“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.

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!


Welcome to Blogger News Net, 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 midgrade 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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