Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Eggs from HIGH & DRY by Sarah Skilton

My second YA book, a desert-set mystery called HIGH & DRY, comes out today, woo-hoo!

What's it about? Framed for a stranger's near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flashdrive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming game, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past that may be responsible for all his current problems.

"A dark, well-constructed mystery with a strong voice." - Kirkus Reviews 


To celebrate the book's release, I thought I'd share some behind-the-scenes Easter eggs with my fellow sleuths.

1) Lead character Charlie Dixon is named after Dixon Steele, Humphrey Bogart's character in the film In a Lonely Place.


2) Charlie's scheming ex-girlfriend, Bridget Flannery, is named after Brigid O'Shaughnessy in THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett.


3) Mr. Donovan is the name of a teacher at both Charlie's school in Palm Valley, California, and at Imogen's school in Glenview, Illinois (the setting of my first book, BRUISED). One of the Donovans teaches history, the other, statistics. This was simple human error on my part. OR WAS IT? Perhaps one of the Mr. Donovans is an imposter! Perhaps there are clues placed carefully throughout one or both books... You decide.

4) There are three possible references to Breaking Bad in the book. This is fairly bizarre considering I hadn't seen a single episode of the show when I wrote HIGH & DRY. Since then, I've become a big fan, which is why I noticed that...

 a) In Breaking Bad, Skyler White's maiden name (and Walter White's alias) is Lambert. In HIGH & DRY, Charlie's father teaches new media journalism at a local liberal arts college called Lambert College.

 b) In Breaking Bad, Flynn is the name that Walter, Junior occasionally demands to be called. In HIGH & DRY, a Flynn Scientific baseball cap is evidence in a crime.

 c) Breaking Bad was originally set in Riverside, CA. Palm Valley is based on locations near the same Inland Empire locale.

You can pick up HIGH & DRY at any of these fine retailers:

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Powell's

Amazon

Sarah Skilton is the author of BRUISED, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and which the Horn Book called, "nuanced and honest." She lives in southern California with her magician husband and their young son.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ghostly Adventures

Ghosts have been on my mind lately. Just one ghost, really. The one I'm moving in with this summer. He (it?) haunts the halls of Thurber House, James Thurber's childhood home in Columbus, Ohio where I'm lucky enough to be spending the better part of June and July as their Children's Writer-in-Residence this year.

He's a not a malevolent ghost, it would seem from all reports--the most famous (and hilarious) one coming from James Thurber himself. I should be able to handle some heavy running footsteps and creaky cabinets, right? After all, I'm a ghost story fan--and Lisa Yee assures me he's gentle (though can she be sure this injury was really an accident?). Still, I find myself pausing before picking up any potentially creepy reads lately.

Maybe you'd like to pick up the slack for me? Ghosts haunt some of my very favorite middle grade reads. And ghost stories and mysteries are a match made in--well, I suppose I can't say heaven, exactly--but they certainly do go well together. 

Since there are plenty of newer ghostly titles floating around the Twittersphere these days, I thought I'd share a list of some of my favorite bone-chilling reads from the past. (Click the images to see full synopses.)










Hope you enjoy. Keep the lights on! Wish me luck in Ohio---and if you know any enthusiastic young writers in the Columbus, Ohio area, tell them all about Thurber House's fabulous summer writing camp and Young Writers' Studio! I'll be dropping in to work with the fourth and fifth graders for several sessions. I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Interrogation Room #42: Marcia Wells, Author of EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER

Here's some "uber"-exciting news to kick off April: EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE, a new middle grade mystery, is on sale in stores today!  To mark the occasion, we've tracked down author Marcia Wells and taken her in for questioning in our notorious Interrogation Room. Set those lights to "blinding!" 
Here's a quick synopsis of EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: 
Sixth-grader Edmund Xavier Lonnrot code-name “Eddie Red,” has a photographic memory and a prodigious talent for drawing anything he sees. When the NYPD is stumped by a mastermind art thief, Eddie becomes their secret weapon to solve the case, drawing Eddie deeper into New York’s famous Museum Mile and closer to a dangerous criminal group known as the Picasso Gang. Can Eddie help catch the thieves in time, or will his first big case be his last?
And here's a little about Marcia: 

Marcia Wells taught middle school students for more than a decade before becoming a full-time writer. She lives with her husband and two kids in Vermont, where she knows entirely too much about chickens, pigs, and sword fighting. Eddie Red Undercover is her debut novel, winner of the Indies Introduce New Voices award, Spring 2014.

Now for the interrogation! And Marcia, in case you're having any thoughts of making a run for it, be informed that we have a highly trained sketch artist with a photographic memory on staff. (We also have your photograph... but the point is, we'll find you!) 

1) What is EDDIE RED's genesis story? Where did you find your inspiration to write this story?

During the summer of 2010, I was preparing to teach an AP Spanish high school class in the fall, so I was reading some short crime mysteries by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. He had one mystery in particular where the detective and the bad guy chased each other using alphabets and geometric patterns. I had also just finished writing my first manuscript (a very mediocre YA story) and was wondering what to write next. I read some industry articles about the need for more boy mysteries. I visited relatives from New York City. After mixing all of that together in my brain, I woke up one morning and Eddie was there!

2) Eddie and Jonah aren't exactly your typical middle-grade heroes, but they are "uber" unique, charming, and likeable. What kind of process went into their development? How have they changed, if at all, throughout your revisions?

The two boys came to me very clearly. I had just taught a Spanish class of all seventh grade boys, who were equally unique and charming  they provided great inspiration. Eddie originally was shyer and less proactive in solving the case. But his humor has remained constant. Jonah has always been the same – very hyper and funny. He’s the character I have the most difficulty with. He’s such a force on the page that he’s constantly hijacking the story. I have to make a real effort to tone him down, and in the end, I always have to knock him out at the climax so that the spotlight remains on Eddie. The three of us have a lot of fun together.

3) What kind of research was necessary to write EDDIE RED? Did it involve any trips to New York or skulking around in museums?

I did A LOT of internet research, and pestered my NYC relatives about what it’s like to be a New York kid. After the story took shape, I visited Museum Mile and Central Park. I also took drawing lessons and chess lessons from my fellow teachers. Details are so important, especially in a mystery.

4) If you could have one super-sleuthing ability (such as Eddie's photographic memory and drawing skills), what would it be?

I would love to have a photographic memory  it would be so nice to remember things as a picture, to know all the details. Instead I rattle around my house with a bad case of Mommy brain most of the time…

5) What is your personal background as a writer? What led you to writing? What was the first story you ever wrote?

All of my writing classes in college and grad school were in Spanish. I love studying literature, but it was always Spanish literature. When I turned 35, I was teaching middle school kids and decided to just start writing for fun. I discovered a whole new wonderful world of YA and MG lit. My first manuscript was terrible! But a great learning experience. I then attended conferences and took online writing classes – I really dedicated myself to the craft. And I read hundreds of books  reading is such an important part of the process! Eddie was my second manuscript  after I wrote the story, it took two years of editing and revising to land an agent.

6) What is the most rewarding aspect of writing mystery for kids? The most challenging part?

The most rewarding part is the characters  they come to life and direct the action. They make me laugh! There are two challenging parts for me with this series – one is knowing how and when to reveal information (and having that reveal be natural) and the second is being funny. When I wrote the second book, it was hard to sit down and force the silly 11-year-old humor to come. It’s a process that takes months.


7) Did you learn anything about yourself as a writer while penning EDDIE RED?

I learned that plotting a mystery is an amazing writing exercise. I think if you can plot a mystery, you can plot anything!

8)  Have you ever solved a "real-life" mystery?

Ever since I became a mom, my life has become a series of real-life mysteries! Questions like, “Why is the baby crying again?” or “Where is the sponge? Oh…I put it in the freezer.” I think parents have to be the most creative sleuths of all.

9) Can you share a fun fact that your readers may not know about you?

I know how to tap dance :)

10) Can you tell your readers anything about Eddie's next adventure?

Eddie and Jonah go to Mexico on a two-week family trip. When Edmund’s father is accused of stealing a priceless artifact from the hotel, Eddie Red must save the day. The boys get tangled up with a Mayan god, a teenage street gang, and a 30 year old unsolved mystery. Tagline: Never underestimate the power of projectile vomit.

11) What one writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh lights of this Interrogation Room?

Never, ever, ever give up. I almost gave up on Eddie  I was so tired of rejection and I had moved onto other projects. I told myself I’d query one more agent  she was the agent who said yes, thank goodness, but what if it had taken five more agents? Or ten? I never would have gotten him published. Believe in yourself and your work, and don’t get discouraged!

Thanks, Marcia, and congratulations! 


Want to learn more about Marcia and EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER? 



Follow her on Twitter @WellsMarcia





Monday, March 31, 2014

Interrogation Room #41: Janie Chodosh, author of DEATH SPIRAL



Janie Chodosh, YA mystery author
We have an exciting double debut here at the Sleuths, Spies & Alibis Interrogation Room today! A new author, and a new YA publishing imprint!

Janie Chodosh is the author of the YA mystery DEATH SPIRAL: A FAITH FLORES SCIENCE MYSTERY, which releases tomorrow, April 1. (Yes, we know it's April Fool's Day, but we're serious!) This is Janie's debut novel, and will be the first in a three-part series.  

DEATH SPIRAL also kicks off a new YA publishing imprint, The Poisoned Pencil, which is dedicated to YA mystery. (woo hoo!) You can find out about other forthcoming Poisoned Pencil books here and follow them on Twitter at @PoisonedPencil.

Publisher's Weekly has this to say about DEATH SPIRAL: "Sharp characterization and deft descriptions make this a solid addition to the amateur detective shelf." High praise! Intrigued? We were! Here's a bit more about the first book in this exciting new series:

Life is tough when you have a junkie for a mom. But when sixteen-year-old Faith Flores—scientist wannabe, loner, new girl in town—finds her mom dead on the bathroom floor, she refuses to believe her mom really OD'd. But the cops have closed the case and her Aunt T, with whom she now lives in the Philly ‘burbs, wants Faith to let go and move on.

But a note from Melinda, her mom's junkie friend, leads Faith to a seedy downtown methadone clinic. Were her mom and Melinda trying to get clean?


When Melinda dies of an overdose, Faith tracks down the scientists behind the trial running at the methadone clinic. Soon she's cutting school and lying to everyone—her aunt, her best friend, even the cops. Everyone, that is,  except the strangely alluring Jesse, who believes the “real” education's on the street and whose in-your-face honesty threatens to invade Faith's self-imposed “no-dating” rule. A drug-dealer named Rat-Catcher warns Faith to back off, but it doesn't stop Faith from confronting a genetics professor with a guilty conscience. When the medical examiner's body winds up in the Schuylkill River, Faith realizes if she doesn't act fast, she may be the next body in the morgue. Can Faith stop this deal gone bad from taking a sharp turn for the worse?

And now, Janie Chodosh faces our panel! (We'll go a bit easy on her today, since she's new!)

What was the original seed of the novel? Did you know from the outset that you were going to be writing a mystery?

The original seed for DEATH SPIRAL came from watching a documentary about the human genome project and about the decoding of our DNA—three billion pairs of A’s, C’s, T’s and G’s, and some thirty thousand genes. The knowledge of our inner biological workings seemed to me a Pandora’s box of medical and ethical questions perfect for fiction. When I watched the documentary, scientists were able to patent genes they discovered. (The Supreme Court has since ruled against this patenting of genes). My sinister (though I prefer to say imaginative) mind went crazy. I sat down right away and started brainstorming. If scientists could patent genes could they not hide information? Take advantage of a captive population? Science and medicine for profit, holding scientific information captive. All of these ideas intrigued me.

As young adult mysteries go, you’re a long way from Nancy Drew! Can you describe the process of writing about such topics for teens? Do you consciously tone down for your intended audience? Why or why not?

Teens, especially the upper teenage audience, are completely on board for real life topics and real life debates. I see the mystery of DEATH SPIRAL as one involving justice and ethics, and justice and ethics are topics that teenagers are very interested in. In this regard, I do not tone anything down. Today’s teens have so much to deal with, so much information, and they are exposed to so much. While I don’t write anything that I would consider graphic, be it sex or violence, I stay true to what I imagine Faith, my protagonist, an urban, 16-year-old who was raised by a junkie mother and no father, would experience. If that means swearing, then she swears. I always ask myself if what I am writing is authentic. If not, I delete. One topic I have thought a lot about is sex in a young adult novel. Should it be there or not?  In the myriad YA novels I’ve read, intimate relationships are almost always explored. This does not mean characters are sexually active, but sexuality and intimacy play a part of their growing identity. Since The Poisoned Pencil Press is geared to the older YA reader, I really felt that sex needed to be addressed. Whether they are sexually active or not, teenagers are curious and exploring this aspect of their lives.

What do you find to be the hardest part about writing mystery novels for a younger audience? Did you face any particular challenges, and if so, how did you overcome it?

Many of today’s teen readers want to be entertained, but they also want to be challenged and engaged. How do you accomplish this as a writer? Teens are smart readers, so how do you write a mystery that will hook, engage, entertain, not condescend, not be solvable by page ten, and make them read to the end? These things, for me, are all part of the joy and the challenge or writing a YA mystery. As I write, I’m not conscious of each of these things. I’m conscious of telling a good story with authentic characters. If I stay true to Faith and Jesse (Faith’s love interest) and their quirks and insecurities, and if I imagine my own quirks and insecurities as a teenager (and there were many) then I know I’m doing my job.

As far as the mystery of DEATH SPIRAL is concerned, writing about a teenage sleuth in a scientific mystery, where understanding the science is critical to understanding the book, I had to be careful to explain the science in a way that was not “boring” or didactic. One way I address this is to have Faith and Jesse learn the science together and talk about what they’re learning. This way I can use their voices, their language, and their way of processing, to make the concepts clear. Another challenge in a YA mystery is thinking about what tools teens have available to them. For example, can they drive? Do they have a curfew? Do they have to skip school to investigate a clue? These are things we as adults don’t have to think about.

We understand you have a strong interest in science. How did that interest influence your writing of the book?

To begin with I love natural history. I am an avid bird watcher, which even to me sounds geeky when it’s written down! But I love the outdoors and nature, so that interest always appears in my writing. Even if a character is squeamish in the outdoors; I always acknowledge the presence of the natural world. In terms of a mystery, my husband is a PhD geneticist. Some of the things happening today in what is called personal genomic medicine seem like fiction, maybe even science fiction. I love talking to him about the projects he is working on, and I know from my years as a middle school biology teacher, that genetics has a strong pull for teens. They are very interested in self-discovery, and what topic could address self-discovery better than learning about your own genetic code? I always felt it would be interesting and fun to bridge the gap between my love of literature and my love of science. So coming up with a mystery that revolves around genetics was very exciting. And then to be asked to make the book into a series, really blew me away!

Are you an avid mystery reader yourself? What have been some of your favorite mysteries, real life or fiction?

I have to admit that before I started writing DEATH SPIRAL I was not an avid mystery reader. I am, and was, an avid reader of young adult fiction, but I mostly read realistic fiction. Having said that, I believe most YA, and most books, have an element of mystery. I mean the story has to unfold and if there is enough tension and drama, there is mystery. Now, however, I read many traditional mysteries and I love doing so. I love to do what every good mystery reader does, and try to figure out who the bad guy is and to look for clues.  One of my favorite middle grade mysteries is THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION Recently I read CODE NAME VERITY, which was a fabulous page-turner. I loved the ultimate reveal because it was so not what I was expecting!

DEATH SPIRAL is the first in a series. Did you have an entire series in mind when you started writing?

I definitely did not have a series in mind when I started writing. When my editor suggested a series my first reaction was, “Um. Nope. Don’t think so.” And then, “Why not?” Initially I think I was confusing series with sequels, so when I understood that a series was the same character with a different mystery, I fell in love with the idea because I love Faith and Jesse. Both as individuals and as a unit, they did not feel “done” to me. Having a chance to carry their arc through several books is very exciting.

We don’t see many mystery series for older teens -- they're often stand-alones. What makes the idea of writing a mystery series with a teen sleuth so appealing to you? And are there any challenges in featuring the same teen sleuth across several books?

To be honest, I was worried at first about writing a series with a teen sleuth, or a series at all for that matter. How do you keep each book fresh? I did not want Faith to just happen to fall into another mystery, like OMG! There’s a dead guy, better investigate. I wanted whatever sleuthing she would be doing to be authentic and related to her life circumstances. So what I love about writing book two and thinking about book three is the overall arc of Faith’s story. Where does she need to go for her own healing growth process and journey? I don’t just mean where does she have to go emotionally, but physically. So book two takes Faith to New Mexico. It is in the authentic experience in New Mexico where she finds herself involved with not just one, but two mysteries.  (As if writing one isn’t hard enough). I also like to broaden the “whodunnit” aspect of mystery to personal mystery, in this case the mystery of Faith and her identity. I think teens can really relate to this idea of one’s identity being a mystery. Who am I? In Faith’s case, she does not know who her father is or even what her ethnicity is, so there is a lot of personal mystery for her to figure out.

What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh lights of the interrogation room?

It takes me a good hour of puttering before I can get writing. I am not a putterer (is that a word?) or a procrastinator by nature, but when it comes to writing, I must, literally MUST, clean something before I sit down to write.

Janie, you can come clean our houses anytime! 

Seriously, thank you for coming in today, and we hope to have you back in here as a "repeat offender" when the next book in the series comes out! 

Here's where to track down Janie Chodosh:

Her website
Facebook
Twitter: @jmegchod

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interrogation Room #40: Elle Cosimano, author of NEARLY GONE

Today marks the release of a book that I've been dying to read since I first met Elle at a conference in the summer of 2011.  A YA thriller with page-turning tension, a mind-bending mystery and a melty romance?  I'll take two!

Kirkus Reviews calls NEARLY GONE "Tense and engaging."  Publishers Weekly says that "Cosimano weaves together math riddles, science-based clues, an edgy romance, and psychological terror to create an unpredictable page-turner."  And, in a starred review, School Library Journal said, "Eloquently written and packed full of suspense, debut author Cosimano strikes gold with this page-turning thriller that will have teens chomping at the bit to get to the end."

Bones meets Fringe in a big, dark, scary, brilliantly-plotted urban thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.



Elle agreed to sit in the interrogation room to allow us to help celebrate the launch of her debut novel, and to learn more about the book that has readers staying up into the wee hours of the morning.


1)  I know you are an alumni of the Writer's Police Academy.  How did your experiences there influence NEARLY GONE?

Every class I take at WPA is an opportunity. The experiences and lessons ad authenticity and a richness to my settings, plots, and characters. But a few in particular stand out as being exceptionally helpful with this book. First were the classes I took about serial killers -- the various kinds, what defines them as such, and perhaps most importantly for me, what motivates them. My killer needed a motive. There had to be a compelling reason for the murders. And these classes helped take me inside my killer's head.

The other was a ride-along with a deputy sheriff. During our ride, he took me through a trailer park very much like the one my character lives in. We talked at length about the challenges residents face there, and the types of crimes they often see, and how the teens in this neighborhood adapt to the challenges of poverty, drugs, and unsafe living conditions. It was an eye-opening first-hand look into Nearly's life, and I felt the experience brought me much closer to her story. During the same ride-along, I learned that the deputy had a lot of previous experience working with confidential informants. I had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about CI's (what motivates them and how they work) that helped me to better understand Reece's character.

2) I love that your main character, Nearly Boswell, is obsessed with the personal ads, and that the killer uses the personal ads to leave clues to the upcoming murders.  Where did this aspect of the story come from?  Did you read a lot of personal ads to prepare?

The inspiration for Nearly's character came from watching one of my co-workers read the Missed Connections during her lunch break at work. She read them obsessively, making fun of the people who wrote them, but when she thought she was alone, she looked so lonely reading them. As if maybe she secretly hoped one of the ads had been written for her. I did read a lot of Missed Connection ads when preparing to write certain scenes of the story. Some of them did make me laugh. But a lot of them were heartbreaking too. It was a fascinating look into Nearly's world, and it really got me thinking about what she might be looking for in those ads.

3) I find that writing a mystery presents its own set of challenges.  What was your process for constructing the mystery?  Did you plot it out in advance?  Were their suprises along the way?

I created a loose plot and an outline, but tried to give myself the freedom to recognize opportunities along the way. This left the door open for some really fun surprises. Of course, it also leaves openings in the floor for some big, fat plot holes. Once the guts of the mystery and plot were in place, it took me several passes to tie up all the loose ends. 

4) What was the most challenging aspect of writing a thriller for a young adult audience?


The things I love about YA lit are also the elements that make it so challenging to write. Within the scope of YA, genres can be bent and blended any which way. It's not unusual to see books that fall into three or four different categories, as is the case with NEARLY GONE. It's a thriller, and a mystery. It has a pinch of paranormal, but could be described as contemporary, and it has a strong romantic thread. It's definitely YA, but it has a lot of cross-over appeal for adult readers. And the trick with a book that crosses so many boundaries is that it has to commit to do all of these things well. NEARLY GONE couldn't be just a great thriller. It had to have a solid mystery that's difficult to solve. It had to have a compelling romance. And the paranormal elements had to be woven in very carefully. 

5) Rumor has it that NEARLY GONE has an amazing romantic element.  How did you balance the romantic aspects of the story with the thriller aspect?  Were you influenced by any particular authors or genres?

The romance between Nearly and Reece was the spoke in my wheel while I was building the story. It's the part of the story that remained the same from draft to shelf, the part I held tight to when the rest all fell away through three major revisions. In Nearly and Reece's case, the balance has always come from the tension between them -- tension that helped keep the plot tight and magnify the other conflicts in the story. For the romance to stand out, the tension had to be strong enough to stand up to the tension of a rising body count. If the romance wasn't as tense as the mystery or the thriller elements, then it would fall even flatter by comparison to the rest of the story. Nearly and Reece had to be strong. There had to be fire between them. And their romance had to be tested at every turn.

6) NEARLY GONE is your debut novel.  What has been the most satisfying part of the publication journey for you so far?
It's a strange and lonely thing, to have all these characters living inside your head, and then on the page. They almost don't seem real until I share them with someone else -- a crit partner, my agent, my editor. And suddenly, lots of people are getting to meet Nearly. Her story is out in the world, and so is the piece of my heart where she lived for the three years it took to bring her into the world. It's a beautiful and terrifying thing, to finally be able to share her with so many people. 

7) Now that NEARLY GONE is out in the world, what's next for Nearly?  For Elle?
A sequel, NEARLY LOST, is planned for release in 2015, in which Nearly takes an internship at a local forensics lab, and the crimes start hitting a little too close to home. As for me, I'm looking forward to attending RT Convention in New Orleans in May, and another round at the Writers Police Academy in September.

Visit Elle on Facebook

Visit Elle on Twitter

___________________________________________________________________________________
Elle Cosimano is the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley. As a teen, she spent summers working on a fishing boat, baiting hooks and lugging buckets of bait. She majored in Psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two young sons, and divides her time between her home near Washington, DC and a jungle tree house in the Mayan Riviera.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Interrogation Room #39: Elisa Ludwig, author of PRETTY SLY

Today marks the release of our very own Elisa Ludwig's PRETTY SLY, the sequel to her heart-pounding debut, PRETTY CROOKED, about teenage thief Willa Fox.

PRETTY SLY, called a "crackling-good adventure" by Kirkus, asks the question, "What would you do if your mom disappeared and forbade you to come after her?"

In between celebrations for her launch, Elisa bravely agreed to an interrogation about her writing process.


1) Something I'm dying to know: How did you research the terrific scene where Tre teaches Willa how to pick-pocket in PRETTY CROOKED?


Heh heh. I used a combination of my own real life experience as a pickpocket victim, some shady websites and some very cool YouTube videos—there's a great BBC series called The Real Hustle, which gave me some interesting ideas for mixing up the thieving scenes. The reality is there's a lot of criminal how-to out there for the reading, but that could be a good thing, if people use it to avoid being victimized.

2) Can readers expect to see some familiar faces in PRETTY SLY (besides Willa and Aidan)? Did you pluck any smaller roles from the first book and give them a larger presence in the second book?


Yes, the principle characters are all there, though the Glitterati only have a bit part, which turns the catty quotient in this sequel way down from the first book! I don't know that anyone has a larger presence but even the main characters in the first book are pretty mysterious and secretive, so the second book deepens our understanding of them—but also raises many new questions ...

3) How much downtime did you have between books? Was it easy or difficult to return to characters from the first book? 

I think I finished PRETTY CROOKED in February and started PRETTY SLY in May or June. Not too much time had elapsed, and I was working on copyedits and things while drafting the sequel so that helped keep everything fresh. I loved coming back to the same characters. It was so much easier to start a book in a place where I already understood my characters and their motivations. Sometimes that process alone will take a few drafts. It allowed me to focus on the increasingly more complicated plot!

4) Was your high school experience anything like the experiences of your characters? Was there a clear-cut line between the haves and have-nots?


My high school experience was only similar in that I went to a private school and, as a middle class student, was very aware of class distinctions and how students communicated their status through clothing, cars, etc. While the mean girl behavior in my high school was much more subtle, there was certainly a sense that some (but not all) of the most privileged kids "ruled the school" socially. But I was definitely more of a fringe-y character than Willa. Like the Say Anything dudes say, "by choice, man." Or so I told myself!

5) What challenges did you face in writing SLY that were different from writing CROOKED? Was anything easier the second time around?


I think the challenge with SLY was to make Willa's experience more difficult and keep turning those screws. This book has much higher stakes: she's in greater danger and she's also facing some really difficult emotional truths. The tone here shifts as a result, and keeping that in balance with Willa's bubbly personality and the lighter feel of the first book was at times tricky. On the other hand, I felt really lucky that SLY sends things in such a different direction that it truly felt like a whole new adventure to write. As I said, the characters were much easier the second time around, and I think I had a much better handle on the structure of the story from the very beginning. Also, it certainly didn't hurt that I was working with the same brilliant editors, so I always had their voice in my head when I was drafting, keeping me on course.

6) When you wrote PRETTY CROOKED, did you always know it would have a sequel, or did you envision it as a stand-alone? If you did map out the sequel early on, how much did the finished product of PRETTY SLY compare to your original plan?

I always knew it would be a trilogy. Parts of PRETTY SLY were imagined originally as part of PRETTY CROOKED (through the first leg of their road trip, basically), but as time went on it became clear that Willa's time at Valley Prep really deserved its own book. That being said, all of the key clues except maybe a couple we added in copy edits were already in the first book when it came time to write the second. The third book was much more vaguely conceived going into it, and it probably changed the most dramatically in revisions—down to the actual answer to the mystery!

7) Besides Willa's vicariously satisfying Robin Hood-esque scheme of "spreading the wealth around" at her school, there is a second, overarching mystery about Willa's mother. When you have two (or three!) separate mysteries going on, how do you keep track of each person's head space at different points of their respective time lines? 

Oh, man. That's only the tip of the iceberg with this series! It can be tough, that's for sure. I wish I was one of those people who used Post-Its or a big magic marker or something, but truthfully, I just used a lot of Kanye West all-caps-esque notes to myself in the text as I wrote. Stuff like "REMEMBER: SHE ONLY KNOWS X,Y and Z, HERE!!!" and "HOW THE HECK IS SHE GOING TO COME TO THIS CONCLUSION?!!"

9) PRETTY CROOKED resolves certain plot elements perfectly, while still serving as a cliffhanger. Did you get any angry letters about the ending? Was it difficult to write a conclusion that leads directly into a new adventure?

Yes! Maybe not super-angry, but a lot of teasing and frustrating ones. My editors and I went back and forth about where to leave things, and ultimately decided on the cliffhanger, which has its old-fashioned charms. I wouldn't say it was difficult to write that ending but I maybe felt a bit guilty to do that to readers. I hope PRETTY SLY will satisfy them!

10) I love Aidan and Willa's banter, as well as Willa's friendship-chemistry with Cherise and Tre. Do you have particular techniques you draw on to keep your dialogue so sharp? 

Thank you so much! I like to read dialogue out loud (if no one else is in the house!) to get a feel for how someone might really say something. And it's definitely something I fine-tune in revision, stripping it back more and more, because most people speak much more efficiently than I actually write.

11) When is book #3 coming out?

March 2015!

Check out the trailer for PRETTY SLY, below, and then enter to win a free copy of BOTH BOOKS!




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Monday, March 17, 2014

Interrogation Room #38: Laura Marx Fitzgerald (UNDER THE EGG)

When we sleuths picked up chatter about a fantastic new debut novel in the vein of CHASING VERMEER and FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, we had to track down its author, Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Today -- on the eve of the release of her much-anticipated UNDER THE EGG, we've managed to haul Laura into the Interrogation Room.


When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.


With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time



And here's a bit about Laura: 


Laura moved around a lot as a child, living everywhere from Norman, Oklahoma to Pensacola, Florida. A Harvard graduate and former copyeditor, Laura never imagined she'd write a novel until she had an idea about a girl who discovers a stolen painting in her attic. That novel is UNDER THE EGG. Laura lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two kids.


UNDER THE EGG is an Indie Next pick and has been selected as one of Amazon's top spring titles. It releases on March 18th (tomorrow!). We feel lucky we managed to nab Laura first....



1. What inspired you to write UNDER THE EGG? Do you have any unique experiences or interests that drove you to develop the story?

I studied art history in school and, honestly, found it a disappointing experience. I realized that what interested me was the stories art inspired, not the specifics of brushwork or provenance. Twenty years later I was watching Antiques Roadshow, and I was struck by how it captured what makes art interesting for most people. Where did the piece come from? Who made it? Why? What story is it telling? How did it get here?

Around that time, I was reading a fantastic book by Edward Dolnick called The Forger’s Spell, whenthese three lines jumped out at me:

The easiest test of an old master—and the one test almost certain to be carried out—is to dab the surface with rubbing alcohol. In a genuinely old painting, the surface will be hard, and the alcohol will have no effect. If the painting is new, the alcohol will dissolve a bit of paint, and the tester’s cotton swab will come up smudged with color.

That gave me the idea that someone might intentionally paint over a more valuable painting, with the plan to later remove the top layer. All those Antiques Roadshow questions came back to me—who made it, and how did it get here?—and Under the Egg was born.


2. What is the most challenging thing about writing a mystery for young readers? What's the most rewarding part?

I was absolutely blown away by The Westing Game as a kid. I started re-reading it as soon as I finished to see how all the pieces fit together. When I decided to write a mystery, I wanted it to do the same thing for the same audience.

What I admired about The Westing Game too is that the book doesn’t shy away from adult topics.Bombs, bookies, religious extremism, and degenerative disease all make an appearance in the book. I find the subjects that interest me lie squarely in the adult world, while my ideal audience is much younger. That means I have to work hard to find ways to make these concepts understandable and digestible for middle grade readers.

After all, what are the middle grade years for if not to uncover all the secrets adults have been hiding from you?

3. What is your writing process like?

I always start off with lots of reading and research. I love discovering the impossible-but-true stories that have been lost to history, so I follow the stories from one book to the next. For example, my reading for Under the Egg led me from The Forger’s Spell to a book about the widescale Nazi looting during World War II to The Monuments Men (the source for the recent George Clooney movie). Elements of each book made it into Under the Egg.

Once I’m ready to outline—and I live and die by a meticulously detailed outline—there’s an enormous amount of procrastination, punctuated by fluctuating spells of crushing self-doubt and manic creative energy. But once the outline is finished, then I get down to business: 9:00a.m.-12:00p.m. Monday through Friday, at my computer until I have a draft.


4. What have been some of your favorite mysteries, real-life or fictional?

The Name of the Rose. Possession. The aforementioned Westing Game. And Encyclopedia Brown, of course.

5. What is something that no one knows about you?

I've never read A Wrinkle in Time.

6. What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh glare of the interrogation room lights?

As long as you’re wearing gym clothes, the people at the YMCA Childwatch will think you’re dropping off your kids to work out and not to revise your draft in the hallway.

Leave it to a mystery author to have a sneaky trick up her sleeve. Congratulations on your debut, Laura. We were thrilled you took the time 

Want to learn more about Laura?


Follow her on Twitter @MarxFitzy

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