Book Spotlight: Nightfall Gardens by Allen Houston
January 12, 2015
Nightfall Gardens (Book One)
By Allen Houston
Vain Lily Blackwood and her shy brother Silas wonder if their family will ever settle in one place long enough to lead a normal life. When a mysterious stranger arrives claiming to be their uncle, they discover their parents have been hiding a secret that turns their world upside down.
The two are kidnapped to Nightfall Gardens, the family’s ancestral home, where they meet their dying grandmother and learn of an age-old curse placed on Blackwood females.
Lily must take over as protector of the house and three haunted gardens that hold mythical beasts, fairy-tale nightmares and far worse. If she doesn’t, the evil trapped there will bring on a new dark age.
While she deals with malevolent ghosts and murderous dolls inside the house, Silas is put to work in the gardens, a hothouse of terror, where one wrong step means death.
Along the way, they search to unlock the riddle of the curse and to stop the creatures in the gardens before time runs out and the world is destroyed.
Allen Houston grew up in Bixby, Oklahoma. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a degree in English Literature. After graduation, he moved to Japan and Indonesia. When he came back to the states, he worked as a reporter/editor at the Dallas Morning News, The New York Post and as City Editor of Metro New York. Allen resides in Brooklyn with his wife, daughter and menagerie of animals.
What was your inspiration for Nightfall Gardens?
The idea of “Nightfall Gardens” started with a dream that I had of a teenage girl who was performing on stage in front of an audience. In the front row, there was a man with shocking white hair and a scar across one of his cheeks. I woke up and jotted that image down.
As I started writing the first chapter I realized that I wanted to tip my hat to the books that I loved as a kid like Treasure Island, Dracula, Great Expectations, H.P. Lovecraft and so on. There’s a little nod to all of those works in the series.
I also set out to try and write the creepiest YA trilogy that I could. I feel like most Middle Grade or YA books that purport to be scary, actually shy away from delivering real chills as if the author (or publisher) doesn’t think that kids can handle it.
The scenes of the monstrous staff that takes care of the haunted house in “Nightfall Gardens” and the creatures that live in the ghostly gardens outside of the house are the things that I get emails about the most. I think kids are more resilient than they are given credit for.
What is the most difficult part of writing a book?
Writing a book is a major balancing act. Pulling all of the strands together into a neat package at the end can be nerve wracking, especially with a series like “Nightfall Gardens.” You can’t just leave a mystery hanging out there unexplained. Also, I think most writers wrestle with doubt and insecurity about their work. Is it any good? What if no buys it? What if people read it and hate it?
It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes I think that’s forgotten. For most authors, writing is their second job. They do something else to pay the bills and they have to fit writing in either early in the morning or late at night when they are tired. There’s also the social media commitment and sometimes things that you would like to do get pushed to the backburner.
What is your writing schedule like?
I write almost every day. I wake up at 5 a.m. and write until my daughter gets up. I watch her until 10 a.m. and then I go to a coffee shop and write for two more hours. When I’m really rolling on a book I will write late in the evening as well. I do that every day and try not to get too frustrated when I’m thrown off track. I have anxiety about losing momentum. If I don’t get my writing time I feel restless.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you aren’t writing?
I live in New York City so I like to get out and take walks. There’s something to see on every corner (some of it eye opening). I also have a bike that I cruise around the city on. I like to search used bookstores with no particular author or novels in mind and come up with stuff I’ve never heard of. I’m a huge music nerd as well and I’m constantly changing the soundtrack of songs that I’m listening to while I’m mentally working on a book.
What do you like to read?
I think it’s important to read as many different types of books as possible. I’m just finishing the Kurt Wallander mystery novels by Henning Mankell. I spread those out over a couple of years because I didn’t want to gobble them down all at once. I’ve been reading old pulp fiction as well like Patricia Highsmith and Cornell Woolrich. I’m reading a western called “Telegraph” by an indie author named Phil Oakley. I recently read a couple of non-fiction books: one was about Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales and the other was about The Whiskey Rebellion that happened after the American Revolution. I’ve started the Lev Grossman “Magicians” series.
There’s basically not enough time to read everything that I want.
Do you have other Young Adult novels coming in the future?
The dirty secret for me was that I didn’t consider the “Nightfall Gardens” trilogy YA. In some ways, I think that label can be misleading. I wrote the books exactly as much for adults as I did for teens. I’ve had readers as young as 8 and as old as 65 contact me.
My new series that will come out in late spring has several characters that are in their late teens and early 20s but there are a lot of characters in their 30s and 40s as well. The series is an urban fantasy and set in a New York City where the borders between all the universes in existence are fraying and coming apart. There are creatures called the “The Elyuum” that live in the dark space between these different dimensions and they are trying to tear down the walls that separate the different possible versions of New York City — essentially destroying everything in existence. It was written for adults but I would have read it as a teenager. That’s what I mean about labels being misleading.
For more information about Allen Houston visit allendhouston.com.