Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messiest places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .
This month I'm thrilled to introduce you to Cynthia Surrisi and her forthcoming book, the Maypop Kidnapping. It's a fun read filled with spoofing, sleuthing, and a charming cast of characters. Read on, MacDuff. Oh, and here's the full cover. Click it!
Have you always loved mysteries?
Yes. I’m crazy for novels with clues, suspense, and risky situations that twist and turn and make me stay up all night racing through to the end to find out whodunit. I also love a story of friendship, where friends collaborate to solve a problem. I am drawn especially to stories with newly formed friendships that suffer the inevitable rushes and aches of youth, and where it’s a mystery whether the friendship will survive.
These qualities can be found in many genres of books, not only those labeled as mysteries. In many ways, all stories are mysteries. Within the pages of every good book, we search for the answer to the question raised by the inciting incident.
This book is inspired by my personal time in Maine. One summer, we stayed past Labor Day, and I got to experience our little town after all the summer people left. From that moment on, all I could think about was setting a story in that place during that time of the year. First, it was a friendship story, and then it became a mystery. It swirled in the recesses of my mind until I reached VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts).
Since I read about fifty fabulous books each semester, it’s hard to narrow the field to those that had an impact on this book, but I’ll try. This short list is going to seem wildly inconsistent but here goes: The Westing Game by Raskin, Holes by Sachar, Okay for Now by Schmidt, and Liar and Spy by Stead.
Beyond individual books, I am inspired by the work of so many fine writers that to list a few is to painfully omit the rest. This is a credit to the people who dedicate their lives to writing for children and young adults.
What’s the hardest thing about writing a mystery?
A good mystery needs to be tightly plotted, the clues must never purposefully mislead the reader, and it can never be solved through the use of a deus ex machina. It has to have twists and turns that ratchet up the suspense, there should be a surprise ending, and it all needs to be delivered with humor and heart. Making all that happen in one story is the hardest thing about writing a mystery.
Did you start this book at VCFA? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? (advisors, early readers, etc...)
I started Maypop at the end of my second semester at VCFA, while Tim Wynne-Jones was my advisor. Since he is a master of mystery writing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take advantage of his expertise. He wrote me long, instructional letters about how to write a mystery. They are my treasure. What I learned first was that I couldn’t write a mystery from the perspective of the reader. I needed to first write the detective’s reveal at the end. In other words, I needed to know the backstory that led to the inciting incident. That way I could more deftly play with the clues and the twists and turns.
I wrote the first complete draft of Maypop my third semester while Rita Williams-Garcia was my advisor. Rita was my guru for finding the heart amidst the suspense. She was such an enthusiastic fan of the characters, that she really helped me develop the humanity.
I revised Maypop during my fourth semester while Tom Birdseye was my advisor. He helped me sharpen the humor, dive down into the syntax, and shake out the chaff.
In the month prior to graduation, I submitted Maypop to a call for middle-grade mysteries by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda/Lerner. Shortly thereafter, he acquired the book through my agent Linda Pratt, and we launched into the editorial process. Greg’s editorial guidance took the book from a creative thesis to a finely tuned ready-for-publication novel.
Each person who counseled and advised me on this book had a uniquely helpful perspective to share. And better yet, it all came in relatively quick succession, and in line with my increasing abilities. I should add that Matt de la Peña, who was my first-semester advisor, taught me to follow my characters around and watch them cope with problems that I have created for them. That is a golden rule for me now.
Is there a sequel? More sleuthing in Maine? Will Quinnie run into Jessica Fletcher?
Yes! There is a sequel. More about that soon.
The cover is by Gilbert Ford, and the map of Maiden Rock was drawn by Ingrid Sundberg, both of whom are also VCFA grads. How’d you manage to make that magic happen? (p.s. – I love books with maps!)
Ingrid Sundberg and I were in a workshop together my first semester at VCFA. We became fast friends and she was a reader for me for portions of the book. Since I knew of her artistic talent, I engaged her, through her graphic arts business, to create a map from my very rough drawing. I love maps, too. I think a mystery is enhanced by a map and/or a family tree. I couldn’t be happier with the map that Ingrid created. I consulted it often while I wrote the book.
I get no credit for Gilbert Ford being the cover illustrator. Lerner gets it all. I briefly crossed paths with Gilbert at VCFA, I knew he was a talented illustrator as well as an author, but I didn’t have the pleasure of being in a workshop with him. My editor, Greg Hunter, surprised me with the first cover art sketches being Gilbert’s. I was thrilled. Carolrhoda/Lerner did not realize they had selected a VCFA illustrator for a VCFA author. I like to think it was kismet.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Estelle Laure’s This Raging Light, which took my breath away with its poignant beauty. I am currently reading Tim Wynne-Jones The Emperor of Any Place. That man can write a mystery! Next up on my stack is M.T. Anderson’s Symphony For the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. He is the most diverse writer I know of and handles everything he tackles with brilliance. After that, it’s The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.
What books are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m looking forward to reading Ingrid Sundberg’s All We Left Behind, Jenn Bishop’s The Distance to Home, Janet Fox’s The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Adi Rule’s The Hidden Twin, Kathi Appelt’s Maybe a Fox, Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Yuki Kaneko’s Into the Snow . . . to name a few.
Anything else you want to share?
My path has included being associated with SCBWI and attending VCFA. I am grateful to both institutions. My dearest SCBWI friends and darling VCFA peeps make up a supportive tribe. I recently moved to Asheville, NC, and I am meeting the children’s writers from this area. I can’t wait to get to know them better and to talk story. We read, we write, we carry ourselves away to magical places and hope to take others with us.