Monday, January 31, 2011
ROBERTA: At the beginning of January, I was lucky enough to attend the Key West Literary Seminar, this year focused on food writing and called The Hungry Muse. Such fun to hear the likes of Ruth Reichl, Frank Bruni, Calvin Trillin, Billy Collins, and Judith Jones talk about writing and food. Judith Jones, if you don't know, "discovered" Julia Child and served as her editor for many years. Fascinating to hear her talk about the old days and how cooking and food writing have exploded since Julia wrote her first cookbook.
Besides being great fun, all this was in the service of researching background material for my new character, food critic Hayley Snow. Hayley is, naturally, a good cook and an enthusiastic eater. So there will be many meals enjoyed in the new series. But I also realized that all of my characters have been food-centric. Cassie Burdette, the aspiring pro golfer, had no kitchen skills and a horrible diet but she still enjoyed eating. (I was once asked to contribute a recipe from her collection. She offered her company special, Hot Dog Casserole.) Psychologist Rebecca Butterman was an excellent cook--she liked nurturing herself and her friends with delicious meals and even interrogating suspects after luring them to dinner.
So the question for this Monday, Jungle Red Eaters--I mean writers: What are your characters' relationships to food? Is food a big factor in your books?
HANK: Oh, what a great question. IN fact, in FACE TIME, there was a time in the early part of the book where I needed some conflict--not big big conflict, but beginning of the book conflict. SO--I made Charlotte McNally hungry. And then have low blood sugar. And you know how that feels-everything becomes incredibly difficult and all you can think of is FOOD. Then as it turned out, being hungry became the complete key to the whole mystery. (More I cannot say.) But just that one random moment of choosing "food" as the conflict--made the entire book.
ROSEMARY: I think there's a lot of food in my books. In Pushing Up Daisies, Paula has just moved from the city to the suburbs. As a city girl she was mindful about every morsel of food that went into her body. She was a little bit of a pill about it! Hanging out at the diner, she's eased up a bit. It was actually a conscious effort on my part as a way of showing one of the ways that she's changed. Yes, she still works out but bring on those pancakes! In the last book there's almost a Tom Jones-like scene with a piece of olive oil almond cake (which is a real Giada recipe.) If I like to eat it, it just may wind up in a book.
HALLIE: Oh, Roberta, one of my favorite things about you is that you love-love-love good food. So jealous about the Key West seminar! I so would have loved to be there, even though in my new book (COME AND FIND ME) Diana Highsmith is a depressed shut-in who she eats because she has to. Food for her is oatmeal, apples, American cheese. I'm such a foodie, I had to give her something good, so she also likes rum raisin ice cream, my favorite, and which lasts more than a night in our freezer because no one else in the house can stand it.
But a short story ("Death in the Family") I wrote recently for a Spanish anthology has a character who remembers her mother's death by lighting a candle, drinking a toast of chilled Prosecco, and eating a Dungeness crab. Forget the eulogies, that's exactly how I want to go out!
JAN: Rosemary, I love Giada's recipes I even have one of her books - which is terrific. In A Confidential Source, Hallie is under such stress that I couldn't imagine her eating anything. A good friend of mine read it and noted that she seemed anorexic, so I went back and gave her a few meals. And in subsequent books, she hangs around Wayland Square diner and likes to breakfast on BLTs and rye toast. But despite the fact that cooking is one of my favorite hobbies -- food does not play a major role in my books. At least not so far.
HALLIE: Jan, didn't "Hallie" keep warming up canned tomato soups? That's what I remember.
RHYS: I love reading about food. Books like Under a Tuscan Sun and the description of Italian meals eaten in a shady courtyard can create such a powerful yearning in me that I have to be restrained from hopping on the next plane. I do try to bring some of this into my books. Food has beoome an important factor in the Royal Spyness books as Georgie is penniless and reduced to eating baked beans on toast, and then attends 12 course banquets which are overwhelming to her. I hope to focus on life in a kitchen in a future book--maybe have Georgie disguised as a maid, so we can see what goes on there.
DEB: I LOVE food. Eating food, writing about food, reading about food. I think my favorite book last year was Julia Child's A Life in France. It was all I could do to keep from hopping on a plane to Paris . . .
Food is such an important part of the sensory complex that makes stories seem real. That said, I've never centered a book around food, although I had great
fun with Scotch in Now May You Weep. In the meantime, my characters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time drinking tea or coffee, because it gives them something to do when they're interviewing suspects or witnesses or discussing the case. And Gemma has an ongoing battle with the AGA!
Rhys, I would love a peek at the kitchen in a grand house! (Oh, and Hallie, rum raisin is my fave, too.)
ROBERTA: Deb, that was one of my favorite books of the past year too--what an adventure she made of her life! How about you, JR readers, do you like reading about food? And if you write, how does it figure in your books?
Be sure and stay tuned right here all week. Tomorrow for True Crime Tuesday, Allison Leota will be with us to answer questions about the law from readers. And on Wednesday, meet Diana Abu-Jaber, a fabulous writer here to talk about her culinary memoir, THE LANGUAGE OF BAKLAVA. And more fun later in the week too...
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
There was an attempt at synchronized hedge jumping but it proved too destructive to hedges. And I promise I’m not making this up.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
So I had to spend more time over a cup of tea with her and conduct a little interview.
RHYS: Tell me how you came to be a writer
RHYS: TV? How glamorous. Were you writing for Law and Order?
KATE: Actually I was an assistant on the Gong Show, performing strange and silly stunts. I was also sent all over the world as a chaperon on The Dating Game.
KATE: I tried toiling in a vinyard, selling fried chicken, joining a commune, modeling clothes, but it was when I spent a year in law school that I finally thought about killing my professors.
RHYS: Tell us about your mystery series.
KATE: My heroine is Brooklyn Wainwright, a restorer of rare books in San Francisco, which I chose because it's a city I love and I now get to go there for research. The latest book is called The Lies that Bind and this time Brooklyn's boyfriend seems to be involved in the murder she is solving.
RHYS: Yes, do read it, it is hilarious and gives you some idea why this lady's mysteries have become popular so quickly. And Kate's romances are also flourishing. Since her next Brooklyn book will have to do with a rare copy of the Karma Sutra, we suspect that Kate is meticulous in her research for those books too.
But back to Cozies. I have a problem with the name myself, especially when it is stretched to include all non-violent, non-noir mysteries. Under the terminology Julia and Deborah write cozies. My historical mysteries are classed as cozy (of course Georgie is, but Molly?) So all you cozy writers out there--do you think the label makes us the Rodney Dangerfield of mystery writing? Do you mind being thus labeled? Can you come up with a better term?
Monday, January 24, 2011
Thieves rent a building, dig a hole from their basement into a neighboring bank's security vault, and quietly break in and make off with the goods.
Is it Hollywood or real life? Both, actually. On New Year's Eve in Argentina's capital, a band of thieves tunneled through a 100-foot-hole into a neighboring bank and stole the contents of up to 140 safety deposit boxes. Nobody was harmed.
The spectacular robbery seems to come straight out of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Red-Headed League," about thieves attempting to tunnel into a pawnbroker's basement. This robbery was particularly well executed--the thieves rented the next door business and ran it as a store for several months while they dug the tunnel. The tunnel was lit, ventilated and even carpeted. It is also suspected that someone working for the bank was in on the heist and had provided the plans of the bank's basement (which the bank's executives didn't seem to know they possessed, for some reason).
Sunday, January 23, 2011
I once attended a panel at a mystery convention called Kiss Me, Kate. It was composed of Laurie King, Val McDermid and Dana Stabenow--three good friends who all have heroines called Kate. In fact I suspect that if you did some research you'd come up with more Kates as mystery heroines than any other name. Why is this? Because we think of Kates as no-nonsense, capable women: Katherine Hepburn, The Taming of the Shrew, and we want a heroine who will be plucky and unflappable and track down the murderer behaving the way we would like to in our fantasies.In many ways we want our heroine to be as gutsy as any guy, hence the number of Sams and Charlies and other masculine-sounding names. I admit to a Lady Georgie so I'm part of this group, but I didn't choose it consciously to sound masculine. I wanted her to be called Georgiana because I liked the name and it sounded aristocratic.
Only occasionally have I made careful conscious choices over a character's name. Darcy O'Mara was one of them. I wanted to create an archetypal hero and the vision that came to mind was Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy, coming out of that lake, soaking wet. So Darcy he became. I have fun with a lot of names in that series because the British have so many silly names. So I've had a Hugo Beasley-Bottome (which was misprinted once as Beastly-Bottom) and in Royal Blood I have a horsy, pushy woman called Lady Middlesex, and her companion Miss Deer-Harte. . So I'm curious--how do you choose character names? Do they just come to you? Do you agonize over them ? Have you experienced, as I have, a character who doesn't seem to be jelling well suddenly say to you, "Why do you keep calling me Richard? My name is Paul." And then you realize that of course he is Paul and everything starts flowing. Have you ever named a character with a name you've come to hate? How important are names to you?
JAN: I'm insanely opinionated when it comes to names -- I've even made friends change names in their books because I just couldn't work with them. How inflexible is that? I also get into trouble in real life because if I've just met you and think you look like a Cathy when you're name is Darrah, I'll keep thinking of you as Cathy. Even if you look like a Cathy to me, and your name actually is Cathy, I'll hesitate before I ever call you by name because I'm not sure if you really are a Cathy, or if I'm making it up.
Cathy's, by the way, should always be blonde. Also Karens, Kate's, basically any "K" or "C" name. A Patty should always have dark hair, even though one of my best friends is a blondish Patty. Mostly names just "come" to me. But I struggled for weeks over what to call Hallie Ahern's love interest. I finally went with Matt. For me, men are the hardest to name. Common names seem not unique enough. Unique names often seem contrived, un-masculine, or like a soap opera name. Nick names can come in handy.
HANK: Flossie, I love Flossie. (What was that childrens book--Freddie and Flossie?) ANd I'm Harriet, so don't talk to me about old fashioned.
I think the name-choice thing is SO important, and so critical. Charlotte (Charlie) McNally came to me fully formed--her dear "Josh Gelston" was the result of weeks of agony looking for a tough, strong, non-trendy first name: Ben? Jake? Sam? Matt? Luke? And a religion-neutral last name. SO difficult! I worried and worried over it. And then after the book came out, I got an a mail from someone named Josh Gelston!
My main name problem is that all my instant-choices begin with C or M. I was trying to think of a new main character, and had what I thought was a HUGE brainstorm! The perfect name! And it was: Callie. All righty then, not exactly different enough from Charlie. Now I keep a list, with the letters of the alphabet down one side, and plug in names as they come to me. SO everyone doesn't begin with the same letter.
ROBERTA: Since I'm working on the first book of a new series, I've had a whole slew of names to come up with. (Gosh, I sure hope they pass Jan's test...) And funny, now that you mention it, another friend (okay Hallie, if you must know:), suggested I change a character's name in A TASTE FOR MURDER. I swear this happened only yesterday...
This fellow is a tarot card reader who sets up a booth at the Sunset Celebration in Key West every night. My protagonist (Hayley Snow) often consults him for direction. I named him "Marvin." So Hallie says: "Marvin doesn't strike me as the name of a tarot card reader, can't you call him something like Lorenzo? Marvin sounds like your great-uncle or an elderly neighbor."
Marvin's a little appalled about his impending name change, but I certainly don't want readers struggling to remember who the heck he is when he comes up in conversation. And that's key, right?--make the names that tag characters distinct enough so a sleepy or distracted reader doesn't have to work too hard to keep them straight.
ROSEMARY: I love it when I hit on the right name for a character - my favorite, other than Paula Holliday, which I think is perfect for my heroine, was Guido Chiaramonte. It just rolled off the tongue. Chiaramonte is a town in Sicily. I wanted an Italian name that we hadn't heard a million times before so I looked at a map.But I generally have a hard time with names and frequently keep changing them until I'm halfway through the book. I rationalize this by telling myself that only by that time have they truly revealed themselves to me. In Slugfest, I had auctioned off so many names for charity that I barely had to think about it.Terry Ward, Jean Moffitt, John Stancik - great names! Kris Archimbault, if you're out there, you're in the next book.
HALLIE: Oh, Ro, it's so nice to hear that someone else keeps changing her character names. I'm thinking of doing a search and replace of a character in my Work in Progress, from Evie to Abby.
It's why I don't use short names. Like Ted. I once search-and-replaced, making a Ted a Brian, and ended with: "Lillian reporBrianed..." instead of "Lillian reported..." and "belatedly" became "belaBrianly." It was a mess.
ROSEMARY: Same thing happened to me when I changed Dan to Hank (a male.) What a nightmare. Good tip to avoid the short ones. I just had to change Tina to Toni - because I'm bringing a secondary character from the third book named Nina - I didn't want to have a Tina and a Nina! Nina Mazzo (another great charity auction name)is making an encore performance.
Something in the air...I have an Abby in the book I'm writing now, but it's about five women and after four books and so many female characters, I feel as if I've used most of the names I really like. Do the people who've written twenty books worry about this stuff?
DEB: After fourteen books, naming characters is a nightmare! It's not only trying to figure out what works for the character--as hard for me as it is for the rest of you--but then I have to check that the names don't sound alike (Nina-Tina) or that I have too many characters whose names start with the same letter (Robert, Richard, Ryan). Then I have to make sure that the name I'm using was popular, or at least in use, at the time the character was born. I have an old copy of the Guiness Book of Names which is fabulous. It gives the fifty most popular girls' and boys' names in the US and in the UK every five years from 1850 to 1985. But after '85 I'm sunk. . .
THEN comes the fourteen book issue. Have I used the name before??? And because I write fairly long and complicated books, chances are that I have. So if the names of my characters get odder and odder, you'll know why . . .
AND then, when I think I've got it all worked out, I discover I've done something really stupid. In the book I just finished, I named a character after a very well known (although obviously not to me!) British comedian. My British friends threw up their hands in horror. "You can't call him THAT!!!!"
Thank God for search-and-replace.
JULIA: Deb, Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran have a series of baby name books that I've collected and use religiously. They're called " Beyond Jennifer and Jason," "Beyond Ava and Aiden," etc. Each book has a lengthy section on naming patterns from the past (starting in the early 20th century) and is also excellent as a resource for currently trendy, ethnic and European names. I'm a bug about getting names right for the place (lots of Scots and Dutch names in the part of NY I write about) and for the age of the character. Nothing will snap me out of a book faster than a hip young 20-something named Doris or a sweet little old lady named Kayla.
I also agree with Ro--I love using names from charitable auctions! In the past, I've wound up creating characters I didn't expect to have, and changing the course of the novel. For instance, I auctioned off a character for a fundraiser for my children's parochial school. The winner wanted me to use her unmarried aunt's name: Lucia Pirrone. Well, there aren't a lot of really Italian names in Millers Kill, NY, so she became Sister Lucia, newly arrived in the Adirondacks to minister to migrant workers, and she met the Rev. Clare Fergusson at a luncheon, and I was off and running with the plot of I SHALL NOT WANT
.My last word on names is my own. I've just finished signing a box of front sheets (to be bound into the new book for "signed by author" copies)and after inscribing J-U-L-I-A-S-P-E-N-C-E-R-hyphen-F-L-E-M-I-N-G one thousand times, my hand feels like it's going to fall off. So if I ever write in another genre, I'm doing it as Jo Leu.
RHYS: I've also auctioned off character names many times and I'm always scared I'll wind up having to use an impossible name--a Brandi or Kylie in 1903, or a strongly ethnic name in my royal circles. So far I've made it work, even using the names of three sisters called Jensen, Danika and Reagan in one of the Royal Spyness books. And Deb, I find if I'm not careful I use the same name for more than one character.
So let's hear from all of you out there--do character names matter to you? Would Poirot or Sam Spade or Rumpold be as effective with other names?
And isn't it great to have our new JUNGLE REDs joining in their first discussion? We are so lucky to have them on board...
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
JAN: How about the setting, which was such an important part of the book.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
HANK: Okay, so listen to this.
Let's say you wanted to write a crime fiction novel. What would you do? Short version: You'd get a computer, or a pad of paper, think of a story, write it down somehow, and hope a publisher buys it.
But not our Simon.
He has an idea---and he: writes a book, called LOWLIFES. So far, so typical. But then with a collaborator, he also does a short film. And a blog. And a whole bunch of other stuff. And then readers/viewers are supopsed to read/view all of it in whatever order, getting different secrets and insights and viewpoints from different parts. Put it all together, and...
Okay, my head is hurting. But it's brilliant. And trust me, Reds, this is the future. And it's called Transmedia. Simon Wood is here to explain it all!
HANK: Whoa. Tell us about your new project. Most authors just..write a book…
SIMON WOOD: LOWLIFES is a collaboration between filmmaker, Robert Pratten, and me, where we tell a story from different character points of view using various media. The book tells the story from point of view of the protagonist, a San Francisco Police Inspector.
The short film gives the viewpoint of a PI investigating the cop.
The fictional blog catalogs the thoughts and feelings of the cop’s estranged wife.
In the print edition, there's a secret short story told from the point of a view of a street preacher which can be accessed QR codes and the story emailed to your cell phone. The trendy term for this new kind of storytelling is transmedia.
HANK: Like I said. Whoa. (What's a QR code? Anyone? Anyone? Am I incredibly OLD? Oh--quick response. Yay for research. ) Sounds like 3-d chess. How did you guys work all this out? Were you and Robert Pratten pals? How did it evolve?
SIMON: I met Robert in Phoenix in 2003 at a conference when he was screening his first film and we stayed in touch ever since. Robert approached me about a year ago with the idea for multimedia story set in San Francisco’s tenderloin district. He gave me brief character profiles for the principal characters and the initial scenario of a cop investigating himself and his possible involvement in the death of a homeless man.
HANK: . Which came first? Or did you build each part as it went along and finish all at the same time?
SIMON: I am one of those people who tries to do everything at once, but I wrote the book first, the movie script second and the blog third. However, I did outline all three storylines before I wrote anything so that I knew how all three stories would intersect. As I completed each part, I handed them off to Robert for comment and edit. So there were a few changes made and gave Robert free reign to interpret my movie script any way he wanted when it came to imagery and filming locations.
HANK: . Yikes. I mean, yikes. Does each part make sense without the other part? Do you read and see them serially, or all at the same time?
SIMON: Robert’s main instruction was that each individual piece could be read as a standalone piece, but when read/watched in conjunction, the combined pieces would give a much fuller telling of the story. Our primary aim was to avoid filming scenes directly lifted from the book or blog and vice versa.
HANK: Transmedia. I'm thinking about this. Did working this way change the way your brain works? (It's making my head hurt...)
SIMON: Yes, it changed how my brain worked. I’m used to writing multiple points of view in my novels, so having differing perspectives to tell a story wasn’t a problem. The brain stretching came when to telling the story for different media. This was the first time I’d written a script and I hadn’t appreciated telling a story visually. Even the dialog had to be written in a way that would inspire or assist Robert with the filming. The blog was different again because it’s written in a very conversation style and at the same time, there's a confessional quality to it. At times, it did make my head hurt. To make all the individual pieces work took a lot of planning.
HANK: Forgive me, but...how do people buy this? Talk a little about marketing and promotion.
SIMON: http://www.lowlifes.tv/ is a dedicated website where people can experience the various facets of the story. Right now, we’re releasing it as a serial for free. Each day, a chapter from the book, a movie episode and/or entry from the blog will come available. People can sign up to receive the excerpts. If people don’t want to wait, they can buy the book, the DVD or download the book from Amazon, etc. There are links on the website.
HANK: What's been the reaction?
SIMON: It’s early days, but good so far. A couple of publishers interested to see how the concept develops. Someone else expressed interest in putting Lowlifes out as a complete interactive book. Readers are just getting to grips with it. Robert and I hope people respond well to "the Lowlifes" because we have a bunch of storylines we’d like to explore featuring these characters.
HANK: So...here's a question with an answer I know I'll understand. Whats the basic story?
SIMON: Lowlifes centers on Larry Hayes, a San Francisco Police Detective. He's lost his family to divorce and he's clinging to his career by a thread. All this stems from a painkiller addiction he can’t kick that he picked up from an on-the-job injury. He thinks his life has already hit rock bottom, but there's another level for Hayes to fall as he finds out when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours.
He thinks this is the wakeup call he needs to turn his life around, his problems intensify when he receives a call from a homicide inspector. Hayes' informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead two blocks away, beaten and stabbed. The eerie pang of guilt seeps into Hayes. During his lost four hours, he's been in a fight. His knuckles are bruised and there's blood under his fingernails.
Is he Jon's killer? The mounting evidence says so. To add insult to injury, his wife has employed a PI to dig up dirt on him to ensure she gets sole custody of their daughter. Hayes mounts an off-the-books investigation and disappears amongst the city’s homeless community to stay one step ahead of a murder charge.
HANK: SO. A blog, a book and a movie. Amazing. And there's also an interactive Game! Click HERE to play....and remember. You heard it here first.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Jan: When we write mysteries, we spend a lot of time making sure our protagonist has a "worthy" opponent. We try to invent clever bad guys with ingenious moves that keep our protagonist and our readers scratching their heads until the very end of the book.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Mr. Sakura was known for giving a lot of homework, and a lot of it was very tough. He also
was known for having a sense of humor.
identify the star that looks the largest in the sky.”
talked about what they did.
Xavier said. “So I just picked the North Star. I don’t know if it’s the biggest, but at least it’s
easy to find.”
“I managed to find it one night. But I couldn’t tell if it’s the biggest star in the sky or not.”
Orion—you know, the one that is supposed to look like a hunter wearing a belt. I picked one
of the belt stars, Mintaka. I tried to measure it against the other ones. It looked a little bigger,
but I don’t really know.”
ERIC: It was my idea originally, but the idea didn't start as a book. When Natalie was in about 5th or 6th grade, I started writing some short mysteries just for fun. Mostly they were based on what she was learning in school at the time, specifically science class. I was trying to find a way to reinforce what she was learning in school and show that school material does have actual use in the real world.
HANK: How well I remember yowling, just tell me one reason I'm gonna need this when I grow up! (Trigonometry, specifically, I just couldn't see the value, until someone told me engineers use it to figure out how many parking spaces can fit in a parking lot. THAT made sense.) Do you remember any of those, Eric? Do you, Natalie?
ERIC: In both books, the goal was to make stories that could be solved by applying school subject matter in a creative way. One of the first ones I wrote was what ended up as a story in the science book called Shadow of a Doubt, which is about a girl who loses her earring and the solution depends on realizing that over the course of a couple of hours, a shadow will move. So that was taking a fairly simple scientific principle and working backward from it to create a mystery about it--why isn't it where she thinks it is?
When we did the math book, it was a bit more challenging to make those true mysteries rather than elaborate numbers problems. But the process was pretty much the same. For example, we started with an idea of doing one based on a light year being a measure of distance, not time, and ended up with a story that has a red herring, a simple math mistake that can distract the reader from the underlying solution.
NATALIE: Another thing we did was to make sure the stories were set in places kids normally are. So, a lot of them happen around school, in the backyard, at camp, at sports games and places like that. That helps them think that this could be happening to them. We didn't set many in class, because we didn't want this to be just like another school book.
HANK: So the point is: making the solution something that has to do with what they learned in school? Why did you think that was important? And tell us another one!
ERIC: I hate to use the term "make learning fun" but that's basically the idea. Looked at the other way, it was a way to present mystery stories that were solvable using information that they have been exposed to.
Another of the early ones from the science book, which is structured more as a classic one of these three people did it story, depends on knowing that a bat is a mammal, not a bird. So, you start with that idea and work backward from there. Pretty much naturally, that one ended up being set in a zoo, and it actually became the first story in the science book.
NATALIE: One of the first simple ideas I had was from a ski trip. This idea came when an activity in ski school involved a treasure hunt to find something hidden. When our ski class stopped there, the box was gone, which gave me the idea for a story. One possible explanation was that an animal got to it first but the reasoning behind the story is that bears would be hibernating. Another story idea I got on that trip involved background knowledge of hot springs, that there would be no chlorine in the water.
HANK: Was Natalie already a mystery fan?
ERIC: We used to read Nancy Drew, the Wishbone mysteries, the American Girl mysteries and others together when she was younger. So I would write one here and there just for fun when I had the inspiration. Eventually, she started writing some on her own to try to stump me.
HANK: Oh, Natalie, do you remember any of those?
NATALIE: Like any child, my dad used to read stories to me which always came as more of an interest to me than stories like a fairy tale because there was always a puzzle. Until I got old enough to read them myself my dad and I would try to work together to solve the mystery.
HANK: And then what?
ERIC: It was really just sporadic for a long time, but after we had maybe 15 or 20 of them, it occurred to me that this could be the basis for a book.
HANK: Tell us more about that.
ERIC: There was a personal connection that helped. The mother of one of the girls on Natalie's gymnastics team is the publisher of a company that sells books into the family and academic science markets. So I asked her if she might be interested. She looked them over and was excited but said she wanted only stories on science, so we had to discard a number of them we had done on other subjects. And of course, the natural number for a collection of one-minute mysteries is 60, so we had to get more disciplined about writing them. That meant coming up with a lot of MacGuffins.
NATALIE: After we had the first 20 or so, the stories started coming easier. There are a lot of things in daily life that could be perceived as a puzzle if you look at them that way. Each of us wrote some on our own but sometimes one of us would have a basic story or puzzle and the other would fill in the rest.
HANK: Writing these books must change the way you look at the world!
ERIC: When you're in the course of writing one, you do look at everyday events and think about how could that be a mystery. Did something surprising happen, and why, or was there a change in something that has to be explained. Natalie often will bring ideas home from school, based on something she's learning at the time. We've been building a file of them, which we'll need for the second science mysteries book we're starting on soon.
NATALIE: After writing these books, I have realized that one or two people can help influence and teach others directly. By being on the radio and in participating in book signings, you realize that the world is actually a much bigger place, and that your work can affect many people.
HANK: How do you two work together?
NATALIE: Working as a team definitely makes this process easier and more fun. Most of the time, one of us will either come up with a puzzle, or a story line, and the other one of us will piece the rest of the story together. Sometimes, if we write a story independently, we will go over it together to add a twist, or just to make basic edits.
ERIC: For some of them, we just sit at the computer and work until we have a few stories for the day, but others are more strokes of inspiration and we would write them wherever we were when the idea struck. I have a whole folder of stories that were written on scraps of paper in the car or in the living room or on vacation, some of them actually pretty complete. Natalie did some just on her own and I also did some on my own, especially early on when we were just doing them for fun. But we worked together to polish almost all of them. It really helps to have a second person suggesting what a character might say or do in a situation, and what needs to happen in the story. Short as they are, they do have characterization and plot.
HANK: How have kids (and parents and teachers) responded to these?
ERIC: We've gotten really positive reactions from parents, teachers, home schoolers, general mystery readers and lots of kids. If you look at the comments about the books on Amazon and in the reviews we got, they all like the concept and the stories. Teachers have said they use stories as homework assignments or warmup problems, or just read them in class to start discussions. And I know a lot of parents use them as bedtime stories or stories for in the car.
NATALIE: It's so great to hear from someone who has read the stories who has positive feedback. I had a teacher at my school who I didn't really know call me into his office and show me an article about me from his hometown newspaper, and lots people have said they have seen the book in stores or heard the radio shows. Some of the girls I do gymnastics with, or the children I babysit for have often told me that they enjoy the stories, and that makes writing worth it.
HANK: Love it! So, gang, did you get the answer to Mr. Sakura's assignment?
Eric Yoder (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a successful business writer at The Washington Post who loves sharing his passion for mysteries and education. Natalie Yoder (email@example.com) is a high school senior whose favorite subjects are psychology, science, and math. She began writing books with her father while she was still in middle school. Both authors have been featured several times on NPR’s “Science Friday with Ira Flatow.” In addition, they have received multiple awards and recognition from national and international parenting, education, and science organizations.