It’s October, let the Halloween countdown begin!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Costumes and candy, what’s not to like? These days I get my thrills vicariously by handing out sweets at the door, but when I was a kid there was nothing like going out trick-or-treating with a group of friends.

Halloween 198?: That's me as Rainbow Brite

Halloween 198?: That’s me as Rainbow Brite

Here are 13 spooky books to celebrate the season:

1. In a Dark Dark Room and other Scary Stories Alvin Schwartz, Dirk Zimmer (Illustrator) This was the first ‘scary’ book that I had, and I loved it beyond compare. A collection of short stories with just enough scare for young readers.

2. I Spy Spooky Night: A Book of Picture Riddles Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick (Photographer) From the mad scientist’s laboratory in the basement to a spooky cemetery in the backyard, this visual walk through a haunted house is hours of spine tingling fun!

3. The Gashlycrumb Tinies Edward Gorey The definition of macabre.

4. Coraline Neil Gaiman This story is exciting and eerie, and does what all the best fairytales do: speaks to our deepest fears and helps us face them.

5. Clockwork Philip Pullman I won’t spoil it for you, I’ll just say I love how this book comes together. And it features the most terrifying ‘cuckoo clock’ of all time…

6. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth E.L. Konigsburg After reading this book, I became obsessed with becoming a witch. Not strictly spooky, but a great story about loneliness and friendship (and witches).

7. The Pickle King Rebecca Promitzer The atmosphere of this book is so deliciously oppressive it felt like I was reading underwater. And there are ghosts too!

8. Skulduggery Pleasant Derek Landy A great action series with a skeleton detective and his apprentice/sidekick, Valkyrie Cane.

9. The Witches Roald Dahl Roald Dahl pulls no punches, the Grand High Witch is the scariest character I encountered as a child.

10. The Wardstone Chronicles Joseph Delaney Another great series. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son, specially gifted to fight creatures of evil. The books follow his apprenticeship with the current Spook (professional evil-fighter) as he learns and battles all manner of things that go bump in the night.

11. One Day at Horrorland (Goosebumps #16) R.L. Stine I read Goosebumps like they were popcorn, but this was always a special favorite because of my childhood summers at Wonderland in Ocean City.

12. All the Lovely Bad Ones Mary Downing Hahn A classic haunting story, with some very naughty children…

13. The Letter, The Witch and the Ring John Bellairs I could put all of John Bellairs’ modern-gothic books on this list, but this one will always be my favorite. Rose Rita Pottinger and her friend (and real live witch) Mrs. Zimmerman are drawn into a terrifying world of occult mysteries.


  • Fun random fact: The baby in that picture is Ryan O’Keefe from the band River Whyless. Clifford the Big Red Dog is his brother Brendan: puppeteer, performer, builder of magical dwellings, and general renaissance man. The little Rainbow Brite? That’s me!

IT’S v. ITS

My own personal Waterloo.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things I struggle with when I write. I could fill a book. The reason this one issue irks me so much is that I should know better. In fact, I do know better.

I know it’s is a contraction of it is and its is a possessive. But when I type at speed, my fingers refuse to leave out the apostrophe. I have resorted to using the Find All feature to check each one before I send out a draft.

I wish I’d figured that trick out in college. I had one professor who delighted in red-penning this particular mistake. He didn’t hate me. He thought it was funny. When I was a senior and he asked me to proofread his own book, I was ready for payback.

I poured over each page of his manuscript looking for a similar mistake. I bought my own red pen just for the occasion. Did I find one? Nope, not a single incorrect it’s or its in the whole 300 pages. Ten years later and I’m still disappointed.

The Story of My First Rejection…

Every author has to deal with rejection. And every author has at least one rejection story they like to share. This is mine.


When I was 12, I decided to be a writer. And not just any writer, but an honest-to-goodness published author. That meant no one could know I was still just a kid, at least, not until I showed up for my first book signing. (Oh I had big plans.)

My local library had an old beat-up copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which I studied diligently, taking notes on how to format my manuscript and write a cover letter. I made a list of publishers that accepted picture books, put together my submission packs (refused to let my mother proofread anything) and mailed them off.

And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually, I started to suspect my mom was hiding the mail. (She swears she wasn’t.)

Finally, months later, I got something back. Not the SASE I had painstakingly provided, but a big padded envelope. It looked like someone had mailed me a dictionary. My mom sat on the couch next to me, bracing herself to soften the blow when the inevitable rejection came.

Except it didn’t. Not exactly.

Inside the package was a letter stating that the publishing house I submitted to was closing down, and therefore could not accept my submission. But, the letter encouraged me to continue writing and seeking publication. To help me on my journey, someone had photocopied the ENTIRE Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and mailed it to me. Not only that, they’d highlighted the publishers who accepted unagented submissions of picture books.

Sadly, I lost that letter years ago, and I can’t remember the name of the publishing house that was so encouraging. BUT, if you were an editor or editorial assistant or some form of sainted intern and you photocopied an entire book to send to a kid (because you must have figured it out, who was I kidding with that handwriting, right?) who wanted to be a writer, Thank You! I didn’t give up. I kept on writing.

20 years later, I’ve had a lot more rejections. But I’ll always remember my first as being the sweetest.

Happy 2015!

My Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions

 

1. Write a little bit every day

I tend to go on massive writing binges, which is fun, but can leave me brain feeling like swiss cheese. This year I want to try writing little and often and see if I can be one of those organized people I’ve always admired.

 

2. Read more widely

I have a tower of books I’ve bought and been given that look amazing, but I have a bad habit of comfort-reading a few favorite standbys. Time to make a dent in that stack.

 

3. Stop thinking I’ll remember a good idea I have in the middle of the night and start keeping a pen and paper on my bedside table!

Starting things is always difficult…

Writing a first sentence fills me with a special kind of dread. So, here are a few great first sentences other people wrote instead:

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” Matilda, Roald Dahl

“All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

“’Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

“Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done.” Island of the Aunts, Eva Ibbotson

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis