Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mystery Sisters

HALLIE: First, one kind of mystery sisterhood--Jan and I launched our books last night at Red Bones in Cambridge. Hank was on-hand. Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge has signed copies of TEASER and of NEVER TELL A LIE. I'm posting photos in the "Gallery" on my web site later today. Future events are posted on each of our web sites.

Another kind of sisterhood--I grew up in a family of four girls. If a novelist had created my family, there would have been fewer sisters. Four is just too many to write about and keep them all distinct. Three is my upper limit. (I've often wondered if Alcott didn't bump off Beth because four were so hard to write.)

But Lauren Baratz-Logsted blows off the roof writing eight sisters. in her Sisters Eight mystery series for kids. Octuplets. With eight cats, no less.

Welcome to Jungle Red Writers, Lauren...

We have to ask if you come from a family of girls, and if not where did you come up with the idea of a mystery series with eight sisters?

LBL: Thank you so much for having me here - it's an honor! I have just one sibling, a brother who's two years older, so it didn't come from there. It actually came from Jackie. Short version: we were stranded in Colorado by a blizzard and, needing fresh entertainment and since I'd always wanted to write a book Jackie could read, I asked what she'd like. Being an only child, he
said a book about sisters. I asked how many and she said eight. So there you have it - creativity at work!

JRW: The sisters feel like a profusion of Pippi Longstockings… so independent and spunky. Did you have a literary model in the back of your mind when you created the sisters Huit (love that their last name is the French word for “eight”)?

LBL: Well, Jackie used F. Scott Fitzgerald as her source material, while Greg... No, seriously, we were just trying to create something fun to amuse ourselves and, before we knew it, things got away from us! If we had any other books in mind at all, I'd say we were thinking "Lemony Snicket" (whom we all love) but for a slightly younger set and with a strong emphasis on Girl Power...and cats."

Any tips on how to write with eight main characters? How do you keep them each so distinct and vibrant?

LBL: I tell you, it's been the challenge of my career! The key has been to create characters so strong in certain personality traits that readers can tell who's speaking even if there are no dialogue tags. For example, I've been reading the books to Jackie's third grade class and if I ask them which character would say, "Oh no! It is raining so hard, we will need to build an ark!" they will all answer "Petal." You can even have a personality profile done by taking a quiz at to see "Which Eight Are You?" I must say, though, it's disturbing to see how many people turn out to be Rebecca.

JRW: Can you share with us a little how you collaborate with your husband and your daughter?

Basically, I'm "the pen." This means that after brainstorming the general idea for each book, I write all day, then read the day's output to Greg and Jackie, who then tell me what's right/wrong and what needs to be done in the next chapter. And sometimes we go out for editorial lunches. A good portion of the final five books in the series exist only thus far on napkins.

JRW: A lot of excellent mystery writers have turned their hands to writing YA books. Did you start writing for adults?

LBL: Oh yes. Something like my first six were published for adults, only one of which - VERTIGO - would fit into the mystery/thriller category, before I started writing for both.

JRW: Can you give our writer-readers some insight into what’s hot right now in the YA mystery market?

LBL: Lisa McMann's WAKE, which I'd categorize more as a suspense novel, is amazing; and the followup, FADE, is soon to be released. There's also a great recent book for slightly younger readers, MASTERPIECE, by Elise Broach, that's about an 11-year-old boy and a talented beetle who become involved in solving the mystery behind an art heist. Truthfully, though, given the wonderful variety of books currently being published as YA, there's a sad shortage of get writing, JRWers!

JRW: And would you share inside scoop on how you sold your series to Houghton Miflin?

LBL: All sales should be this easy! Just like Curious George, I sat down and started to write. When I finished the first book in the projected nine-book series, I really felt that we might have something here that might amuse more people than just the three of us. So I sent it off to my favorite editor in the world, Julia Richardson at Houghton Mifflin, and she saw something
worthwhile there too, enough to buy the first four books in the series and publish the first two as twin lead titles.

JRW: Would you be willing to check back today and answer our readers questions about your books or writing mysteries for kids?

LBL: Absolutely!

JRW: Question for Lauren? Please, pile on!


  1. Welcome to JRR, Lauren.

    I would have LOVED this series as a child. I was an only child until the age of 7 and fantasized about my mother or father dying and the remaining parent marrying someone with lots of new sisters for me.

    Then I had three girls and realized that life wasn't always so sunny!

    Do you find the YA voice comes easily to you?

  2. Hey Lauren!

    Great to see you here..

    What's the difference between YA and middle-grade?

    I recently attended a big panel discussion about it, and no one agreed on a real definition--of age, or language, or theme.

    What do you think? Were there things you discarded as inappropriate?

    (I had three younger sisters and a younger brother. When it was fun, it was fun. It was more often chaos and clamor over who scratched the Beatle records or who was supposed to feed the dog.)

  3. Welcome to JR Lauren,

    I had three older brothers and NO SISTERS. My best friend had two older sisters and I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world (all those old prom dresses, Barbie hand-me-downs....) So, I definitely would have loved this series.

    My question is: when writing for kids is there any difference as you contemplating the stakes or rachet up the danger?

  4. Thank you all so much for the warm welcome!

    Rhys, isn't it funny how much of modern children's literature is composed of books with dead or missing parents? I do find that writing in all sorts of voices comes easy to me. So maybe if this writing thing doesn't work out, there could be a new career for me doing impersonations in Vegas?

    Hank, the biggest difference between YA and MG is age of target audience, with YA being 13 thru high school and MG being 8-12. THE SISTERS EIGHT, btw, is neither; it's a series for ages 6-10 although I'm told readers of all ages are enjoying them. :) I have had YA and MG novels published and there's a definite difference in terms of the sorts of themes/plots I'd use in the one and not the other; e.g., ANGEL'S CHOICE is a YA about teen pregnancy, so I don't think you'd want to give it to your eight-year-old or even necessarily kids in their very early teens. I love doing it all, though, writing different books for different age groups, and the challenges each type of writing poses.

    Jan, I think so much of it depends on what age group you're writing for. In terms of YA and MG, a lot is just straight-ahead plot; and by that I mean that today we're writing for teens and tweens who have more distractions than any previous generation, so there's not a lot of room for digression. You'd better have voice, you'd better have story, and you'd better entertain that reader (even if you're trying to educate/inform her at the same time). But with something like THE SISTERS EIGHT, again with it being for younger readers, it's different. When I ask my eight-year-old coauthor's third-grade class what they like best in the books they read, I get something that sounds like, "Series!" "Mystery!" "Adventure! Magic!"

  5. Lauren, that is such a cool thing that your family is writing together! I would love to have a co-author. (though I must say, it sounds like you do more than your share:) Do you guys always agree on the direction your book is taking? If not, who prevails and how?

  6. Roberta, in terms of decisions, I'm "The Last Word." But I'm really open to anything they tell me and only exercise my final veto power if they suggest something that I know can't be done because of certain plot points ahead etc. I have to say, it's been very unusual for me to write like this, by committee. My habit since 1994 had been to write first drafts to please myself and only then revise with an eye toward pleasing the larger world.

    I meant to say earlier, what a fantastic site and what a terrific group this is. I'd previously only read Hallie's just published book when it was still in ARC form - which I loved - but now I'll be buying books by all the other JRWers as well.

  7. Series!" "Mystery!"
    "Adventure! Magic!" I'm making that my new mantra.

    And thanks for the kind words, Lauren!


  8. I look forward to reading your work, Lauren. My college roommate (and still friend after 35 years) has 7 sisters (she is part of one of two sets of twins). I'll point her to your book, and will also send it to my two great-nieces, the only two girls I know in that age group.


  9. Hallie and Jan, I so much planned to be at your Redbones launch, and then couldn't get there. Many congrats, and I very much look forward to reading the new books! (I started my new job yesterday - YAY - which is in Allston, so I'll be able to easily get to Kate's to pick up copies.)


  10. Hank, that's a good mantra to have!

    Edith, thank you so much for the support, both verbal and financial (in buying the books)!