Oct. 14—Hallie Christensen always wanted to write. She would enter writing contests as a kid and looked forward to hearing from authors at writing conferences set up for students.
"That sparked the interest in me," the Vinemont native said. "I always wanted to write a book but just the sitting down and actually doing it was frightening."
As an adult, though, Christensen has embraced the fear. In her first published novel, "The Misadventures of Great-Aunt Poppy," Christensen brings the suspense to middle-grade readers.
The irony of the kid who was too scared to read "The Goonies" like her brother did writing a book that makes the spine tingle is not lost on her.
"It's hilarious because I never liked scary books," she said. But, growing up in the woods, she knows what it's like to be afraid and she brings that into the novel.
"I've been in the woods at night; I know what you hear," she said. "I know the shadows that you see, the sounds that you don't normally hear that make your spine tingle."
Great-Aunt Poppy, though, isn't a gory book, but instead is classified as a "magical realism novel."
It comes out just in time for Christmas — or Halloween. The story tells the tale of three siblings sent to stay with their Great-Aunt Poppy over Christmas. They don't want to go, as they are convinced Great-Aunt Poppy is a witch.
They're not wrong.
But even a witch has limits and she can't solve a problem coming from the woods around her scary house, so the kids help her.
Christensen said she'd previously been working on a young adult novel but was having difficulty getting the voice right.
Thanks to her nieces and nephews, and being "a kid at heart" herself, though, writing for the kids in Great-Aunt Poppy came naturally. "It was a good niche for me," she said.
Reviewers agree. One Goodreads review noted, "This book is filled to the brim with colorful imagination and positive messages... while of course providing a few good spooks and edge of-the-seat action scenes along the way! Young readers will thoroughly enjoy the humor, sibling banter, and adventure to be found in this story."
It's not Christensen's first book, that would be a self-published children's book "Daisy the Nice Dragon," about a vegetarian dragon, but it is the first where she's gone through the entire process of writing, finding an agent and a publisher and working with a publishing house, in this instance, Sweetwater Books.
From start to finish, it took about a year. The idea for the novel started much like the writing she did as a youth: with a contest.
There was a contest for short stories based on the premise "siblings have to go stay with a relative."
She wrote the story of Aunt Poppy for that contest, but "I loved it so much I shared it with one of my friends who is a critique partner." She encouraged her to keep going with it. So Christensen expanded it from a short story to a novel and set off to get it published.
"I was very fortunate because many books are written that don't get published," she said.
The Wallace State Community College English teacher applies the same discipline to writing that she did as a band member in Vinemont and as part of the University of Alabama's Million Dollar Band.
"I play instruments and the way to get better at musical instruments is practice. It's kind of the same way with being an author. The way to get better at writing is to write," she said.
She's working on her next novel, and while she won't give away the story just yet, Cullman readers will likely recognize the setting. "I made it a small hometown in the South and I focus around the German heritage of Cullman," she said.
While readers will have to wait for that book to come out, "The Misadventures of Great-Aunt Poppy" will be out Oct. 12 at area bookstores and on Amazon.com. In addition, Christensen is available to go to schools and talk to classrooms and has created a teachers guide for Great-Aunt Poppy.