Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Calling All Junior Secret Agents: Resources for Budding Spies and Detectives


When I wrote the Double Vision trilogy, I wanted to write thrillers for middle graders that resembled the books I love as an adult. Turns out that it’s not that easy to bring that kind of danger to a kid level…
But the challenge was fun. I researched codes and ciphers, spies in history, and stretched my imagination to create kid spy Linc Baker. And I discovered some cool resources for kids—budding spies and detectives who want to learn more about what it takes to be an agent.


Here are some stops to make:
Who would know more about spy stuff than the CIA? This portion of the website tells you all about what it’s really like to be a spy, and it even has some games you can play—so check it out!

Who says museums are boring? The International Spy Museum is a great place to visit and learn more about spy gadgets, the history of spies and their tricks, and you can even sign up for their cool Spy-In-Training program. In case you can’t make it to Washington, D.C., check out their website for spy games, and brush up on your spy lingo.

The place to go if you want to know more about what an FBI agent does, how they investigate, and how the FBI came about (this history stuff is really cool). And there are games too—so go over there and get your spy disguise ready…

Code Cracking Games Online
Think you have what it takes to crack a code? Check out these great games for code breakers:

CIA Games for Kids 

If you’re a master code cracker, try your hand at the CIA’s Kryptos sculpture. No one has broken the code yet…

Your spy training is now complete. Pass the invisible ink, everyone!
 

About F.T. Bradley
F.T. (Fleur) Bradley is the author of the Double Vision trilogy (Harper Children’s), a series of fun spy mysteries for middle-grade readers that School Library Journal calls "a must-read for mystery fans, including reluctant readers." She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, two daughters and entirely too many cats.
For more information on F.T. and her books, visit www.ftbradley.com
 
To celebrate the Oct. 14th release of Double Vision: The Alias Men, the third book in the trilogy featuring Linc Baker, follow along with the blog tour (there are lots of giveaways...!).
 
 
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Power lines, Casseroles and Book Releases


I had just enough time this morning to pour my cup of coffee before the storms raging outside my home dropped a tree on a nearby power line and, quite literally, left me in the dark.  I rounded up enough flashlights and candles so that I could get my son and daughter up and ready for school.  No hot, healthy breakfast this morning -- just a couple of fudge rounds.  Nobody complained.

The road to work was blocked by the downed tree, and we were forced to take the long way to school.  Everyone handled it just fine, and we arrived with less than a minute to spare.  

After a quick stop for a mocha, I headed on to work.

I arrived at work and promptly dropped my sports coat in a puddle in the parking lot.  Oh well.  It needed to go to the dry cleaners anyway.

I arrived home at six o'clock this evening to learn that the power had just been restored.  The freezer in my garage now contained bags of cold, but thawed, chicken, meatballs and salmon.  We ate the salmon, and I made casseroles with the rest.  We'll be reheating casseroles for the next two months.

I cleaned the dishes, straightened up the kitchen and prepared to relax on the couch when it struck me.

Today is October 14.

The paperback version of my second book is being released today.

Oh.

I love this book, and I owe it a proper introduction.

The title of the book is TOWER OF THE FIVER ORDERS, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children.  It's a middle-grade mystery novel, the second book in the Shakespeare Mysteries series.  The cover is gorgeous -- but what else would you expect from Gilbert Ford?  And the interior illustrations bring life to every word -- but what else would you expect from Mark Edward Geyer?  

The main character in the series is a young lady by the name of Colophon Letterford.  In Book 1 of the series, SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE, Colophon discovered a treasure trove of long-lost Shakespeare manuscripts.  In Book 2, TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS, the authenticity of those manuscripts comes into question, and Colophon must delve even deeper into an ancient family secret to clear her family's name.  Readers meet not only William Shakespeare, but one of his contemporaries: Christopher Marlowe, a scallywag if there ever was one.  Marlowe, of course, was a real person -- and full of great secrets.  The characters in the book travel to London, Oxford and into the ancient sewers of London in search of clues and treasure.

As I said, I love this book.  

Now you'll have to excuse me.  I have clothes to iron.

Ah, the exciting life of an author.


Deron Hicks lives in Warm Springs, Georgia with his wife Angela, daughter Meg and son Parker.  His first book - SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE -- was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children in September 2012.  The second book in the series -- TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS -- was published in October 2013.  You can follow Deron on Facebook or Twitter (or both).









Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spark on the Lam

If writers are the stars in our own TV police procedurals, then drafting a novel is like hunting down a fugitive in a back alley. Okay, we're probably not as tough as cops, but bear with me as I try to flesh out the simile!

There’s always some inspiration (clue) that initially sparks us: an image, a bit of dialogue, a character already talking in our heads, a premise so irresistible that it tingles in our fingers as we type.

So we go after it. At the beginning of the chase it all seems so clear and so doable—it’s right in front of us…. Almost grabbable…

Of course, that’s usually when the fugitive ducks around the corner and disappears and we’re left holding onto his hoodie.

That’s the darkest before dawn moment, when the cop (writer) wonders if they’ll ever solve the case. When we're so mired in the uncertainty of the process nothing is obvious anymore and nothing seems to be working. It’s even more difficult to keep up the pursuit when we no longer know what we’re looking for. (If you really want to make my TV cop comparison complete, we’d probably also be coping with in some personal problems, a failing marriage or some other crisis here, because all the good characters have them…)

But here’s the thing. That spark we’re chasing turns out to be a red herring. It’s what we thought we were looking for until we discover something even better, something that’s right in front of our noses. When we stop going after that elusive thing and we work with what we actually do have, the cold hard evidence of what’s already on the page, the real story emerges. That's when we get our man (story).



Monday, October 6, 2014

Writers' Police Academy 2014

An unprecedented number of YA and MG authors attended this year's Writers' Police Academy at Guilford Technical Community College in High Point, NC!

What is the Writers' Police Academy, you ask?

WPA is an annual conference featuring hands-on workshops about law enforcement, forensic science, corrections, criminal investigation, and emergency first responders. The classes are designed for writers who want to get the details right!

Here are some photos from our 2014 WPA adventure.

KC Held (left) rushes to the scene of a crash site in an emergency driving simulation.

Megan Miranda assumes the role of firefighter with the help of veteran firefighter, Tim Fitts, during the 3rd Alarm Blaze class. Megan was conducting hands-on research for her new YA thriller, CONSUMED (Crown, 2016).

You never know what will turn up in the woods at the Writers' Police Academy.
A nighttime demonstration of various forms of Crime Scene Lighting revealed this poor guy.

The one and only Michael Connelly was our special guest speaker this year! 
Our merry band of YA groupies converged on him during his signing.
From left: Megan Miranda, SR Johannes, Michael Connelly, Kim Derting, KC Held, and Veronica Rossi.

I had the privilege of meeting retired undercover ATF agent Billy Queen, who shared his harrowing story during a special class on deep cover operations.

A live EMS demonstration featured two types of vehicle extractions, as well as EMS and police response to a mass casualty situation.

WPA starts off with a bang, featuring a live demonstration of explosive breaching methods by Captain Randy Shepherd of the Guilford County Sheriff's Office.
(Photo credit: Jamie Lee Scott)

Relaxing after a hard day at WPA.
From left: Lissa Price, Megan Miranda, Veronica Rossi, SR Johannes, and Kimberly Derting.

The YA crew enjoyed meeting FBI trained forensic artist and author, Robin Burcell. 
She taught a great class on Forensic Art and Witness Recall.
Here we are at the final banquet: Dinner with Michael Connelly.
From left: Alan Gratz, Kimberly Derting, Robin Burcell, Lissa Price, Mary Behre, and Elle Cosimano.

WPA never disappoints when it comes to guest speakers!
Lisa Gardner returned to WPA this year to tell us how she turns research into great fiction. Other 2014 guest speakers included authors John Gilstrap, Alafair Burke, and Robin Burcell.

Just in case you thought it was all fun and games, we spent many hours in the classroom too!
Class photo: ABCs of Death Investigations instructed by nurse ME, Jacque Perkins.

Lissa Price shows no mercy during a Self-Defense for Women class instructed by Master Corporal Dee Jackson of the Guilford County Sheriff's Office.

Want to learn more about the Writers' Police Academy?
Find out more here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interrogation Room #45: Julie Berry, author of THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE

We have a repeat offender in the Interrogation Room today: acclaimed author Julie Berry! We hauled her in this time last year to talk about her Edgar-nominated YA mystery ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME. Julie just can't seem to stay out of trouble, and now she's surrounded by scandal, with the release of her new middle grade mystery, THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE -- out today from Roaring Brook/Macmillan Kids!

We have lots of questions for Julie today, but here's a bit about the new book (whose title we'll abbreviate to SSPP, since we love abbreviations and acronyms here at SSA!):

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.


And now, here's the transcript of our second interrogation of Julie! (Plus, her mug shot!)

SSA: So here you are, a repeat offender . . . we last saw you in here one year ago, when we summoned you to answer questions about your YA historical mystery, ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME.

JB: When do I get to call my lawyer?

SSA: Not so fast. You're a slippery one, Ms. Berry, and we need answers. It seems you've been trespassing into different genres. In short succession, you've written TWO unconventional and historical mysteries -- one in experimental form, and now this new one, a farce. Can we see your poetic license?

JB: Yes, right here.

SSA: Ah. Okay. Well, we've noticed the two books couldn't be more different in tone as well as time periods. How did it feel to go from Puritan America in ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME to Victorian England in SSPP? And did you learn anything about mystery writing from writing ALL THE TRUTH that helped you with the new novel, despite the vastly different content?

JB: It's kind of fun to go from promoting one novel with a very serious tone to peddling one this playful. I like to mix things up. Both stories have some darkness to them, I'd say, but the flavors are very different. I definitely do think that ALL THE TRUTH gave me invaluable craft practice. I learned how to be very disciplined about clues, details, mechanics, pacing, motive, and what to reveal when. I think these will be useful for any book I write in the future, whether overtly a mystery or not.


SSA: What appeals to you about farce? And what's challenging about writing farce?

JB: Comedies yield laughs, but farce done right threatens the audience with death by laughter. It's one big crescendo of crazy humor, and I love it. I grew up on writers like P.G. Wodehouse (and later, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels), and on films like Arsenic and Old Lace and His Girl Friday. Nowadays, my family does a lot of community theater, and I've watched more British farces than you can shake a stick at. Over time, I began to deconstruct them to try to understand what makes a farce a farce. Slamming doors? Mistaken identities? Corpses? Or was it more than that?

There's a lot more. Farces have a particular energy and pace. Timing is everything. Careful plotting is crucial. A sort of everyman (or everywoman, or everykid) protagonist is confronted with an unplanned, improbable, twist-of-fate dilemma, and a series of characters who represent extreme stereotypes until the protagonist is totally destabilized by dealing with such loonybirds--until he or she becomes, in essence, one of them. In the process, though, they become less flat-vanilla, and more human, more round, more likable. Miraculously, things work out, balance is restored, and everyone can go on about their lives, but old assumptions, old walls, have been broken down a bit. Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace may flee from his insane relatives, once he learns he was adopted, shrieking, "I am not a Brewster!" but his bug-eyed stare proves he's become at least a bit of one.

SSA: We understand you did quite a bit of research to bring this 19th-century British boarding school to life. (Not to mention other harrowing scenes, like burying a dead body!) What is one of the most deliciously fascinating facts that you uncovered?


JB: I got to read some wonderfully gruesome accounts of crimes, poisonings, and medical investigations during the Victorian era. Since I've never personally poisoned anyone with cyanide (I swear, I haven't!), I needed to read lots about it. There were some wonderfully lurid poisonings going on, and some truly dastardly poisoners. The relatively recent innovation of life insurance, combined with easy-to-buy poisons and as-yet underdeveloped techniques for detecting them, turned, I regret to say, certain people's unpleasant relatives into solutions for their shopping addiction. Or opium addiction. Insert your addiction of choice.

SSA: How did you get the voice in this novel so pitch perfect? Did you watch a lot of British period dramas on PBS? Read numerous Victorian novels? Or -- our suspicion -- are you actually a time traveler from Victorian England?

JB: I'm the Doctor. Take a look. It's bigger on the inside.


The real Julie Berry!
Guilty on all counts. Who doesn't love Dickens, or the Brontes? I think I was born in the wrong century sometimes. Except that I would never want to have to wear what the Victorians wore underneath all those poufy-sleeve dresses, if you catch my drift, nor visit their doctors if I was ill, nor attend their finishing schools (except maybe this one), nor tolerate their prevailing views of the roles of girls and women. But we owe a great debt to a number of women during this era who made tremendous strides.

SSA: What do you hope contemporary teens or tweens take away from this novel? Is it pure entertainment, or do you think there are bridges they can find to their modern lives?

JB: Pure entertainment is always my goal. My job is to divert you. I wouldn't mind it at all if readers came away with a bit more of an affinity for these genres I've played with, and go hunting on their own for drawing-room mysteries and farces, past and present, to enjoy. If a little girl empowerment was sniffed around the edges, so much the better, but truly, I really just want you to laugh and keep the pages turning.

SSA: Is there anything scandalous about your writing life that you'd care to confess?

JB: Alas, I was scandalously late turning in my most recent manuscript. And I sometimes go scandalously long between showering. Working from home will do that to you. Other than that, my actual writing life is fairly boring. Anything colorful going on in my writing life, to quote the immortal Mr. Tweedy of the Aardman film Chicken Run (who, incidentally, makes a teensy cameo as a constable in my novel), is "all in me head." 

SSA: Thank you for answering our questions, Julie! We'll let you off the hook again. Stay out of trouble -- or rather, stay in trouble -- we love the creative risks you take, and we can't wait to see what you're cooking up next! 

You can track Julie down at her website, on Twitter (@JulieBerryBooks), and on her Facebook fan page
You can buy THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE and Julie's other books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at Independent bookstores near you.

Please enjoy this fabulous trailer for SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD, and then . . .  enter our giveaway! One lucky winner will get a signed hardcover of Julie's new book!



Intrigued? Enter our giveaway on this Rafflecopter thingy below! This giveaway is open internationally. Must be 13+ to enter.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Out of Hiding!

In case you haven't noticed, we've been laying low here at Sleuths Spies & Alibis for these past few months! We took the summer off from blogging to devote more time to our own projects. The truth is, we all have double identities: we're not only kidlit mystery bloggers, we're actively publishing novelists. We're also wives, husbands, moms, dads, aunts, employees . . . and like just about everyone, we're all struggling to balance it all.

When we started this blog several years ago, we were debut authors, still months or years away from seeing our books on shelves. Through blogging here, we've learned a lot from each other, sharing ideas for writing mysteries for young people, and we've gotten more great reading recommendations from each other than we can keep up with! (We hope you have too!) We've also loved celebrating each other's publication dates here, and we've all become friends in the process -- even though some of us have never met in person!

But. As I was saying . . . we're busier than ever now. Deadlines loom. Many of us are writing our second, third, fourth books, and we're on a different schedule. Our families and friends in real life clamor for our attention. Our pets look at us with their sad eyes. Don't blog. Feed me.

Yes, we're busy. But after a great deal of discussion and soul-searching among us, we've decided to return to the blog and keep it going. This fall marks our FOURTH (!) year of blogging about new kidlit mysteries (including our own), favorite mysteries, writing tips and challenges, and author interviews. The internet is full of dead blog carcasses, but we are still alive! Muahahahaha. To our knowledge, we're still the main go-to place online for kidlit mystery/thriller info. And we hated to think of shuttering the blog just because of this silly little technicality of none of us having any spare time to blog!

We are sad to lose three of our members: Lamar Giles, Ashley Elston, and W.H. Beck, are now sleuths-at-large. It has been a real joy to blog with these fine writers, and we wish them the best of luck with their new ventures--an MFA program for Lamar, and new book deals for all three!

The remaining ten of us will continue to blog here, adding new content once a week -- but Sleuths Spies & Alibis will now be more focused on author interviews (our popular Interrogation Room series), as well as highlighting more new and upcoming titles/authors in the mystery genre. We'll make our archives easier to navigate so if you're interested in our longer, thoughtful, essay-like posts about the craft of mystery writing, you'll be able to find those. We'll soon be updating our list of YA and MG mystery/thriller writers. And some of us may still occasionally write those longer, thoughtful, essay-like posts just to mix it up a little! But in general, we are streamlining, paring down, acting more as a resource center for kidlit mysteries.

We hope you'll stay with us and follow our blog through the change, and we hope you'll continue to interact with us on Twitter too (@kidlitmysteries). We'd love to hear what YOU'RE reading and what YOU'RE writing, because we are ALWAYS looking for more great mysteries!

Thanks, as always, for being our partners in crime!

[here are a few pics of our books spotted in the wild!]



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Interrogation Room #44: Edith Thornton Cohn, author of SPIRIT'S KEY

We've been lucky to nab a prime suspect for The Interrogation Room -- right on her release day! SPIRIT'S KEY by debut middle grade author Edith Thornton Cohn is an inventive, magical supernatural mystery with a rich setting -- and a GHOST DOG. What more could a kid ask for? This is a story that'll captivate kids of all ages.  Think Because of Winn Dixie meets Ingrid Law's Savvy.

A bit about the book:
By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner's destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can't get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky's ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it's too late.Spirit's Key is Edith Cohn's debut novel.

The setting of Spirit's Key on fictional storm-swept Bald Island, with its suspicious (and superstitious!) residents, was so evocative! Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for it, and for Spirit's story?

A great deal of the inspiration for Bald Island comes from my love of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which has a rich and interesting history. I grew up going to the Banks. But I also read a lot about their hurricanes, their whaling and their unique language. The Outer Banks islands are so secluded they have words all their own like “dingbatters,” which means outsider, and this made its way into Spirit’s story. I even read about an islander who was a hermit and wore furs, which inspired the character Mrs. Borse. And it seems so unreal, but the islanders’ belief that yaupon tea can cure anger actually comes from something I read. Of course, I definitely took fictional liberties. I decided my island would have wild dogs instead of wild horses like the real Banks islands do. And the idea that keys can tell the future is one of the only things that didn’t come from something I read. That one came straight from the wilds of my imagination.


Spirit's Key is not a traditional mystery, but a deliciously supernatural one. I think kids' are going to love those magical elements, especially. Did any otherworldly encounters of your own inspire you? Or similar books from your own childhood? We'd love to hear more about the seed for your story and characters.


When I was a kid, I loved to host slumber parties and tell ghost stories. I’d sit around with the flashlight under my chin and try my darndest to spin a tale scary enough to elicit a few screams.

Once I found a giant wooden key in the woods. It was probably a couple feet long and half a foot thick. I have no idea who carved it or where it came from, but this mysterious key begin to appear in my stories. I believed the key unlocked doors to ghost worlds.

I recalled this memory after Spirit’s Key was written, and it only recently dawned on me that the connection between keys and ghosts has existed in my mind since childhood.


What was the best part of writing Spirit's Key for you?

Definitely the most enjoyable part was creating the “fun and games” of having a ghost dog. Spirit gets to play fetch with her dog Sky again. They go swimming together, and she rides her bike with him running alongside. Her ghost dog finds magic clues to help her solve the mystery of what’s killing the island’s dogs.

Figuring out the mechanics of the magic was really fun, and just experiencing Spirit’s joy at having her dog back again was exhilarating. We all want our dogs to live forever. This was a way for me to have a taste of that.


What do you love about writing for young people? What do you find the most challenging?

I love how kids are still hopeful and open. They believe the world can be a better place, and they’re eagerly searching to figure out how they can help make it so. They haven’t yet formed all their opinions. This makes writing for them really fun. I can take something I’m still struggling with and explore it, and I feel they’ll come along with me for the journey. The challenge is thinking outside the box enough and stretching to write something really groundbreaking. I’m always hoping to write a story worthy of how open their minds are.

Will Spirit have more adventures? (We hope so! If not, what writing adventures lie in store for you?)

I do have another story idea for Spirit, and it would answer the question of how the Hatterask family came to be cursed by hurricanes. I hope someday to write it! At the moment though, I am working on a couple of other books that are burning a hole in my brain pocket.

What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh lights of the Interrogation Room?

Well, the truth is I don’t write everyday. Weeks will go by where I don’t write a word on my book. It’s not exactly that I wait for inspiration, but I have to wait for the story to tell me what happens next. I’m very particular about getting it the way I want it. Of course I try to force it to happen faster. I outline and outline again. I start the story usually at least three or four times from scratch, each time more different from the last, before I am able to really get on with where I need to go. This lasts months, sometimes years before I even have a first draft. It’s a process that resembles madness. Yet, I promise if you meet me, I seem perfectly sane. ;)

Thank you so much for letting us wrangle you under our interrogation spotlight, Edith! We're honored -- and wishing you the very best on your release day. 

In honor of it, we're giving away a copy of SPIRIT'S KEY today. 

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