Monsters under the bed in Freeburg?
Don’t worry. It’s only happening in the fictional Freeburg town of “Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production,” ($16.99, 349 pages, paperback, Sky Pony Press). Millstadt native Sarah Schauerte Reida wrote the just-released book for middle-schoolers who like adventure tinged with scariness.
“I set it based in Illinois,” said Sarah, 34, who now lives in Marietta, Ga., with her husband, Scott. “I really appreciate the area where I came from. When I envisioned the book, I always envisioned it set here. It wouldn’t have rung true if it was set somewhere else. When I thought of Lissa’s towns, I thought of those four towns (Freeburg, Millstadt, Red Bud and Waterloo).”
Sarah, a 2000 Belleville West graduate, grew up off Mine Hall Road where her parents Joyce and Bill Schauerte still live. She has a younger brother, Bryan. She liked reading — authors R.L. Stine and Roald Dahl were favorites, movies “sitting on a cinder block at the local drive-in to watch Beetlejuice was a formative event” and being outside.
“We would go camping,” said her mom Joyce. “We would all snuggle together in the camper.”
They screened movies on a white sheet. “Terminator’ and “The Last Boy Scout” were among them.
“I guess we were kind of bad,” said Joyce. “We didn’t filter them. She turned out OK.”
Never give up. In the beginning, I didn’t show anyone what I was writing. I didn’t have faith in what I wanted to do. Don’t be shy about getting stuff out there. Accept criticism. Everyone starts at the bottom.
Sarah Schauerte Reida’s advice to young writers
Sarah never lost her fondness for films. Their themes come up in “Monsterville” which Sarah describes as ‘“Jumanji’ meets ‘Goonies’ in a fast-paced adventure where board games come alive and winning your life depends on applying monster movie rules of survival.
Yes, she can imagine a “Monsterville” movie.
“I thought a lot about how it would unfold visually.”
In the book, main character Lissa Black has just moved from exciting New York City to quiet Freeburg, Pa. (but it’s a lot like Freeburg, Ill.) The 13-year-old passes the time playing a board game, Monsterville, with little sister Haylie, and hanging out with a neighbor named Adam. When she and Adam go off to explore the woods, they come face to face with a little shape-changing monster from the world Down Below. Lissa decides to use the monster to film the greatest horror movie of all time — until her sister is kidnapped to the monster homeland of Down Below.
“With this book,” said Sarah, “I knew Lissa’s younger sister would be taken Down Below on Halloween and I knew what would happen at the very end. It was a very structured outline.”
She even drew a monster board game like the one in the book so she would get details of the world Down Below right.
“When you have a kids book, you can do so much with imagination, magic, fantasy. It’s a lot more fun because of the way they look at the world.”
Sarah now balances writing with her career as a solo practicing attorney. She helps veteran small business owners who work with the federal government.
“I basically do writing at night,” she said. “Since I work for myself, I have flexibility. Today, I’m doing marketing all day. I have law stuff to take care of later. I work a lot of weekend and evening hours.”
Tell me a story
Growing up, Sarah was either reading or writing.
“I liked turning pages, the smell of books, It was something that called to me.”
Mom Joyce still has boxes and boxes of children’s books.
“I read her story after story,” said Joyce. “Laying in bed, I used to make up stories about ghosts. Every night, she’s say, ‘Tell me that story.’”
Joyce has a new favorite.
“I loved ‘Monsterville.’ I almost couldn’t put it down, even though it’s a children’s book. I can see her childhood in some of the scenarios. I can hear her, even though I am reading a book.”
At Millstadt Consolidated Grade School, a fourth-grade teacher gave Sarah a boost.
“Mrs. (Martha) Story picked me to do a writing contest. One kid was chosen from each grade. It was the first time I realized someone had faith in me a a writer. As a kid, it meant a lot.”
Martha Story on Sarah: “She was a wonderful student, sort of a Pippi Longstocking, a tall thin girl with wispy hair. She was creative, sweet and generous, and she loved learning.”
Later on, a seventh-grade language arts teacher also inspired her.
“Mr. (Kenneth) Kinsella had a boisterous way of teaching. His enthusiasm was contagious.”
He remembers Sarah as “very bright, very clever, very nice and a hard worker.”
She double majored in English and political science at St. Louis University and went to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland for law school. She kept writing.
“When you are a writer, you always write. There’s a line in ‘Throw Mamma from the Train’ – ‘A writer writes always.’”
It’s not a surprise that Sarah wrote four or five other books before “Monsterville.”
The hardest part besides finding a good agent?
“Writing the beginning,” said Sarah. “I always write the beginning last. I have the hardest time opening. What is the opening now, there were 12 pages in front of that.”
Advice to young writers?
“Never give up. In the beginning, I didn’t show anyone what I was writing. I didn’t have faith in what I wanted to do. Don’t be shy about getting stuff out there. Accept criticism. Everyone starts at the bottom. Most people get a lot of rejections and have to do a lot of rewrites. You can get good if you put in the work.”
Sarah will be in the metro-east this week visiting schools in Red Bud, Waterloo, and Millstadt. She will sign copies of her book from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1at Pumpkin Blossom Hill Pumpkin Patch, 5483 Illinois 154, Red Bud.
She will have a chance to spend time with her mom, maybe see the latest project she’s working on.
“My mother and my aunt are beautiful painters — they both sold their work at craft fairs.”
And maybe hear a good story from her dad.
“No one can deliver a story or joke better than my father.”
They likely will talk about plans for Sarah and Scott’s next big production — they’re expecting a baby girl in late November.
Right now, their family consists of a rescued pit bull, two shelter cats and two kittens, Calvin and Hobbes, that she rescued, despite being six months pregnant.
Any names for the baby yet?
“I like Lydia, after the main character in ‘Beetlejuice.’ My husband just about nixed that. We have Rachel as a placeholder, I could still win.”
It’s not much of a surprise that Sarah’s favorite holiday is Halloween. She planned her wedding on Halloween weekend 2014.
Husband Scott didn’t mind.
“He went along with what I liked,” she said.
The ceremony was traditional; the reception had a Halloween theme, from tables decorated in orange and black to an outdoor bonfire.
The wedding guest favors?
“We gave out scary books,” said Sarah. “Stephen King is my favorite writer. ‘Coraline,’ by Neil Gaiman. ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,’ ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ ‘Something Under the Bed is Drooling,’ by Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes creator.
“Most didn’t take ‘Misery.’ I have a lot of extra copies.”
Want to meet Sarah?
Where: Pumpkin Blossom Hill Pumpkin Patch, 5483 Illinois 154, Red Bud
When: 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
For the book signing, readers may bring their own books. The book can be ordered on Amazon at: https://amzn.com/1510707336 and from Barnes and Noble at: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/monsterville-sarah-reida/1124493015?ean=9781510707337.
For fun, check out Sarah’s website lissablackproductions.com where she has monster movie survival tips and movie trivia
This is part of the excerpt from “Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production” that Sarah uses in her readings:
Loud footsteps boomed below us. They were far away at first, but getting closer, closer ... I squeezed my eyes shut, breathing in the earthy smell of the deerstand.
The footsteps stopped right below us. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, counting in my head. One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi.
I was up to 57 Mississippis before I realized that not just the footsteps had gone quiet. Everything had. No more birds chirping, no woodpeckers pecking, no small animals rustling in the bushes.
I counted to one hundred and opened my eyes. A huge, furry brown thing was six inches away, staring at me. It had a wide, flat nose and sunken eyes. They reminded me a lot of the swamp creature’s — brown and liquid.
“Adam,” I tried to say, but nothing came out. I tried to lift my hand to poke him, but I couldn’t move. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that Adam was motionless beside me, his arms over his head like we were hiding under our desks for an earthquake drill.
“Adam,” I mouthed again, this time managing a squeak. He lowered his arms and peeked at the monster. His face drained of color.