Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fresh Blood: Sarah Skilton Discusses Why Mystery Elements are Vital in Non-Mystery Books

Okay, you twisted my arm. Confession: my upcoming debut novel, BRUISED (Abrams/Amulet Books) is not a mystery.*

However, it does contain mystery elements. I've come to believe every kind of book, no matter the style or genre, can benefit from the use of mystery techniques. That's because writing a page turner requires posing questions readers must want to get answers to.

Carrie Arcos' extraordinary Young Adult novel, OUT OF REACH (Simon Pulse, 2012), is about a teenage girl, Rachel, searching for her missing brother, a meth addict who has disappeared. The story isn't labeled a mystery, but readers are immediately wondering three things: Why did the brother run away? Where did he go? And most importantly, Will Rachel find him?

With only one clue to go on -- an anonymous email -- Rachel and her brother's friend, Tyler, set off on their search. The book is considered contemporary YA, and it contains excellent characters and backstory, but the mystery elements are what drive the plot.

Likewise, in Sarvenaz Tash's terrific middle grade adventure book THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST (Bloomsbury, 2012; out in paperback March 26), 11-year-old Goldenrod Moram has decided to draw a map of her town. While in the woods, she overhears a group of kids who are up to no good, and she needs to figure out what they're scheming or her younger brother could pay the price. Readers, too, will be curious about the gang (whose entertaining nicknames include Brains, Snot Shot, and Lint).

In my own BRUISED, a 16-year-old girl skilled in martial arts freezes up at an armed robbery and blames herself for not preventing a shooting. The incident is so upsetting that she buries part of it away so it can't hurt her. The main focus of the novel is her relationships -- with her parents, friends, martial arts instructor, and the boy who also witnessed the crime -- but readers will hopefully be compelled to discover what Imogen's missing memories are.

Using mystery elements in non-mystery books provides a feeling of suspense as well as a reason for a reader to commit to the story.

*How did my riff-raff self get invited to join Sleuths, Spies, and Alibis? The easy answer is that my second book, HIGH AND DRY, is an actual mystery.

Sarah Skilton lives in California with her magician husband and their young son. BRUISED received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and comes out March 5th, 2013, but you can enter to win Sarah's very last ARC (advance readers copy) at GoodReads right now!

If you live in L.A., consider attending Teen Author Night at LAPL.

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