Some things you need to know about me first: In additon to writing The Red Blazer Girls mysteries, I teach high school English, and when pressed to name my favorite author, I keep coming back to Charles Dickens. So, why middle grade mystery, you may ask. (You wouldn’t be the first.) Why not deep, meaningful, serious, literary fiction -- the kind of books endlessly debated in coffee shops and internet forums?
Well, for one thing, I believe that every great book, whether it was intended for kids or adults, is, at its core, a mystery. Will Jane and Rochester -- or Elizabeth and Darcy -- get together? Who is Pip’s benefactor? Will Frodo destroy the Ring before it destroys him? And just what is the secret that’s eating Arthur Donnithorne alive? Those questions have kept generations of readers wondering, yet none of those books is considered a “mystery” in the modern, everything-must-fit-into-a-specific-genre sense.
But that’s not answering the question, you say.
Oh, fine, here they are. In no particular order, my top five reasons for writing middle grade mysteries. (Full disclosure: Jessi asked for a “top ten list” but it’s the last week of classes at school and my brain is only working at half-capacity. Hence, a top five list.) [Jessi, an English teacher herself, fully understands this...]
1. I get to pretend to be a criminal. (Oh, like you’ve never thought about what it would be like to steal the Mona Lisa, or drive off in a Brinks truck.) Figuring out the who/what/when/where/why of the crime is one of the first, and most important steps in outlining a new book. Thinking like a criminal is challenging, and the smarter the criminal, the more complicated the scheme.
2. I get to pretend to be a detective. Again, who doesn’t think they could be the next Sherlock Holmes, or Hercule Poirot, or even Encyclopedia Brown, if they had the chance? My characters, led by narrator Sophie and best friend/brainiac Margaret spend their time snooping around other people’s lives, following leads, unraveling riddles, and then, finally, basking in glory once they’ve revealed the solution. And then they go home and do their homework.
3. I get to be 12 again . . . but way smarter and funnier than I was the first time. I get to do all the things I wish I’d done and say all the things I wish I’d said, and not do all the . . . well, you get the picture. The fact is, there’s not enough money in the world to entice me to go through middle school a second time, but it’s fun being able to pretend for a few hours at a time, knowing that I can simply shut down my computer and return to reality whenever I’m ready.
4. I finally found a way to put to use all those useless tidbits of knowledge and trivia that have been collecting dust in that attic I call my brain. Decades worth. My wife is especially grateful for this one, because now when I start off on some trivia-spewing rant, she quietly suggests,“Maybe that’s something you could put in your next book.” Indeed.
5. I grew up on Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, and any other mysteries I could get my grubby hands on, and they inspired me to write my own stories. I love the idea that someday, somewhere, some kid out there who reads my book might get the same wacky idea. A guy can dream.
Michael D. Biel, in addition to writing (The Red Blazer Girls, The Vanishing Violin, and The Mistaken Masterpiece) has taught English and drama at an all-girls Catholic high school in Manhattan since 2001 after working as a sailmaker and a lawyer. There, he wrote and produced Aftershocks, a play based on the challenges facing the immigrant families of some of his students. He currently lives in Manhattan with his wife Laura, dogs Isabel and Maggie, and cats Cyril and Emma.
Win a copy of The Mistaken Masterpiece!
Sophie, Margaret, Becca, and Leigh Ann are back in an all-new Red Blazer Girls caper. In the third installment, Sophie is nose to fist with her arch-rival, Livvy, all while taking care of movie-star Nate Etan's dog, when Father Julian hires the Blazers to help him authenticate a painting. Mayhem and mystery follows as the girls attempt to uncover the truth. Oh, and, uh, Sophie's friend-who-is-not-a-boyfriend, Raf, is back. . . . Here's another charming and engaging adventure starring these four every-girl sleuths that's perfect for readers 10-up.
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Ends June 25th.
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