Josh Allen is the author of Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom, a new middle grade book for kids. He also has written the book Out To Get You. He lives in Idaho.
Q: What inspired you to write Only If You Dare?
A: I like pretending. I like imagining that all around us, even in the most ordinary moments, there are mysteries and monsters and magic.
Take, for example, something as plain and as ordinary as a microwave oven. Sure, it’s just a dumb, old, boring thing that’s always in your kitchen. But what if it isn’t just a dumb, old, boring thing? What if your microwave has powers you’ve never considered? What if it’s even . . . vindictive? And what if it can find ways to haunt you?
Or consider so many other ordinary, everyday things. What fantastical possibilities might lurk in that snowman in your front yard? Or in that street sign up the road? Or even in your very own pillow?
I wrote Only If You Dare because, even as a 47-year-old man, I love imagining the impossible. I love thinking about the phantasmagoric possibilities of everyday objects and moments, and I think other people do too.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "an excellent offering for young people looking for real scares that don’t condescend to them or pander to adult anxieties about what might be 'too scary.'" What do you think of that assessment, particularly the idea of adult perceptions of what's "too scary" for kids?
A: I’m thrilled by that statement! Too often, we adults treat children as if they are terribly fragile. (“You can’t watch that TV show. It’ll give you nightmares!” “Close your eyes for this part! I’ll tell you when you can look!” “Put that book back. It’s not for you!”)
Of course, it’s true that children deserve our love and care, but sometimes in our efforts to protect them, we treat kids as if they’re delicate teacups, destined to shatter at the first sign of anything that isn’t nice and sweet. Treating kids this way, I believe, is disrespectful to them.
As a children’s author, I want to respect kids enough to trust them with things that are scary. When kids read creepy stories, I believe they’ll navigate the spookiness like champs and come out the other end knowing they are infinitely brave and strong and tough (which, of course, they are).
Q: Do you usually know how your stories will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I make MANY changes to my stories along the way. I believe revision is the key to a successful story. In fact, here’s a picture of the various drafts of Only If You Dare I wrote, each one significantly different from the last.
When I start writing, I often think I know how a story will end. But as I work, I usually find a better, more satisfying ending.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope kids will take away two things:
I hope they’ll discover that they can use their imaginations to fill their worlds with wonder and excitement. With a little imagination, we never, ever have to be bored. At any moment, we can look around and conjure stories about school busses or toasters or ceiling tiles or anything. Imagination is the permanent antidote to boredom.
I hope they’ll discover that they’re brilliant at navigating tensions, fears, and anxieties. I hope they’ll recognize that they are immensely, profoundly brave.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on two projects—another collection of spooky stories and a historical novel in verse. We’ll see which one I finish first!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I’m deeply grateful for the chance to send my stories into the world and for all the people who’ve made that possible, most especially young readers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb