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Cullen Bunn unearths 'Crooked Hills' YA novel with new Kickstarter

31 Days of Halloween

Cullen Bunn unearths ‘Crooked Hills’ YA novel with new Kickstarter

It’s basically “The Goonies meet the Blair Witch.”

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

When he’s not busy scaring the souls out of adults with books like Shock Shop, Cullen Bunn also scares teens and young kids. Case in point: his 2011 YA novel Crooked Hills. While that book’s since been out of print for some time, Bunn’s decided to terrorize a whole new generation with a brand-new Kickstarter campaign.

Launching this week (October 3), the Crooked Hills kickstarter promises a whole suite of incentives, including handwritten ghost stories. It’s a nice addition to a solid book that takes the trope of spooky small town and flips it right on its head with Bunn’s inventive approach and flair for the extra spooky.

Bunn was also kind enough to answer a few of our questions as the campaign begins. In addition to talking about the story itself and the campaign’s incentive, he discusses his own favorite scary stories and subsequent new books/projects in the Crooked Hills line.

If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, head here.

Cullen Bunn unearths 'Crooked Hills' YA novel with new Kickstarter

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Crooked Hills?

Cullen Bunn: In Crooked Hills, teenager Charlie Ward goes on a summer vacation to visit family in the Missouri Ozarks. The town they visit just happens to be the most haunted town in America. While exploring the town and the surrounding countryside, Charlie and his new friends Marty and Lisa manage to run afoul of not just one sinister witch, but two.

Back in the day, I called it “The Goonies meet the Blair Witch!”

AIPT: How does being primarily a comics writer influence or shape how you approach a novel/story like Crooked Hills?

CB: These day, yes, I’m primarily a comics writer, but I started out writing prose and the joy of doing so has always been with me. Writing comics, though, has changed the way I think about pacing, the way I think about bringing the reader along. With this book especially, every chapter is written in such a way that I’m daring the reader to stop. Cliffhangers aplenty await, urging the reader to move along at a frantic pace.

AIPT: You’ve written some decidedly graphic stories in the past. Is it hard for you to “hold back” when writing to an audience like this?

CB: I don’t think it was that much of a challenge, actually. The “vibe” of the story — the look and feel of it — was always cemented in my brain. There was never a moment when I thought I needed to push the envelope. Don’t get me wrong. There are several gross elements in this book, some real visceral horror, but I never felt the need to make it too grotesque. It wasn’t needed to get the chills I wanted.

AIPT: Similarly, is it harder or easier to spook kids and young people in general? I think it takes a very specific approach and toolkit.

CB: I think kids are more difficult to spook, actually, at least in a story like this. I’ve had plenty of adults who read this book tell me that they found it truly terrifying in places. Kids, on the other hand, were much more caught up in the “fun and games” of the adventure. Again, I feel like the approach to the scares was so heavily informed by my vision for the town and the mood of the tale, it all seemed kind of natural to me.

AIPT: I know you’re a big proponent of horror. But why do you think it’s so important for kids to have these spooky tales? Is there something fundamental about horror?

CB: Let’s face it. Kids like to be scared. They like the thrill. And, from that point of view, a fun, fast-paced horror story can get even reluctant readers to crack open a book. I’ve long said that horror can be a hopeful genre, depending on the story, because you see characters facing these dark forces and striving to persevere. But scary books like this can also be confidence-building for younger readers.

AIPT: Do you have a favorite middle reader-appropriate horror story or book? Maybe something you channeled into this project?

CB: As a kid, I was a big Hardy Boys reader. Mystery, yes, but often creepy. I always wanted the stories to be overt horror. I also loved Choose Your Own Adventure books, many of which had scary twists and turns. Hands down, though, as far as real horror went, reading a bunch of DC horror anthology comics helped fuel the fire, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz just sealed the deal. From there, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury seem top-of-mind.

AIPT: The book’s in the vein of Stranger Things. Why have stories like these seemingly resonated with a greater audience in recent years?

CB: Part of it has to be the nostalgia factor, that longing for the days of hopping on a bike or exploring the woods and finding a mystery. Part of it is the joy of seeing these heroes, these kids, face these supernatural events on their own. They aren’t necessarily experts. They aren’t the best of the best of the best. They’re just kids making mistakes and bungling their way through a wild story. That’s a feeling I hope comes across in Crooked Hills.

Cullen Bunn unearths 'Crooked Hills' YA novel with new Kickstarter

AIPT: You said you wrote this about your many hometowns as a kid. Is that a way to deal with the uncertainty of childhood (whether you moved a lot or not)? And given the shape of our world now, does it make sense that kids would need the same outlet?

CB: I think that’s fair. It’s about uncertainty. It’s about changes in one’s life. It’s about meeting new people and experiencing new things. I think kids today know that the world could change in a moment’s notice. I think it can be good to see others (even if they are fictional characters) going through changes and uncertainty of their own.

AIPT: Are there any cool incentives or benefits planned for the Kickstarter? Do you feel like you’ve become a pro at this platform by now?

CB: I don’t think I’m a pro at Kickstarter by any means, but luckily this book is coming out through the Outer Shadows horror imprint of Outland Entertainment, and they are terrific partners to have! They know what they are doing! And, yes, we have some cool incentives, including “Bunndles” of my all-ages work, one-of-a-kind handwritten Crooked Hills ghost stories, signed books, signed postcards, and much more.

AIPT: What’s it like to “revisit” a book like this? Does it make you reconsider or reflect on the story and what you did right or wrong, etc.?

CB: Crooked Hills has always been on my mind, but it is definitely exciting to come back to it and create this preferred and updated version. It’s also really cool to have Alana and Scott from Outland’s editorial team to help me go through the book and improve upon what’s already there!

AIPT: You’ve hinted at plans for the series’ long-term history. Anything you can reveal or cryptically tease about all of that?

CB: I’m hard at work on the second book in the series, this one titled (at least for now), Crooked Hills: A Casket Full of Nightmares. As with the first book, I wanted to do something really crazy and ambitious, exploring certain tropes of the horror genre in a way that can still be thrilling for younger readers. It’s got Lovecraftian terror, a slasher, and (of course) plenty of ghosts!

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