Kathie: Hi Brad! It’s great to have a chance to talk to you and share the cover of the book you wrote with Louis Sylvester called THE CROOKED DOOR, set for release in Spring 2023 from Henry Holt and Co. This is our first reveal for 2023, so it’s exciting to start seeing books coming out next year. I’d love to hear more about it, please.
Brad: Thanks so much for having me! I’m so excited The Crooked Door is MG Book Village’s first cover reveal for 2023! In a nutshell, The Crooked Door is a standalone, contemporary horror novel for upper middle-graders that centers on a very strange Midwestern community called Pottsville. Our main protagonist, a 13-year-old girl named Ginny Snell, gets stuck in Pottsville after she and her parents encounter a dust storm on their way to Nebraska, where they’ve been forced to relocate after financial difficulties. When their truck breaks down on the outskirts of Pottsville, Ginny and her folks encounter a small heartland town that feels, on the surface, like the most heavenly place on earth, complete with smiling, friendly residents and a postcard-perfect downtown. But surface is the exact right word, because nothing is what it seems and Ginny quickly realizes their new surroundings are . . . not quite right . . . under that pitch-perfect veneer of streets and neighborhoods.
When Louis and I pitched this concept to Henry Holt, we said it’s like R.L. Stine walking into the Twilight Zone and meeting a (kid-friendly) version of the Children of the Corn. It’s a scary, action-packed book, and we’re so excited for our readers to dive in!
Kathie: This novel is your first middle-grade book that isn’t part of the Legends of the Lost Causes series. Was it difficult to leave that world?
Brad: Actually, because Louis and I had concluded the writing of the Legends trilogy in a pretty grand and satisfying fashion back in mid-2019, entering a brand new world — that is to say, entering a contemporary world that wasn’t the Old West — felt exciting and refreshing to us. We definitely miss our old friends, Keech Blackwood and his Lost Causes, but getting to play in a whole new sandbox in Pottsville and invent the scariest town ever put to paper was an absolute blast. But Legends readers, take heart! The world of The Crooked Door may not look like the Old West, but Louis and I have placed a few Easter eggs into Pottsville that you may find . . . familiar. We hope you can spot them!
Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about your main character, Ginny, and one way in which you wish you were more like her?
Brad: In many ways, I feel like Ginny is mine and Louis’s most deeply drawn character, because she lives a complex life that so many kids can relate to and understand. Her family doesn’t come from a lot of money, so they struggle financially for various reasons, and she also faces the same kind of pressures and emotions that so many real kids face these days. Feelings of isolation, estrangement from her parents, the sudden loss of her community, her normal surroundings, her friendships. But out of all that personal turmoil, Ginny is able to tap a deep well of strength that I often wish I could find in myself. Even when everything begins to crumble around her, even as the darkness of Pottsville sets its eyes and teeth on her family, she works to comprehend her own fears and how to overcome them. I wish I had that kind of resilience and courage of heart! (Plus, she’s a mechanic, a pro at fixing engines. I can’t even change a windshield wiper without consulting the Internet for instructions.)
Kathie: What is it about writing horror that you enjoy?
Brad: For me, writing (and reading) horror is a perfect way for me to channel all the fears and frustrations and concerns of the real world and center them in a place that I can control and understand. Some people might view the horror genre as harmful or unhelpful. I see it as the absolute opposite. I see it as an essential conduit for my own anxieties, and we all need those kinds of conduits whether we realize it or not. When I write a scary story, I’m making a promise to myself and to my readers, “Yes, you can and will survive this, and you can come out of this frightening place stronger than you were before.” I also appreciate the fact that horror can be a type of mirror. It can show humanity what it’s doing, what it’s capable of, and where it could end up, but through all of that darkness, it can light the way to more empathy and respect and love and hope.
Kathie: What challenges did co-writing this book during the pandemic pose for you?
Brad: In many ways, co-writing the Legends of the Lost Causes trilogy with Louis was the perfect “dry run” for writing The Crooked Door during the thick of a pandemic. Back in 2011, after Louis began his job as a college professor in Idaho, we grew accustomed to writing together via Google Docs, over 1,000 miles apart from each other. We developed a schedule that worked remarkably well for meeting our publisher deadlines, and we honed those collaborative skills over the course of three interconnecting novels. When the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020, we were just preparing to launch our third and final Legends book, The Key of Skeleton Peak, when the world shut down. Although Louis and I lost a ton of footing on the promotional and marketing side for Legends, we gained the time and ability to go back to the drawing board and come up with a whole new world. We were able to write an early first draft of The Crooked Door in a kind of fever rush in summer and fall of that year. If we experienced any challenges with The Crooked Door, they had more to do with the burnout of being stuck in our homes during a shut-down, and the constant concerns about everyone’s health and safety, than the act of collaborating itself.
Kathie: OK, let’s talk about the book’s cover. Can you tell us who illustrated it and what part you played in it?
Brad: Our artist for this cover is the incredible David Seidman, a dark surrealist who turned out to be the most perfect choice of cover artist our team could have possibly made. When the time came to start hashing out ideas about a cover, Henry Holt reached out to me and Louis and our agent, Amy Stapp, with a few names for possible artists. Louis and Amy and I had already shared some artistic concepts with our long-time editor, Brian Geffen, who has always been so wonderful and open-minded about our ideas. So when Brian and his team offered David’s aesthetic as one of our choices to consider, we realized Henry Holt had not only listened to our concepts but were fully and graciously embracing them. David’s brilliant, unique eye for the uncanny and surreal fits lock-step with our novel’s dark, twisty, otherworldly subject matter, and we’ve been delighted to work with him. I highly recommend checking out David’s incredible, immersive portfolio. But keep the lights on when you do!
Kathie: Drumroll, please, here is the cover!!!
Kathie: Wow, that is SO eye-catching! The characters definitely jump out at you. What would you like readers to know about this book?
Brad: First and foremost, it’s scary. Louis and I wanted not only to take you on a journey into a place you’ve never quite seen before, but we also wanted that journey to be as dangerous and creepy as possible. So prepare to read with the lamp on and the flashlight full of batteries (you’ve been warned)! Second thing to know: it’s full of heart. We didn’t want to write The Crooked Door for scary thrills alone. We wanted our readers to feel for Ginny and her family and friends, so we packed as much humanity into the pages as we possibly could. And finally, we want readers to know that this story is for everyone. We like to think of it as our small contribution to the modern fairytale, and as you know the best fairytales are universal. We hope readers — young and old alike, and from every background imaginable — love Ginny’s story as much as we loved writing it.
Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and Louis, and your writing?
Brad: Though Louis tends to be very quiet on social media, I’m a frequent visitor on Twitter and Instagram (still learning TikTok, though; that one’s gonna take me a while to master). You can find out more about our books at our Macmillan landing page, where you can also find links to preorder The Crooked Door. And if you’re interested in giving us an early review of The Crooked Door, you can always request an e-galley, which is now available at both Edelweiss and NetGalley! You can also visit me at my website, www.bradmcbooks.com, and talk to me on Twitter (@bradmcbooks), and on Instagram (@bradmclelland). In addition, I’m a proud member of the author group, Spooky Middle Grade, so if you’re a teacher or librarian, be sure to contact me and my Spooky friends for author virtual visits!
Kathie: Thanks for letting us be part of your reveal, Brad, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release!
Born and raised in Arkansas, Brad McLelland spent several years working as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. By day, Brad is an editor and writer of firefighter and emergency services training manuals in Oklahoma, and he enjoys playing Mario Kart with his family, taking pictures of his cats, going on long walks through the woods, and watching scary movies. Louis Sylvester earned his PhD from Oklahoma State University (where he met Brad) and is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He enjoys playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board games, watching western films, reading fantasy novels, and spending time with his wife and dog. Brad and Louis are co-authors of the Legends of the Lost Causes series, a middle-grade western fantasy trilogy published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Book 1 of the trilogy received the 2019 Oklahoma Book Award in the Young Adult category, and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Book 2 of the series placed as a Finalist in the 2020 Western Writers of America Spur Awards contest. Brad and Louis will publish their fourth novel, The Crooked Door, with Henry Holt on April 11, 2023.