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Chris Grabenstein

Sometimes a good ghost story creeps its way into existence just like, well, a ghost slipping through a brick wall!
Have you ever been walking your dog, doing the dishes, taking a shower, or mindlessly minding your own business when, all of a sudden, just like that, an idea snuck up behind you and whomped you in the head?
Well, stories have a way of doing that. They can tiptoe up from your subconscious, seize your brain, and demand to be told.
They’re a lot like Frankenstein’s monster: They’re aliiiiive!!
When I’m not writing, I might be washing the dishes while walking my dog (something that requires a great deal of training, by the way), when a great What If? will leap up out of the shadows. I find that’s how most of my stories get started: a big What If? followed by several intriguing And Thens.
For instance, there I was one summer morning up in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, out for my early morning jog. Fred the dog did not join us on this weekend trip so it was just the chirping birds, the crackled asphalt, a couple pickup trucks, this one cow, and me. The cow eyed me suspiciously as I trotted past her meadow. I don’t blame her. My running jacket is neon yellow, the color of antifreeze. Or Mountain Dew.
Anyway, huffing and puffing along, I passed a makeshift roadside memorial. Not much, really. Just a white wooden cross, its paint chipped and flaking. The simple cross was nailed into the thick bark of a massive oak tree. Some faded artificial flowers were tied to it with frayed ribbon that had long since lost its color.
Usually, you find this kind of roadside memorial at the scene of a tragic traffic accident. So, as I swatted flies and trotted up the deserted country road, the first thought to flit through my brain was: I wonder who died back there? What kind of accident was it?
And then a clever little What If? crept on cat paws into the story telling sector of my brain: What if the ghost of whoever the tree memorializes eternally haunts that particular stretch of road?
Oooh, I thought. Creepy.
But wait–what if the spirit of whoever died back there was trapped inside the tree? Trees have deep roots–usually as deep as the tree is tall. A tree like that could really anchor a soul to the earth.
And what if the person who died in the car wreck didn’t really want to leave right away? After all, it wasn’t as if they had been bedridden and sick for a long time. They died in an accident. That usually means you die before your time, before you’re ready to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” as Shakespeare said.
Okay. I had a pretty big What If? Time to add in a couple And Thens.
And then a boy with a very vivid imagination, the kind of boy who might see faces and demons where other people see gnarly knotholes, moves into a house where the backyard includes a certain tree.
And then the ghost in the tree isn’t the only one haunting this particular stretch of the highway.
And then the boy starts meeting these ghosts.
Real ghosts, not just the imaginary kind he’s used to seeing.
And then–they all want him to do something scary and dangerous!
Well, I think you get the point.
That’s how my first Middle Grades book The Crossroads got its start–during an early morning run along the shoulder of a country road in western Massachusetts. While I was thinking about nothing in particular, a big What If? jumped up out of the weeds and demanded that I tell its story.
It’s the same way my award-winning adult mysteries and thrillers got their starts. What If? And Then. It’s the same way you can think the next time you have a writing assignment of any kind.
I think we all develop our storytelling talent when we’re two or three years old and enthusiastically relate a tale to our parents: “And then, you know what? And then . . . and then . . .”
So, the next time you need to write a story, find yourself a fascinatingly mesmerizing What If? Follow it up with some twisting, turning And Thens. You’ll find that stories will effortlessly pour out of you like the swirling crowd of phantoms haunting the crossroads near this one very creepy tree you can read about in my new book!

Author Bookshelf

The Crossroads

By: Chris Grabenstein

★ “A rip-roaring ghost story.”—Booklist, Starred

Zack, his dad, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark...

The Hanging Hill

By: Chris Grabenstein

From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library comes a series of spine-tingling mysteries to keep you up long after the lights go out.
How serious is stage fright? At the Hanging Hill Playhouse,...

The Smoky Corridor

By: Chris Grabenstein

Zack is about to start at his new school, and in addition to homework, school lunches, and bullies, Zack must also contend with a ruthless hit man seeking a lost treasure, a voodoo savvy ghost waiting to take...

The Black Heart Crypt

By: Chris Grabenstein

Halloween is near, the one day of the year when the ghostly plane is close enough to the human plane to allow mischief and mayhem. But the ghosts who have their eye on Zack aren't thinking mischief, they are thinking...

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

By: Chris Grabenstein

A New York Times Bestseller

In this cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Night in the Museum, Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters.


The Island of Dr. Libris

By: Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein, author of the New York Times bestselling Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and coauthor of the I Funny series with James Patterson, celebrates the power of imagination with this action-packed adventure...