Meghan Cox Gurdon’s now infamous June 2011 Wall Street Journal essay, which decried the darkness of today’s YA fiction, launched a flurry of commentary – and at least one new publishing house. Month9Books, a startup focusing on speculative fiction, will release its first title on October 16: Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes.

The seeds for the book – and the company – were planted when Georgia McBride, founder and publisher of Month9Books, was asked by literary journal Hunger Mountain to respond to Cox Gurdon’s piece. McBride has developed a reputation in the YA community through, a non-profit organization she founded in 2009 to promote young adult literature worldwide.

“As I prepared my response to the Wall Street Journal article, I began to think about a Mother Goose book that my sister gave me when my daughter was born eight years ago,” McBride says. “Reading it, I always get caught up in the darker parts of the rhymes. And it occurred to me that there are things like servitude, murder, and kidnapping in those rhymes – which is not comforting. But you don’t hear people complain about Mother Goose, or about some of the dark sides of Disney stories. Somehow these are accepted by our culture, yet when we consider the dark aspects of YA literature, we start to put the brakes on.”

This line of thinking led McBride to conceive of a YA anthology that would collect “dark and twisted retellings of Mother Goose rhymes,” which, she says, “I thought would be really cool if done in a positive way. So I contacted my friends in the writing community, and everyone I talked to was excited about the anthology. Before long we had more than 20 contributors on board, and I began thinking about finding a good title – and wondering how we’d fit all the names on the cover.”

Co-edited by McBride and Michelle Zink, the anthology includes stories by Zink, Nancy Holder, Karen Mahoney, Lisa Mantchev, Sanwat Chadda, and Leigh Fallon, among other established writers; Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World, contributes a foreword. First-time author McBride wrote two pieces for the collection: variations on the Humpty Dumpty and Little Miss Muffet. “A poem about Humpty Dumpty’s last day just came to me,” she says. “He’s been bullied, and has had enough. He posts a letter online that he’s going to commit suicide. All the people who tried to help him just weren’t able to. And my short story about Little Miss Muffet is a sick and twisted version of the rhyme – with lots of spiders.”

A Publishing House Takes Shape

McBride had originally envisioned publishing Two and Twenty Dark Tales exclusively as an e-book, in order to minimize expenses and donate all proceeds to” But, she says, “once I had a full author lineup and such a rich concept, I realized the book’s wide potential. I decided I needed a real publisher behind it, and a team that could give it the attention it deserved. I knew that the anthology would never reach stores, libraries, and students as a poorly realized e-book put out by me. I felt a tremendous sense of obligation, given the caliber of writers contributing to the anthology, to give them something more.”

She founded Month9Books – so named because both of her children were born in September – with a commitment to supporting charitable organizations. The proceeds from sales of the first 5,000 copies of Two and Twenty Dark Tales will be donated to, and the same portion of sales of a second anthology, Myths and Legends, will benefit SPCA International.

In addition to the Myths and Legends collection, due in October 2013, 11 other books are scheduled for publication next year. The company’s offerings of speculative fiction for tweens and teens will span fantasy, science fiction, horror, and the paranormal, says McBride, and will emphasize characters “who exemplify the extraordinary strength and resilience of young adults.” Forthcoming releases include Gabriel Stone and the Divinity of Valta by Shannon Duffy, Sidekick: The Misadventures of the New Scarlet Knight by Pab Sungenis, Scion of the Sun by Nicola Marsh, and The Emissary by Kristal Shaff.

McBride, who operates Month9Books out of her home office in Raleigh, N.C., explains that she “runs a virtual office. We have a staff of 16 in addition to me – editors, production people, and corporate, PR, and marketing staff – who are literally scattered across the country.” SPU, a division of IPG, will distribute the company’s list, which, McBride adds, she looks forward to introducing to readers. “We have a great stable of debut and previously published authors, some agented authors and some not,” she says. “I can say that I’m truly excited about each title we have coming out.”

Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes, ed. by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink. Month9Books (IPG/SPU, dist.), $14.95 paper Oct. ISBN 978-0-9850294-1-8