Friday, October 5, 2018

Interview & Blog Tour: Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf by Nancy Gray (Mid-Gradde Horror)

Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf by Nancy Gray, Mid-Grade Horror, 112 pp.

Author: Nancy Gray
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 112
Genre: Middle Grade Horror

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.




RIU: Hi, Nancy! Welcome to Rising Indies United. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello. I’m Nancy Gray and I write many different genres but right now I’m focusing on middle grade horror and the Spine Chillers series. I live in South Carolina and have been writing for ten years. Recently I published a young adult fantasy trilogy called “Blood Rain.” I was also a finalist in the Dark Crystal Authorquest competition. If you’re interested, my short story “Chosen” appears in Jim Henson’s the Dark Crystal Authorquest e-book.

RIU: When did you first begin writing? Did you find it daunting or did you just jump in feet first?

I began writing during college. I don’t think I really found it daunting because I was doing it for fun. I had a creative writing class and wrote my first horror story. The teacher encouraged me to publish it, but I didn’t initially have success. However the encouragement made me decide to write more. I started off writing for anthologies. I thought of it as a challenge sort of like an assignment for creative writing.
After writing some short stories and finally getting them published in various anthologies, I moved on to writing novels. I take my writing one day at a time so I don’t typically get overwhelmed with the process. I guess you can say that I jump in feet first to writing, but I do a lot of preparation before I write. I usually write an outline or at least know roughly what I plan to write, so I guess you could say that I test the water a little first.

RIU: What inspired you to write Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf? 

Many things inspired me to write the Spine Chillers series. First of all, as I child I read the Scary Stories series and many of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. I started reading Stephen King novels around the age of twelve. I also watched several horror themed TV shows that were inspirational including Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Tales from the Crypt, and even Amazing Stories.
I was inspired to write Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf from Native American legends about the wendigo, the twisted spirit of someone who was a cannibal in life. Spine Chillers: Big Bad Wolf contains elements of many Native American stories from different cultures because in the book all of them are supposed to be true. The spirits described in these stories come from the hunting grounds, a place that the main character enters in her dreams. While the legends might not be completely accurate in my story I tried to be respectful of them. Since I have a quarter of Native American blood in my ancestry, I feel that I need to be respectful of the cultures and legends of different tribes not just the ones from my bloodline.

RIU: Why horror? And why mid-grade? 

This is a very good question. I actually wrote an entire blog about this recently. There are many reasons why I chose horror for this age group. I’ll try to sum it up as best as I can. The world today is a scary place. Amid stories of child trafficking, families splitting up, school shootings, and other horrible realities that children are exposed to, stories about children fighting monsters and facing their fears are important.
In the Spine Chillers series, my characters have to save themselves by being clever, thinking things through, and using their talents in creative ways to fight off the monsters that thrive on their fear. In facing the creatures, many of them have to confront their own inner demons as well and learn what they are and aren’t capable of in order to protect themselves and others.
If my stories can give children courage, and can convince those facing something that seems too big for them that they can be confident in themselves, then I’ll have done what I set out to do with these novels. I’m proud to be a horror writer, and especially one for middle school children.

RIU: You also have a YA Fantasy series, Blood Rain. Can you tell us about that?

Absolutely! Blood Rain is a trilogy about the journey of a young girl named Mercy. Her people are fighting a race of shape-shifting beast men called “Blood Wings” that feed on blood and flesh. One night blood rains on her village from an unnatural storm and the Blood Wings attack in a numbers larger than they’ve ever seen before.
Her father tasks her to escape and find the source of the blood rain. Such a storm has to be magical in nature, and magic hasn’t been seen in over a century. If their enemies can conjure such a storm, her tribe will be destroyed. 
Mercy’s journey takes her across the continent of Lacern where she learns that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. During her journey she is forced to befriend people who are traditionally enemies of her tribe. Together they travel by ship to follow leads about the source of the storm while being pursued by those who wish to stop them. When she finally reaches her destination and discovers the horrible truth, she must make a difficult choice that will affect everyone’s future. Nothing will ever be the same.

RIU: Who have been your biggest supporters?

My biggest supporters have been the members of my family. My parents and my husband have all supported me, even when my writing wasn’t what it is today. My husband tells me honestly how he feels about my books and what I can improve. My mother and my mother-in-law help me edit my stories and some of my friends do as well.
I also wouldn’t have gotten far without my friends test reading my books. In the special thanks section of my novels there are many shout-outs to people who have particularly helped me along the way. 

RIU: Is it hard to balance family life and writing?

At times it can be difficult. I try to write at odd times during the day. Sometimes I write when the children are at school or taking a nap. However, I always make time to spend with my husband when he comes home at night. My family always comes first. I try to take my writing seriously and treat it like I have traditional work hours, and soI quit when the time is right. Usually, I try to find a good spot to finish, such as at the end of a chapter.
My husband also helps me a great deal with the graphic design work involved in arranging the cover and troubleshoots issues that I occasionally have updating the website. It is very important that I have help, and I lean on his support a lot in order to make my deadlines. I’m looking forward to the day when my own children are old enough to test read my stories. I would like to get them involved as well. Right now, their involvement is mostly asking me to play youtube music videos for them, including but not limited to “The Skeleton Dance” and “Baby Shark.” Yes, I did just get that in your head. You’re welcome!  

RIU: What is the hardest part of writing? What is the best part?

There are two hardest parts of writing for me, the beginning and the end. You want to write an opening that draws the audience in, but sometimes you can’t start in the middle of things. The opening also has to be written in such a way that the rest of the book flows together well. The ending is difficult because you want to make sure that everything is wrapped up nicely and there are no loose ends. You want the climax of the story to be exciting and the conclusion to be final. Because of these reasons, it can be difficult to end a story. And I think somewhere deep down it’s difficult for authors to actually end our stories. We get attached to the characters and don’t really want their stories to end in the same way a reader might not want to finish a favorite book. So the ending has to be satisfying as well.
The best part about writing for me is when things start piecing together nicely. When a story is good you can feel it. Also it’s very satisfying when the characters start taking a life of their own. One of parts that I like best is when I have something planned out and the character makes a choice that I don’t expect. When a character is fleshed out enough you realize that sometimes what you plan isn’t actually what they would do in a given situation. The chapters where this happens tend to be the best ones.

RIU: Who has been your biggest influence?

It’s difficult to pick. I would say that my biggest influence for this particular series has been Stephen King. R.L. Stine is a close second because his books are more catered to my audience, but Stephen King’s IT was what inspired these stories in the first place.
Originally the Spine Chillers series started out as an adult novel similar to IT. The main characters were the teachers of the middle school. Students began to disappear and the faculty began to be plagued by nightmares that they once had as children. They realized that a supernatural evil was at work preying on the fears of the children and spiriting them away.
I’ve been reading Stephen King stories since I was twelve. I still read many of his novels today. Even though the subject matter isn’t appropriate for children, I like the fact that he can make mundane objects or even objects that would normally seem cheesy or cliché absolutely terrifying with his descriptions. I also like his straightforward writing style. I try to harness these elements in my own writing, but I have a long way to go.

RIU: What is your writing process?

Even though many people think of this as being somewhat old-fashioned, I start out writing notes on setting and character in a notebook dedicated to a particular story or group of stories. I find taking a notebook places is easier than taking my laptop, and I never know exactly when or where I will be inspired. I even keep a notebook in my bedside table in case I have an interesting dream that I want to write down before I forget.
When I get an idea for a series I usually start with character backgrounds. Spine Chillers was a little different because I started with notes on the setting and then went to the characters. Either way, I use detailed notes about the environments that the children are in, the specifics on each character’s background, and then even the origin of the monster. However these specific details don’t always come up in the story.
Many times a character’s background is hinted at in the finished story but I don’t include details. I want my readers to be able to fill in the blanks and see through each main character’s point of view. If too much is given away, I feel it cheapens the overall effect of the story, and I think my middle grade readers are more than capable of drawing their own conclusions. 

RIU: What advice would you give a new writer?

There is a lot that I’ve learned about writing over the years. First of all, only write what you love. Don’t write something because you think it’s what the publishing industry is looking for right now. It’s difficult to break into writing especially in the traditional way. There will be lots of people trying to break in by predicting what the industry wants. Your book will be better if it is about something you feel passionate about.
Don’t assume you can make a living by writing alone. Sometimes people can. You might even be one of those people, but until you know have another job to make your living. Don’t stop writing though, that’s not what I’m saying at all! Write whenever you can. Even if you only write a few minutes a day every bit helps.
Never give up. This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. If you give up on your dream you won’t get anything published. Don’t let rejections get you down because you’ll have them, but with patience and practice you will succeed.
Finally, don’t stop reading. Reading is important because the more you read the more your writing will naturally get better. You learn about the structure of a story, writing style, grammar, and other important skills just by reading someone else’s story. The wonderful thing about that is you don’t even realize it because you’re lost in a wonderful new world. 

RIU: If you could have dinner with any 5 writers (dead or alive) who would they be and why?

Okay, let me start off by saying these aren’t in any particular order:

I would like to have dinner with Lewis Carroll. I know that seems a little out of the blue considering how much I’ve talked about Stephen King and R.L. Stine, but I think Lewis Carroll would be a very interesting individual. One of the first books I read was Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I still love his poems and stories today.
Next would be Edgar Allen Poe. The works of Poe were very influential to me as a child and it would be interesting to talk to him. I’ve always loved the atmosphere he builds in his work and the sense of foreboding. He’s a real artist with his words.
H.P. Lovecraft is on that list too. Even though he is a very strange individual, it would be great to pick his mind about how he came up with his ideas. Some of his stories are science fiction in nature, but the fact he came up with biological body armor and described basically the aftermath of the nuclear bomb before these concepts had ever been heard of intrigues me.
R.L. Stine is on the list. I would want to find out what he thought of my books since his series was partly what inspired mine. I would also like to find out all of his reasons for writing middle grade horror. He has managed to stay very relevant today, and I admire that. It would be nice to learn more about him in person.
And, of course, I would like to meet Stephen King. King’s work was partly what inspired the Spine Chillers series, and I love his writing style. He also is an interesting individual and I have a feeling he would be interested in talking to the other guests at this imaginary table as much as I would.

RIU: What can we expect from you in the future?

In the near future you can expect me to write and publish many more Spine Chillers stories. The next one in the series is Spine Chillers: The Beast of Black Pond. The main character, Duane, finds out more than he wanted to know when he investigates the drowning deaths of children in the pond next to the school. He could be next…
After The Beast of Black Pond, there will be Spine Chillers: Empty Eyes, Spine Chillers: The Firefly, and one last book from this series around Christmas time. (This one is still a work in progress so the title isn’t finalized yet.) I have high hopes for this series because we need more middle grade horror on the shelves. Please be on the lookout for more of this series. 

RIU: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Nancy. Much continued Success!

Thank you for having me and for giving me an opportunity to talk about my book! 
I really appreciate it!

Chapter 1 - Casting

            “I can’t believe it!  I got the part!” Jane hopped up and down as she looked over the casting sheet one last time to make sure.

            Her best friend, Sophie, laughed, “I knew you would.”

            “I didn’t think so.  I did awful at the audition.  I tripped over my own feet.”

            “Mrs. Rose knew you were nervous because you wanted it more than everyone else.  You deserve it.”

            Jane sighed. “Are you sure that you have to go on that trip?  I want you to be here to at least see the play.”

            Sophie shrugged. “I know.  But, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen my cousin.  Besides, I like spending time on the farm.”

            “I’ll get my mom to tape the show.  We can watch it when you get back.”

            Sophie smiled. “That’s good.  Then at least I’ll get to see it later.  It should be pretty scary.  Well, I’d better go and you’d better too.  You don’t want to make a bad impression being late on the first day.  Good luck, Red Riding Hood.”

            Jane practically skipped to the stage and lined up with the other students that were chosen for parts.  She glanced down the row and frowned.  Patrick was grinning at her with his squinty green eyes and freckled face.

            She snapped, “What are you so smug about, Patsy?”

            He chuckled. “Well, Janey Jane, Let me guess, you were so excited you didn’t read the rest of the cast sheet, right?”

            Jane looked away, embarrassed. “Well, I didn’t want to be late.”

            He laughed harder. “I’m going to be playing the wolf, Red.”

            She ran a hand down her face and murmered. “I knew it was too good to be true…”

            Mrs. Rose walked up to the stage and handed out the scripts to the row of excited students.  Everyone sat down and began to page through their individual copies.  Patrick glanced at Jane with an infuriating grin, but she simply rolled her eyes at him one last time and then moved back to avoid looking in his direction again. 

            Mrs. Rose walked in front of them and said, “First of all, congratulations on all of your parts.  Since this is a Halloween play, I chose the rolls based on who could portray their parts in a suitably ominous way.  Remember, these are fractured fairy tales, so nothing is supposed to end well.  And, the common element in all of them will be the big, bad wolf.”

            Patrick stood up and gave a quick bow.

            Jane thought, “Show off…

            Mrs. Rose continued, “The main theme is Little Red Riding Hood, but as you can see, there will be elements from other stories incorporated.  While she’s going to grandma’s house, she’ll run into Snow White being chased by the woodsman, and themes from other stories as well, as she continues to get lost further and further in the woods.”

            A kid with round glasses and unruly hair spoke up. “Can I play with different colors of lighting depending on the fairy tale?  And can I use strobe effects?”

            “Well, probably no strobe effects.  We wouldn’t want anyone in the audience to have a seizure.  Still, I think different colors according to the story would be excellent.  Everyone, this is Kyle.  He just joined the club as our lead technician.” 

A few people clapped, but Jane clapped a little more than the others. “Thank goodness, someone finally volunteered to be techie, instead of all the backstage work being done by someone who didn’t get a part.  The lighting might actually be good this year. 

Kyle was in a few of her classes, but she never really talked to him.  He didn’t seem the type to be interested in the Drama Club.  He was always playing with his laptop or some kind of electronic device. 

            Patrick whispered in her direction, “I think someone’s in love.”

            Jane whispered back, “Bite me, Patsy.”

            Patrick said, “Maybe I will…AWOOOO!”

            Mrs. Rose tapped her foot impatiently. “Save it for the rehearsal, Patrick.”

            They both muttered an apology and quickly looked at the ground.

            “As you know, we don’t have a good budget this year, so I want all of you to look for old costumes and props that we can reuse.  The basement under the stage is a good place to start, as well as the various trunks backstage.  I believe, if we can get it working, the stuffed wolf would make a great prop too.  There should even be a speaker inside of it from our last play.  Kyle, see if you can reconnect it.”

            “Okay.  It should be pretty easy.”

            “Jane, you go with Kyle and show him the ropes.”

            She nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Rose.”


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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