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Nancy Gray has published a number of works including her middle grade series Spine Chillers. She also published her YA fantasy series Blood Rain. Her short story “Chosen” appeared in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Author Quest: a Penguin Special from Grosset & Dunlap. Her work also appears in various anthologies.

Nancy Gray has been writing for over ten years. Gray lives in South Carolina with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys books, video games, anime, manga, and horror.

Her latest book is the mid-grade horror, Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf.

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About the Book:

Jane is ecstatic when she gets the role of Red Riding Hood in her school play, but she didn’t realize that they’d be using the stuffed wolf prop as the Big Bad Wolf. That tattered old prop has always scared her and, lately, she has been having strange dreams about it that make it seem like it’s something more.

Jane will have to get help to save herself from the hungry spirit that has haunted her people and her nightmares before it consumes her, or worse, escapes the prison of the last creature it took to sate its horrible appetite.

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Would you call yourself a born writer?

I wouldn’t call myself a born writer, though ever since I was a child I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I made up stories to tell my older sister to make her laugh. For a long time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist or a marine biologist, basically one of those other dreams that you think you want as a child and then realize you don’t really want when you’re older. When I was older I enjoyed reading and writing. I began trying my hand at writing short stories and eventually novels. I found that I really loved it. So I guess you could say that it was really when I was a lot older that I realized my dream job was writing.

In my experience I’ve found that most people don’t start out being a “born writer.” People can have a talent for writing, but it takes a lot of hard work to hone it as a skill. I have many early manuscripts that will hopefully never be seen by anyone. At the time I thought they were good, but now I realize they were not. I think that one of the marks of knowing you are a better writer is being able to look at your first work and realize that you weren’t born a natural, but you’ve improved since then.

What was your inspiration for Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf?

I had a lot of inspiration for this particular story. Some of my inspiration comes from Native American legends about the hunting grounds and stories about the legend of the wendigo. Even though the wendigo is typically portrayed as a werewolf, the essence of the legend is actually about the spirit of one who commits the taboo of cannibalism. While my story might not be entirely true to the legend, I combined many Native American themes. In this way I try to honor them and to make them all true in the context of the book. Being quarter Cherokee, I tried to do it in the best way that I possibly could.

I also had inspiration in some odd places. For one thing, the inspiration for the prop room and even the stuffed wolf came from the movie The Neverending Story. In the movie, the main character finds himself hiding in a room full of old science equipment and of all things, there’s a stuffed wolf head on a broom handle that falls down and scares him. Quite honestly, being young when I watched this movie, it scared me too. I try to evoke that feeling in the description of the taxidermy wolf. Something about it is off, and it definitely shouldn’t be there.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

I like to explore the themes of good and evil and the battle within oneself to do the right thing. I try to show that everyone, especially a child, has the capacity to be courageous and powerful even when facing their fears. Many of the creatures in the stories reflect a primal fear in the form of a monster. Many times the child is forced overcome it by themselves because the adults don’t see what they do or refuse to believe it. I feel that in life, there are times when children must face things by themselves. When they do it can be scary, but gaining the ability to stand up to adversity by oneself is a stepping stone to growing up. A child forced to make an adult decision in a sort of “bird out of the nest” moment is also a recurring theme in the stories.

In Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf, the battle mostly takes place in the character’s mind. She is being chased by something horrible that wants to devour her spiritually as well as physically. It takes a great deal of strength for her not to give up when she feels physically and mentally weak from its attack.  Some of the themes I think that are recurring in this story are that you are more powerful than you think, you are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking the help of others to help you with your problems.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

This one took about a month and a half to complete. It was the third book that I wrote, though technically it’s the second in the series. Since I already had extensive notes about the character background, setting, and managed to write a rough outline, writing it didn’t take very long. Writing up specific notes for this story was a work in progress. I did a little research and was inspired by various things and jotted new notes down over the course of about two weeks.

Completing the notes on the entire series of books took longer than I would’ve liked. When I got the idea for this series I was working on my young adult fantasy series, Blood Rain. I intended to work on Spine Chillers, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be an adult story or a story with child characters. It went through a few different versions before it became what it is today.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

When I’m inspired I’m fairly disciplined but I have a lot of responsibilities that have to come first. I have a few cups of coffee with breakfast so that I feel alert. A good rule to follow is never write anything when you’re still groggy in the morning! I also have to do a few things around the house before I can begin writing. I write in the living room on my laptop, but if my house is cluttered I can’t concentrate. So I do some cleaning up before I get started. Also I have two daughters, so I have to write at odd times during the day. When they take their naps, or when they are at school are the best times for me to write.

On a good day I usually can write over two thousand words. On days where I’m not feeling as inspired, I try to at least write something. Sometimes I write up character backgrounds for a role playing game, or I start writing a new short story. If I really can’t think of what to write, then I take a break from it for a few days to a week. One of the things I try not to do is to write on a story that I’m enjoying on a day that I don’t feel like it. Doing that tends to produce something that is at best mediocre, and I strive to make my work as good as it can be. Basically I try not to force it, but on an average day I write for at least two to three hours without a break. If for some reason I have a day where I have no other responsibilities, such as if someone is watching my kids and I’m caught up with my chores, I can write all day long.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

I think the most challenging thing about writing this book was balancing the scenes in the real world with the scenes in the dream world. In most stories you are supposed to avoid very detailed dream sequences because it takes away from the action of the story. In this case the action of the story takes place partially in main character’s dream world. This also made many of the scenes a bit abstract. It was a challenge to balance making the scene frightening but also to convey elements of fantasy, all the while allowing  a character to have a bit of control over her dream.

Another challenge was making the story fitting for my intended audience. There are some adult themes in this story, specifically the concept of cannibalism. There is often a fine line that has to be drawn between the grotesque and what is appropriate. Through most of the story Jane is fighting for her life while the cannibal spirit chases her in her dreams. To make this concept creative and different each time was also somewhat difficult. I think in the end I managed to balance things well, but only my readers can tell me for sure.

What do you love most about being an author?

I think what I love most about being an author is being able to exercise my creativity in a way that is meant to be enjoyed by others. I like the fact that I can paint a picture in another person’s mind. Each individual that reads my work will have a similar experience but one that is unique to them personally.

I also like to entertain people. Even though I made these stories as a way for children to cope with a fear in a dangerous world, I like the fact that I can do it in a way they will enjoy. Reading is a great way to escape and to experience something that you’ve never experienced before. I think everyone occasionally wants to experience something supernatural, something amazing but terrifying and to be able to come back to the real world in the end. Sometimes that makes the real world seem a little better.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

While I have had some correspondence with a traditional publisher, I am happy with my decision to self-publish. By self publishing I have a great deal of freedom over the process. For one thing, I was able to pick out my artists and have some say in the cover art. When you go through a traditional publisher you usually don’t handle that sort of thing.

Also I have been able to be as creative with my writing as I would like. Sometimes people write better stories when they aren’t told what they “can” and “can’t” do. There are many books now that blur genre lines and the lines of what is acceptable for a certain audience. In my books I try to treat my audience with respect. For the most part I write my stories as though I am writing to adults because I believe children are more capable than we tend to give them credit for. Even though I might tone down the violence and the gore, I don’t sugarcoat the darker elements of the story. I like to think these books would appeal to more than just one age group.

Where can we find you on the web?

I have a facebook page under WriterNancyGray. I also have a website nancygray.net. I have a blog on nancygray.blogspot.com. If anyone would like to contact me the best way is though facebook or through my website. I have plenty of room for comments and I would love to hear from you. If you like the books please leave a review on the store page, and you can expect more Spine Chillers from me in the future.

Thank you so much for having me here today to talk to you about my books! I really appreciate the opportunity.

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Nancy Gray

“Sophie got into the backseat of the car and didn’t glance back in the direction of the scarecrow until they were driving. When she did turn to look, even though she knew it wasn’t possible, the scarecrow’s head seemed to be cocked in a different direction, slightly upward, as though it was watching them leave. Just as she was about to say something to her parents, a wall of crows flew up from the cornfield and obscured her view. When they were gone the head was resting down again. Sophie made a whimpering sound in the back of her throat that she was glad her parents didn’t hear and shifted further down into her seat, hoping that even the top of her head wouldn’t show through the back window.”

From Spine Chillers: The Scarecrow by Nancy Gray

Nancy Gray has published a number of works including her young adult fantasy series Blood Rain. Her short story “Chosen” appeared in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Author Quest: a Penguin Special from Grosset & Dunlap. Her work also appears in various anthologies.

Nancy Gray has been writing for over ten years. Gray lives in South Carolina with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys books, video games, anime, manga, and horror.

Her latest book is the mid-grade horror, Spine Chillers: The Scarecrow.

Spine Chillers The Scarecrow

Book Description:

Eleven year old Sophie arrives at her Aunt and Uncle’s farm to horrible news: her cousin, Hunt, has gone missing. When Sophie starts searching for clues to where her cousin went, strange things happen. The scarecrow wanders around the cornfields at night and murders of crows lash out at other animals for no reason at all.

An ancient spirit wants revenge. Sophie will have to be brave and clever in order to save her cousin…and herself!

Interview:

Welcome Nancy! How did you get into writing horror novels for mid-graders?

Nancy: I’ve been inspired to write horror for a long time. I’ve always been a fan of many different horror authors, especially Stephen King. After reading Stephen King’s IT, I started a novel about a haunted school. Originally the story was going to be about the teachers. Basically the nightmares of the children were coming to life, and children were disappearing. Some of the teachers realized that something similar happened to them when they were children. They decided to band together to try to figure out what was going on to try to stop it.

Even though this series started as an adult novel, I began to remember there was always something special about the horror books that I read as a child, like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the Goosebumps series. So I decided to scrap the original idea and decided to focus on the students in the school. Each book of Spine Chillers focuses on the stories of children that have encountered a monster or spirit. They discover that not all scary stories are made up and some legends are true. The five main characters appear in the other stories, and eventually they will form a club to help other children with similar experiences.

Are you a detail freak when it comes to writing your novels?

Nancy: I wouldn’t call myself a “detail freak” because I don’t tend to write long descriptions in most of my stories. I like to give hints about what a character is like through dialogue and their actions. However, I must admit that I write extensive character backgrounds, descriptions, and details about the setting in a notebook before I get started. Though this is considered old school, there’s something to be said about writing by hand in my opinion. Also I can easily take my story notes with me wherever I go.

Every character in the story, from the main characters to the minor characters, has a background that drives their actions. In this way, maybe I am a bit of a detail freak, but not all the details show through in the story. I strive to show enough of the character’s personality for the reader to make their own assumptions about their background. I like the fact that this way the reader can build upon the character’s personality based on their own experiences.

How hard for you was it to sit down and start writing your novel? Did you have all these ideas swirling around your head or did it take some time before you were actually ready to sit down and begin?

Nancy: I worked on ideas for this series off and on for a little over a year. It took a long time to begin because I was working on ideas for it while I was also working on my young adult fantasy series, Blood Rain. If I had focused entirely on developing notes for Spine Chillers during that time it would’ve been a shorter process. However, Blood Rain was a long work in progress that I was finally ready to complete.

As I mentioned earlier, I started by writing up the setting, basically the school and teachers involved in most of the stories. I also wrote up the character descriptions and the backgrounds of the characters. For Spine Chillers: The Scarecrow I was inspired by descriptions of the farm where my husband lived as a child, and I knew I wanted to use that setting. I’d say the initial planning is the longest part, but when I have an idea I jot it down in my story notes as soon as I can.

After I had the setting and characters ready, I started right away. I did a short outline to get ready so that I would have a “road map” to follow for the project. Still, one thing that’s interesting about writing is that the characters don’t always do what you expect. Because of that the outline is always a loose one to accommodate any changes. There were several times that the main character, Sophie, surprised me as the story unfolded. When I’m inspired, I can write very quickly as inspiration pours out of my mind onto the page either with my notes or the manuscript itself.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies. Is there any truth to that?

Nancy: Well, I can’t speak for other writers, but in my case that isn’t true. I’m married and have two children. I also have a good group of friends. We hang out just about every other day of the week to watch anime, play games, and cook out. I also throw a very big Halloween party and Christmas Pot-Luck party every year.

There are also several writer support groups. One such group is National Novel Writing Month where writers in the area meet up to discuss plots, character concepts, etc., in an attempt to finish writing a novel in a month’s time. I’m not as heavily involved in that group as I used to be primarily because I don’t like to push myself to finish in a month’s time. But I have made some good friends through that group.

What makes writing mid-grade horror books so special to you?

Nancy: During elementary school, my friend and I would read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark at recess and during sleepovers in an attempt to scare each other. Also, one of my favorite times of the year is Halloween. I have very fond memories of dressing up, carving pumpkins, and watching scary cartoons. Even though I don’t remember much about elementary school, I remember the Halloween carnival at my school vividly.

As I got older, I started reading the Goosebumps series and watching the television series, as well. I also watched other scary television shows like, Are you Afraid of the Dark, Amazing Stories, and Tales from the Crypt. Every year around Halloween, I think about how special Halloween made me feel as a child and how much fun it was to have a “safe scare.”

The world has become, and I guess in some ways always has always been, a scary place. Middle school is a hard time in a child’s life. It can be scary to go through all the changes a middle school child experiences. Reading about characters around the same age facing something that is frightening sometimes makes the things that scare a child in real life more bearable. I feel honored to try to provide my readers with a feeling of empowerment.

I am so excited about your novel, Spine Chillers: The Scarecrow? Can you tell us a little bit about the main characters?

Nancy: Absolutely!. Sophie is an eleven year old girl who tends to be shy at school and likes to read. She tries to be nice to everyone, even people that she doesn’t like very much because her mother taught her to be polite. She doesn’t do much active playing during recess, preferring to talk to her friends or to read a good book. Adventure stories are her favorite. She does have a mischievous side, though, but only if it is encouraged by a friend. Particularly, her cousin Hunt tends to get her into trouble when she goes to her Aunt’s farm. People sometimes poke fun at her because she is a little bit of a “fraidy cat” at heart, but she is brave when it comes to helping others.

Her cousin Hunt is mischievous and gets into lots of trouble with his parents. He tends to run away for short periods of time to worry them, but mostly does this for attention. His parents are very busy so he runs off to reassure himself that they are thinking about him. In The Scarecrow during one of these times, he doesn’t return. They fear he drowned in the pond, but Sophie doesn’t believe he’s dead and decides to look for him.

Edward is a mysterious character. He’s a boy that is hiding in the barn on the property and says Hunt gave him permission to stay there. He’s hiding something throughout the book, but Sophie doesn’t know exactly what. There is something odd about him, and she begins to wonder if he has something to do with her cousin disappearing.

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point when the reader just can’t put the book down. What is one of the pivotal points in Spine Chillers: The Scarecrow?

Nancy: This is a difficult question for a writer to answer, but from what my test readers say, one of the earliest pivotal points in the book that grips the reader is in the opening chapter. Sophie sees the scarecrow for the first time while it is being pecked by crows. The crows are pulling off one of its button eyes and the creases in the burlap sack used for its head give it an almost angry expression. She gets scared and runs back to the car and, as they drive away, she thinks she sees the head of the scarecrow watching them as they go. For a moment it is obscured by a wall of crows flying up from the cornfield and when she can see it again it’s back the way it was before.

The next pivotal moment is in chapter two when Sophie learns that her cousin Hunt is missing. His parents think he drowned in the pond, but Sophie knows him well enough to believe that he’s still alive. He was too good at swimming to die in that way, and she thinks he’s hiding somewhere on the farm. She decides that she’ll investigate the next day but is disturbed by terrifying dreams that night of something hiding in the cornfield, that isn’t her cousin.

What’s next for you?

Nancy: There will definitely be more Spine Chillers coming in the future. The next book is called Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf. Here is a preview of what the book is about.

Jane is ecstatic when she gets the role of Red Riding Hood in her school play, but she didn’t realize that they’d be using the stuffed wolf prop as the Big Bad Wolf. That tattered old prop has always scared her, and lately she has been having strange dreams about it that make it seem like it’s something more.

Jane will have to get help to save herself from the hungry spirit that has haunted her people and her nightmares before it consumes her, or worse, escapes the prison of the last creature it took to satiate its horrible appetite.

Currently there are five books in the Spine Chillers series, The Scarecrow, Big Bad Wolf, The Beast of Black Pond, Empty Eyes, and The Firefly. Most of the monsters in my stories are based loosely on legends and folklore so there are many more to come. If all goes as planned, the first five books should be published within the next few months. So please keep checking for updates. Thank you again for this interview. It has been a pleasure!

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