Scared into Storytelling, a guest post by Rob Renzetti
It was broad daylight when I met my first vampire. My mother and I had stopped by her friend’s house for a lunchtime visit. Wandering into the unfamiliar kitchen, I encountered Count Dracula striding menacingly toward me on the screen of the countertop television set. Dramatic in stark black and white, that small image had a huge impact on me. I have never been so afraid during the day.
Imagine the fear that gripped me that night. When my father put me to bed, I did everything I could think of to extend his bedside visit. I begged him to tell me a story. And then one more, and yet another. I was certain that the moment he left me the Count would emerge from the deepest shadows of my darkened bedroom. Eventually my weary father went to bed himself, and I was left alone to confront my terror until, sometime in the wee hours, I was finally rescued by sleep.
Surviving the night did nothing to alleviate my fear the next evening, or the one after that. As days became weeks and my stalling tactics continued, my poor father’s patience eroded. His bedtime stories became brief. Earlier and earlier, I was left alone to face the dark. And my imagination.
Television may have betrayed me with Dracula, but it saved me with Frankenstein. I have no idea what compelled me to watch another horror movie. But as the story of Frankenstein’s tragic monster unfolded, I realized that, when he wasn’t attacking villagers in a fit of rage, this monster was just looking for love. The brief friendship between the monster and the little girl that he finds tossing petals into a lake made a huge impression on me. Fortunately for my fragile sensibilities, the scene where (spoiler alert!) the monster, unaware of the harm he’s doing, tosses his new friend into the lake, had been edited out by my local television station.
That night, after my dad departed, my thoughts inevitably turned towards Dracula and the other fiends that might be lurking nearby. But then it occurred to me that if Frankenstein’s monster came calling, I could make nice with the lonely giant. The unloved brute would be so grateful for my kindness that he would protect me from the crueler creatures of the night. This became my new bedtime story, told by myself to myself, a nightly ritual to soothe my fears. From then on, my grateful father no longer needed to linger after he tucked me in.
The terror I experienced while watching Dracula and the relief that Frankenstein provided made me realize how much emotional influence a well-crafted story possessed. I had wielded a small bit of that same power with my own Frankenstein fanfiction. I wanted more.
In the years that followed, I became a voracious consumer of stories in any and all forms: books, comics, cartoons, movies. And when I wasn’t consuming stories, I was creating them, in the form of crude comics with existing and original cartoon characters. I had decided that, given the chance, I would share my own stories with a wider audience via animated cartoons, my favorite form of entertainment.
Eventually I got that chance. I continued to draw and write stories throughout my childhood and adolescence, studied animation at California Institute of the Arts, and broke into the cartoon business with a job at the legendary Hanna-Barbera Studios. As luck would have it, the studio was looking for new ideas, and everyone was welcome to pitch.
My initial fear of monsters had long ago been replaced by an avid love of horror, but the idea I pitched to Hanna-Barbera harkened back to my early childhood terror and the tale I’d invented to calm myself. My first original short, Mina and the Count, told the story of a child who conquers a monster using love and friendship.
Mina and the Count was the first opportunity I had to mix monstrous mayhem with cartoon comedy, but it wasn’t the last. Years later, I worked on Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls, an animated series that also blended humor with horror, but did so with greater complexity and with longer story arcs. As Gravity Falls drew to a close, Alex and I co-authored a spinoff book titled, Gravity Falls: Journal 3, that extended and deepened the storylines established in the series.
Keen to immerse myself in more of that type of expansive storytelling, ideas for an original novel of my own surfaced. Like Mina and the Count and Gravity Falls, my first original middle grade novel, The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things, also combines humor and horror.
The book follows the mostly terrifying, sometimes comical, adventures of Zenith Maelstrom, who opens the titular bag and unleashes a disturbing hairball-spider. The terrible thing snatches his older sister, Apogee, and drags her to GrahBhag, the hideous world hidden inside.
Many of the lighter moments involve Kreeble, a quirky gargoyle with eccentric appetites, who guides Zenith through the perilous land . . . for a price. But even courageous Kreeble is afraid of the Great and Holey Wurm, an abomination that takes center stage at a mysterious ceremony that will change the Maelstrom siblings’ lives forever.
Hopefully, The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things scares young readers just enough that, left alone in their darkened bedrooms, they will invent their own stories to soothe themselves to sleep, and perhaps, launch them on their own storytelling journeys.
Meet the author
Rob Renzetti is a veteran of TV animation whose work on Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends earned him an Emmy. He created the Nickelodeon show My Life as a Teenage Robot, acted as the supervising producer for Disney’s Gravity Falls, and served as executive producer on the first two seasons of Disney’s Big City Greens, among other projects. Recently, he has published four books for Disney Publishing, including the New York Times #1 Best Seller Gravity Falls: Journal 3 and Onward: Quests of Yore.
Link to website: https://robrenzetti.com/
Link to Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobRenzetti
Link to Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rob_renzetti/?hl=en
About The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things #1
From the creator of My Life As a Teenage Robot comes a middle-grade horror story about a horrible bag, the spine-chilling world hidden within it, and a terrifying adventure into the world of GrahBhag.
Perfect for fans of Coraline, the Spiderwick Chronicles, and Small Spaces.
When Zenith finds a strange, unsettling bag at his front door, he’s not sure where it came from or who sent it to him. He knows better than to expect his overprotective older sister Apogee to help him figure it out, because ever since she became a teenager, she’s been acting more like a parent to him than a sibling. But he certainly did not expect for a horrifying spiderlike creature to emerge from the bag, kidnap Apogee, and drag her inside to the equally horrifying and unsettling world of GrahBhag.
Zenith sets off into the bag to bring her back but soon finds a bizarre realm where malicious forests, a trio of blood-drinking mouths, and a sentient sawdust-stuffed giant are lurking within the seams. And from every corner of the world come whispers of the Great Wurm, an eldritch horror with a godlike hold over the creatures of GrahBhag, who seems to have a dark, insidious purpose for Apogee. With the help of a greedy, earwax-nibbling gargoyle, Zenith will have to save Apogee from the Great Wurm and help them both escape the horrible bag before it’s too late.
With a combination of dry, absurdist humor and no-holds-barred horror, Rob Renzetti has crafted a delightfully imaginative fantasy world that will hook readers as surely as it will send chills down their spines.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/18/2023
Series: The Horrible Series #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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