Night Visions: Conversations with Alvin Schwartz and Judith Gorog
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Night Visions:
Conversations with Alvin Schwartz and Judith Gorog

"Scary stories" is the informal designation generally applied to a range of children's fiction with sources as diverse as supernatural and surrealist fantasy, black humor, and the cautionary tale. Among the current American writers who have contributed significantly to the genre are Alvin Schwartz and Judith Gorog.

Alvin Schwartz is the author or adapter of a long shelfful of books for young readers, including four folk tale collections in the "scary" vein: Scary Stores to Tell in the Dark (Lippincott, 1981), More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Collected and Retold from Folklore (Lippincott, 1984), In a Dark, Dark Room (Harper, 1984), and the forthcoming Ghosts (Harper). A former reporter, Schwartz brings to his work a journalist's respect for clear, crisp prose and solid background research, and a keen sense of his audience.

In three short story collections and one novel, Judith Gorog has established herself as a writer of unsettling insight and canny wit. A Taste for Quiet and Other Disquieting Tales (Philomel, 1982), Caught in the Turtle (Philomel, 1983), No Swimming in Dark Pond and Other Chilling Tales (Philomel, 1987), and Three Dreams and a Nightmare and Other Tales of the Dark (Philomel, 1988) map out sharply edged worlds of dislocation and self-discovery, of real and false security, and wishes granted and gone awry.

Both Schwartz and Gorog, as it happens, live in Princeton, New Jersey, and the following interviews are based on separate conversations recorded in their homes on January 13, 1988:

Interview with Alvin Schwartz

LM: How did you start writing books for children?

AS: I was about 36 or 37 years old when I began. I had a background in journalism, had worked as a newspaper reporter for quite a few years and then left, as my family enlarged, and went into public relations. I moved to upstate New York, had three jobs in rapid succession, hated them all, then came down here to Princeton, where I went to work for a research corporation. I couldn't stand that, either. So one day, I said, look why don't I do this half time and do everything else I want to do in the other time? And I did that for two more years. In that period I had written a few adult books, which were essentially guide books for parents. [End Page 44] Along the way I had acquired an agent. I was very anxious to resume what I had been doing in journalism, and in the late sixties there was an opportunity to produce children's nonfiction books for the library market on all sorts of subjects that fascinated me. I did six books for Dutton. The first, called The Night Workers, was a photographic essay. A photographer here in town did the pictures. I did a book on public opinion, how it forms and functions, and then began a number of other books on American institutions—one on labor unions, one on museums, one on city planning, another on politics. I was really having a good time until the Federal funding for this type of library book began to run out. I have always had a good sense of humor and an interest in word play. So my editor at Dutton, Dorothy Briley, who had meanwhile left and gone to Lippincott, and my agent and I all talked about it and I said I would like to do a book of tongue-twisters and maybe some other things that would be folkloric. Dorothy said go ahead, and, being a journalist, the first thing I did in that connection was to determine who was the president of the American Folklore Society. It turned out to be Kenny Goldstein, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a very generous man and to this day he is quite helpful. I use his personal library and he gives me all kinds of advice. I went down to the Library of Congress and began working there too. One thing led to another and Witcracks became a national best-seller. To this day it sells very well. We brought...