We've been lucky to nab a prime suspect for The Interrogation Room -- right on her release day! SPIRIT'S KEY by debut middle grade author Edith Thornton Cohn is an inventive, magical supernatural mystery with a rich setting -- and a GHOST DOG. What more could a kid ask for? This is a story that'll captivate kids of all ages. Think Because of Winn Dixie meets Ingrid Law's Savvy.
A bit about the book:
By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner's destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can't get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky's ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it's too late.Spirit's Key is Edith Cohn's debut novel.
The setting of Spirit's Key on fictional storm-swept Bald Island, with its suspicious (and superstitious!) residents, was so evocative! Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for it, and for Spirit's story?
A great deal of the inspiration for Bald Island comes from my love of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which has a rich and interesting history. I grew up going to the Banks. But I also read a lot about their hurricanes, their whaling and their unique language. The Outer Banks islands are so secluded they have words all their own like “dingbatters,” which means outsider, and this made its way into Spirit’s story. I even read about an islander who was a hermit and wore furs, which inspired the character Mrs. Borse. And it seems so unreal, but the islanders’ belief that yaupon tea can cure anger actually comes from something I read. Of course, I definitely took fictional liberties. I decided my island would have wild dogs instead of wild horses like the real Banks islands do. And the idea that keys can tell the future is one of the only things that didn’t come from something I read. That one came straight from the wilds of my imagination.
Spirit's Key is not a traditional mystery, but a deliciously supernatural one. I think kids' are going to love those magical elements, especially. Did any otherworldly encounters of your own inspire you? Or similar books from your own childhood? We'd love to hear more about the seed for your story and characters.
When I was a kid, I loved to host slumber parties and tell ghost stories. I’d sit around with the flashlight under my chin and try my darndest to spin a tale scary enough to elicit a few screams.
Once I found a giant wooden key in the woods. It was probably a couple feet long and half a foot thick. I have no idea who carved it or where it came from, but this mysterious key begin to appear in my stories. I believed the key unlocked doors to ghost worlds.
I recalled this memory after Spirit’s Key was written, and it only recently dawned on me that the connection between keys and ghosts has existed in my mind since childhood.
What was the best part of writing Spirit's Key for you?
Definitely the most enjoyable part was creating the “fun and games” of having a ghost dog. Spirit gets to play fetch with her dog Sky again. They go swimming together, and she rides her bike with him running alongside. Her ghost dog finds magic clues to help her solve the mystery of what’s killing the island’s dogs.
Figuring out the mechanics of the magic was really fun, and just experiencing Spirit’s joy at having her dog back again was exhilarating. We all want our dogs to live forever. This was a way for me to have a taste of that.
What do you love about writing for young people? What do you find the most challenging?
I love how kids are still hopeful and open. They believe the world can be a better place, and they’re eagerly searching to figure out how they can help make it so. They haven’t yet formed all their opinions. This makes writing for them really fun. I can take something I’m still struggling with and explore it, and I feel they’ll come along with me for the journey. The challenge is thinking outside the box enough and stretching to write something really groundbreaking. I’m always hoping to write a story worthy of how open their minds are.
Will Spirit have more adventures? (We hope so! If not, what writing adventures lie in store for you?)
I do have another story idea for Spirit, and it would answer the question of how the Hatterask family came to be cursed by hurricanes. I hope someday to write it! At the moment though, I am working on a couple of other books that are burning a hole in my brain pocket.
What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh lights of the Interrogation Room?
Well, the truth is I don’t write everyday. Weeks will go by where I don’t write a word on my book. It’s not exactly that I wait for inspiration, but I have to wait for the story to tell me what happens next. I’m very particular about getting it the way I want it. Of course I try to force it to happen faster. I outline and outline again. I start the story usually at least three or four times from scratch, each time more different from the last, before I am able to really get on with where I need to go. This lasts months, sometimes years before I even have a first draft. It’s a process that resembles madness. Yet, I promise if you meet me, I seem perfectly sane. ;)
Thank you so much for letting us wrangle you under our interrogation spotlight, Edith! We're honored -- and wishing you the very best on your release day.
In honor of it, we're giving away a copy of SPIRIT'S KEY today.