Author Patrick Carman’s latest book, Skeleton Creek, breaks new ground in young adult fiction: it is both a book and a video! The two main characters record their experiences investigating what many think is a haunted gold mine. Ryan writes in his journal, while Sarah uses her videocam to search out the truth. Since their parents will no longer allow them to see each other, they send notes and video clips via email.
Links and passwords to the video web site are given throughout the book.
Recently, Kid Reporter Nicholas Wu talked to Carman about his new format. Skeleton Creek is the first of a two book series. The second book, Ghost in the Machine, comes out in October!
Q: What was your inspiration behind this book? Did you live in a town that had a creepy dredge?
Carman: The format for Skeleton Creek had been on my mind for quite a while. At the same time I had long wanted to write a mystery/ghost story but couldn’t settle on a location or a thread that would hold things together. When I visited the dredge in Oregon (which is not in my town, but is close by), everything merged together pretty much overnight. Sometimes a location or a character will do that for me.
When I walked into the dredge and saw the massive gears and conveyer belts, then heard about a legendary ghost story, well, that was it for me. The idea of shooting video inside this place at night was very appealing. The story of two teens, one who wrote and one who filmed, felt right for the setting. After that things started to really move.
Q: Did you film the videos at a real dredge?
Carman: Yes, we did. Finding the dredge was one of the magic moments on this project. It’s a very uniquely scary location. Back in the 1940s and 1950s the Northwest was open to gold dredging, but they’ve long since been banned because of the environmental damage they do. The gold dredge was like a giant earth eating monster, filled with conveyer belts and gears. The fact that I was able to locate it was the first bit of magic; the second was the unbelievable privilege of being able to film inside it. The dredge we used is part of the Oregon parks system, so it was a small miracle we were able to gain access to shoot for weeks on end. Someone was killed on the dredge a long time ago, back when it was still in operation, and there’s a thriving urban legend about the dredge being haunted. Our crew filmed at night, from dusk until dawn, and the place definitely felt haunted at two in the morning. Low-flying bats were a serious problem, but more than that, the dredge at night just felt incredibly spooky. There weren’t too many on our crew that would go in there at night alone. We worked in teams or as larger groups.
Q: I thought that the video component was really cool. How did you come up with the idea of integrating videos with the storyline?
Carman: I’m an outgoing person, so I’ve always preferred writing books where there are illustrators, artists and filmmakers involved in the process. I also understand how important technology is to young people, since I have two young daughters of my own. I’m particularly interested in merging film with books, because I think they complement one another beautifully. I also think it’s one of the best ways to keep people reading, by tethering the story to compelling video content.
Q: Did you direct and produce the videos yourself?
Carman: Yes! Everything was created and produced by me and my team at my production company, PC Studios.
Q: Why did you decide to film some of the videos in black and white?
Carman: Actually, the whole project was filmed in color, but certain scenes look like black and white. Some of the shots were done at night using a giant flashlight taped to a hand-held camera (we love duct tape!). That kind of shooting creates the illusion of black and white.
Q: Where did you film the videos?
Carman: We spent two weeks on the actual dredge, filming primarily from dusk until dawn — very long nights where we filmed every scene dozens of times! We also had sets for Sarah’s room, the town of Skeleton Creek, her car, alleyways, that sort of thing. The secret room was particularly difficult to film and involved a lot of set pieces. Overall we built a lot more items than readers would imagine.
Q: Which idea did you come up with first, the book or the videos?
Carman: They were simultaneous, really. I knew for this particular story to work I would need one character who loved to write and one who loved to film. In a sense, Ryan and Sarah are trying to prove their storytelling format is the better of the two. Sarah never writes, Ryan never films (unless Sarah makes him hold the camera). And, importantly, their storytelling methods match their personalities. Ryan would rather write a ghost story than be in one. He’s perfectly happy to stay in his room and write all day, especially if it means staying out of difficult situations in the real world. Sarah couldn’t be more different. She will take her camera anywhere, film in the middle of the night, and secretly record conversations with people. For Sarah, the camera is her escape from a boring life in a dead end town.
Q: What if people buy this book 10 years from now? Will they still be able to access the videos?
Carman: Yes. The videos will live online forever!
— Nicholas Wu, Scholastic News Kid Reporter
For more information about Carman’s latest series (including photos of the dredge!), check out the website: scholastic.com/skeletoncreek
Photos courtesy of Patrick Carman