by Patrick Carmen
About the series:
Sarah and Ryan are in deep. Deep in trouble and deep into a disturbing mystery that everyone in their hometown of Skeleton Creek, Oregon seems intent on keeping. The last time the two went out to the creepy gold dredge abandoned in the middle of the woods Ryan ended up in the hospital and in a cast that has left him stuck at home and forbidden to speak or contact Sarah anymore. Sarah is intent on unraveling the mystery of the dredge but also what happened to Ryan that night in the woods because she has footage that no one else has seen. The story is told in alternating viewpoints: Ryan’s through his own journal (as the novel) and Sarah’s is told through video viewed online with passwords. This exciting new storytelling format will have kids riveted to the page trying to figure out what these detectives will discover next.
Teachers: if you’re looking for a way to bridge the digital divide with your students and lure them inside the structure of a novel, look no further. Students can explore both the traditional fiction through a novel and learn to discuss and evaluate other storytelling techniques with media. Inspire your students to explore alternative storytelling methods and media and learn to discuss it with a discerning eye.
Discussion Guide: Book 1
- Describe Ryan as he sees himself. Do you think anyone who writes as much as he has will eventually become good at it? What condition is he in? Why?
- Over the last year how has Ryan’s journal (and the stories inside it) slowly become intertwined with his real life in Skeleton Creek? How did the quest begin?
- “Privacy has long been the religion of our town.” (p. 17) Why do you think this is important? What would be the religion of your own town? What is good about living in a small town? What can be a challenge?
- What do you learn from watching Sarah’s footage of the night in the woods? Would you be willing to continue on solving the mystery or not? Why? Which part of the story do you think was more difficult to write: the journal or the script? Why?
- How is Ryan’s dad involved in the mystery of the story? What information does Ryan learn from his about the dredge and Old Joe Bush? Does your town have any local ghost stories too?
- How is Ryan able to make connections between what he discovers from his dad and the videos from Sarah? Who is finding the most information? Do you think any of the details they are discovering are unimportant (in mystery fiction this is called a red herring)?
- Ryan is constantly admitting that he is paranoid. Do you think his fear is interfering with understanding the truth? Would you be willing to risk your parent’s wrath and your own safety to pursue the truth of the mystery? What do they have to lose?
- What does Ryan learn about the tapping sounds on the video and what they mean? Do you think it connects to Ryan’s dad?
- What passwords does Sarah give Ryan to access the videos? What is the significance of these words? Where do they come from?
- What do they discover at the dredge at the end of the book? In the end, where are Sarah and Ryan? Predict what you think will happen next and why.
Discussion Guide: Book 2
- How did Sarah and Ryan escape from the secret room? What did they learn while trapped down there? What warning did they get? Would you continue with the search?
- How does Ryan start eliminating suspects from the list they found in the secret room? What surprising facts does he learn about people on the list?
- Who were Hooke, Boyle and Newton? How did their discoveries become important to unraveling the mystery of the dredge? How does he uncover the detailed truth about their important work?
- Sarah’s video’s illicit more intense responses from Ryan in this book than in the last. Why? Are you more influenced by video or print? Ten years from now what do you think will have the most influence in entertainment? Why?
- What clues does Ryan discover in his own house and by his surveillance at the local library? Why are the crossbones involved with the dredge?
- What does Sarah discover the night of the crossbones secret society meeting? How does she gain access?
- Why is the element of time even more critical now? What will happen if Sarah and Ryan cannot unravel the mystery? How does this add intensity to the story?
- In the end, what did Ryan and Sarah discover was the secret behind the deaths at the dredge and what the murderer was protecting? Who was responsible for the treachery? Who do you think feels most betrayed by this knowledge?
- Who do you feel like you knew better through this story: Sarah or Ryan? Why? Which part would you most be interested in writing or creating? What have you learned about the creation of stories that you can apply to your own next work?
- After viewing all of Sarah’s video’s discuss which ones were most compelling and why. Which ones developed Sarah as a character? Which ones advanced the plot heavily? Which ones added suspense and fear to the narrative? What elements created the mood? How can you evaluate a video for its effectiveness?
Keep a journal that is very stream of consciousness (in the moment) for at least one day inspired by Ryan’s journal. Try to make your reader feel as if they are standing beside you watching events unfold. Although you may not have a life and death mystery to solve you may explore other questions: what is school cafeteria meatloaf really made out of? Why does your math teacher keep opening the bottom left hand drawer of her desk? Does Katy Ryan really like Paul Mills or is she writing love notes to someone else?
Work with a partner to tell a local ghost story. Be sure to create intensity between the two mediums (print and video) and make the story rely on each other as in Skeleton Creek. Don’t forget to let the mystery unfold in more than one episode so your reader/viewer discovers information along the way.
Try writing a short screenplay inspired by Sarah’s personal uploads of the discoveries. What footage would best describe a day-in-the-life of you? What details would be important to capture? What would you let people see from your home? Your room? Yourself? Consider how you will use the elements of media to enhance your production: light, sound, screen angles, and close-ups. Discuss your choices in a journal you turn in with the project.
Create a collage inspired by the events from the novel. Don’t forget to use some of the literary allusions from the video passwords and don’t feel compelled to stick with two- dimensional objects either. Explain your choice of symbol, subject, color, form and texture in a brief artists statement you also include with the project.
Create a playlist for at least two scenes of the book. Which music would you choose for the background? Why? If lyrics were used, which ones would be best?
Research the history of video and film development. How has it changed in the last 50 years? Predict what you think the medium will do in the next 50 years. Create a timeline of at least five important events.
Develop a powerpoint, website or video about Newton, Boyle or Hooke and their discoveries. Be sure to include at least five important facts about the scientist’s life, their accomplishments and important discoveries.