I was recently lucky enough to receive a sample copy of The Slither Sisters – a gruesome, action-packed adventure for younger readers set in the aptly named Lovecraft Middle School. The latest book in the series, Teacher’s Pest, is released on the 7th May in the UK and promises more action, more adventure, and even more outrageous monsters.
Speaking to the series’ author, Charles Gilman (real name Jason Rekulak), it’s clear that writing has always been in his blood:
“I’ve been interested in writing and making books for as long as I can remember,” says Charles. “I started drawing and self-publishing my comic strips in 5th grade, more than thirty years ago, and I would sell my (hand-illustrated, handbound) comic books in the school cafeteria for 10 cents a pop. I graduated to fiction during adolescence after finally realising that I really can’t draw. When I graduated from college, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else except working in book publishing; I wanted to get some hands-on experience into process right away!”
It was while working as an editor in Philadelphia that the ideas for Lovecraft Middle School series started to form in Charles’ mind.
“While working in publishing I became really interested in lenticular printing,” continues Charles. “Lenticulars are basically printed images that can change or “morph” when you move past them. Some of them are really sophisticated now, with 12 or even 16 frames of animation. I had this idea for a series of books, a sort of haunted library, and each book would showcase a different person morphing into a different kind of monster. This kind of series seemed best suited for children, and the need for a range of different creatures led me to Lovecraft — to a sort of Lovecraftian world full of different beasts and creatures. Finally, since the covers would be depicting these grotesque physical transformations, it only seemed natural to set the stories in middle school, when children begin to undergo disgusting physical transformations of their own.”
One of the most difficult aspects of writing monster-filled books for young people is striking the balance between writing a good gruesome story, without making the books too scary for younger readers. Thankfully, Charles is in the perfect position to pitch his books at just the right level:
“Striking a balance is quite easy for me,” laughs Charles. “I have a 9 year old son and there are lots of young children in my family. I know their limits! I try to keep the tone pretty light and fun. I think the covers are far more terrifying than anything in the text, and that balance has always felt right to me. If a kid can muster the courage to pick up the book and open it, he or she will be delighted to find that the things we fear often aren’t as scary as we make them out to be. This is certainly something I wish I learned earlier in life!”
With previous books featuring monsters including harpies, cthulus, a gargoyle and a pair of twisted serpentine sisters, the Lovecraft Middle School series is certainly not lacking in monstrous content. In his latest book Teacher’s Pest, Charles has turned his attention to the insect domain:
“Bugs really freak me out,” says Charles. “One of my favourite movie scenes of all time is the bug tunnel sequence in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ – the whole set piece in the middle where the characters are walking on bugs, getting bugs in their hair, reaching into crevasses full of bugs… I’ve watched it a million times and it freaks me out every time. I guess I wanted to do a Lovecraft Middle School that evoked a lot of the same creepy-crawly feelings. As the story opens, it’s early November, winter is coming, and all kinds of insects are creeping and crawling into Lovecraft Middle School. Wasps, head lice, flies, ladybugs, cockroaches… bugs are literally everywhere. The library is infested with moths and silverfish. Clearly something’s up, and Robert and his buddies have to unravel the mystery. Readers can certainly expect another hair-raising adventure with lots of good (and occasionally gross) fun!”
Teacher’s Pest is officially released on the 7th May in the UK, and comes complete with a beautiful lenticular hard-back cover. Will Robert Arthur and his friends survive the foul insect invasion of their school? Read Teacher’s Pest to find out!
So what’s next for author Charles Gilman? Are there any more books in the pipeline?
“Well, I’ve just finished Book 4, Substitute Creature, which comes out in September,” says Charles. “After that, I’d like to see us move to a one-book-a-year schedule, because I’d like for subsequent volumes to grow in terms of length and complexity. I actually have a 12 book arc planned out – 6 books for seventh grade and 6 books for eighth grade. So there’s a lot more adventure left in the series yet!