Image: from left to right, Axe, Weta, and Toro stand in front of a red, black, and bluish-green landscape. Axe wears dark sunglasses and raises a clawed hand. Weta has fanged mandibles and antennae. Toro has horns and a septum ring.

Interview: Elie Lichtschein of The Creeping Hour

Greetings and salutations, friends! I’m very excited to present my first ever Spooky KidLit interview. My guest today is Elie Lichtschein, co-writer and co-producer of the kids’ horror anthology podcast The Creeping Hour. (If you missed my review of the first three episodes, you can check it out here.) I loved getting some insight from a horror creator, and Elie even shared some spooky reading recommendations for the season. I hope you enjoy!

First of all, Elie, thanks so much for joining me at Spooky KidLit!

Oh my gosh, thanks so much for having me, Jessica!

In one sentence, how would you describe The Creeping Hour? (It’s okay to cheat if you need a couple more sentences…I always do.)

Nah, I like the challenge, I’m gonna try to stick to one: The Creeping Hour is a scripted kids horror anthology series I co-created with WGBH that features three creepy human-then monster-now teenagers telling scary stories that cover everything from haunted melodies to braces that perfect a lot more than just teeth… 😅 How did I do??

Great! The Creeping Hour helps fill a void in the podcast world, since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of horror that’s aimed at a young audience in that medium right now. What inspired you to create the series?

I mean, kind of exactly that? I grew up obsessing over horror, especially kids-oriented horror (Goosebumps, AYAOTD?, even comedic horror like Scooby-Doo and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters) and as I got older I got more into podcast production and noticed that very dearth you described. Why not take a stab at it?

Axe, Weta, and Toro have such strong characterizations, especially for appearing in such brief installments. Can you tell us a little about writing for the Creeps and what you hope young listeners take away from them?

Thanks for saying! Well one of the funnest parts of writing for audio is trying to figure out how to tell a story that doesn’t have dialogue spilling over with plot points, scene-setting, and information dumping. Obviously narration softens the blow. The Creeps were especially fun to write for because my co-writer on the series, Annie Kronenberg, and I wanted to create characters whose current monsterness is informed by their past obsessions. So for the vegan Toro, that might be finding new, meat-free monster meals to chow on or for Axe new demonic ways to rock out on her guitar (she’s pioneering a genre of music called “Creep Rock”). I hope listeners take away that a lot of the things that define you now are the same things you probably overdosed on then.

The sound, music, and voice acting on the series are terrific. (I was a particular fan of Anne Barschall as Dr. Chanticleer – I love the wordplay, by the way.) Can you talk a little bit about the collaborative process of making the podcast?

Thanks so much for saying! And haha, I appreciate the wordplay nod. The production was great! We had a fantastic cast of both kids and adult actors and the recordings were fun and improvisational at points. I worked with a great sound designer, Billy Libby, during post-production, and we were all so excited to watch the stories’ shapes merge from the bodies of sound over time.

You seem to have a passion for reaching a middle grade audience. What draws you to that particular age range?

I mean, aside from the “kids are sponges at that age” philosophy that I think gets a lot of writers trying their hand at MG, I was especially reached by the MG books of my own childhood and am still (only partially, but still) writing for 13-year-old me (and probably also for my best friend when I was 13, Josh). Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes, Goosebumps, HP, Lemony Snicket… Lots of books have resonated since, but few with that same power.

Did you have a defining moment that turned you into a horror fan? A spooky event that happened to you, discovering a beloved horror movie on TV late at night, finding a life-changing scary story in the library, etc.?

Omg, yes. Two actually. The first was seeing the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode “The Tale of the Midnight Madness,” which has a Nosferatu-like vampire emerge from a film to terrify an old-fashioned theater — it was just so brilliantly and ungodly terrifying (please Google image search that monster responsibly). The second was when I was ten and discovered a pig’s skull in the forest near my parents’ house in NJ that had been picked clean by the ants, and realizing that so many natural world things that seem scary are actually just the natural order of the world asserting itself (i.e., ants will eat the decaying flesh of a dead pig, sharks will open their jaws wide to catch a seal, etc.), though I didn’t quite phrase it like that then.

Do you have any spooky kidlit recommendations for my readers?

Of course! I know that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark got a lot of love recently because of the film that just came out, but for my money the best Alvin Schwartz creepy book is In a Dark, Dark Room. For two reasons: 1) the Green Ribbon story, which is just one of those stories you hear and never quite shake, and 2) The Teeth, which has some of the best kids horror illustrations out there (shout out to Dirk Zimmer!). I won’t say more.

The final episode of The Creeping Hour arrives on Halloween. After that, what’s next for the Creeps?

Just because the clock hits November, doesn’t mean the spookiness stops! It’s a little soon to tell the exact future of The Creeping Hour, but Annie and I are already brainstorming more twisted stories for Axe, Weta, and Toro to share…

I’m thrilled to hear that we may get more horror tales from The Creeping Hour. For now, you can listen to past episodes on places like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and the website. A new episode comes out on Halloween, so be sure to listen to make your holiday extra spooky.

I’d like to give my thanks once more to guest Elie Lichtschein — check him out at his website and on Twitter and Instagram. Thanks for reading, kids!

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