I’ve had the honor to interview Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski before. Their new creepy Middle Grade novel, WHISPERING PINES, debuted on September 1, 2020:
Rae’s father vanished without a trace—and Rae knows what happened to him. But no one believes her when she says that her father didn’t run off, that he was actually taken. Now, a year of therapy later, Rae’s mother decides they need a fresh start, and so they move to a new town in the hope that life can return to normal.
The problem is, there is nothing normal about the town of Whispering Pines.
No one knows this better than Caden. He’s lived in Whispering Pines his entire life, and he’s seen more than his fair share of weird—starting with his own family, as the town is the perfect home base for his mother’s ghost hunting business.
When several kids go missing and then show up like zombies with their eyes removed, many locals brush it off. Just another day in Whispering Pines. But Caden has a dark secret, one that may explain why someone is stealing eyes. And Rae, who knows how it feels to not be believed, may be just the person Caden needs to help him put things right.
In our last interview, you both said that you enjoyed collaborating with one another because you loved sharing ideas. What was the most fun part of collaborating on WHISPERING PINES together?
KATI: Trying to scare Heidi. I loved suggesting books to her for “research” that would make sleeping and camping difficult.
HEIDI: I knew it! That is so mean! I was eight months pregnant last fall when we were working on this book, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go on a camping trip. I usually do my reading just before bed, and there were a few times I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, but I didn’t want to walk through the dark, creepy woods alone to the bathrooms. It was quite the conundrum.
KATI: I guess that is a little mean. But at least all the books I recommended were good reads!
HEIDI: They were. And that has probably been my favorite part of collaborating on this story – Kati introduced me to different writing ideas, both through her book suggestions, and our brainstorming sessions. There are whole other levels of scary that I might not have thought about if it weren’t for her. Which isn’t great if you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep, but is very helpful if you’re writing horror.
Indeed. And speaking of horror, I love the idea of stealing eyes. How did this concept originally manifest itself in WHISPERING PINES?
KATI: I actually came up with the initial concept years ago, even before our first book, A DASH OF DRAGON, was published. I was bored one day at my old office job, and I did a doodle of a no-eyed person reaching for eyeballs on one of those Newton’s Cradles. The idea formed from there.
HEIDI: Kati showed me her drawing and told me she wanted to write a story about some kind of monster who steals eyes. Originally it was going to be a YA short story, but we had also talked about someday writing an X-Files-inspired series together, and it felt like those two things would go together really well.
They certainly do! What kinds of stories would you both like to see more of and why?
KATI: I love seeing all the tween books, or books straddling the line between MG and YA, and I want to keep seeing them.
HEIDI: Same. I think there is a real need for more upper middle grade/light young adult books. WHISPERING PINES definitely falls into that in-between space, and I’m grateful that our editor was so supportive of that. I’ve found that those books are my favorite to write, and read.
Mine too. What has been most helpful to you both in this time of quarantine/lockdown and why?
KATI: Hmm…tough question. I think what has helped most has been my parents. My 6 yo loves to call them, and play games with them on the phone or through zoom, which keeps her happy, and gives me time to get my writing done. 🙂 Also, having my significant other working from home has helped a lot, too.
HEIDI: I feel really fortunate in my situation. I live with my husband’s family, and that has been hugely helpful. Also audiobooks. And honestly having this book to focus on, too. During this year of one thing after another, it’s been nice to write about monsters that can be defeated within the course of a 300 page story.
The Lailu Loganberry (Mystic Cooking Chronicles) series: