Monday, December 1, 2014

The End of Our Ride!

Hello loyal readers, and newcomers!

This is normally the time of year when we start posting about gift ideas for the kidlit mystery/thriller lovers in your life, or about books we loved this year and books we're excited about next year.

However, instead we are saying goodbye.

We have had such a great time blogging here for over three years about the craft of writing mysteries and thrillers for young readers. We've gotten to know so many great authors through our Interrogation Room interview series, and we've been honored to host them here on our site and to help them promote their new books. We've also become friends, supporting each other through our own highs and lows of the publishing process -- not to mention the highs and lows of balancing the writing life with everyday life. Books have been born, babies have been born, and still, somehow, we've managed to blog.

We started out as debut authors, and we're now all busily writing our second and third and fourth books. We've found that juggling the demands of our careers, our families, and everything else has become too hard to balance with maintaining and promoting this blog. So we're sad to say goodbye to it, but it's been a great ride. If you'd like to follow or interact with us individually, a list of our websites is at the end of this post.

We will leave the site up indefinitely, and hope that you will haunt it. Please feel free to browse our archived posts and our (nearly 50!) Interrogation Room interviews with emerging and established mystery/thriller authors. We hope our archives will help to demystify the writing and publishing process a little . . . but not too much, because, after all, we all love a good mystery.

Happy reading, happy writing, and thanks for being partners in crime!

Diana Renn
Kristen Kittscher
Elisa Ludwig
Laura Ellen
F.T. Bradley
Lamar Giles
Elle Cosimano
W.H. Beck
Ashley Elston
Deron Hicks
Sarah Skilton
Mary McCoy
Talia Vance

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Haunted Halloween Bits from the SSA Authors

We're sharing our personal haunts this week. Feel free to share your own when you're finished reading -- if you dare.

Scariest book I ever read.....

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, and its sequel Passenger. -- Elle Cosimano

Salem's Lot by Stephen King - "I read it while visiting my aunt over Christmas in sixth grade. She had this old radiator that hissed when it came on and it was right under the window. I didn't sleep the entire time -- but I didn't stop reading the book either!" -- Laura Ellen

 It by Stephen King -- Deron Hicks 

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston -- Elisa Ludwig

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman - "I know it's not really straight-up horror, but some story arcs in that series are profoundly chilling and disturbing." -- Mary McCoy

A House in The Sky by Amanda Lindhout - "Nonfiction, but reads like a novel. Captivity narratives in general freak me out, but this one packs a punch." -- Diana Renn




 Spookiest place I ever visited...

St. Mary's
"I spent four nights in the St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City, Nevada during the NV SCBWI Mentor Retreat." -- Elle Cosimano

Holy Trinity Church
"In college I used to cut through a cemetery to get to work. I t freaked me out every time. I'd get jumpy and hear things -- I took to timing myself to see how quick I could get through." -- Laura Ellen

"Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. We were there on a cold, overcast day. The grounds surrounding the church are packed with ancient graves. If ghosts are real, that's the place you would find them." -- Deron Hicks

"The cemetery behind my college campus, when a few of us decided to visit at midnight with a Ouija board. " -- Elisa Ludwig
The Capuchin Crypt from

"The Capuchin Crypt in Rome - each room is decorated wall-to-wall with the bones of friars. In one room, there's a plaque that reads 'What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.' In another room, a woman's heart is entombed in the wall." -- Mary McCoy

"Zelve National Park in Turkey. Lunar landscape, centuries of buried civilizations, caves, isolated hikes, creepy guys following my husband and I around." -- Diana Renn

The one thing that creeps me out the most. . . 


"I really, REALLY dislike spiders and scary clowns." -- Elle Cosimano

"I am with Elle on the clowns -- and dolls with porcelain faces. Just too creepy." -- Laura Ellen

"Snakes. Ugh." -- Deron Hicks

"Rats. And serial killers." -- Elisa Ludwig

"Anything having to do with demon possession I just cannot handle." -- Mary McCoy

"Spiders! I grew up in a house by a lake, and we always got supersize spiders on all our windows. They would spawn more spiders, and eat their dinners right in front of us, and fight -- I am truly traumatized by this." -- Diana Renn


The freakiest thing that ever happened to me . . 

"I used to sell real estate. One day, I was showing an historic property (an old farm house built in the 1800s on the edge of a Civil War battlefield) to a lovely couple who were considering a purchase. The house itself had some very strange features. The upstairs bedrooms on both sides of a long, crooked hallway had padlocks that locked from the outside, and the entire house had a very creepy, cold feeling about it. In the dining room, there was a hidden stair behind a door in the wall (an old servant staircase). While we were discussing the property, the door unlatched and swung all the way open, very, very slowly and all three of us felt we weren't alone. Needless to say, we left post haste!" -- Elle Cosimano

"I was staying with my sister in her rental house in Eugene, OR. Alone in the house and taking a shower, l I heard someone yell something outside the bathroom door. When I came out, no one was there, but the microwave was on and I heard a shuffling sound in the living room closet. To get out of the house, I would have had to pass the closet so instead I stood watch  in the hall with a kitchen knife, scared out of my mind, until mys sister and brother-in-law got back a few minutes later. When we checked the closet, no one was in it."  -- Laura Ellen

"My grandmother had a large old photograph of some distant, stern looking relative that she hung in the extra bedroom in her home. The house was old and constantly creaked and groaned. When I was young, I had to sleep in that room. It always seemed that the moonlight would illuminate that photograph. My creepy relative would stare down at me in bed from his spot on the wall as the house creaked and groaned around me." -- Deron Hicks

"I was pretty sure at the time that I saw a UFO during a high school Astronomy Club visit to a field at night. Not sure I'd be as convinced now." -- Elisa Ludwig

"My dorm room sophomore year may have been a little bit haunted. More than once, I saw a shadowy figure standing by the window that disappeared the moment I reached out to touch it. I did some research and found out that somebody had died in my room a few decades before. I might add that I relate this story as a person who doesn't believe in ghosts AT ALL." -- Mary McCoy

"I can't think of one single freaky thing, but I've often felt that I have a vague psychic connection. I will think of someone, or dream something, and soon after find my thoughts or dreams are true, something really happened to that person (nothing horrific), or I will run into that person somewhere. Unfortunately I have not been able to channel this vague, intermittent psychic vibe into anything useful like predicting lottery numbers." -- Diana Renn

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
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.


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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