awesome) agent, asking to read the manuscript. She liked it, I spent a couple months giving the book ANOTHER polish based on her notes, then she sent it around to some editors and the next day called me and said, “Are you sitting down?” Another 18 months or so of interminable waiting and, ta-dah! A book with my name on it! Right there on the shelves of my local bookstore, rubbing dustcovers with Judy Blume.

Has being a teacher helped your writing? If yes, why?

KB: Yes, in so many ways I don’t know where to begin. I spend all day every day studying books with kids. And kids with books. I don’t know what better training there could possibly be for a wannabe children’s book author. Also I get to play dodgeball with people half my size.

Your books are chock full of humor and great gross out moments. Do you feel these are key elements in writing middle grade?

KB: Yes! The humor part, anyway. Different kids like different elements in books (action, adventure, magic, horses) but nothing has more universal appeal than humor. Aspiring authors out there, the world needs more funny books for middle-graders!

Actually, I don’t think I really resort to as much “gross-out” humor as one would naturally presume from the title of my first book (Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger). The word “fart” appears nowhere in Sir Fartsalot except about a thousand times in the main character’s name. There is a fart joke, but it is strictly implied. I am by nature a bit of a prude about such things. But the best fart joke in kidlit is the “Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers” chapter in Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Super funny read aloud.

Zombiekins has a few zombie gross-out scenes (notably the chapter in which Zombiekins attacks some other stuffed toys) that sort of grew naturally out of the subject matter.

I don’t think gross-out humor is necessary in middle-grade fiction. In fact, it might drive away as many readers (girls) as it draws in (boys).

What aspects do you have to have in your books when you write?

KB: I aspire to write humor in the vein of certain classic nonsense writers (see below) I idolize. So I strive for an absurdist, cartoony, Pythonesque brand of humor. To me, that is a natural fit in a genre where you have the freedom to invent whole worlds, make up words, and otherwise give total rein to your imagination. To me, most middle-grade “humor” out there would be a lot funnier if it was a little less realistic.

Also I aim to pack in a lot of action, and adventure, and in the case of Zombiekins, suspense.

I want to talk about writing spooky for kids. Did you find yourself being cautious of going too far? Or did you let it all hang out and let the editors police it?

KB: I set out to write a book that was as suspenseful as a movie thriller, but funny.

In my experience as a reading teacher, kids were really drawn to purportedly “scary” books, but most of them were structured more like mysteries – kid hears a wolf howl outside his window, finds a paw print on his lawn, and spends most of the novel slowly uncovering the existence of a “monster” that only makes a cameo appearance at the book’s climax.

Whereas I wanted to write a book that was structured like a movie thriller, with an ever-present sense of danger and a lot of “scares” throughout. Only I write spoofs, so it had to be funny. So I use a lot of oral ghost story and movie thriller techniques to build up suspense which usually culminates in a gag.

To my surprise, none of my editors expressed any qualms about the zombie mayhem in the book. I mean, a certain singing dinosaur gets its head ripped off. I definitely expected somebody from corporate would object. But somehow I slipped it by them.

I did try to keep it pretty G-rated, though. My hope is that the book is a little suspenseful for younger children, but the tension always resolves in a sufficiently comical way that isn’t going to give them nightmares, whereas older children will just find it funny.

Zombiekins was a blast! What can we expect in book 2 (any teasers you can share)?

Zombiekins and the other stuffies he attacked in book one come back to life at the three-year-old birthday party of Stanley’s sister Rosalie. Zombie toddlers –‘nuff said.

What kinds of books were you reading growing up? Is there one that you always return to for inspiration?

As a kid in elementary school, I read a lot of superhero comics and comic strips. I don’t remember being a voracious reader of books, exactly, but I seemed to pick some pretty good ones. I remember going crazy over Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not too shabby.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the book that made me want to be a writer.

Nowadays, there are a few classic nonsense writers I reread again and again for inspiration: Stephen Leacock (Nonsense Novels), James Thurber (The White Deer, The 13 Clocks) and Donald Barthelme (supremely funny writer of “experimental” short stories whose one dabbling in children’s literature, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, or the Hithering, Thithering Djinn, won the National Book Award ).

In the kidlit line, I love Roald Dahl, Dav Pilkey, Margaret Mahy, Tove Jansson, Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, Roddy Doyle’s Giggler series, and probably numerous others I am forgetting.

That is a pretty stellar list if you ask me. Many of my favorites there. I want to thank Kevin for haunting the halls here and giving us some good old fashioned creeps and laughs. I am chomping at the chain to get my hands on the next Zombiekins book. Can't wait!