Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #7: Peter Abrahams

This week we've hauled in bestselling author Peter Abrahams to face the glare of the Interrogation Room spotlight. He faces questioning from two of our detectives, Diana Renn and L.R. Giles.

The Peter Abrahams File:

Peter Abrahams has written twenty-seven books for kids and adults. Down the Rabbit Hole, the first book in his New York Times bestselling Echo Falls series, was an Edgar Award nominee, and his 2009 YA mystery Reality Check won an Edgar Award. He's written another standalone YA mystery, Bullet Point (Harper Collins, 2010). And he is the author of the New York Times bestselling Chet & Bernie mysteries (which are narrated by a dog) under the pen name Spencer Quinn. (By the way, we love pen names and double identities here at Sleuths Spies & Alibis!)

His newest novel, Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street (Philomel/Penguin), hits stores tomorrow, January 19, and is the first in a series for middle grade readers. Here's a quick summary:

Robbie Forester always knew life wasn’t fair, but she never thought she could do anything about it. Until one day a powerful charm comes into her possession, a charm that guides her, her three friends, and her dog Pendleton on the path to justice. But the charm doesn’t seem to understand that the path has gotten dangerous, and Robbie and her friends find themselves in a menacing world of thievery, arson, big yachts, and even bigger bank accounts. Will Robbie and her band of thieves end up in more trouble than they ever could have imagined? Edgar Award–winning novelist Peter Abrahams weaves a tale of action, adventure, danger, and magic that keeps readers on the edge of their seats, guessing at every turn.

And here is the transcript from our questioning:

Diana Renn: Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street is grounded in reality in many ways. Many young readers will relate to the 12-year-old heroine, who is trying to build friendships and adjust to a school change. You also present the gritty reality of a neighborhood in transition. Yet unlike your other books for young readers, this story also incorporates an element of magic. What was it like to venture into the realm of the paranormal? Did you encounter any challenges in combining magic with mystery?

Peter Abrahams: First of all, I like trying new things. If you don’t, it’s all too easy to become an aficionado of your own work, and a kind of entropy takes over. But magic is a challenge – it comes with its own stubborn and prosaic rules. I decided that a limited and recalcitrant sort of magic would be best. 

Diana Renn: Brooklyn is so vividly described in Robbie Forester, and it’s a lot of fun to navigate the city with a street-savvy young protagonist like Robbie. You also seem to have your finger on the pulse of change there. Why did you choose to set the novel in Brooklyn? 

Peter Abrahams: I actually haven’t used urban settings much in my work, not of the densely-packed, multi-ethnic Northeast kind. Brooklyn’s an interesting place that I’ve come to know a bit. One of my daughters (Rosie Gray – you can read her reporting on Buzzfeed) lives there.

Diana Renn: You seem to favor a close third-person point of view in your novels, but Robbie Forester is told in the first person. Why did you gravitate toward that voice for this particular novel? What appeals to you about the first person? 

Peter Abrahams: Prior to the Chet and Bernie series I’d written exactly one short story in the first person. I’ve always preferred third person close, actually ultra-close. But the only way Chet’s voice would work was in the first person, and I found I loved writing that way. So why not try it for Robbie?

Diana Renn: You have an impressive publication record;  I believe Robbie Forester is your 26th novel. You write for adults, teens, and middle grade readers, and you wear another hat as Spencer Quinn, author of the bestselling Chet and Bernie mystery series. What do you think is the key to your productivity? Can you share some of your most effective work habits or routines?

Peter Abrahams: Twenty-seventh, actually, but who’s counting? I don’t think of myself as being particularly productive. As for the key, I’ve been lucky that ideas for novels keep coming to me. I never seek them out, preferring that the idea proves insistent. Right now, I’ve got an idea for a new adult series in the wings, but there’s no time for it. Work habits: I try to write every day, including weekends, and aim for 1000 words, like some sort of Dickensian piece worker. I often don’t make my quota, but at least I’m always advancing the story, and that’s encouraging. 

L.R. Giles: Reality Check is one of my favorite YA mysteries of the last few years, but the mystery element isn't immediately apparent. Aspiring mystery writers are often told they NEED to make certain things clear quickly--the whole murder mysteries need to have a dead body in the first chapter rule. What inspired the slow burn that lets us get to know Clea and Cody before the mystery starts, and did you get any push back from anyone in that regard? 

Peter Abrahams: I’ve struggled against the mystery rules my whole career, possibly a character flaw. My mother – who taught me a lot of what I know about writing – was very big on always doing things your own way, bending every note. And as a reader, I don’t mind a slow burn, as long as the writing’s good. Take Crime and Punishment, for example, maybe the greatest of all crime novels: there’s no dead body for the first 100 pages or so.

L.R. Giles: In Reality Check, when football is no longer a part of Cody's world, he loses his sense of purpose and seems very close to simply giving up on life. What happens with Clea ignites something in him. Certainly, he's pushed into action because of his love for her, but I like to imagine he recognized the emergence of a certain skill set. Any chance we might see Cody sleuthing again? 

Peter Abrahams: I’ve thought about more of Cody, but right now, with Robbie and Chet – and also my life: family, tennis, a bit of fun – there isn’t time.

L.R. Giles: In YA fiction, great male protagonists can be few and far between. You have created a couple with Cody in Reality Check, and Wyatt in Bullet Point. Do you feel writing young males presents any unique hurdles in terms of audience and acceptance?

Peter Abrahams: Another character flaw: I never think about this kind of thing.

Diana Renn: In your books for younger readers, some of your characters wind up in pretty dicey situations. (For example, Ingrid Levin-Hill gets kidnapped in Behind the Curtain, and Robbie Forester comes face to face with an arsonist). How is writing suspense for young people similar to and different from writing suspense for adults? Are you very consciously handling the danger factor in a different way when you write for young readers? What is your thought process going into these scenes? 

Peter Abrahams: I’m a minimalist (although a romantic at heart, setting up a sort of tension) so I’ve never gone in for lots of gore. Violence, yes, and sometimes shocking, I hope, but not described down to the last thud. The sound of a dislocating shoulder can be enough. All this adding up to really not handling the danger factor much differently. In middle-grade fiction, and YA to an extent, you do have to watch out for swearing, of course, and that means you have to work sometimes to make the dialogue of certain kinds of characters realistic. 

Diana Renn and L.R. Giles: What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh light of our Interrogation Room? 

Peter Abrahams: I’m very conscious of the rhythm of prose (so often you find none) and therefore punctuation is important to me. The colon can take the place of whole phrases, and the dash can set up off-center connections. And don’t let the semi-colon die!

Thank you for submitting to our interrogation! Your name is clear, and you're free to go and to continue writing those marvelous stories.

READERS: Interested in tracking down Peter Abrahams online and learning more about his books? You can visit his website. Also, Chet the Dog blogs at

OUR GIVEAWAY CONTINUES! Win an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) of Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street, signed by Peter Abrahams! Contest closes at midnight EST, 1/23/12.Click on the "Read more" link below to access the Rafflecopter thingie and enter!

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1 comment:

  1. Peter Abrahams is one of my all time favorite authors! So glad you got him into the interrogation room. Great interview!


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