Halloween is coming, and to help get us in the mood, Sheldon Higdon’s Middle-Grade novel The Eerie Brothers and the Witches of Autumn is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookseller. New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry calls it “a fun, freaky, and frightening novel,” and if Sheldon’s previous works are any indication, it’s sure to be hit with horror fans.
I first met Sheldon while serving as one of the residency writers at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction, where Sheldon earned an MFA in 2013. By then, he had already sold a number of stories (most notably to Shroud Magazine) and won the Best Short Screenplay Award at the Eerie Horror Film Festival for his unproduced script Conundrum.
Also an accomplished storyteller, Sheldon took part in Storytelling @ Riley’s, a monthly showcase of spoken-word performances that I hosted at Riley’s Pour House in the mid-2010s.
Last week, I had the chance to reconnect with Sheldon about his new book.
Here are some highlights of that exchange.
How would you describe The Eerie Brothers and The Witches of Autumn for people who are just learning about it? In other words, what’s your elevator pitch?
It’s horror with contemporary fantasy. And it’s book one of four.
Twin brothers, Horace and Edgar Eerie, must travel back to 1692, Salem, and stop Hex, a judge and witch, from entering the present world, or they’ll lose more than just their family and friends—they’ll lose their future.
Although the book is middle grade, it can be read by adults as well. Sounds obvious but most people think that MG is just for kids. Besides the adventure and mystery and humor, my book also deals with grief, death, loneliness, and touches upon racism.
As simple as it is: my kids. They’re the inspiration that fuels my imagination. But I also wanted to challenge myself. I didn’t want to write in one genre or for one age group. As a writer, I want to extend my range. Besides, it’s fun. I want to play every position on the field, not just shortstop.
At what point did you decide to be an author, and what was your path to publication?
I knew early on I wanted to be a writer. Third grade, I think it was, but I didn’t have the mentors or support to help me understand what I could do with it, or how to move my writing forward. The path for me wasn’t a straight shot. It wound and snaked through forests, mountains, rushing rivers, and beneath graveyards. It was long but worth it because it’s that process that teaches you along the way, which builds your wings as Bradbury so eloquently put it, to be the writer you are at the moment you’re at right now.
Describe your writing process. Do you outline, plot, and plan, or is your writing more organic?
It’s a hybrid of outlining and being organic, or in the moment, if you will. When I do outlines, I do them by chapter, with bullet points to make sure I hit each point along the way. But in between, those bullet points are where the organic process comes into play. This way, you have your plan and the freedom to let the story, or character, progress in ways that may surprise you.
I liken it to traveling to a destination. You start at point A and you’re on your way to point B. You hop on the turnpike, that’s your outline, and you make sure you hit certain stops, maybe gas, food, or to stretch your legs, but then you decide to drive away from the turnpike for a bit, to discover, to go into town. It’s a quaint place. Has shops. A café. You wander about, looking at things, taking pictures. That’s in between the bullet points. That’s where you discover things that weren’t part of the turnpike, the outline, but after some time of sightseeing, you hop back on the turnpike and head to your destination. But you’ll make stops again. There’s too much to explore and see.
What has been the toughest criticism you have received as an author? What has been the best compliment?
In the beginning, I had lots of criticisms because I hadn’t honed my craft yet. I was in writing groups back then, and members would get on me about mistakes I made too often. But after a time, I only wanted to hear the criticisms and not anything complimentary, because I wanted to know what to fix and how to fix it in ways that best served me as a writer. At this time, I also learned what criticism I should take and what criticism I shouldn’t take because not everyone is good at giving critiques.
Recently, a short story that I had published called “We Can’t Let Go” (in Horror Library, Vol 8) was reviewed, and the reviewer said its ending was Matheson-esque. I’d say that’s a good compliment.
Share some advice for aspiring authors.
Read, read, read everything. Write, write, write anything. And don’t worry about copying another writer’s style/voice, because you’ll find your own unique style/voice in time.
Will you be making any appearances to promote the book? Where might people find you this fall?
Yes, I’ll be doing signings here in Pittsburgh at several bookstores, among other places, and I’ll be in Ohio doing signings at bookstores, libraries, and will be guest speaking at middle schools. I’ll also be doing virtual events, as well. October will be a busy month for me. The dates and locations will be up on my site soon, if not already.
What’s your next project?
A few things. A YA novel. Without saying too much, all I can say is that it’s about the Grim Reaper. I’m also working on an adult horror novella. And a short screenplay I wrote is currently in pre-production in London, and I’ve written a treatment for a full-length screenplay for a producer in California. I’ll be writing the screenplay for that soon.