Guest Blogger and Debut author Lisa Schmid talks GHOSTS!

by Lisa Schmid

There is no such thing as ghosts. Right? I must admit when it comes to the subject, I’m a bit conflicted.

I love visiting “haunted” places like the Whaley House in San Diego.  Rumored to be the most haunted house in the United States, I have toured it a couple of times, hoping to see a chandelier sway or a spectral vision glide across the room. No such luck. But, to be perfectly honest, if I did see a ghost, I’d probably Scooby Doo it right out of there.

Another fun fact about me, I don’t want to see ghosts on my home turf or where I am spending the night.

For example, a couple of years ago I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. The first night while serving up scary banquet food, our waiter served up scary stories about ghosts who inhabit the hotel. One tale, in particular about a creepy ghost girl residing on the ninth floor totally freaked me out. Why? Because I, of course, was staying on the ninth floor. Go figure. So I did what any brave soul would do, I slept with the lights on. All. Four. Nights. 

When my husband and I were house hunting, we found a listing online that checked all the boxes. Yay! But wait, in one picture I spotted orbs of light––a sure sign of ghosts––right? Hoping it was just a trick of the light, I did what any smart perspective buyer would do when touring a home, I took pictures to make sure it was an orb free zone. No ghosts. Whew!

To be clear, I like the idea of friendly ghosts, not the kind that your melt your face or push you down a flight of stairs. I am more the comic relief/ sarcastic sidekick kind of ghost lover. The spiritual being who is there to amuse and protect. 

Growing up my favorite TV shows and movies involved friendly ghosts. I loved The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, about a ghostly sea captain who falls in love with the beautiful widow. Then there was Topper about not one, but two ghosts who use the afterlife to help their stuffy (live) friend have a good time. And of course, who could forget The Canterville Ghost that involves teen angst and a 17th-century ghost. Not sure which one is scarier.

But my all-time favorite was the sixties British detective TV show, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), renamed My Partner The Ghost for American audiences. Everything about the show was cheesy goodness.

In the first episode Marty Hopkirk is murdered during an investigation, but returns as a ghost. His partner, Jeff Randall is the only character able to see or hear him. This leads to delicious mischief and mayhem.

Marty was the perfect sidekick. Always witty and always looking out for his best friend and partner, Jeff. I loved their friendship, the banter, and the far-fetched cases. Several episodes are available for viewing on YouTube. And yes, I just paused to watch one. Still . . . So good.

When I decided to write a children’s book, this show was still pinging around inside my head. The thought of having a best friend who just happens to be a ghost sounded precisely like the kind of story I would want to read if I were still a kid. And as luck would have it, I had just moved to Folsom, home of the California Gold Rush and a paranormal hotspot. My new town turned out to be the perfect setting for my debut novel, Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold (North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press- June 18, 2019).

Within days of moving into our new home, I discovered a bent piece of metal embedded in the trunk of an oak tree in our backyard. The metal had grown with the tree, twisting and molding itself around the gnarled roots. It was the perfect catalyst for my story.

Daily walks turned into fact-finding missions and location scouting for my book. It was like the universe was guiding me . . . Or perhaps, a friendly ghost. Every excursion provided me with a new nugget of information that I could use. Folsom was a historical goldmine, all I had to do was go out and dig.

Not to give too much away, but I thought it would be fun to share a person and place that were the inspirations for a character and a location.

First up, Captain Cook. I based this quirky character on Jim Snook. He owns Snooks Candy. The first time I met him, I knew I had to find a place for him in my story. Here is a passage from Ollie Oxley and The Ghost:

Before long, a man appeared carrying a tray of freshly baked Snickerdoodles. He looked like he couldn’t decide what he wanted to be for Halloween—a pirate or a pastry chef. The bright red bandana tied around his head made his ears stick out, and his smile revealed a gold front tooth. He was wearing black and white checkered chef pants, and a white apron with the Jolly Roger stitched in black across the pocket.

“Well, shiver me timbers!” He set the tray down and came out from behind the counter to give Mom a big hug. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Jenny Oxley.”

No, Jim Snook does not talk like a pirate, but Captain Cook does. I often wonder if kids will expect Jim to speak like a pirate when they visit Snooks. I am secretly hoping that he will embrace the persona. Wouldn’t that be fun? Arrr!

Next up, home of the antagonist––Aubray Kelly. One day, when I was out for a walk, I came across a man standing in his front yard. He was kind enough to share with me the sordid history behind his one hundred and fifty-year-old home. Here is a passage from Ollie Oxley and The Ghost:

In the 1800s, the Kelly residence had served as the town courthouse—and gallows. The trials of murderers and thieves took place on the main floor. If found guilty, the convicted were taken to the basement and hanged. Justice came so swiftly; it left some of the condemned to wonder, “What the heck just happened?” Thus, a ragtag gaggle of misfit ghosts set up camp and refused to leave.

The lime-green house was run-down and gloomy, and the drab curtains were drawn tight. A trio of garden gnomes greeted Teddy with stony stares; their paint chipped and peeled. Teddy poked his head through the front door. Mismatched furniture crowded the house in muted shades of dull. The dim glow from an overhead light offered little cheer.

Seriously, this was the ideal home for Aubray. On a side note, I did tour the house, and yes, I did go down into the basement. It was tiny, dark and eerie, and the air was thick. The house was probably filled to the brim with ghosts, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

These are just a couple of the fantastic tidbits I was able to glean from my new neighborhood. I think all authors write what they know. Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of material.

I hope next summer you’ll pick up my book. In the meantime, I highly recommend:

The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow, by Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson; The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, by Lindsay Currie; and, I Text Dead People, by Rose Cooper.

All three books are sure to get you into the holiday spirit. Not too scary, but not too sweet.

This Halloween, don’t forget to leave the lights on. You never know who or what may be lurking in the shadows. Happy haunting!

Lisa’s debut middle grade novel is Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold (North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press, June 18, 2019).

Find Lisa at:

Website: www.lisalschmid.com

Twitter: @lisalschmid

FB: LisaLSchmid

Jake Burt talks about The Right Hook of Devin Velma

Greetings from Witness Protection, Jake Burt’s debut middle grade novel, walks the line between funny and poignant so perfectly, I couldn’t put it down. That same light touch shines in his second novel for middle grader readers, The Right Hook of Devin Velma. In this story of friendship, anxiety, families and basketball, Burt creates characters who struggle with some of the harsher aspects of modern American life and yet come out stronger for the experience.

(Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound or purchase from your local indie bookstore!)

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A chat with debut author Lija Fisher, author of The Cryptid Catcher

What I love about The Cryptid Catcher is how much of a mess Clivo’s life is but he grits his teeth and perseveres anyway. This boy just can’t catch a break. His father has recently died, he’s stuck living with a kooky aunt and, as it turns out, he really doesn’t know much about his family. As the story unravels, with wild adventure and edge of your seat tension, the pieces begin to fall into place and Clivo starts to understand his purpose. I read this in one seating and can’t wait for the sequel.

(Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, Indiebound)

How about some questions for this debut author, yes?

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Farting robots! Chaos! Hilarity! We must be chatting with middle grade author Jarrett Lerner…

From the minute I saw the cover of EngiNerds, I was all in. I love the way the super smart ‘nerd’ boys are just average tweens in so many ways. This makes them relatable even when their adventures get wild. In the first of the series, Ken and pals discover the cool robots that appeared mysteriously on their doorsteps are not all positive. Sure, they can be awesome but they can also be destructive. Soon, the boys find themselves in a desperate race to save not only themselves but also the world.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound

From the beginning, EngiNerds is fast paced, thrilling, action packed adventure and chaos. I love this stuff! What influenced your desire to write this kind of book?

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A chat with the middle grade author duo Kati Bartkowski & Heidi Lang

I’m a huge fan of sequels, especially ones that get my heart pounding!  A Hint of Hydra, the follow up to last summer’s A Dash of Dragon, fits the bill. The series features Lailu, a monster cuisine chef with the best curses (‘What the spatula?’) and a extra serving of bravery.  The amazing world building from the first book holds steady in this tense, action packed story, which finds Lailu trying to prevent a war between the elves and the scientists. There is also a cute boy. What’s not to love??

(PS: When I first interviewed this sister writing duo, I just knew I wanted to hang out with them in real life. And it’s happening! Join us at Keplers Books in Meno Park on September 14th 6:00-8:00 for Mighty Middle Grade, a panel moderated by the amazing Jill Diamond. We are going to have fun and you want to be there. More details here.)

(Buy A Hint of Hydra: AmazonB&NIndieBound)

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Power Play: Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls #2 is out today!

Abby and the rest of her friends go international as they embark on their first “official” Center mission in this second book in the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

After discovering the truth about her spy school/boarding school—and her super-spy mom—Abby Hunter is ready for her next adventure, but what’s about to happen is something she never would have guessed…

Everyone at The Smith School is obsessed with Monster Mayhem, the latest reality video game craze. But when Drexel Caine, the mastermind behind the game is suddenly kidnapped, it becomes clear that the kidnappers are playing for more than just special badges.

After Drexel’s son—who is Abby’s friend, Toby—receives a cryptic message, Abby and her friends discover the kidnapping is part of a bigger scheme that could take down The Center for good.

With the help of Abby’s frenemy (and reluctant mentor), Veronica Brooks, the group tackles their first official Center Mission. They tangle with the world’s most notorious hacker, get in trouble for the possible theft of the Mona Lisa, and prepare for the ultimate showdown in London. But not before they have to contend with one more hurdle: the agonizing Smith School Spring Formal. Along the way, they discover they are much stronger as a team they can ever be alone.

And with a little luck, they might just save the world.

Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound

Cover reveal for….(drum roll)….Jenny Lundquist’s The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams

I had the great good fortune to spend several days with Jenny at a book festival earlier this year and I could not be more excited about her forthcoming novel! The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams is a hopeful middle grade story of three former friends who must come together at their annual town carnival to heal and reconnect after a tragedy.

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Summer Reading 2018

Multiple studies now prove what we always knew: summer reading helps prevent the ‘summer slide’ or summer learning loss. And some experts say it takes just five books to reap the benefits. We can do that.

Of course, for some kids, reading is as natural as breathing but for others it’s a struggle. Fortunately, there are many amazing programs out there, including those at your local library, that encourage kids to pick up books during these long, hot, unstructured, wild and free summer days. (Check out my reluctant reader guide for tips, too.)

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A chat with Wendy McLeod MacKnight about The Frame Up

I’m a sucker for a great art museum, especially if it has an audio tour that gets into the history surrounding the paintings. There is so much drama there, so much happening, but when I offer an art museum outing to my kids they look at me as if I suggested they eat glass. Which is one of the many reasons I love The Frame Up, Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s latest middle grade novel. Paintings come dazzlingly to life here in a fresh and oh so creative way that will make kids think about art in a whole new light. Add in modern friendship, family tension and creepy bad guys and I venture to guess you won’t be able to put this one down until you turn the very last page. I certainly couldn’t.

And lucky us, Wendy is here to answer some questions….

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Alexandra Ott, author of middle graded adventure fantasy The Shadow Thieves

The Shadow Thieves, the thrilling sequel to Rules for Thieves, is a must read for action fantasy enthusiasts in the middle grade space. Ott’s willingness to delve into her characters’ ambiguity brings them vividly to life. People are complex in the real world and reflecting this on the page makes for a compelling story. Plus, I can’t get enough of brave, determined and loyal Alli! She fits right in with the many wonderful girl leads I’ve encountered lately that won’t let me go until I finish. I think I’m going to start calling them ‘the one sitting club’.  (Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound)

And now some questions for Alexandra…

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing come from?

I always loved stories, even as a child. My parents read aloud to me often before I was old enough to read on my own, and I’ve been devouring books ever since. I think I was about 7 or 8 years old when I realized that being an author was an actual job, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since!

The Shadow Thieves is the sequel to Rules for Thieves and picks up after 12-year-old Alli Rosco is released from prison. Did you have the sequel story in mind when you wrote the first installment?

I had a loose idea of what would happen in the sequel. I knew which characters I wanted to bring back, what I wanted the focus of the story to be, and how I wanted it to end. But most of the plot details were invented in the process of writing the manuscript. I write most of my books this way; I like to have a plan but also leave plenty of room to explore as I go along.

In Shadow, like Rules, Alli ends up in that gray space between what is right and what is necessary. You illustrate so well how life is messy and things are rarely straightforward. Was this your intention with Alli?

Thank you! Yes, I knew even before I wrote the first book that it was a theme I wanted to explore—how to navigate that gray area, and how to choose between moral responsibility and survival. Alli is often placed in impossible situations where the right answer is never easy, and she has to figure out which choices she can live with and which lines she won’t cross. I think it’s an interesting dilemma to give any character, but particularly one as young as Alli who’s really finding her place in the world for the first time.

The Thieves exist in a fantasy world with touches of magic. I love how you’ve created a world that isn’t flashy or in your face but is just different enough for the reader to feel like she’s left the familiar behind. Did this world evolve or did you map out the rules before you began writing the books?

It was a little of both, I think. I knew going into it what kind of world I wanted to create, and I made lots of notes for myself before I started writing—things like how the governments are structured, the major cultural differences between the two main cities in the books, how their economy and currency works, the rules surrounding magic and how it influences the world, that sort of thing. But I also continued to develop the world as I wrote the story, and filled in a lot of holes in the worldbuilding that I hadn’t worked out beforehand. My goal was to create a world that’s easily accessible and understandable while also feeling fantastical.

I’m currently working on the third in a series so this question is for me! Which was harder to write, book one or two?

They both had their own challenges, but I’d say the second book was harder. With sequels, it’s always hard to find the right balance between including elements and characters that readers love from the first book while also introducing something new. Plus, I had deadlines while working on the second book, so I had to write it much faster than the first!

Who are your favorite authors?

 This is an impossible question to answer! I have so many. Some of my favorite children’s authors are J.K. Rowling, Cornelia Funke, Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce, to name just a few.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

 Reading, of course!

What are you working on right now?

 I’ve just started writing my next middle grade project. I have to keep the details a secret for now, but I think readers who love adventure fantasy stories with fierce female protagonists—like Rules for Thieves!—will enjoy this one too. I’ll have more information to share about this project very soon!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

 I love hearing from readers! They’re more than welcome to email me via my website, www.alexandraott.com, or to reach out on social media. I can be found on Twitter as @Alexandra_Ott, on Instagram as @alexottbooks, or on Facebook as alexandraottbooks.