Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #10: Elisa Ludwig

This week Internal Affairs is on the case! We’re turning our interrogation spotlight on our own Elisa Ludwig, whose debut PRETTY CROOKED (Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins) is out in stores today.

PRETTY CROOKED is the first of a three book thriller/mystery-series about Willa Fox, a teen girl who turns Robin Hood, bilking her rich classmates and re-distributing it in the form of care packages to scholarship students.

Elisa studied writing at Vassar College and Temple University. Even though she had to extensively research pick-pocketing techniques to write PRETTY CROOKED, she remains a law-abiding citizen. She likes in Philadelphia with her husband, Jess, and her cat, Beau a.k.a. Bread. When she’s not writing for teens, she’s cooking or writing about food for The Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications.

We have to admire Elisa's grace under pressure. She took being interrogated by a fellow detective very calmly...

Here's the transcript of the proceedings:

Kristen Kittscher: Your protagonist Willa Fox takes to crime in order to upend the classist social structure at an elite prep school. Though her motives are noble, she’s still a lawbreaker. To what extent was it challenging to have a “criminal” as your protagonist in a book for teens?

Elisa Ludwig: It was fairly challenging, for sure. I wanted Willa to be likable and sympathetic and I wanted readers to root for her, but I also didn't want to go condoning thievery as a real solution to problems. So it was a tricky line to walk. In the end, I like to think of it as a fantasy read—it's just fun to put yourself in Willa's shoes and imagine what it would be like to do what she does—without the risk of getting caught, of course.

Kristen KittscherPretty Crooked has a tight plot and fantastic pacing. You mentioned in previous interviews that you didn’t used to rely on outlines before, but you did while writing this novel. Can you tell us a little bit about your transformation from a “pantser” to an outliner, and what you learned in the process?

Elisa Ludwig: Yes, I was a diehard pantser. Even when I had an outline, I always deviated from it, preferring to let the characters guide me. Pretty Crooked and its sequel are so action-packed that they demanded a more structured approach. For the first time I used a very detailed outline so that just about every aspect of the story was thought out ahead of time. In the end, using the outline made the writing process so much more fun. I would approach the keyboard knowing exactly what I had to do and since I'd thought it out scene by scene, there was very little angst about decision-making. That meant I could concentrate on the fun stuff, like filling in the details and sprucing up the dialogue. I still struggle with the amount of work that has to go into an outline up front, and I can't always understand the ramifications of characters' actions until I'm actually writing it through, but I think outlining has helped me understand a lot more about the structure of novels.

Kristen KittscherWilla Fox undertakes various complex capers in Pretty Crooked. She picks pockets and locks, and even breaks into a mansion. We’re in The Interrogation Room, after all, so we have to ask: how did you learn so much about stealingJ?

Elisa Ludwig: I researched everything online. While it probably would've been more fun to go on ride-alongs, not knowing any real criminals was kind of a limitation. Instead, I pretty much stuck to Google, blogs and some very interesting YouTube videos. I must admit that I had a great time, too.

Kristen KittscherPretty Crooked sets up a tantalizing mystery that will extend into PRETTY SLY, the next in the series. What challenges did you face in setting up a mystery in one book and carrying it into the next?

Elisa Ludwig: It was tricky because you don't want to disappoint the reader by leaving everything hanging dramatically but on the other hand Pretty Crooked had so much going on as it was with Willa's story that the mystery had to remain more of a C plotline. Some mystery series are devoted to smaller more episodic mysteries in each book with one overarching mystery carrying across them. In this case, it's more like one mystery leads to the next.

Kristen KittscherEven though there’s a mystery at Pretty Crooked’s heart, it’s also contemporary YA. Can you talk about how you approached balancing suspense with description of Willa’s social world and conflicts?

Elisa Ludwig: Yes, at the end of the day this novel is set in high school, so it had to have all of the trappings of cliques and classes and cafeterias (though in this case, it's a fancy one). Willa's desire to become a thief comes out of her social interactions so all of that had to be in there and had to be emphasized before she could go doing any of her badass maneuvers. So I think it became a unique challenge, setting up this world in a familiar way while trying to cue readers that this book was going to take a different turn at some point. I guess the key was trying to keep the story rooted in Willa's head and what matters to her. 

Kristen KittscherWilla’s both a detective on the trail of a mystery and a lawbreaker. Who’s your favorite fictional sleuth? Your favorite literary rebel?

Elisa Ludwig: Hmm. Favorite fictional sleuth would have to be Cassie Maddox from the Tana French books because she's tough and smart and complex. As far as rebels go, I will go with a book I read recently: Pierre Anthon from Nothing by Janne Teller. He's the kid that dares to suggest that nothing matters and he pays the price for his rebellion, but I found him fascinating and I wanted to know more about him.

Kristen KittscherLastly, what upcoming events or writing projects would you like us to know about?

Elisa Ludwig: Well, I have a bunch of readings/signings/talks lined up for March and April (details on my website, www.elisaludwig.com). And PRETTY SLY is on its way for next March. Now, onto the third book!
Thank you for having me, Kristen and fellow SSAs! It's been fun to be on the other side of the swinging light!

You'll be happy to know that Internal Affairs has cleared you of the charges, Elisa. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Our PRETTY CROOKED Mystery Box Giveaway continues until March 19th. However, you now also have a chance to win a signed ARC of PRETTY CROOKED! (See below)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thanks for talking so candidly about the unique challenges you faced in plotting PRETTY CROOKED! Also adding IN THE WOODS to my TBR list. People keep raving about Tana French and insisting I read her.

  2. Congrats, Elisa! Loved reading about how you went from a pantser to an outliner. (And I'm also adding IN THE WOODS to my reading list.)

  3. I would like to enter if this is international?

  4. Just read Pretty Crooked and it was so much fun! Can't wait for the sequel, thank you for the giveaway! - Sarah


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