Stuffed: Into Darkness is the second installment in the Stuffed series from author Liz Braswell who is no stranger to epic world building and creating grand adventures. Having penned several of the A Twisted Tales books, Braswell sat down will us to talk about her latest book, Stuffed: Into Darkness, which follows Clark and his stuffy Foon to Camp I Can where things seem weird. Foon and other Stuffies must fight to protect the kids at Camp I Can in a battle that will be one for the Stuffy history books. Following our interview is a sneak peek excerpt from Stuffed: Into Darkness readers won’t want to miss!
Nerds and Beyond: You’ve written several other books for Disney including A Twisted Tale series which are all stand alone stories. Did you enjoy getting to expand Clark and Foon’s tale and their world over multiple books?
Liz Braswell: Oh absolutely! When you have created a world you love, you long to return to it again and spend time with your friends! I love introducing new monsters and seeing old ones again, catching up with some familiar Stuffies, and seeing Clark and his friends change as they grow older.
Nerds and Beyond: I loved that some chapters are written from the perspective of the Stuffies again. What was it like to shift from writing from Clark’s point of view to the Stuffies and still keeping the stories flow?
Braswell: Honestly one of the easiest POV shifts I’ve ever done. Clark and Foon, while not the same person, are two sides of the same coin. Clark has trouble navigating some of the more complicated issues of friendship … while Foon has to do the same, only with enemies and comrades. It’s harder to remember how Foon himself is growing and changing and learning, and doesn’t speak quite as cutely and simply as he did in the first book.
Nerds and Beyond: Clark and Foon have a special bond that I think young readers will love and relate to. Did you have a special stuffy as a child that you drew inspiration from?
Braswell: I had quite a few special Stuffies! Raccoony was always on the vanguard, protecting me from Monsters. Duckie was smaller and came with me on trips, and had a special little roll-up sleeping mat that fit on her back. Mousie was sort of the wizard of the group, wise and magical. (My mother made her, and all of this adorable tiny outfits that fit into a tiny chest of drawers she made out of matchboxes.)
Nerds and Beyond: Clark’s time at camp adds an even bigger element of adventure for book 2. How did you decide on Camp I Can for Clark, Foon, and the fight against The World of Darkness?
Braswell: Stuffed was “workshopped” in a book club I’ve been running for kids for I think over ten years now. They, and I, all loved Camp I Can and wanted a return to it!
Nerds and Beyond: The book ends with a nice set up for a third book. Will we be revisiting Clark and if so, what can we expect for his and Foon’s future adventures (without spoilers, of course!)?
Braswell: Oh yeah! There are many different directions that can offer non-spoilery possibilities, most obvious being the Even Revengier Revenge Plan from the Great Pleticon. Foon is in for some big trouble ahead, no matter what happens. But then there’s Clark’s sister Anna at college, and her roommate, and a possible visit from Clark…and honestly, I kind of love the Phlebbish and want to look more closely at the less deadly Monsters.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers will take away from Stuffed: Into Darkness?
Braswell: I want readers to enjoy a good yarn…and of course, to think about some of the issues and Monsters in their own lives. Maybe they’ll see how Clark and his friends deal with problems, and how they could too. Monsters are absolutely real, even if you can’t see them!
And I hope adult readers will be taken back to that liminal place where stuffed animals talk and Monsters can be defeated, where supernatural things really do happen at sleepover camp, and friends stay friends long after summer is gone.
We loved getting to chat with Liz about this second installment in the grand adventures of Clark and Foon. We have a special look inside the story! Please enjoy the below excerpt from Stuffed: Into Darkness:
“All right, sorry to rush this along, but we have dire things to discuss,” Catherine-Lucille said briskly. “Namely, how camp sucks this year.”
“It just isn’t the same,” D.A. agreed. “The food is terrible-er.”
“Yeah, I’ve been coming here for eight years,” James said. “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything as bad as that shepherd pie tonight. For real.”
“Everything’s off ‘cause they’re missing, like, half the people who work here,” Saneema said, making a face. “My parents will totally not send me here next year if this keeps up. Especially if it’s mono or the flu or noro virus or something that everyone’s getting.”
“At least Miz Shirley is still here,” Scooter said. “I know she’s just a secretary but she’s the one who really holds the camp together. Plus she’s so nice. She’s the one who always hides the Purple Platypus,” she added in a whisper to Clark. “It’s supposed to be a secret, but it’s totally her.”
“And what about all the slime?” D.A. asked.
“There’s been a third slime sighting,” Catherine-Lucille said. “In Sunfish.”
“My old cabin!” Clark squeaked.
“So far the administration has said it’s an unusual fungal bloom, or bat vomit, or, my favorite: a prank.”
“A prank that smells like butt and ruins your stuff? Seems a little hardcore,” Saneema said with a frown.
“Ok, like, this should have been part of old business, I guess, but I think it’s relevant,” Scooter said. “Last session I found my Funko Pop Astrid and my stuffed anomalacaris canadiensis on the floor near my bunk near a pile of—man, I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t slime, exactly, but it was weird. Dirt and little bits of things—none of it made sense. Sharp and ugly and gross and springy. And it smelled bad.”
“Yours sounds like one of the lesser Monsters,” Catherine-Lucille said. “A crowd of them, maybe. Like Fegs. Did you see the photo I sent you guys from the Mo-fank forum? You can almost see the shine of their eyeballs from the flash. Usually their remains disappear, but not if, like, there were a ton of them. Your guys must have really taken an army out.”
“Also? Scooter?” Saneema said. “You are really freaking weird. Why can’t you just have a bear or a doll like everyone else?”
“Clark had a bunch of eyeballs fall on him,” D.A. said. “That’s pretty weird.”
“What Monster does that?” Scooter asked.
“So we are all thinking it’s Monsters, right?” James asked. “The slime, at least? I mean, the real slime. Not the food they’ve been serving.”
“Unless you’ve got a better idea than bat vomit,” Catherine-Lucille said.
“Ok, but if…if it is Monsters,” Clark said slowly, trying to work out something that didn’t feel right. “Why would they choose cabins, and campers, with Stuffies? Which they did, for at least two of them. You would think they would stay away from kids who were protected by Stuffies. And attack someone else. Someone undefended.”
“Hmm,” Catherine-Lucille narrowed her eyes and tapped her tooth in thought. “That’s an extremely good point.”
“Maybe their methods and motives are changing. Like, I heard that some of the Monsters are evolving,” James said. “Like, they’re figuring out how to get through phones and stuff. To travel to the other side.”
“Nope,” Saneema shook her head, refusing to believe.
Catherine-Lucille shrugged. “Kinda makes sense. Kids don’t play with toys as much as they used to cause of video games. What a great place for Monsters to slip in, to take up the space left behind.”
“Nothing wrong with video games,” Scooter said. “There’s room for both them and Stuffies.”
“Amen,” D.A. said with feeling. They tapped knuckles.
“Ok but there’s no video games here,” Saneema pointed out. “What does that even have to do with anything?”
“I’m just saying,” James said, “maybe the whole Monster situation is changing. How much do we really know know, anyway?”
“We know that Monsters attack kids, and Stuffies keep them away.” Catherine-Lucille said. “I mean, that’s pretty basic. So why aren’t these Stuffies keeping them away? Why are they…attracting them?”
“Well, what if their targets weren’t the kids?” Clark asked. “What if…it’s the Stuffies themselves?”
Silence fell. Everyone looked at him.
“Why?” Catherine-Lucille asked. She wasn’t saying it meanly or disagreeing: she was grim, but curious.
“I don’t know,” Clark said, shrugging. “But no campers have gotten sick as far as we know, right? Or started acting weird? Just all those counselors and …adults.”
“Right! So the Monsters aren’t succeeding in whatever it is they’re trying to do,” Saneema said. “Because the Stuffies killed them, right? Isn’t all that slime dead Monster stuff?”
“Not necessarily; some Monsters always leave traces, they shed stuff from their world. That’s how you can track them sometimes,” Catherine-Lucille said. “But let’s say Monsters were killed by the Stuffies…The Stuffies were then found and taken away. No more Stuffies to guard that kid, or that cabin.”
“So in a sense, the Monsters did accomplish something. If they were targeting Stuffies, I mean. They got them removed.”
“Great,” Saneema said, picking up a twig and throwing it down in disgust. “Camp is being invaded by Monsters. Clever ones.”
“All right, all right, look, this is exactly what we’re here for, soldiers,” Catherine-Lucille said, seeing the looks of fear and defeat on their faces. “Sure we help protect the occasional vulnerable Stuffy-less camper by making Stuffies for them. And sometimes we lend a hand to complicated problems like Clark’s last year…. But this is the real deal. Camp is being invaded, or Haunted.”
“Worse yet, some of us are going home this Friday and some of us are going on the camping trip. Camp will be completely abandoned and even more vulnerable over the weekend. When we get back, it will be a total disaster—a total Monster fest. And totally unsafe.”
“Don’t the counselors stay here?” Clark asked.
James laughed. “Heck no. Everyone spends their paychecks in town, or goes to the movies, or the pizza place—some even go home, although that’s frowned on. This place is like a ghost town. Even Miz Shirley disappears to take care of her gardens and birdfeeders.”
“So how do we stop the Monsters?” Saneema asked. “Especially if none of us are here on Saturday and Sunday?”
“Well, we can start by figuring out how they’re getting into camp,” Catherine-Lucille said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Monsters usually hate that. They like being around people they can torture and feed on. There’s no scary bedrooms here, and we keep all our stuff under the bunks. There’s no basements or attics for them to hide in. So where are they, and how are they getting here?
“We need to keep our eyes and ears open, listen at doors when the counselors are talking. We need to make sure every weird incident is reported to us. First. So we can see if there’s a pattern or something. We need to find every potentially scary location at the camp. Dark, deserted, dismal—Monster spots. We need to ID them and set up guards.
“And we need. To make. More. Stuffies.”
Stuffed: Into Darkness is available for preorder now and will be in local bookstores beginning May 4.