August 6, 2019

Interview with Josh Allen, Author of Out to Get You

Interview with Josh Allen
Author of Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe

Today, I'm happy to share my interview with middle-grade author, Josh Allen. Allen's book of scary stories,  Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe, is being published by Holiday House on September 3, 2019. Perfect for any reader aged 8-12 who loves mystery and creepy twists and turns, Out to Get You is highly anticipated and is already receiving great recognition. You can order the book here and read my review here (I gave the book 5 out of 5 stars for its creativity and fun).

Allen teaches creative writing and literature. His work has appeared in Cricket, Dialogue, Juxtapose, and other literary magazines. He lives in Idaho with his family.

What draws you to middle-grade audiences and the scary story genre?

I’m drawn to middle-grade audiences because I’m passionate about transforming kid readers into adult readers, about reminding kids as they age that books are wondrous and fun. I think that when a kid stumbles upon the right book at the right time, that kid becomes a lifelong reader. So I write for kids because my dream is to offer a book that will do that for just one kid.

I write scary stories for two main reasons.

First, I think kids today have a lot to be afraid of. The world is big and frightening, and too many of adults that kids encounter are angry—angry at their world leaders, angry at their televisions, angry at each other. Horror offers kids a catharsis for their fears, a safe space to experience and work out their anxieties, so that when real fears inevitably descend, which they will, kids will be better equipped to navigate those emotions. Basically, I’m trying to use horror stories to inoculate kids against a massively frightening world.

Second, and this is perhaps the more important reason I wrote scary stories, they’re massively fun.

Do you also write for young adult or children’s audiences? What other projects are you working on?

I write primarily for middle-grade audiences, that is, 8-12 year olds. I’ve got a second collection of horror stories in the works that I hope will be out there in the world soon, and I’m also working on a non-horror novel for kids set in the 1980s that’s all about family bonds, the healing power of music, our need for community, a man with eight fingers, the space shuttle explosion, and the death penalty. Trust me, it’ll all eventually make sense. I hope.

Who are your favorite writers of middle-grade fiction? Who are some of your other favorite writers?

I love Gary D. Schmidt, Jason Reynolds, Kate diCamillo, Lauren Wolk, Erin Entrada Kelly, and too many other brilliant middle-grade writers to name. There’s just so much talent in the genre right now.

I also love Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Anthony Doerr, Michael Chabon, and Alice Walker.

Your story collection features eerie conundrums and mysterious twists and turns. Where do your ideas come from?

This answer is a bit hippy-dippy, but I believe we exist in a creative universe that wants to help us be creative, that is actually designed to draw out our creativity. So, I believe that the universe is out there trying to give us what we need to fulfill our creative destinies, whether we’re trying to write, paint, sculpt, dance, or whatever (see, like I said, pretty hippy-dippy). The secret to getting ideas then, is to Pay Attention. As Anne Lamott says, “There is ecstasy in paying attention... Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that - the details, the nuance, what is. If you start to look around, you will start to see.”

Most ideas just kind of come to me when I slow down, breathe, and look around. When I Pay Attention.

What’s the editing process been like?

LONG! I revise a lot. A few months ago, I cleaned up my office, and every time I came across a printed draft of Out to Get You, I stacked it in the corner. Here’s how high that stack got by the time I finished:

And I should point out that this doesn’t include all of the drafts I never bothered printing.

How did you find your book agent?

I found an agent with the help of Gary D. Schmidt, who’s a fine writer and a fine friend. After I published a creepy story in a national magazine called Cricket, Gary put me in touch with Rick Margolis, who runs the Rising Bear Literary Agency. I sent Rick a manuscript, and fortunately for me, he liked it.

What’s the best reaction you could envision an 8-12 year-old having to reading your book?

Reading it, loving it, and then running out to find another book they love just as much.

Have your kids read your book? Do they think you’re cool?

They’ve read some of the stories. I’m not sure they think I’m cool. In their eyes, I think I’ve always been just their moderately geeky dad. (PROOF: I’m writing this in cargo shorts.) So I suspect that my publishing a book hasn’t raised my kids’ opinion of me as much as it has lowered their opinion of all writers in general.

Out to Get You features some great cover art and illustrations from Sarah Coleman. Were you able to collaborate or share ideas at all?

Not much, but I love Sarah’s work! Sarah is this fantastic illustrator who’s done work for so many amazing writers including Harper Lee, Cornelia Funk, and Lauren Wolk. She’s so good that I just got out of the way and let her do her thing.

But there was one day she reached out to me for collaboration. One of my stories is set in a boy’s bathroom, and Sarah was working on an illustration that had a bunch of graffiti on the walls. But because Sarah is British, her graffiti was very British. And because Sarah is a girl, her graffiti was a bit girly. So, she asked me one day to send her a list of the kinds of things that might be written on bathroom walls in American boy bathrooms. So, I spent a bunch of time that day brainstorming bathroom graffiti. It was a hoot!

Your book also has a glow-in-the-dark cover. What was your reaction to hearing your publisher was doing this?

The ten-year-old who lives inside my forty-five-year-old body completely took over. I think I actually squealed and jumped around like a madman. I’m glad there’s no video.

Could Out to Get You turn into a series?

I sure hope so! I’ve got a second book of spooky stories almost finished, and I’d love to continue this amazing ride.

You teach full-time as an English professor. When do you manage to fit in your writing time?

I sneak in writing time when I can. Evenings. Weekends. During boring meetings. Mostly, I write early in the morning before the day gets going because once I start with classes and students and grading papers, it’s very hard to eek out any time at all.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write something every day. Read something every day.

In “The Voice,” the teacher has mastered a voice she uses to get her students to follow instructions. Have you mastered “the voice”?

Do I have an authoritative teaching voice? No way. When I completely lose control of my class, my go-to technique is to point out with some lame joke that I’ve completely lost control of the class. (“Wow, I’m a mess. I usually don’t lose control of a class this bad until at least the third week. Oh well.”) Then my students take pity on me and let me pretend I’m still in charge.

What’s more stressful, facing a pile of papers to grade or facing a story that needs rewriting?

Grading papers. I almost always want to write. I almost never want to grade. I generally like reading my students' work. I just hate grading it.

Lastly, in your “Sorry, Froggy” story, Brady eats a pizza bomb. That sounds amazing, but what exactly is that?

Pizza bombs are like calzones—bread dough stuffed with pizza toppings and cheese and sauce. Google them and check out the images. Your mouth will water. I chose pizza bombs for the story because I needed a food Brady could eat in the opening scene that would make him seem slightly barbaric. He couldn’t really be eating a chef’s salad or a lamb chop or anything that would include utensils. Also, I think the name pizza bomb is kind of hilarious.

But yes, they’re delicious.

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