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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