Tales Q&A with A Bates
Do you remember the Point Horror Book Series from the 90’s? The Point Horror Series was a series of young adult point horror books and was launched in 1991 by Scholastic always with the Point Horror banner on the spine and on the top of every point horror book. There were a number of authors that wrote these books for Scholastic: R L Stine, Diane Hoh, Caroline B Cooney, Sinclair Smith to name but a few.
They were basically what I was reading and enjoying as a young adult and thanks to the author Juno Dawson, who started #PointHorrorBookClub on her website in 2013, I have started to re-read these books that I used to rush to the shops every weekend and buy and sit for the whole weekend reading.
Juno announced in January 2015 that she was no longer able to carry on #pointhorrorbookclub and with her blessing I am going to try and carry it on with version 2! Juno has done a fantastic job – I hope I can keep up her good work *gulps*
For links to #pointhorrorbookclub posts old and new please click here
The #pointhorrorbookclub have recently read the awesome The Dead Game by A Bates.
I loved this book and it generated a fab Point Horror discussion and I have had the absolute honour of putting some questions to Auline!
For this task I recruited some awesome #pointhorrorbookclub members as well as myself with some burning questions for Auline! Thanks for all of the brilliant questions!
Check out the #pointhorrorbookclub ‘s verdict on The Dead Game here
NB – as this is a discussion this will contain spoliers!
About A Bates
Auline Bates, pen name A. Bates, is an American author, who has written the teen suspense novels Party Line, Final Exam, Mother’s Helper, The Dead Game and Krazy 4 U.
Bates’s early life was spent in Washington state, New Mexico, Idaho and California, with the family moving regularly to follow her father’s employment in the nuclear safety field. Eventually the family moved to Colorado.
While Bates won an essay writing contest in elementary school, and always enjoyed writing, she didn’t consider doing so for publication until encouraged by a college instructor. The Wall Street Journal references Final Exam in an article about “wildly popular spooky tales and murder mysteries tailored for teenagers” in an article entitled “Gnarlatious Novels: Lurid Thrillers for the Teen Set”. The Oregonian refers to Final Exam as one of four New paperback hit thrillers, and Westword gives a paragraph to her book signing for Party Line and Final Exam.
Bates resides in Colorado with her husband. She has three children.
I am so excited to have Auline (A Bates) talk to us today!
Here we talk about the Point Horror brand, experiences, writing and those whale earrings!
*breaks out buttery popcorn and settles in for the ride!*
Hi Auline. Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday and to #pointhorrorbookclub! Thank you so much for stopping by! We are so excited and thrilled to have you here!
Firstly, yay to Point Horror…we have read two of your contributions to Point Horror so far, Mothers Helper and The Dead Game!
Becky can hardly believe her luck when she’s offered a job as mother’s helper on a holiday island. She can work on her tan and earn money at the same time! It’s the perfect holiday job, or so Becky thinks…
But then the accidents start to happen, and the frightening phone calls begin. Suddenly Becky’s island paradise seems more like a prison, and her dream job is turning into a nightmare. Mother’s helper is going to need all the help she can get.
The Dead Game
Linnie, Ming and Jackson don’t like fakers, the people who cheat, lie and climb over others to get what they want. They make up a game to get back at them. The object is public humiliation, which the kids figure is appropriate retribution for cheaters. But the game goes wrong, almost as if it is playing itself. Or could someone else possibly have taken it over? When a student on their “hit” list dies, Linnie, Ming and Jackson know they have to do something to stop a game that is out of control. But how do you stop something when you can’t figure out the rules?
Michelle: How did writing for the Point Horror brand come about?
Sometimes people who have absolutely no clue what they’re doing wind up doing the right things by accident, and that’s kind of what happened with me and Point Horror. I sent Party Line to a newish editor and he asked if I’d be willing to rewrite it to suit Scholastic’s guidelines. I did, he bought the book, and we published the rest of my PH books together too.
Michelle: Did you create the titles or were they assigned to you by the Point Horror editorial team?
I was surprised that you thought to ask that because I had no idea publishers did assignments until Mother’s Helper was assigned to me, complete with title and the general idea of a teen au pair in an isolated situation where creepy things ensue. Other than that book, all titles and plots and characters are products of my own twisted imagination.
Mark: Did you have any other ideas for the titles you were given?
I was happy with the title, Mother’s Helper. I thought it worked as a job description and also because Becky was helping Mrs. Nelson commit the kidnapping, though she didn’t know it, of course. All the other titles were mine. Some of them were really hard to think up, some just immediately seemed exactly right. For me, the title seems to gel in my mind about the same time the plot idea comes together, and once I start thinking of it by that title, I would hate having to change it!
Billy – What was the process of Point Horror publication like for you? Caroline B Cooney, in another #pointhorrorbookclub Q&A by James Dawson (you can find that here) gave the impression that it was somewhat of a factory mentality, churning books out based on titles that would appeal to readers whereas Peter Lerangis seemed to have a free reign?
Publishers are always sensitive to the market! They will publish whatever they think will sell.
I think if I had been a churner, Scholastic would have happily supported that, but I just don’t write that way. I thought up ideas and wrote my stories and if they turned into a decent book, I sent them to my editor. We discussed what he liked and didn’t like, and then I changed what he didn’t like!
But the churners won, you know. I had a fan letter from one kid who read RL Stine exclusively (I think he was forced to read my book for school) who flat told me if I couldn’t write like Stine, I shouldn’t be writing at all! Stine and Pike pretty much killed the whole teen suspense market by taking it over. They churned so fast and sold so well that there was no point in publishers or bookstores even bothering with the rest of us. Stine and Pike, and eventually just Stine, became the market! People got tired of them eventually but by then there was nothing else available because the other suspense writers had found something else to do.
In contrast, by the way, JK Rowling made the fantasy market bloom. She wrote only the 7 widely spaced books and readers loved them so much it created a huge need for other fantasy stories, and that need got filled by lots of other writers while everyone waited for the next Rowling book. So instead of killing the market, she opened it wide for other writers. A much better way to do things!
This is a really fascinating and brilliant and honest answer to Billy’s question!
Michelle: Did you have to work towards a specific word count for Point Horror?
I think I was probably supposed to, but nobody told me that! I used to write longhand in a spiral-bound notebook, college ruled. They were 70 pages, 140 counting both sides. I planned the story to fill a notebook and that’s how I chose the length. I rewrote as I put the story on the computer. My editor then slashed away happily until he was pleased with the word count.
Paul: Which of your Point Horrors were you most pleased with?
You gotta love your first baby! Party Line taught me so much about the process of writing an entire book, about plotting and character, about the publishing industry, about working with an editor. When I got the phone call saying they wanted to buy that book it was such a thrill! Party Line was the book that sold me on being a writer.
Of course, I loved something about each of the books or I wouldn’t have written them and it was so very cool to see each of them on the shelves in the bookstores!
Mark: Did you utilise any pre-existing story outlines that you already had and rework them for Point Horror?
I don’t outline. English teachers the world over will scream when they see that, but I hate outlines for fiction. (They’re a different story for non-fiction!) I get an idea, and then a secondary image of some kind to play off the first one and I sit down and write until I run out of steam. Then I generate possibilities of what could happen next, and when the next direction grabs me, I write again until I lose momentum. And etc. The only time I even consider an outline is when the book is in the dreaded middle and could be going anywhere, including out of control. Then I might outline what I’ve done so far in order to figure out where I might go next.
So no, all the Point Horror books after Party Line were generated specifically for Point. I didn’t write only suspense to start out with, but when suspense became what I was successful at selling, then of course I concentrated on it!
Billy: Did you have any interactions with any other Point Horror authors? With so many books being churned out how did you know as a writer that your stories were not heading down the same route as the other Point Horror contributions?
I’m pretty sure I’ve never met another Point Horror author. Surely we are a memorable lot so I think I would remember if I had. Editors are the first line of defense (oh my gosh, your q&a sheet has British spell-check! It just flagged the way I spelled defense, which is of course the proper spelling in the U.S.)
Okay, writers are a peculiar bunch when it comes to spelling and grammar and I got all excited about that! Sorry!
Back to the question, editors are the first line of defense against repeating ideas. They have editorial meetings and discuss that very thing—what’s selling, what’s being written, what they’re working on—and my editor would have steered me away from anything that was being done already. I didn’t have that issue with any of my books, happily!
Paul: Did you read any of your contemporaries’ Point Horror contributions? Did you have a favourite?
I had to be kind of careful about reading my contemporaries (my competition!) because I didn’t want them to affect my own work. My kids bought other Point Horror, though, and I really can’t help myself when there’s a book in front of my face; I read it. I thought most of them were pretty good, actually! But a favorite? I don’t remember any really standing out in my mind. I admired specific things rather than a specific book, like the way Caroline Cooney handled the atmosphere in The Fog, or a certain character description, or plot twist I didn’t see coming. There are a lot of good writers!
Michelle: Can you give us three words that would describe the book The Dead Game!
Did you used to be an English teacher? Such a difficult assignment! It took me a whole book to describe The Dead Game! Okay, I’ll play—Payback for cheaters? Game goes wild? You die first? (I’m rotten at this!)
Michelle: With regards to The Dead Game – Where did you get your inspiration?
In this case, my daughters took a trip with their band class to a somewhat distant competition and they played a (non-lethal) version of this game on their trip. It wasn’t easy to win and lasted pretty much the whole week they were gone. I loved it when I heard about it and knew I had to use it in a book. Who could resist? They even called it the dead game!
Paul: The Dead Game was almost unique among Point Horror in that it had three narrators, one of whom turned out to be the main antagonist. Did you intentionally set out to break the ‘rules’ of PH?
Me? Break rules? (Okay, I admit I’ve done that on occasion. On purpose. In fact, I think there were a few years in life when my entire purpose seemed to be the breaking of rules!) But I don’t think I broke any in The Dead Game. I jumped among 3 focal characters, but that’s done all the time. Having one of the characters turn out to be an unreliable narrator was a fun challenge for me, though. And intentional!
Mark: In ‘The Dead Game’ there was an excellent red herring that saw all of the #PointHorrorBookClub convinced that Linnie’s sister would be revealed as the killer. It was written in so well that I have to ask whether she actually was ever set to be the killer? Or was Linnie’s always the killer from draft 1?
Thank you! It was always going to be one of the 3 people in the group, though I wrote most of the book before deciding on Linnie. I’m so glad you caught the red herring!
Michelle: Have you ever played a game like The Dead Game?
It really sounds like fun, in its non-lethal form, but I never got the chance to play it. I had an icky party once, where I invited a bunch of people who didn’t like each other. I thought it would be fun to see them either fight and argue or try to get along, but really, it was just awful. That’s kind of like a dead game. I can’t recommend it!
Michelle: I would have loved to have seen The Dead Game on the big screen! If you could cast your characters in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
Tough question! Robert Pattinson from Twilight can do smarmy. He could play A & A the transfer twins.
I always pictured Jackson as a hunky black guy, so maybe Michael B. Jordan? He looks athletic, but also sensitive.
Ming? She’s tougher. I can’t think of too many Asian actresses. Lucy Liu when she was younger, maybe.
I like Ophelia Lovibond from Elementary for Linnie. She can do the intense-wacko-but-sane look.
I think this is brilliant casting!
Michelle: Can you give us three words that would describe the book Mothers Helper!
People who write entire books have a really hard time keeping things short! Remote island danger? Babysitter outsmarts kidnapper? Trust your instincts? Mrs. Nelson’s nuts?
Michelle: Was Mothers Helpers cabin and remote island location based on anywhere in particular?
Yes. I was lucky enough to visit Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, part of Washington State on the west coast. It was lovely and even though it was close to the mainland, we had to take a ferry to get there so it did feel isolated, especially overnight when no ferries were running. When I got the assignment for a remote and isolated place I immediately thought of Whidbey. And the whale-watching was wonderful.
Upon searching for a picture of Puget Sound I found this picture! It’s how I pictured Mrs Nelsons House!! (I got very excited about this! as you can tell!)
Michelle: – With regards to Mothers Helper – Where did you get your inspiration?
This was the one book I was assigned, so there wasn’t so much inspiration involved. The basic idea was in place, at least the au pair and isolated place and danger. I had to do more actual plotting than I usually do (still no outline, though.) I immediately knew I had to have a ringing phone that couldn’t be easily answered. That’s a basic human need—to answer the *&$**# phone! Imagining Becky going slowly crazy over that helped focus her character, plus I had to figure out who was calling on the phone so that led to more plotting. This is the only book I’ve written that way, without the inspiration coming first.
Michelle: – Becky from Mother’s Helper was a refreshing strong female lead – was this important to you?
I have 3 daughters. Strong female leads are essential for me! Anyway, who wants to be in the mind of a wimpy girl for a whole book? My daughters are kick-ass (can I say that on your blog?) and my characters had to be someone they could look up to!
Billy: We were all taken by the wonderful Whale Earrings that Becky from Mothers Helper bought from the shop on the island. Basically we all wanted them! Do you own a pair? We think these may have been a 90’s fashion?
I read the comments on the blog about those earrings! It sounded like everyone hated them! I believe I mentioned them only once in the book, calling them graceful whale earrings. I had no idea they were a 90s fashion, loved or hated! I imagined them flat, silver, in the shape of leaping orcas. Tasteful, as they would have to be for Becky to buy them for her mother. After reading the comments on the blog about them I vowed never to mention the word earrings again—yet here I am doing it! (No, I didn’t have any. I don’t wear earrings. I’m a total wimp about getting holes pierced in my body. I would run screaming if they came at me with that piercing gun! I may be the only person in the world with no piercings at all. None.)
Michelle: Again I would love to have seen Mothers Helper on the big screen! If you could cast your characters in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
I think Emma Watson would be a good Becky. She can do intelligent and strong while still passing for the girl next door.
Bitsy Tulloch (from The Artist) could pull off Mrs. Nelson as she has that slightly I-could-be-crazy thing going for her.
Cleve…maybe Brenton Thwaites? He’s a bit sassy, not too tame and would look good on a boat. Or anywhere.
Oh yes! Again super fab choices Auline!
Paul: How has your YA audience changed over the years? Do you think teen readers are more savvy now than in the early 90s Point Horror heyday?
Every year teens get smarter and more savvy! But there are teen themes that are eternal—fitting in, wanting money and love, temptation (typically cheating, sex and drugs,) morality—those issues were the same basic issues your grandparents faced and so will your grandchildren. The audience is still human and still teens, but I think the main differences are people read less now because they have so much entertainment available, and today’s teens were raised on fantasy instead of suspense.
Mark: Why do you think the PH was so popular? And why do you think they’re still read today?
Suspense is the backbone of any good fiction read! People want to know what happened, why it happened, and who did it. A good story raises at least one of those questions right away and being nosy, we keep reading to find the answer. Suspense is just plain exciting.
Mark: PH books were aimed at a teen market and themes such as racism, sexuality and divorce can be found in their pages. Were there any themes you felt were important to cover with your writing? For example, the inclusion of the character of Ming in ‘The Dead Game’. Not only an Asian character, but also a child whose parents are notably absent.
I wasn’t necessarily trying to include themes because I thought they were important, but I wanted my characters and their situations to be real (well, real fiction) and that was the reality I saw among my children’s groups of friends. Scholastic was very strict with me, though. I couldn’t kill anybody off till later books, no sex at all. So I had to get my reality in somehow!
Mark: Which of your characters is most like you? Did you base any of your characters on people you knew?
I’d bet all writers base their characters on people they have known, with a healthy dose of imagination thrown in. The fun part is I can improve on the people I know. I can make them funnier, I can make embarrassing things happen to them, I can mix and match characteristics as I see fit. (My husband says I am most like Becky because I took care of my younger siblings, as Becky did, and I am strong, and sneaky when I need to be.)
Mark: Would you ever return to writing PH? What title would you choose?
Billy: I’d love to know what you’re up to now and where Point Horror has taken your career? Do you still write horror? Is it a favourite genre of yours?
Michelle: Could you tell us a little about some of your other books?
I’m answering Mark, Billy and Michelle all in one as the questions are linked. I never thought of myself as a horror writer. I write suspense, and yes, I do still write it. I would consider going back to a publisher, but right now all my books are available on my website, aulinebates.com (books about things that are just a little bit strange.) I still write mostly for younger readers but I have some books for adults as well.
While I have plenty of “normal” stories, I love writing tales that are just a bit odd but that don’t quite fall into the category of fantasy. So perhaps a ghost, or a theme that questions time, or something else that’s just a bit outside of what we usually think is real. I believe life is more complicated and more mysterious than we realize so I have fun writing stories like that too.
In Mr. Jones’s Bones a young boy wants to build a radio so he can talk to his mom in heaven.
Actually, I’d just recommend going to the site. I explain a little about each book there.
Michelle: Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
It’s embarrassing to admit but growing up I didn’t realize actual people wrote books! I thought books just existed, like everything else in the world just existed. Libraries just sprang into existence, complete with shelves and books and librarians. And I loved books from the moment I heard my first story. I somehow learned to read before I started school and once I could read, I read everything.
I also loved to write. I think it’s fun, but it wasn’t until one of my college professors told me I should try to get published that it occurred to me I could actually do that. So I started trying. I sold the 3rd book I wrote so it wasn’t as easy as it might sound!
Michelle: What do you think makes a good story?
Characters you like spending time with, at least a good measure of suspense about something, and an ending that is both surprising and satisfying. That’s the basic answer. I like to be emotionally involved with the characters, too, and if it’s appropriate, I like a bit of romance. And it’s fun to learn something new in a book.
Michelle: How do you think your Point Horror contributions have stood the test of time compared to your writing now?
I’m a better writer now than I was then, which is appropriate! A writer should get better with practice. For my website I was tempted to rewrite my PH books completely because I know I could do a better job (and I wouldn’t have to write to Scholastic’s rules) but my daughters convinced me that the books have a right to exist as they are. So I just cleaned them up a little. In a couple of places I undid some of the edits that I wasn’t happy with and put the books back as they were originally written, but mostly I just smoothed them out so they read better without changing the story.
My newer books have more divergent themes, as I mentioned, and can be a bit more daring sometimes. And I think they’re better, overall, because I’ve improved my skills over the years and because I’m writing to please my own imagined readers, not to satisfy an editor.
But I will always be grateful to Point Horror for giving me my start! I had tons of fun writing those books and reading them to my daughters as I composed them. They turned into great critics and have been very helpful over the years! One thing they loved was when I asked them to name or describe a character and I used that in a book. And I still get feedback from people saying they loved the PH books, so I guess they’ve stood the test of time!
Michelle: Are there any authors you would like to collaborate with? Who?
Oh boy. The process of collaboration is very complicated and I don’t always share as well as I ought! I have a particular vision when telling a story and it would take just the right combinations of minds to clash, spark and blend. I don’t think I’ve met that mind!
What I do enjoy doing is editing other writers’ work, at least if I have a truly free hand at the editing. I slice and dice and insult and cheer and suggest directions—and that’s fun. I had a free hand at editing Saragossa, the Vampire Legacy by Maurice Tuck.
I think the result is a fantastic story and that was, in a way, a collaboration with Mr. Tuck. However, he did all the real stuff. I just kept kicking him to make it better and better until I think it’s excellent. Google Saragossa and link from there to Amazon.com if you’re interested in the best vampire lore I’ve ever read! Or if you like gay vampires, or if you just want to read an exciting tale that includes vampire history clear back practically to the beginning of time. Warning—not a Twilight type of story! And not Anne Rice, either! In my opinion, far better!
Michelle: Over on Tales Of Yesterday I have recently been asking YA authors if music has any influence to their writing and/or characters. Is there a particular song that influenced your Point Horror contributions and/or its characters and if so how or why?
If I can get real crazy, I’d have to say “The Monster Mash,” the old song “Laurie” by Dickie Lee, and “I Want My Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross—all very old songs that are a little spooky or a bit creepy, and which encouraged my tendency to like creepy or spooky stories. I mean, come on! The last part of “I Want My Baby Back” is sung from inside the coffin. Is that fantastic or what? Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
As far as listening to songs while I write, I can’t because I ignore the writing and start singing. So I don’t use music to inspire me in that way. But try YouTube for those 3 oldies. I’ll bet, once you quit laughing, you’ll have a few creepy book ideas yourself!
Which of your Point Horror books shall we read next?
If you’re limiting your choices to official Point Horror books, you’ve got Krazy 4 U, Final Exam and Party Line left, all of which are available, digital only, in smoothed-out form on the site. (I must admit I did make a more major change in Party Line than in the others, but you might not notice it because it’s a subtle improvement!)
If you’re not limiting your choices to official PH books, I have 4 more teen suspense books available that I wrote for PH while I was waiting for the suspense market to get over its RL Stine churning out phase. (Which it didn’t do, really.) So the time frame and the technology in the books are still older, like the original PH, but I was able to concentrate more on character development and depth than Scholastic liked to see in PH. A little bit of sex and drugs can also be found in the not-published-by-PH books.
So many choices!
Thank you so much Auline for taking the time to answer these questions and feature on Tales Of Yesterday and #pointhorrorbookclub. We all loved your contributions to Point Horror and wish there were more! It really is an honour and I look forward to reading more of your books!
So there you have it #pointhorrorbookclub! Auline answered everything we asked! I think it was nice to read another slightly different side to the story of Point Horror and how they came to be. Auline seemed to have a mix of free reign and structure with her Point Horror experience which is fascinating! Nice to see that the publishing team came up with some of the titles again…this seems to be the common ground of creating Point Horror! I also love Auline’s honesty about the brand of Point Horror.
What did you all think?
Why not join in Point Horror Book Club and the discussion on the 13th of every month?
Don’t forget to use the #pointhorrorbookclub on twitter so I can see your thoughts or tweet me using @chelleytoy
Are the Point Horror books we loved as a teenager still our favourites on the re-read? Are you new to Point Horror? Has our opinion changed? Are they still as good? Do they stand up to modern day YA Horror? Or are the a whole load of cray cray?
You can find links to all #PointHorrorBookClub posts old and new here
Another huge huge thank you to Auline for featuring on Tales and a huge round of applause for such a fab answers! And thank you Point Horror Book Club members yet again for fab questions!
*claps hands excitedly*
Do you remember Point Horror? Which was your favourite? Would you like to join in on #pointhorrorbookclub ?
Happy Point Horror-ing!